A standard part of executive coaching is to collect qualitative data about the client from his or her co-workers, staff, superiors, even clients. The purpose of the exercise is several-fold: to solicit candid and subjective information about the client’s impact on others (regardless of his or her intent), engage stakeholders in the solution that coaching represents, generate current feedback to give the client, and to shape goals for the engagement. I’m sure there are others, but let’s start there.
Over the years coaching former military officers and senior NCOs, I have encountered a recurring theme that I’d like to put out there for discussion. I’d really like to hear from all interested parties – former military officers and the civilians who work with them. The theme, specifically, pertains to what I’ll call bullying.
It is common for the initial data gathering interviews to yield comments from an officer’s civilian colleagues to the effect of, “It’s his way or the highway,” “She barks orders at us and we’re kind of afraid of her,” “You have to brace yourself before going in there for a meeting with him,” or “If you disagree with her in a meeting, she just talks over you or waits till you’re done and then steam rolls you in front of everyone.” Bottom line: he or she is a bully.
Now, I don’t hear this from every co-worker of a former officer, nor do I hear it about every officer I coach, but suffice it to say I hear it enough to warrant a closer look.
When I feedback this type of comment to the client I am coaching, I see a couple of different reactions: surprise, dismay, defensiveness, blank stare. The reaction speaks volumes about the individual’s level of self-awareness and skill. When the reaction is surprise and/or dismay, progress is speedy as the client is highly motivated to align actual impact with intended impact. It becomes a very manageable challenge to overcome, with quick and evident results. Basically, a matter of communication style; modifying the military command and control approach to a more relationship-oriented approach to task execution.
On the other hand, when the client’s reaction to feedback is defensiveness or the blank stare, progress can be slow as mud. Why? Because we have to first work on giving legitimacy to the feedback, which means looking at values and priorities. Specifically, looking at the relationship between accomplishing a task and cultivating a relationship. In the military, task (“mission”) come first, without question. But in the civilian workplace, task accomplishment is facilitated by collegial relationships. Or derailed by a lack of them. In such cases, I put on the hat of cultural translator.
In the spirit of brevity, I’m simplifying a complex question here, to be sure. But, for the sake of making the military-to-civilian transition smoother for all concerned, why not take a shot at understanding it better? For the former officer: what constructive insight would you offer on the subject? For readers without prior military experience but who work alongside former officers: what constructive insight would you offer?
I invite you to explore the question with me by sharing your unique experience and perspective, and look forward to learning from your responses.