Chapter 5: Vision
That next Monday morning Scarlett was glad she had a session with Jack. She had a lot she wanted to discuss with him.
“Hi, Jack,” she said as she walked into the conference room.
“Hello. How have your last two weeks been, Scarlett?”
“They were a little daunting at first. I’m not used to sharing with my co-workers. I’ve had so many walls up for a long time that it felt uncomfortable, but I knew I needed to change.
“How did you feel when you began sharing with your employees?”
“I have to say that I am making some progress with Melissa and Steve. Having lunch with them, showing them some genuine appreciation and opening up a little bit about my life is making a difference. I’m beginning to enjoy seeing them every day instead of dreading it and I can see that is helping all of our performance. I really like the small changes, and I think they are cautiously pleased as well.”
“That’s great, Scarlett.”
“Yes, and I really didn’t understand that better relationships with my direct reports could take such a weight off my shoulders. We’re still focused on doing good work, of course, but I’m realizing that I can loosen my grip on what they are doing and truly begin the process of building trust. Trust was missing for a long time as I didn’t truly believe my employees would be to do as good of a job as I could.”
“Yes, trust is a big catalyst. People will step up when they feel trusted and sense you’re open to getting to know them. You’re treating them more as adults and contributors, helping them to want to step up and create an even better working environment. It’s a huge shift for all of you.”
“I also had another realization – I really do want to invest in my relationships outside of work. I went on a really good date this weekend and saw so clearly how having my guard up was really limiting my personal life as well.”
“Ok, tell me more.”
“Well, I haven’t really put an effort into building personal relationships before. I would typically date someone for a few months and then find some excuse to break up. After the date with Lee, I realized that I want something real in my life now.”
“That’s interesting, Scarlett. As you know, our primary purpose here is to work on your relationship-building skills to help you prepare to take on a partner role here at the firm, but everything is interconnected so these skills certainly translate to your personal life as well.”
“But this won’t come overnight. It takes time and energy to invest in relationships and truly build strong ones. It takes learning how to give and take and a willingness to be strong and powerful and yet vulnerable and open. It takes real courage to let people in if you have had walls up for a long time. Are you truly willing to work on that?”
Scarlett exhaled deeply.
“Yes. It’s scary, but I realize that I want strong relationships both inside and outside of work and that takes trust not only in others, but also trusting myself that I can open up to them.”
“Scarlett,” Jack continued, “I think you’re off to a great start!”
“Ok so what can I do next in order to continue moving towards partner?”
“Well the next step of the process of moving you from the manager you are to the leader you want to be is to begin to put together a vision of your professional (and personal life). For next time, I want you to focus on creating a vision for yourself for one year, five years, and ten years out. Write a letter to me explaining both personally and professionally what you are doing in those years, what you have achieved, and who are the central figures are in your personal and professional lives. As a leader, it is important to have a vision of where you want to go in order to truly understand what is important to you as well as to create the steps to achieve that vision.”
A month ago, Scarlett would have had a simple answer for most of these questions. But now, the possibilities overwhelmed her.
“In the meantime,” Jack went on, “continue building the relationships you are developing with your subordinates. Stop at their desks. Ask them how they’re doing, and how you can support them. And most importantly, listen to the answers. Keep investing in your relationships for that is how they will grow and prosper.”
“Thanks, Jack. I feel like our work is pushing me in the right direction, both in terms of becoming partner, but also a more well-rounded person.”
During that week, Scarlett found, oddly enough, that this assignment was harder than her first one. She had never really let herself take the time to dream because she was always so busy. She got frustrated. Who had time for this?
She took a step back and realized, however, that whatever Jack had been guiding her to do up until this point had been working, so she was at least going to try it. For her goals she had always been so focused on becoming partner. After that she knew that she wanted to go into politics. But she had never really fully developed her vision beyond that, and she certainly wasn’t sure about her life outside of work. She gave it a lot of thought, and wrote down her vision for each of the assigned years in anticipation of her next meeting with Jack.
Chapter 4: Personal Relationships
That night her brother Sam called. He would regularly check in with her, even when she didn’t always return his calls right away. Although he was younger than she was, he often took on the “big brother” role and looked out for her.
“Scarlett, I know what you are going to say, but I have a guy I want to introduce you to.”
“Sam...I don’t know.” He had tried this once or twice before and she was a little weary.
“Scarlett, come on - he’s a doctor. What girl doesn’t want to land herself a doctor?” This was an ongoing joke between the two of them since Sam himself was a physician.
Scarlett thought about it a little bit and remembered the insight that she had when she met with Jack - that her underdeveloped relationship skills might extend into her personal life. If she were truly going to work on this then why not give this guy a chance? “Ok, I’m up for it.”
“Really? Great!” said Sam and let her go before she could change her mind.
A couple of days later Sam’s friend Lee called and asked her out. They planned to get together on Saturday. She was going to remember what Jack had told her - that she needed to build trust through communicating and being open with those around her. She would see how that went with Lee.
Scarlett opened the door when Lee rang the bell on Saturday. He was wearing khakis and a blue polo shirt reminding her of the guys she went to college with at Georgetown. He was a good height and she was pleasantly surprised that he was good looking with his brown hair and athletic build. They walked out to the car together. “So your brother told me you are a lawyer, right?”
“Yes I am in Estate Planning, so I work with a lot of elderly clients.”
“Must be nice to always be the young one. I’m in pediatrics, so I am always the older person in the room,” he joked. Scarlett liked his laugh, and she found herself laughing too.
“How do you like being a pediatrician?”
“It keeps me on my toes, and I love the energy of the children. Even though they might be sick, they’re still so open and innocent. I enjoy that.” Scarlett liked that they both worked with people and were passionate about their work.
When they arrived at the restaurant, they looked at the menu while chatting about their families and themselves. Lee was a bit of an adventurer and liked to do a lot of outdoor activities, even though he was focused on his career. He made time for hobbies such as skiing and rock climbing.
He asked her how she spent her time outside of work.
Scarlett fumbled. “I...um...well...” But after a moment she regained her composure. “I guess I am still figuring that out.”
After they turned their conversation to work and he heard how much effort she put into her clients and the firm, he remarked, “It seems to be taking a toll on you.”
She looked away for a second, but then returned his gaze. “I love it, but I guess I’m realizing that I also need to start investing in both my professional and personal relationships. If I don’t, I won’t be able to achieve my goals. Being a partner is all I ever dreamed of.”
He looked over at her sympathetically. “I totally understand.”
Scarlett wondered how someone so balanced could possibly relate to her situation. As if he read her mind her continued, “I was going for partner with my firm a few years back as well. When I got it, I was surprised to realize that it wasn’t everything that I thought it would be. In fact, the additional responsibility meant a lot of extra work. It was hard because I was making plenty of money, and I liked the prestige of being a partner, but in the end, the money did not outweigh the extra time it entailed. After a year at that pace, I decided to take a yearlong sabbatical and decide what I wanted to do next. I guess you could say I had a mid-life crisis.” he laughed.
Scarlett couldn’t imagine what she would do with a year away from the firm and asked Lee how he spent the time.
“I went to Cambodia to volunteer on a medical mission, to New Orleans to help with the post-Katrina aid, and then took some time off to travel. I realized I still loved the work I did, but I wanted more ability to control my time and to really invest in meeting the right person. So I started my own business. After the initial ramp up period I now have more flexibility and truly can invest much more time in my family and friends...” He trailed off and smiled at her.
Scarlett was intrigued. They finished dinner over pleasant conversation and then drove home. He walked her to her door at the end of the evening and asked her if he could take her out again.
“That would be great,” she replied as he gave her a hug.
That night Scarlett tossed and turned in bed and hardly got any sleep. Would she feel like Lee did when she made partner? As uncomfortable as she was in building relationships, she was realizing that if she didn’t invest more in them, her work might be all she had in the end. Maybe this 360 assessment was a blessing in disguise, she thought. It might help her find exactly what she needs.
Chapter 3: Trust
As much as Scarlett dreaded facing the conversations with her employees, she set up lunches with both of them in order to begin the process she and Jack discussed. It was going to be hard to create a different dynamic than what they had now, but she had to give this a real try.
On the day of the lunch with Melissa, her assistant, they walked over to the bistro across the street and got a table. After some small talk about work Scarlett opened up about the feedback on her 360 and what she was learning through working with Jack. She said she realized she had to work more on her relationships, especially the ones she had with her and Steve. She apologized if she had not been the best boss and told her she wanted to get better. She asked Melissa what she could do to better support her in her job and make it a better experience. Although Melissa’s performance gaps lingered in Scarlett’s mind, she bit her tongue so as not to address them yet.
Melissa hesitated but then said. “I like working here, but sometimes I do feel a bit on edge. I am not always sure how you are going to react to things or if you are going to come to me with issues on something I had done days before. I sometimes wish you would tell me things right away if they are not up to the level you need. That way I can fix it then and there.”
“Melissa, thank you for being straight with me. I am sorry if I can get curt at you. I get stressed and sometimes take it out on you, especially when there are client deadlines. I would like to be more aware of how my reactions affect those around me and try to be more proactive in bringing things up as they come.”
They continued their conversation throughout lunch during which Scarlett learned more about Melissa’s interests in rollerblading, hockey and her son. For her part, Scarlett talked about her childhood and why she decided to stay in Maryland following graduate school in order to stay close to her family. Scarlett realized it felt good to be opening the lines of communication with her staff to lay a foundation for trust. She was also learning some new things about herself.
When they walked back to the office Melissa said, “Thank you. I appreciate this conversation as I know it must not have been easy for you.”
“Thanks, Melissa. I appreciate your honesty and will look for more ways to be supportive of you.”
The next day Scarlett did the same thing with Steve, her associate, opening up to him about her desire to work better with her team. He told her that he wished she would mentor him a bit more as she was a bit distant and did not seem to have time when he wanted to learn more.
Scarlett wasn’t too surprised by his input as she knew she wasn’t that good at developing her staff. “I am committed to helping you more. I know it is something that will help our team now and help us grow in the long run.”
As they chatted more he revealed that he really liked estate planning, their line of business, and was thinking of specializing in it.
“Well I’m glad to hear it because I do have some new projects coming up that I think you can take a larger role in. I could really use the help, as these are some new clients. Would you like that?”
“Very much so. I look forward to learning more of the intricacies of this field as well as taking on more responsibility by learning more from you.” He said cautiously.
“There are some meetings I can take you to as well as some more review I can do of your work. Will that be helpful?”
“Yes and just some feedback on the current work I am doing would be great as well.”
Scarlett felt good that she was beginning to get to know her employees and their needs. She was realizing that making even a little investment in her employees was opening up a different perspective for all of them. She could see that if she spent more time with them and was open in her communications she could build a lot more trust. Maybe Jack was right, she thought.
Chapter 2: Jack
On the day of the appointment Scarlett walked into the conference room with a bit of a trepidation in her step, Jack was a handsome, distinguished-looking man in his early 60s. He had on a blue blazer, khakis, and glasses, and had slicked-back gray hair. He stood to greet her.
“Scarlett?” he asked.
“Hello Jack. Nice to meet you.”
“My pleasure. Please come in and have a seat.” He told her a bit about himself: he had been an executive in HR at a medium sized company and was spending his semi-retirement years advising young executives and high-potential leaders. He said he was “creating the next generation of CEOs,” and joked that he even had plans for his grandchildren’s careers. “What about you?”
”I have been working here since I graduated from law school. I love what I do and have always wanted to be partner here, but am worried that this review may now get in the way. Right now people don’t seem to have a great opinion of me.”
"A 360 assessment is really used to be a development tool, or an opportunity to work on growth areas. That is what we are here to do - put together a plan to help you develop. I don’t want you to lose sight that you have received great feedback on your technical competence and ability to work with the client. Now what in particular did you see in your review that you think may get in the way the most?”
“I think the relationship stuff. I have been thinking about it since we set up this meeting and think there is a lack of a team dynamic in my group. I have been more concerned about getting the work done well and serving the client that I have not really had the time to focus on my employees or my colleagues. I have always just felt that it is too time consuming to work with people and train them.” said Scarlett.
“Ok, and it also seems like there may be some lack of trust in the team in terms of cooperation in getting things accomplished and maximizing the strengths of each of the team members, which tends to lead to that lack of team dynamic you mentioned.”
“Yeah I guess so. I don’t know how to build more trust.”
“Where do you think you can begin?”
“Well I guess I need to slow down. Perhaps I can take them out to lunch? I don’t do that very often. I bring in pizza sometimes if people are working late, but I am usually at client sites or working through lunch to be able to really spend time with them.”
“Ok so it sounds like you want to begin to enhance your communications with your team. That is a key component to building trust. The other two components are character and competence according to Steven M.R. Covey’s book “The Speed of Trust.” One-on-one meetings may be the best in the beginning in order to really get to know your team members. How big is your current team?”
“It’s small. I have an administrative assistant and one full-time employee,” Scarlett replied.
“Is that your ideal team size?” Jack asked.
“Well, I have been encouraged to grow the team, but I am hesitant as I am not sure if my administrative assistant is the right one. Her work performance has not always been at the level that I have wanted it to be.”
“Ok for this week I want to you to focus on first getting to know your team a little bit better without the focus on performance or roles yet. Take each of them out to lunch individually and talk to them about this review. Begin to share a bit more about yourself, such as your outside interests. See if there are any commonalities and start to build more of a rapport. Once you develop more open lines of communication with them we can then address the performance topic with your administrative assistant.”
Scarlett hesitated for she really wanted to talk about performance right away.
“I am not sure…”
“I want to get underneath this a little bit to see if it really is the relationship between you two or her performance that is really the issue.”
Scarlett sat with it for a minute when Jack asked what seemed like a random question. ”How are your relationships outside of work?”
“I’m single,” Scarlett said looking down, and quickly added, “I’ve been too busy at work to date.”
“Is that what you want in your personal life?” he asked.
Hesitantly Scarlett replied, “Well, I always thought that a relationship would just happen without me having to do anything about it,” she finally admitted. After a moment, she looked up with a hint of recognition in her eyes and asked “Do you think this feedback about relationships at work could also be impacting my personal life?”
“Well typically everything is connected...” he trailed off.
“Wow, so this is inhibiting not only my professional life, but my personal life as well?”
Jack didn’t answer; he just let her sit with that for a minute or so. “Ok, I will try it your way.”
“Good. Let me know how it goes next time we meet.”
I would like to introduce some of my original writing. This is the first chapter of my book on leadership called Standing Tall: A Manager’s Guide to Becoming a Leader.
Chapter 1: 360 Review
Scarlett woke up at 3am tossing and turning thinking about the call she had received that afternoon. Dorothy, her boss, told her she had received her 360 assessment and performance review results and wanted to discuss it with her. Something in her voice told Scarlett it was not good.
After wracking her brain the rest of the night trying to figure out what people could have said about her, Scarlett got ready, used concealor to cover up the bags under her eyes and arrived at Skyles and Maddox at 7 a.m,. Although this was her usual routine – get to work early before others made their entrance, so she could get a jump-start on her day, she was not feeling her usual determined self. She had big dreams of becoming a partner at the law firm by the age of 37, which was less than a year away, and she thought she had been on target.
She had been near the top of her class in law school and started working her way up the firm in the estate planning division. She was known for her diligence, tenacity, hard work, and the hours she put in at the job. When she stepped into her cluttered office that morning, she couldn’t help but wonder: “had all that effort been in vain?”
She was brought back to reality when she heard her colleague Miles in the next office say, “Hey, Scarlett.”
“Hi Miles. What are you doing here this early?”
“I’m preparing for court and needed to get a few last minute things done. This judge really could go either way. It’s brutal.”
“Which judge is it?”
“Judge Harris. I have never been in her court. Have you?”
“Yes I have. You are right. She can be tough…”
“Is there anything I should be prepared for?
“Just know you facts and play hard ball.” Scarlett replied in her usual to the point style.
“Thanks Scarlett.” He said quizzically noticing the bags under her eyes. “Are you ok?”
“Um, yeah. Just didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Anything you want to talk about?”
“No, no it is fine. Thanks. Good luck with court today.” Scarlett replied dismissively. Although she had worked with Miles for years they were both vying for the same partner position, and therefore she didn’t want to show any signs of weakness. Her focus was always on exceeding her client’s expectations and if that meant she didn’t have time to idly chat with her co-workers that was ok with her. Her annual reviews typically included great feedback from her clients, reinforcing those priorities.
Scarlett turned to her work, calling clients and preparing briefs all morning. The phone rang abruptly bringing her back to the moment. It was her assistant reminding her of her meeting with Dorothy. She got up from her desk, straightening her navy blue suit and patting down her long brown hair, and walked up a flight of stairs to Dorothy’s office.
On the phone Dorothy, with her perfectly coifed blonde hair accenting her red suit and pearls, motioned Scarlett to come in. Dorothy had been Scarlett’s boss and mentor for the last five years and Scarlett always respected her. She was one of the most successful women lawyers in the city. She wondered what this review was going to do to that relationship.
Dorothy hung up the phone and said, “Hello Scarlett. Please have a seat.”
“Thank you” Scarlett said sitting down and immediately began tapping her tan heels on the floor.
“How are you doing today?”
“A little nervous since talking to you yesterday. Was there something wrong with my review?”
“Well I wanted to walk you through the feedback from the new Center for Creative Leadership 360 assessment. HR recommended that we go over these in person.” HR had implemented 360 reviews for all of the senior lawyers for the first time this year due to the new strategic goals of the firm to strengthen its commitment to developing its people. “Take a minute to read over the results.” She said handing over a file from her well-organized desk.
Scarlett nervously glanced down at the review. The review definitely had said some positives – her clients did give her good reviews on her analytical abilities, her work ethic, her efficiency and systematic approach, and her track record in the courtroom. There were, however, some glaring negatives from her co-workers and employees on her communication skills, her delegation skills, and her team building skills. Her employees and coworkers also said that she was closed off, competitive and did not empower her employees to grow in their positions.
Scarlett felt hurt and disappointed. She looked up at Dorothy and said, “I can’t believe they said all of this! I know that there has been some tension, but I didn’t realize that there was this much dissatisfaction.”
“Well your coworkers and employees certainly had some strong opinions. While it seems like your strengths are in client satisfactioin, building strong teams and leadership skills is certainly an area where it seems like you could develop. Not only clients, but also colleagues and employees need to be able to trust you, follow you, and feel engaged by you. Otherwise you cannot truly be the partner that you want to be.”
Scarlett was feeling angry for she had been giving everything she had to this firm. She felt like she took on so much responsibility and felt the strains of it; yet now she getting attacked for not spreading the tasks and engaging with her staff.
“That being said,” Dorothy went on, “The firm and I want to support you through this process. I want to assign you an executive coach to work with named Jack. He has worked with some of our other partner candidates and has a great track record. I think you could learn a lot from him. He truly gets results and can be really helpful to you. Are you open to that?”
“I’m frustrated and don’t think that all of the feedback is fair. I understand why people are important, but has never been what we have gotten rated on before..” Scarlett replied grudginly.
“I agree with you, but leadership and people skills are so much more important now as you move up in the organization. It is a necessity now to function well with your teams and have a great vision that people want to follow. It is a way to stand tall and distinguish yourself from your peers, especially since you have always wanted to be a partner here.”
“I feel like all of this ‘people stuff’ takes too much time, but if that is what it takes to show you I can be a partner around here then I will do it.” Scarlett replied, conceding. She felt like she didn’t have a choice.
Scarlett left Dorothy’s office in frustration and anger. How she was going to be recognized and accepted as a leader when her colleagues and employees clearly didn’t see her that way? How was she going to change their perceptions? What was she going to do? When she got back to her office she dug back into her work, putting her frustrations aside. The next morning, however, she called Jack.
Monica Thakrar has over 18 years experience in business focused mainly on strategy, change management, leadership development, training and coaching resulting in successful implementations of large scale transformation programs.