Learning from 'Kintsukuroi' for Leaders of Errant Team

MSME ARTICLE #4/2018 : AUGUST 7th 2018

Leaders today expend a lot of effort in handpicking the right talent to build their team. This is normally done via a rigourous selection process. Once onboard, the teams have targets to fulfil and periodic alignment activities leading to excellent results. If all of the above processes fall into place, then the team is called a “High Performing Team”. Unfortunately, there are teams who, despite being handpicked, fail to match or exceed the expectations of the leader. So how do leaders manage these team members?

In my coaching work, I have coached leaders who see these errant team members as broken and needing to be fixed. There are others who see them as victims who are weak as they constantly seek to blame their circumstances. What I have learnt from the coaching world is that all adults who come into the organisation are seen as whole, resourceful, creative and capable. Each of them will come with some parts that are chipped or had been broken in the past. Their experience from their broken-ness has made them who they are today. They are not ‘perfect’. This is similar to the leaders who are also not ‘perfect’. So who are they in their imperfectness?

One possible answer can be found from a Japanese art form called “kintsukuroi”, which means “to repair with gold”.  In this Japanese art form, gold or silver is used to put the broken pieces of a ceramic bowl together. The gold or silver would make the bowl stronger and more beautiful than before. Hence the broken-ness is not something to be hidden. The broken bowl is not ruined nor does it have less value. Additionally, in Japan,

Using this “kintsukuroi” philosophy where each person embraces every flaw and imperfection of each other, how can leaders become more accepting of their team members who are not “perfect”. Let me share one coaching case scenario.

One of the leaders I coached had a persistent negative outlook towards some members of his team as he saw inadequacies in them, such as they being broken that they needed to be fixed, while others he saw as being weak in their thinking process that he needed to amend. His current pattern of dealing with them was to jump to quick conclusions, craft speedy solutions and ‘tell’ them what they needed to do so that the broken-ness could be mended quickly.

As his executive coach, I explored his reason for seeing them as broken that needed his fixing or even weak that needed his strength. I also explored what his need for ‘perfect-ness’ was. His reply included the following:- when they make mistakes, he is not tolerant of their failure and wants quick results and speedy re-alignment, hence the need for quick fixing. He also needed his team to be ‘perfect’ as he wanted to showcase them to his superiors. I also explored how he felt during this whole process as well as the impact it had on him. He said he felt drained of his energy and it consumed too much of his time. He felt frustrated and exhausted at the end of the day.

One coaching intervention that I shared with him was to see his team members as whole, creative, resourceful and capable. By doing that he was able to see the gold and silver parts in them. He was able to acknowledge the fact that nobody is perfect and all of us have the gold and silver parts in us. Another intervention I shared was his focus was on the outcome. What if he focused on the process that the team member undertook towards the outcome? He agreed to try out this intervention. He became aware that there were many parts of the process that were done well by the team member. He also identified that there were some parts that did not work. By acknowledging this with his team member, he was validating the vulnerability of the team member. He was also building up the self-belief and self-confidence of the team member. Consequently, he was branding himself as a leader who encouraged a culture of ‘it’s ok to make mistakes’.

After a few coaching sessions and practicing new interventions, the leader started to reap a number of benefits such as; he managed to create a culture that encouraged ‘not having a fear of failure’; it’s ok to be vulnerable and where being ‘perfect’ is not necessary!
Are you a leader who is keen to build such a culture?


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