Re-framing Leaders' Mindset from 'Victim Child' to 'Resourceful Adult'

MSME ARTICLE #5/2018 : OCTOBER 12th 2018

There are many leaders whose level of competencies and capabilities are astounding. These leaders are able to stay focused and aligned to their target. They ensured their teams achieved the outcome set by the organisation. However, there are times when these same leaders sound and appear as if they do not know what to do. They become silent and allow another person to dominate the work-space. Even if and when they have some possible solution to an emergent problem, they act as if they are unable to contribute potential solutions. Why does this happen? What happened to their creativity and resoluteness?
Let me share one client-case where such an occurrence persisted and how the coaching intervention equipped the leader with tools to manage this challenge.

Client-Case:
In my coaching work, I met a leader (client) who had a very tough line manager. His line manager would not tolerate if any of his direct reports portrayed “not knowing” or exposed their vulberability to him. He wanted to look perfect in the eyes of his direct reports and he expected them to be like him. They should have all the answers to the questions he posed to them. If anyone of them did not have the answers, he would roll his eyes and make a grunt-like sound indicating his indignation. His level of patience was very low. His level of expectation for ‘perfection’ was very high.

My client felt the pressure of working with this line manager. My client was afraid to share his ideas, provide suggestions or even answer questions, as he was worried sick that he would be frowned upon by his line manager. This tensed atmosphere was apparent notably during the visits from his superior. Due to all the tension and apprehension being experienced, my client decided to leverage on an executive coach to help support him in his journey of coping with a tough superior.

During the coaching sessions, the coach explored the client’s thoughts and feelings when the line manager was in the vicinity. The client responded that he felt ‘inadequate’, a ‘victim’, unable to deliver outcomes, everything was not working well, unable to speak or share and a feeling of being ‘not good enough’. In the absence of the superior, the client was able to function productively higher, though the client had a heavy heart. Many questions would be swirling in his head. Some included; “what if my boss does not like this suggestion?”, “what if my boss criticizes my effort in front of other leaders?”, etc. These thoughts led him to feel ‘drained-out’. His emotional state and his demeanor became erratic. This had a negative spill-over effect on his team. Many of them started working with a ‘silo’ mentality or in a ‘survival-mode’.

During the coaching sessions, hard questions were put to the client as to why he felt like a “victim”. He shared that his superior made him feel like he was a fresh graduate, new to the working world and who did not have much to contribute. The coach helped the client to appreciate the Transactional Analysis Theory that explains the three functional ego states of being either a ‘Parent–Child–Adult’. This theory shares that people play emotional games. For example the line manager chose to play the role of a ‘Critical Parent’. To fulfill his ego state, he needed an accomplice who would play the role of a ‘Compliant and Passive child’. This role was played by the client. Hence the drama will continue as long as both willingly act out their respective ego states.

Knowing this, my client acknowledged and embraced the facts of the drama and ego states. My client made a decision to break this drama. He saw himself as a 40 year-old ‘Adult’ who was resourceful and capable. Using the coaching sessions, he focused on his strengths as a leader to his team. He re-grouped his team and curated new strategies to help improve teamwork as well as their productivity. He practiced new interventions he learnt during the coaching sessions such as repeating phrases to remind himself of his resourcefulness and capabilities. When his line manager called for a meeting, the client continued to ‘Believe in Himself’. He started to think, feel and behave like a resourceful ‘Adult’. This was a shock to the line manager, but he had to accept it, though he did not look pleased.

Are you a leader who is experiencing similar drama and ego-states in your work-space? Would you like to learn interventions to manage this?

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