“I’ve only got 45minutes, so can we get straight to the point?” said Charles, the head ofcorporate law as he strode into the room. The “point” to which he was referringwas our meeting to go through his 360 feedback. The “point” that he actuallywanted to make was that he didn’t really want to hear the views of others.
Coaching thishigh achieving City law firm partner had proved challenging for the last 4months. Asked by the firm’s Managing partner if I “could help to sort him out”,I had struggled to engage in a change process. Charles was admired by the firmfor his talent in winning millions of pounds of fees with new clients. Butthere had been staff losses and dissension in Charles’s department. Charles hadapparently to change his style.
It was clear fromthe outset of our coaching sessions that Charles had no real intention ofchanging. My observations were brushed aside. He told me that his colleagueswould have to “take him as they found him”. Charles demonstrated all the traitsof the ultra alpha male with a few of the more extreme lawyer’s attributes thrownin – highly analytic, intimidating, quick witted, highly (superficially)confident, impatient, opinionated and focusing on flaws in other people andtheir views.
What’s more, Charlestypically didn’t like exploring emotions – “I don’t do emotion –emotions can’tbe controlled!”. Yet it was clear that Charles was actually highly emotional infrequently talking about his anger, frustration and – in his very occasionalweaker moments – his insecurity.
Charles was eventuallypersuaded to agree to a 360 feedback session. In typical fashion, he wasimmediately dismissive of any negative comments. He also spent the first fiveminutes trying to work out who hadbeen less than glowing in their opinions of him. Here, however was feedbackthat Charles could not ignore. Here was written data with examples of hisbehaviour being repeated across his department. There were well argued remarksbacked up with facts.- a benefit of 360 work with lawyers is that their writtencomments are clear and supported by strong evidence.
Gradually,Charles’ curiosity in the feedback was engaged. He began to understand that thestrengths that he thought were so important were damaging to his colleagues (andto himself). A common comment was that Charles was a very poor listener – tothe extent that many in his department had stopped talking to him – “Charlesonly listens to respond”, ”I’ve stopped talking to Charles – I am not importantenough fro him “ “Charles is only interested in his own clients”.
For the firsttime in 5 meetings, Charles’ defences were lowered. I turned the screw (a bit).This was an opportunity that might not come again! I suggested a FIRO assessment( more data/evidence) to help Charles understand his needs for control (high)and openness (low).
Charles thoughtthat he should acknowledge the feedback at his next departmental meeting. “Doyou think that is enough?” I asked Charles. “On reflection – no. I will makemore time for people. I will tell people that I appreciate them “.
We’ll both seewhat happens. Will Charles revert to type? The first signs are promising but one 360 appraisal does not lead to acomplete personality change. One thing is clear – without a structuredapproach, Charles would probably never have started to “listen” to his co-workers.Appealing to his curiosity about data was crucial to any breakthrough. Charlesmay even admit to having emotions soon!
This is a guest post for Bowland Solutions by Nigel McEwen. Formally a managing partner of a top 100 law firm, Nigel is now an executive coach who works with clients in the accountancy, legal, manufacturing and financial services sectors. To contact Nigel, please add a comment to this post.