Every manager has resolved a problem or closed a deal for someone, just to save the day. While they love you for doing this, it also comes at a great cost. Here’s how to resign from the time consuming role of super-salesperson and eliminate the messy problems that plague your Metropolis once it’s hit the fan.
After a week of enjoying the breathtaking sites and culture of India, such as the Taj Mahal, I was in the conference room, half way through the first day of delivering my leadership coaching program when I heard this all too familiar response.
“But Keith, there are times that you just can’t coach. I understand that in most cases, it makes sense to have a coaching conversation and it’s definitely the more effective way to develop people and have them create their own solutions or share the observations you’ve had that they can’t see on their own to uncover their own gaps and work through their blind spots together, instead of telling them what to do or provide solutions to people all day. But if it’s the 13th hour and there’s a huge deal on the line or a blazing fire with a customer that needs to be extinguished immediately or we’re in jeopardy of losing a client or facing some type of litigation, it’s not like you can sit the rep down and take the time to start coaching them around what they need to do! At that point, you have to jump in and take charge to resolve what could escalate into a bigger problem or result in losing a client. That’s why everything isn’t always a coaching moment. Sometimes you have to jump in, which is part of our job.”
If only I had a dollar for every time a manager said this. I guess I’d have a lot of dollars.
You Can’t Always Be Coaching – Or Can You?
As I looked across the room of managers who for the most part, seem to agree with this one manager’s statement, I responded with four words they weren’t expecting would come out of my mouth. “I agree. You’re right.”
I sensed the manager who shared this observation felt validated. Yet, before I threw in the towel and let this manager off the hook, I knew there was a great coaching moment for each manager in the room.
“You’re 100% right,” I continued. “If you find yourself in the position you described and you have to react immediately, at this point, there is no time to coach.”
“When your direct report has come to you with an ultra-time sensitive issue, there isn’t time to teach, coach, train or take the time for them to self-assess and come up with the right solution or conversation to have with the person they need resolution with. The problem has already metastasized way beyond what your direct report can do to resolve it and has escalated to the point where only a manager could handle it. As such, the coaching moment is gone.”
Silence blanketed the room. I took their silence as agreement and understanding. I continued sharing a few observations in way that no one in the room was expecting.
Justifying Your Role as the Super Salesperson
Ironically, some managers actually enjoy playing the role of the hero or super salesperson who can swoop down to save the day or the deal. Why? Because it fills the basic human needs of wanting to be needed and valued. When the person you saved thinks you’re the hero, it feeds the ego, and you feel the love, the validation and the belief that this is your value as a manager. Unfortunately, this behavior comes at a cost to the coachee, to you and to the company.
Many managers believe getting this involved in the sales process or taking on each of your team’s problems is their true value when in fact, it’s only a part of a true leaders value.
Once the cost of playing the super-salesperson becomes too great, only then must the manager relinquish this Chief Problem Solver role and learn how to coach effectively to avoid those time consuming problems that shouldn’t exist in the first place; the same problems that result in lost revenue. Like exercise, ongoing coaching and practice keeps you and your team healthy, operating at peak performance and ready to play in the championship game. This strategy avoids the problems that are about to hit the fan, which cause stress and waste your time when having to do your direct report’s job; becoming a distraction from doing your job and focusing on your core priorities to build a team of future leaders.
Enter the Fan
I then asked these managers permission to proceed with sharing my observation. “May I get crude with all of you for a moment? Before doing so, I want to ensure I get permission because I don’t offend anyone.”
Inevitably, in one universal voice, every manager chimes in and says, “Of course! Go for it!” It’s funny, every time I ask for permission to be crude, every manager in the room shouts out with an air of excitement, “Absolutely!” It’s as if they want me to relinquish what I typically do, which is to be professional and politically correct!
I walked up to one of the flip charts in the room, took out a marker, and proceeded on drawing an oscillating desk fan on the right side of the page.
“I know I’m not a great artist but does everyone recognize what this is?” I guess the drawing was good enough for people to recognize that it’s a fan.
I then drew am oval shape on the middle of the page, closer to the fan; an object that looked like it was about to hit the fan. And again, in the spirit of wanting to be politically correct and avoid using crude or cuss words, I asked the managers if they knew what this oval shaped object represented. “Now, does everyone know what this is?”
As people started to chuckle at my drawing or what it was representing, a universal, “Yes!” came through clearly. And as history would repeat itself, one manger always jumps up to clarify the cuss word of what “it” is, and those who don’t, simply refer to it as, “feces.”
After the laughter dies down, I explain my illustration. “As you can see, it’s about to hit the fan. So, what does this tell you?”
Another manager begins to interpret my illustration. “I believe you’re making the point, that at this time, it’s too late to coach. You must either be directive and tell the person exactly what they need to do, do it with them, or take over their problem and resolve it yourself. You have no choice but to jump in because time is of the essence. There’s so much on the line that if the issue is not handled immediately and properly, since there’s no room for error, there are going to be greater consequences that ensue.”
I confirmed everyone’s agreement around this observation shared by this manager.
Now comes their defining moment, and the role that every manager plays as to why they are in this situation in the first place. I asked the managers, “Since we’re all in agreement so far, the question you need to ask yourself is, “Why?” That is, why are you in this reactionary situation at all? What’s the root cause of why this is happening in the first place?”
I continued with my line of questioning before they responded. “What if you are responsible for creating these situations that most of you want to avoid? What role are all of you playing in this?”
A look of puzzlement plagued each manager’s face.
“Okay, before we answer that question, let’s walk through this scenario to the end. One of your direct reports approaches you with a burning issue that they feel they can no longer resolve on their own. You then react and find yourself taking ownership of the problem. You become the primary point of contact who feels obligated to resolve the issue. If you turn this into a developmental opportunity for your direct report to learn from this experience, what can you do next?”
One manager raised his hand and said, “Discuss how this can be avoided in the future?”
“Exactly,” I confirmed. “What you can do after the situation has been resolved is do what I call a, “post-mortem review.” So, what would that sound like?”
“I guess, once you resolve the situation, then it would be a good time to connect with that person and discuss what needs to be done so they can avoid this type of situation in the future.” All the managers agreed this was a sound strategy.
And it is a very powerful strategy. Doing a review after a sale is lost, as well as when a sale is made, is a non-negotiable conversation ever manager needs to have with their direct reports to ensure toxic behavior is identified and eliminated and positive, effective and desired behavior is reinforced.
If you’re Doing a Post Mortem Review, You Missed the Coaching Moment
“Consider this truth for a moment. The only reason you need to conduct a post-mortem review in the first place is simple. You missed the coaching moment that presented itself at the onset.
Just think about selling. During an initial conversation with a prospect or customer, it’s critical to go through your discovery and qualifying process to ensure there’s a good fit, a clear need for your solution, that this is someone you want to work with, and finally, you’ve taken the time to uncover any potential roadblocks or objections that could stall or prevent a sale or any imminent problems that could arise. That’s why when I’m in a selling situation, one of the last questions I ask a prospect is, “What, if anything, could potentially get in the way of us working together?”
I went back to the flip chart and drew a dotted line from the fan on the right of the page, all the way to the left side of the page. At the end of the dotted line, I drew a very small oval circle representing, well, you know what “it” is at this point.
I continued to create a new possibility for every manager in the room. “And similar to professional selling, if you do the same thing when your coaching, which is honoring the A.B.C.’s of leadership; Always Be Coaching, then you would have been able to identify and catch this potential catastrophe when the “it” was much smaller and you could do something about it, before it metastasized into something so big that it was positioned to hit the fan.”
I posed what may be perceived as a rhetorical but essential question in order to gain consensus. “If you’re a great salesperson, do you wait until the end of your sales process, after you provide the solution, to overcome objections or do you take the time in the beginning of the sales process to identify these potential barriers up front so that you can defuse these objections when they’re small? Now, you can either do something to defuse them or disqualify the opportunity. Who here has a different point of view around this?” Again, the silence in the room was interpreted as agreement.
How to Avoid It from Hitting the Fan
Now that all the managers agreed with the theory behind my example, it was time for them to self-assess. “We’ve established how costly these situations are, so then, how do you avoid these problems from happening in the first place?”
The solution was now glaringly obvious to them. If only they were coaching that person effectively and consistently, only then are they able to identify a potential pitfall in their process or developmental opportunity which in turn, would avoid situations like these from surfacing and getting to the point where the manager must drop what they’re doing and re-actively waste their precious and limited time to resolve it. So, adopt the language of coaching to make it part of your rhythm of business and how you engage with people so that you can anticipate, address and prevent any issues before they arise.
Why use the analogy of a fan to drive home such a critical lesson? If you hold up a piece of paper in front of a fan, it’s easy for the fan to blow it away. Conversely, hold a large rock in front of a fan and see what happens. The rock doesn’t move. This holds true for the analogy I used earlier. Smaller problems get resolved quickly, while larger problems cause stagnation and more mental and physical effort to get it to move; thus, the problem remains and the weight of the problem makes it more difficult to resolve.
Let the Fan Blow Your Problems Away
The lesson here; consistent, effective coaching is your air conditioning on a blistering summer day. Otherwise without it, you’ll wind up sweating over resolving daily problems that don’t need to be there in the first place.
Of course, fans can also be used to put your face up next to it and talk into the fan so you make a cool sounding voice, like Darth Vader. Don’t pretend like you’ve never done that.