August 2014

You've Arrived

The Journey Continues

Yes, you can celebrate that you have indeed created a new neural network.

However, without the fear of life and death, that new neural network doesn’t get hard wired instantly, so it is still very tenuous. It is like a newly bushwhacked trail that has been used just enough to become a deer trail. With practice and positive self-correction, it will become a wider path and then a one lane road. Soon, with more practice, your new neural network will become a two lane road and even a small highway. Will it ever become as strong as the superhighways in our brains that are our knee jerk reactions? Brain researchers are not sure but regardless, the stronger the new neural network, the faster and easier it is to get back on track and feel, think, and behave in ways that serve you. As you become facile at the PeRL, your professional and personal journey becomes more and more enjoyable and successful.

The Sally & Donna Show ended last month with Donna celebrating her job and anticipating sessions with an onboarding coach, while Sally cannot wait to call the headhunter at lunch to start the process of finding a new job.

Step back into their days to find out how they proceed...

We left Sally at a meeting, about to brief her peers on a project managed by one of her team. Unfamiliar with the project, she emailed the project team and received an update moments ago. when it came in, she quickly reviewed it and was relieved that she would have something to report. While waiting for her turn on the agenda, she spends her time reviewing the ways in which this company, job, and her team have failed her and are inadequate.

Tom, her boss who is running the meeting, turns to her and asks for an update on this particular project. Sally starts by apologizing for the fact that she doesn't have slides to show them but manages to throw the team under the bus as she does so.

“I would normally have slides for you,” Sally says as she shakes her head, “but my team just got me the information a half an hour ago.”

Those in the room who know the people on this project team know that they are extremely competent and on the ball. A few heads cock with quizzical expressions but no one says anything.

Practically reading the email out loud that she just received, Sally goes through all the points her team has given her. Someone asks a question about a detail that is not mentioned in the email update. Sally's jaw tightens. How will she come out of this looking good? Thinking on her feet, she smiles and says sweetly, “Well, bless their hearts. We can't expect them to think of everything.”

At this point, those folk who know the project team are wide-eyed in amazement. They aren't used to having a senior leader throw someone under the bus. Ken, a senior leader who has been at the company for many years and who has great people skills, sees where this may be heading.

“Sally, thanks for the update,” Ken responds. “It seems that your project team is doing a great job. We, and I'm speaking for all of us at the table here, want you to know that we don't expect you to be on top of every project right away. We know that it takes time to get situated and up to date on all the projects. It really is okay that you don't know everything.” He pauses and then says jokingly, “yet.”

Several people laugh, remembering how they felt when they first started. They also appreciate Ken for his humor and for his skill at addressing difficult issues. There's a bit of talk and heads nodding and folks saying to Sally, “Take your time. You'll get it in no time. No worries.”

Sally feels mortified, as if she's been found out. Sally has the impostor syndrome. She has been waiting her entire life for someone to realize that she isn't as capable as she seems to be. She knows that they know. She plasters a smile on her face and says thank you to each comment. Meanwhile, she can't wait to get out of the meeting and make the call to the headhunter.


Donna's day is going quite differently. You may remember that Donna just found out from her boss, Lorin, that she can have an on-boarding coach. Delighted, she calls her husband, Darren, to share the good news. He responds by suggesting that the family have a celebration dinner. Donna gets off the phone and prepares for the rest of her day.

Her last meeting of the day is another performance appraisal with a young woman, Sasha, who joined the company about one year ago. She's very bright, extremely competent, but there are some conduct issues that Donna's predecessor did not address.

Donna has seen a bit of the behavior she heard about, so she feels confident that she can address the issues with Sasha directly rather than simply as hearsay. However, she feels a bit anxious bringing up some of issues she knows she must address. She considers bringing in someone from Human Resources but decides that she will attempt to address the issues on her own. Lorin is okay with her decision and supportive of the tact that she will take.

Sasha strolls into Donna's office (the door was open) and plops down on a chair at a small table in the room. Because she is looking at her phone as Donna gets up from her desk and walks over to the table, Sasha doesn't see that Donna is a bit surprised.

She does look up when she hears Donna say, “Hi Sasha” while she reaches out to shake her hand.

Sasha shakes Donna's hand and says, “Hi.”

Before sitting down, Donna offers Sasha a bottle of water. Then she sits down across from her and the two women look at each other.

Sasha quickly averts her gaze and says, “So, what are we supposed to do here, anyway? I know I'm doing a good job, so what else is there to talk about?”

Not flustered, Donna lets Sasha know that she and her prior supervisor are in agreement about the quality of Sasha's work being excellent. In that regard, she couldn't ask for more. Donna has spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the best approach to take with Sasha in giving her some fairly intense negative feedback about her conduct. She takes a deep breath and launches into her plan.

Donna asks Sasha how she would like to develop herself over the next year.

Sasha smiles, actually beams, and says, “I thought you would never ask. I want to lead a project team. I took a course in project management and I think I would be good at it and enjoy it.”

Donna couldn't be happier with this comment. It is a perfect lead in for what she wants to say to Sasha. Now she can address the conduct issues in terms of Sasha's development rather than just calling her out on them and setting up a performance plan focused on these issues. This feels much better to Donna, and since Sasha is so bright, it could prove to be a turning point in her career if handled well.

“Well, Sasha, that is an excellent idea.” Donna begins. “From what I've seen and heard, I think that you will make an excellent project leader. However, there are a few aspects of leadership that we'll have to address so that you can lead the people on a project with the values of our company.

“Though I've heard and seen nothing but stellar work when it has to do with technical content, your people skills need some attention,” Donna continues. “I've heard and seen (since I've been here) instances of you behaving in ways that are off-putting to many people here. The comments range from your lack of responsiveness to emails, to how frequently you take phone calls when you're in a meeting, to how often you are texting during meetings, rolling your eyes, and more. In order for us to start you on the road to being a project leader, these behaviors have to change. How is it for you to hear this?”

Sasha's eyes fill with tears, but rather than crying, she clenches her teeth, her nostrils flare, and she says, “They're just jealous. They all know that my work is superior to theirs. They don't want me to succeed.”

Now Donna pulls on everything she has been studying for the last couple of years. She starts with empathy.

“I know it feels like that,” Donna responds. “It's easy to assume jealousy when you hear that some people are having a hard time and haven't told you. However, many people tell me how lucky we are to have you on our team. They tell me that they admire you for your work. They just have a difficult time with how you treat them and others; as if they aren't important and you can't give them the time of day. Nobody likes being ignored. I think you would be surprised at the outcome if you started treating your teammates with higher regard.”

“Why would they say that?” Sasha asks as she looks up at Donna quizzically. “I've never treated them with disrespect. I'm just more interested in doing my work than socializing. I don't like small talk.”

“Right,” Donna responds. “No one has said to me that they wish you were more social. They simply tell me that they feel frustrated with you. One example I've heard has to do with your lack of responsiveness to their emails, even after they email you a second time asking for a response.”

The conversation proceeds like this, with Sasha sounding first surprised by and then defensive about the feedback Donna is giving her. Each time, Donna responds with empathy, followed by factual (descriptive) information about the particular behaviors that are problematic.

Finally, Sasha says, “Well if this is holding me back from what I want to do, I will do something about it. What can I do to work on this?”

Donna acknowledges Sasha immediately for this attitude. “Now this attitude will get you to where you want to go. How about you think about this overnight and let's tag up in the morning to look at some different options? Review everything we talked about today and think about where some of these behaviors might be coming from in you as well as how you might start shifting them. We'll work on it together and because you're so dedicated to being successful, you can use that same passion and purpose for this goal.”

Sasha thanks Donna for the feedback, though she admits, it was difficult for her to hear. They set up a time to speak together the next morning.

After Sasha leaves, Donna straightens her office quickly and leaves the building. She is eager to go to the celebration dinner that her husband and children are preparing for her. She knows that she has a lot to take credit for and to celebrate! She is also keenly aware of the growth that she will go through as a result of this new position. It is going to tax her to the max as this last meeting revealed. And, this knowledge is thrilling to her. She feels up to the challenge.

Now let's review what we've just learned...

Sally shows us once again that she is stuck. She is not learning the lessons that are here for her to learn, so she will repeat them yet again.

Donna, on the other hand, shows us that she is applying her study of leadership to the new situations she faces. It is clear that she is learning from the people around her and applying her learning as she goes. There is no doubt that she will keep facing the challenges that confront her and keep learning and being a student of life. At the same time, the quality of her life is good and keeps improving as she grows.

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