Recently, I (Rip) was meeting with a company leader who had been preparing for some time to have a tough talk with a member of his team. The team member was a high producer, but her abrasive interactions were hurting the overall effectiveness of the team. These conversations are never easy and to encourage the leader to have the hard conversation, I shared my own story.
When I was in my early thirties, I was rising rapidly in the corporate structure, but I was adopting some negative behaviors that were going to derail me in the long run. Needless to say, I didn’t see it. Fortunately for me, one of the senior executives at the company did. He was a very experienced individual, approximately twenty years older than I was. And he decided to give me an unexpected career gift.
This executive took the time to sit down with me and share his own observations about my behavior when I worked with members of his team and other colleagues. He told me, “You have a lot of gifts and it’s pretty obvious to many of us that you’ve got great potential in your career, but you’re not going to achieve all that potential unless you make some changes.” He helped me understand that I wasn’t really listening to others; I was much more interested in making my own points and presenting my own perspective. I needed, fundamentally, to embrace humility and to recognize that other people might (and often did!) know more than I about a given matter.
This man was not my boss. He was simply an executive in the company who took an interest in me and in my career. But I will always consider him a friend because he made a massive difference in what ultimately happened in my professional life. He caught me at a point where I was both willing and able to make changes in my behavior for the better. He cared enough about me as a person to be honest and direct with me. By doing so, he gave me an unexpected – and wonderful – career gift.
This story helped buoy my client’s confidence as he walked into his own challenging conversation. The great news is that his team member took the conversation to heart and is making meaningful changes in the way she is interacting with the other people on the team and is better supporting the performance of the team as a whole. When the leader described the conversation and outcomes to me, I affirmed, “I think you just gave her a career gift.”
Now, the takeaway from this blog is not to start going around to everyone you want to straighten out and laying it on the line in front of them. A lot of care has to be taken before you speak. The person on the receiving end has to be willing to listen, so you need to apply good judgment in terms of whether you should have such a conversation and, if so, what you should say and how you should say it.
With that firmly in mind, I want to leave you with this: as a leader, there may come a time when you have the opportunity to give someone – whether or not they report to you directly – an unexpected career gift. If you do, I hope you have the courage to do it in a gentle, caring way. And if you find yourself on the receiving end of such a conversation, I hope you will be truly willing to listen and make changes, recognizing the powerful career gift the other person is giving you.
Leadership Takeaway for Today:
Have the courage to give or receive the tough conversation that may become the best career gift ever.