From Bill the Apprentice to Bill the Director with his very own parking space. But making the big shift was harder than he thought.
Much of my work is spent helping people move into new roles. All moves pose the challenge of a change in relationships, a change of attitudes, a change in expected behaviours. Not everyone finds this easy. They may want to keep the same relationships with colleagues and feel uncomfortable with the idea of now being a ‘boss’. And so they convince themselves that it’s OK to continue to use their old comfort behaviours. However, with new roles come new responsibilities.
Bill joined a national engineering company as an apprentice almost thirty years ago. Last year he was promoted to Director status. Feedback for him was that although he had good relationships with his staff, his performance in directors’ meetings wasn’t up to scratch.
I asked him to imagine that he was an observer at one of these meetings, and to tell me what he was seeing and hearing of this person Bill. Describe his body language, his voice, his use of language and so on. “Slouching, folded arms, negative comments…” I think we got the message.
Bill’s difficulty was a common one. He still had loyalty to the shop floor and he confessed to feelings of dislike for fellow directors, seeing them as the old enemy. Bill talked me through his pride at achieving director level, but also his guilt because most of his friends hadn’t done so well. He felt inferior to most of his fellow directors, who he knew were better educated. So he ended up antagonising his fellow directors – but being apologetic and unassertive in his presentations to the field workers. One confused director!
I suggested we work on a few practical behaviours that would help Bill feel more the part.
I know from my work as an actor that consciously changing behaviour, even just the way we sit, influences our thoughts and feelings. So we practised them in the session. He was to use a different way of entering the room, to be the first to smile and shake hands with fellow directors. He was to use a more upright, alert sitting posture. He was to use open facial expressions and replace scowling with nodding. And he was to use plenty of definite, assertive language, with more voice. In his presentations to his field workers he was to take a different attitude – not playing down, but living up to, the expectations staff have of someone with a director’s title, salary and parking space! No loss of authenticity or integrity, just being responsible.
These changes in behaviour gave Bill a new direction and helped him feel more confident. The response from fellow Directors and colleagues alike has been entirely positive.
Practising these behaviours in a coaching session may seem odd. It may feel out of context and artificial, but the mind and muscles learn through doing, whether the situation is ‘real’ or not.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”
“Working with Kate enabled me to improve my communication technique. Practising with a professional communicator makes a significant difference and her insight, tips and techniques really work, allowing me to deliver material confidently while retaining my own style.”
Duncan Rhodes, Director, Bombardier