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.