Brutally honest may be your smartest choice

At some stage, we all need help from others in the workplace. In this posting executive leadership coach John M. McKee says why you should try to find that person sooner than later.

"I think I've lost it.  In every position I've had, I have always been successful; but now it seems like I've lost my mojo. In the past I could always see the way the wind was blowing. I could almost "sense" the right move career-wise.  As a result, I stayed ahead of the pack.  But now, not so much. Can we meet?"

The email was from a former client, "Alan."

I've worked with him over the years, going as far back as 2003. Before responding, I pulled his file to reacquaint myself with what we'd done together.  It was a long file, over 50 pages (we'd worked on a few things during the period).  Then, like now, he was often concerned about falling behind.  As I read through his file, it struck that he may be facing the same issue he had years ago.  I scheduled a meeting with him.

It's always interesting when I get back in touch with people after spending time together as their coach. He'd actually used me as his career partner.  My clients are often surprised by how my notes from earlier meetings can tell us what will help them with a current issue.  (Trade secret: This is one of the reasons I like coaching by phone, much easier to type and listen.)

Often that's all they need - A reminder of some past career-limiting behavior can often get them back on the right track to move ahead once more.

See if you can relate to what Alan was doing as he inadvertently shot himself in the foot:

Alan was/and still is a very smart guy.  He's well educated and has continually upgraded his skills and knowledge.  He's also competitive and takes the initiative to push for more responsibility whenever an opportunity comes his way.

One of his issues, back in 2003, was that he hardly ever allowed himself enough time to decompress.  He was successful and believed that he had more stamina then others. Consequently, he was confident that he could accomplish more than his peers.

His energy, enthusiasm and brainpower presented a powerful package.  He was recognized by supervisors who continually gave him more responsibility and soon became the youngest executive who attended the Big Boss' weekly meetings.  At that point, Alan told me that he realized he'd made it.  He had shown he could do what was required to accomplish things while other vice presidents struggled or even failed.

Probably as a result of his beliefs, he began pushing his subordinates too hard.  That created turnover problems.  Checking around I learned that his most talented supervisors were looking for any opportunity to get away from him.

Alan has lost his perspective.  His judgment is clouded. Probably his "successes" and fast promotions have got him believing he really is better/smarter/faster than others around him.  He sees himself as a star. Others, however, see him as self-important and a guy who cares only about his own career.  They don't want to be around someone about to flame out.

I think we can prevent that from happening.  I've given him some tough love using examples of his behavior I've been given by his boss.  At first he was defensive (which is typical) but after we went through several examples of his bad behavior he finally acknowledged that a change of style is required before he gets into real trouble.

Alan was smart to go to another person for some perspective. It didn't have to be a coach he went to, just someone who is prepared to be honest, or if needed, brutally honest.  If you don't have anyone (a colleague, partner, boss, just someone) who will do that for you, I suggest you find one.  Help each other out.


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...


Reason why I say this is that, if others are intimidated by the so called "Alan", then people are going to do things to disapprove and disappoint him in anyway and find faults. If it is not in the technical side of it, it could be social side of it, or they will find some faults in a person. That is the way that this world functions. Well, it is not wrong if he thinks that he can do a better job, and he has been doing a better job than his peers. What I have noticed in this IT arena is that good people with good technical skills or even people skills cannot survive with the bunch of people around who can pull you down or who will say bad things about you. Just because your co-workers cannot do something more efficiently or better, they always would find a way to get rid of the person or find faults with that person who can do a better job. It is the co-workers or the bosses who feel insecure of this person and not "Alan". On the other negative side for Alan, there will be a lot of people like this in any work place and Alan will be the sufferer as he has to know how to get by these kind of folks who are incompetent or who cannot do their job right. Unfortunately, that is the way it is. I remember working for an organization where this career coach methodology was there or even several other yearly review methods etc... It never worked. One thing that everyone has to understand is all these gimmicks of Greenbelt, Blackbelt, Six Sigma, Lean Methodology and all the things can be there including coaching methodology, but it is that individual who has to think one thing "The job I do or I have is the one which puts food on my table for me an my family" and how I could do my job to the best of my ability and be successful both for my company that I work for and for myself. In some countries there is a proverb which says "The work I do shoud be considered as a service to god". If you feel that way and do your work, you will always succeed. Unfortunately, that is not true in the real world whether it is in America or for that matter any other country. It is who you know, how you socialize with people around you, how you go with them to the bars or have couple of drinks, or how you can kiss up. The rest is all useless. I have been in the IT industry for 21 years and I have never have been promoted as they always have kept me in the same position because it is not that I should not be or I do not have the education, but it is the feeling of those superiors or co-workers. A good manager will respect a valuable employee and who does a good job to promote him. But, if the person who intends to be in the same position for the next 20 years till he retires, how can the person below him get promoted? He has no chance, he has to wait for the other person to retire and by then he will be 20 years older to get to a simple managers job. I remember one of my friend who was an IT Manager and I worked below him said, well after I retire you can take my position. What? You are going to retire in the next 15 years, and I have to be like this for the next 15 years and then wait for 15 years to become an IT Manager? I may not have the title of a Manager or Director or VP, but I currently make a salary of VP or a CIO of some organizations.For some people title do matter and it matters for me. But, I said what the heck I dont care as long as I am paid for what I am worth. And I am blessed to have been making without a title. Sucks! But that is the truth.


While honesty is an attribute I value, you have to be really careful about being honest with other people - they may not be ready to hear what you have to say and it could backfire. This is especially true if you hold a superior position in your workplace; you want to point out mistakes of the people working under you, but you still have to get along and work together.


In my opinion, the most valuable piece of advice I have given subordinates has been the Golden Rule. Think about how you would feel if your boss treated you the way you treat your own people. That shift of perspective can be a real eye-opener. It sounds like "Alan" could definitely have benefited from it. He's too Type A for his own good. I personally don't promote folks like him. I've found they leave a wake of destruction. They need to spend more time in the barrel so they can mellow out a bit. (After a rocketing rise in my first 10 years I was passed over for promotions for 6 years afterwards. Although it was frustrating at the time, now I feel it may have been the best thing that could have happened to me career-wise. The skills and knowledge I gained during that time was what lifted me to the top later on.)


I have been lucky. No matter what I have done in my life or what obstacles I have encountered I have always been able to fall back on my family. I generally underestimate myself but their belief in me picks me up and pushes me forward. And when I am screwing up they have never been hesitant to put a boot up my rear to help set me straight again.

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