Q: I reconfigured my management team after a merger of two small companies, promoting a couple of very talented people from the other company. I’ve since found that one is quite abrasive with her people, and the other doesn’t delegate sufficiently. How do I deal with this? — Renee, 45, CEO
A: There are two lessons here: one about solving your current problem and a second about preventing it in the future.
Start by reflecting on the process you used to design your management team. From the outcome, it’s clear that you didn’t do sufficient assessment of the strengths and development needs of your candidates.
You should be commended for bringing together leaders from both parties to the merger. But it’s easy to be swayed by charisma, especially when there’s pressure to get things in place quickly.
Now you have some serious and important work to do. You may well have promoted the most qualified people, but it’s a necessity to call them on their deficits and give them the resources to address them.
The stakes are high. The behaviors you have identified could undermine confidence in your judgment and drive good people out of your company. Be willing to invest time and resources, as long as you are confident they are willing to change.
Talk with each of them, explaining the behaviors you are concerned about. Articulate your expectations so they can have a clear vision of the desired transformation.
Hopefully they will be receptive. If they resist, be clear about the consequences, as you simply need to protect your company from damage from poor leadership.
Bring in professional help. There are plenty of good leadership-development coaches and approaches that can help. The key will be to base development plans on deep feedback that provides confidentiality to those providing feedback. Assessments, such as those measuring emotional intelligence, could also offer valuable insights.
Then invest in ongoing coaching to help your leaders learn the desired new behaviors. They may have the best of intentions, but it’s hard to change. Having an outside resource can also give them a safe space to explore the underlying dynamics that drive their actions.
For example, micromanagement or failure to delegate may stem from past experiences that didn’t go well, or a general lack of trust in others. Or it could be rooted in a “I know best” mindset. Visibility to the inner dynamic can help the person move forward.
Remain involved yourself, having frequent one-on-one meetings and staying connected so that you can observe their progress first hand. External coaches are a useful addition but are not a replacement for the leadership you provide.
Remember, even though you are paying the bill, the coaching relationship is between the employee and the coach.
You can expect to have goals shared with you, but it would be a violation of confidentiality to ask the coach to disclose details of their work together.
Then, the next time you are looking at a high-stakes hiring decision, take some of the steps discussed here to do a more careful assessment so that you are not taken by surprise. The new leaders and the teams will all benefit.