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For the Greater Good

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For the Greater Good

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Dattner Group were approached some 10 months ago to provide support to a leader in one of the divisions. “Very bright, could take on one of the most senior roles, but a bit of a maverick, a bit competitive, doesn’t entirely know the impact he has on others. Has put some of our more senior Exec off side.”

The Problem

Programmed is a big company – many people, complex business, multiple divisions. We’ve known Programmed over many years, and a couple of generations of leaders – down to earth, experienced, commercially savvy. It’s a good business and we’ve been proud to have been associated with them in various guises.

At some stage everyone who makes their way to the C suite goes through what we affectionately call the ‘come to Jesus moment’. This is when the leader has to face up to behaviours or ways of thinking that are career derailers.

Programmed had the wisdom to recognise that individually competitive traits and/or power based traits weren’t going to work. The job was to get the leader to see that and to then intentionally invest in developing themselves.

Organisations that don’t address this often find that there is a material disconnect between executives and the people they are tasked with leading. The most senior are seen to be aggressively defensive, task focussed and unaware of the repercussions of their decisions on others. This leads to passive or passively defensive responses often as many as two to three layers down. People don’t trust leaders, operate in silos, often competitive, don’t collaborate effectively and end up blaming others if things don’t go to plan.


The Solution

To begin with, Dattner Group do our best to understand the leader in question. We spend quality time one on one, investigating their:

  • Sense of purpose
  • Clarity on personal values (and how they show up in behaviour)
  • Ambitions – whole of life and professional
  • Contributions (tracking for what actually has been done rather than what has been over seen)
  • Perception of strengths/challenges
  • Opportunities for development

We look at prior development they’ve undertaken (including diagnostics), we look at their role and what their manager is expecting and observing. We look for gaps in thinking with the leader, where what they value in themselves is not matched with what we have learnt about them.

We do a suite of diagnostics to help understand the meta insights the leader is working from (in particular, Human Synergistics Life Styles Inventory, together with the MSCEIT (Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test)). These two diagnostics tell us the extent of a leader’s constructive orientation, and their ability to recognise, use, understand and manage emotions in themselves and others.

We marry the preliminary interview process and diagnostics suite with what the leader already knows about themselves both in practice and through other feedback mechanisms, both formal and informal.

A large part of the development journey is to create a space where vulnerability based trust grows. The leader comes to know that saying sorry, or I don’t know are signs of strength not weakness. This is where we begin the coaching journey, digging down into the motivations and ambitions of the leader to find where they are most constructive and capable, and where they are constrained by the story they have told themselves about themselves in the world.

To quote the famous Leonard Cohen, from his song Anthem:


There is a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in.

When we find the constructive story, we help the leader elevate it, connect it to who they see themselves to be. We find out when they are predisposed to see and behave consistent with this self image. We also find where the leader is inconsistent and is behaving in a way that undermines their ambitions, affects the people around them, and is seen as inadequate for the more senior roles.

We now help the leader to see the disconnect between the two selves, and how to stick the best self into the most challenging circumstances, i.e. the leader knows how to be constructive; we help them bring this ‘self’ to circumstances that would otherwise bring out their defensive mindset.

The Outcome

This process is both confronting and deeply supportive and it takes time.

We coach, then we leave the leader for a month to digest and process. Then we regroup and do the same process at a higher level.

In this instance, this senior executive came to the feedback and coaching process with true openness. At no stage did he seem resistant. On the contrary, he appeared to be warm, aware, vulnerable and kind. Also fiercely intelligent and capable.

Helping this leader see how his way of thinking and behaving had been, at times, counter productive to his outcomes, was like taking a child into a room, opening a door the child had never seen, then discovering there was a feast on the other side.

With awareness came change – greater insight into the leader he wanted to be and the impact he wanted to have versus how he was operating initially.

Ultimately, there is no going back from processes of this kind. He is not necessarily changed in his entirety. Patterns we challenge in leaders have likely been around since childhood. The leader has had a lot of practice at being who they are… and in reality, most of who this leader showed himself to be was just fine.

However, bringing part of yourself to the game, or all of yourself part of the time, is not OK in leadership any more. It takes intentional effort to change and/or evolve. What we do know about this executive team member is he’s trying, he’s supported by his manager, and so far, the change appears to be significant.


Author, Fabian Dattner, Founding Partner Dattner Group, Co Founder Homeward Bound