Lessons Learned from a Woman in Leadership
In honor of Women’s History Month, we dedicate our March blog to feature one of our favorite case study stories. Here is the story of Rachel. See if you identify with any of Rachel’s behaviors. What can you learn from her?
Rachel is president of a Strategic Business Unit (SBU) for a billion dollar manufacturing company. Her SBU is responsible for $70 million of the company’s revenue. She comes from Israel, the only country in the world with a mandatory military service requirement for women. Rachel served her time in the Army.
When she assumed the presidency of her SBU, I led a ‘Team Leader Assimilation’ program for Rachel and her top leadership team. Part of the program involved Rachel introducing herself to the team, with some personal insights. The first words out of her mouth were: “I’m from Israel. I’m from the military, and I’ve killed people.”
Now, think about it for minute. What would you think if you heard your new boss say that? I am sure one of your reactions would be FEAR. What would you call Rachel’s behavior? It would be safe to say: “intimidation”. That is what happened. Rachel had 15 people who were petrified of working for her.
Rachel excelled at her job. She was committed to results. Rachel was also committed to her people, and she was dedicated to getting them to the next level. Based on first impressions, not one person knew that.
Rachel had a particular style of intimidation: intimidation by passion. She really cared, but she did not express it properly. She hired me on as an executive coach, working on better business behavior. Here is what I told Rachel: “You are packed with passion about your job. You love it and you are good at it. You truly believe. You are enthusiastic, energetic . . . and you are usually right.
Sometimes passion does not come out the way you want it to. It becomes a negative. That passion makes people worry that they are not good enough, they do not work hard enough and they are somehow inadequate.
If you act passionate around people who do not understand you, it is intimidating. Do not suppress your passion. Redirect it. We want to make sure your passion is appropriately expressed, and understood by all involved.
There is something beautiful about Rachel’s commitment. By improving the way she came across to people, she was able to get her message across. People started to listen to her … and to respect her rather than fear her. Rachel is now a great leader. She’s having a great time and seeing great success.
The other component that we worked on was the way Rachel expressed her opinions. She had trouble understanding that her opinion was not necessarily the truth. Here is an example of what we discussed.
Rachel: “I can’t believe how my people are always doing exceptional PowerPoints, but never executing the work in the PowerPoints. Why can’t they execute instead of just drawing pretty pictures on a PowerPoint? Up until now, they have been led by fools.”
Coach: “Rachel, from the set of words that you just told me, how much of it is your opinion?”
Rachel: “None of it is my opinion. All of it is truth. All of it is fact.”
Coach: “When you say their leaders were fools, that is your opinion. You have a message to deliver. How do you leave out your opinion and give people something they can act upon? What do you really need to tell your people?
Clearly, opinions ruled her life. Rachel had an opinion about everything. She eventually realized she did not need to share her opinion to get her message across. Once she realized that her opinions did not add to the conversation, a number of things happened. She started to listen more carefully. She started to realize that her opinions stopped people in their tracks. The way she broadcast her opinions caused her the most trouble in her leadership journey.
Through coaching, Rachel managed to earn people’s respect. They started sharing their opinions and she learned from them. Because there was ‘give and take’, she listened to her people and they listened to her. This helped build their work ethic. Her team got better results.
Think about your leadership. Do you share too many opinions? Do your opinions create value, or do they destroy peoples’ spirit? If that is the case, learn to hold back. Set up some filters to improve the way you lead. You will love the results… all the way to the bottom line.