Chapter 9: Peers
After her discussion with her employees Scarlett thought about the colleagues she would want to target for lunches. She decided to start with Miles. They always had a cordial relationship and he had many good relationships with other colleagues at the firm.
She went into the lunch with a bit of trepidation after her talk with Melissa. “So how was that case a few weeks ago that you were stressed about?” Scarlett asked remembering their conversation.
“Oh it actually was a crazy case. We had a few problems that took a couple of extra days to work through, but it was worth it because in the end, as we won!”
“I’m glad it worked out.”
They bantered back and forth a bit before Scarlett finally brought up why she had asked him to lunch. “I have been realizing that I have not been taking the time to really get to know you and some of our other colleagues at work, and wanted to change that. I have started to understand the importance of building stronger relationships with peers, and I wanted to start with you because you are so good at building relationships with our colleagues.” Scarlett said.
“Well, I’m glad you reached out. I was always curious to learn more about you.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” he replied.
“What do people think of me at work? I want an honest opinion, especially from our peer level. I had a 360 review done, and some of the feedback was a surprise to me. That’s part of the reason I want to get to know people better. I feel like the impression they have of me and how I see myself are two different things, and I want to balance that out a little bit.”
“Well,” Miles started slowly, “I think people respect you and the work that you do, but do feel like sometimes you might be a bit abrupt and only focused on work, and therefore they don’t really feel like they can joke around with you or have fun with you.” Miles wondered if his honesty would result in their lunch being cut short.
But Scarlett rose to the occasion. “Yes, I guess I can see how people may perceive me that way. I have been so motivated to become partner by a certain timeframe that I may have somewhat overlooked the importance of connecting with people,” Scarlett said.
“Yeah, the people part can be the hardest part. I realized that early when my first job out of college was a sales job. Sales is all about working with people, creating relationships, and knowing how to persuade them and influence them in positive ways. Even though I went into law after that, I took those lessons to heart; getting along with people and working with them is essential for success, no matter what the field.”
“Miles, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the people skills aren’t my forte. I always believed my most important job was to get the work done and make the clients happy. I knew how to do the work, but training my employees always felt as if it took too much time. So if they didn’t do it as well as I did, I just took the work away from them, which never allowed them to learn.”
Miles was nodding his head knowingly.
“You’ve been so nice to indulge my questions—I hope you don’t mind another. How do you make the upfront training take less time? I’m swamped—I’m sure you are, too—and I don’t have as much time to train anyone new as I would like.”
“Well, it does take more time and effort in the beginning, but it’s worth the initial investment because as you now know the payback comes back in spades. Don’t you have someone on your team now? Steve, right? If so, couldn’t he help train someone new as well?”
“Yes, I have talked to him a bit about it, and I think he would actually enjoy it, but there are also some things that I will of course need to show a new person.” She paused. “I will work on my patience a little bit. Honestly, I have started to open up with them as I am doing with you and seeing the changes in my relationships with Steve, as well as the openness and honesty it’s bringing with Melissa is a big eye opener about what it could really be like to hire someone new and spend time working with them. It could actually be fun.”
Miles smiled. “I never thought I would hear you say that!”
“Me neither.” She smiled back. “Thanks, Miles. I appreciate your honesty and openness. It really means a lot to me to be able to talk about these kinds of things with someone else who is going through a similar experience.”
“No problem. Whenever you want to talk, drop on by or let’s have lunch again.”
They walked back to the office, and Scarlett felt good. For so long she had really shut herself off and kept a tightly closed attitude toward her coworkers. Now she realized how helpful it was to have someone to confide in at the office, get advice from; annd bounce ideas off of at the same level. She was going to thank Jack when she saw him the next time.
Chapter 8: Inspiring Others
The next day Scarlett was excited, and a little nervous, to share her vision with her employees. For the first time, she realized that she needed them in order to achieve her own success. She called them in and outlined her professional strategy that she had fleshed out even more after putting it together for Jack.
She shared her vision for the team and asked for their input. Both were surprised at her candor and openness. She had never asked for their opinions before, much less involved them in strategy sessions before. Steve looked at it and provided some useful input based on his knowledge of the markets and their client base. He also seemed very excited when she asked them if they felt as if they could get on board with this strategy—if they could see themselves working on the vision for the foreseeable future. She told them she wanted them to be the foundation of building an even larger team that was more collaborative and open than ever before.
Steve smiled. “Actually,” he started again. “I love it! I’m excited to bring on new people and grow the group. I have so many ideas that I can execute on once we up our headcount.”
“What kind of ideas?”
Steve rattled off a bunch of things that intrigued Scarlett. She asked if he wanted to add one of those projects to his plate now, before on the team grew. Steve said he did. Although he already very busy, he was energized to be doing something new and that could benefit them all.
Scarlett smiled and told Steve she would love to have him take on one of the extra project and she couldn’t wait to see what came of it.
Scarlett realized that Melissa had been quiet most of the meeting and asked to talk to her as she and Steve were leaving the room. “Is everything ok? You seemed like you have something on your mind?”
“Yes I am a bit worried about the strategy that you laid out. Although I like the vision I already feel like I have so much on my plate. I don’t know how I would support others on the team if your vision is to grow. It worries me.”
Oh no Scarlett thought. Her worst nightmare really was coming true – Melissa wouldn’t like her strategy and want to grow with her. She continued forward with this difficult conversation. “I hear what you are telling me. I sometimes feel like the work I am giving you is a bit detail oriented and you struggle with that, which may be causing some of the overwhelm. Is that true?”
“No I am ok,” Melissa said a little defensively.
“Are you sure?” Scarlett trailed off…
“Well, I’m able to do most of what you ask without any trouble, but there are some things that are more…detailed, I guess…that I get nervous about. I know I need a little more direction, but I get anxious to ask you about them. When I do it that’s wrong, however, I feel like you get frustrated with me, then I really worried and feel overwhelmed.”
“Yes, I noticed that, too, and that’s why I brought it up—because the detail-oriented tasks are important, and I want you to be able to handle them. What can we do to make that situation better? What can I do to help you in this process?”
Melissa looked both relieved and surprised by Scarlett’s candor. “Well, I think I do best when I have a deadline, but sometimes if the assignment is something especially detailed, it would be great to get a little extra time to do it. If that’s not always possible, then maybe I could show you what I’ve done partway through it, and then you could let me know if I’m doing it correctly?”
“Melissa, those are some good ideas, and I especially like that you’re owning the solution for this. Let’s use this as a trial period for the next month and see how this goes. I want to check back with you in that timeframe to see if you think things are getting a little easier and then make adjustments if needed. We can also reconnect at that time to see if the strategy I outlined is something you want to be a part of or not.
I hope you know I’m serious when I say I want you to succeed here. So if there are elements of your role that aren’t quite a fit for you, then we can try to find some workarounds. Does that sound reasonable?”
“Yes, it does. The timeframe feels a little short, but I really do need this job.”
“Ok then. Let’s work together and see how we can make some progress on mutually fulfilling goals.” Scarlett replied with a bit more enthusiasm than she felt. If she really did want to invest in people as Jack told her she realized that she would have to learn that it wasn’t always comfortable to do so.
Chapter 7: Progress
A few days later she discussed her coaching with her friend Alicia. Scarlett knew she was beginning to move forward, but was feeling so much regret for how little time she had been investing in people in and outside of work. She felt like she had missed so many opportunities for developing strong relationships in the past. She was starting to wonder if she had been messing up her life until this point, and asked Alicia if she thought so.
“You know, take everything Jack says with a grain of salt,” she said. “You’re a great person.”
Scarlett appreciated the reassurance.
“But you do have to be more open,” Alicia continued. “I’ve been telling you for years that you push people away, especially men who try to get too close. You have a pattern of breaking things off when the guy wants to start getting serious by finding something wrong with him.”
Scarlett knew she was right.
“I’m not going to say I’m not guarded,” she said. “And while it has been nice to begin to get to know people at work, I still have the tendency to just want to go to my own office and get my work done instead of interacting with them. I know I have to keep trying, but it definitely takes a lot of effort. It doesn’t come naturally to me.”
“It takes time so giver yourself some credit. I think you’re doing great,” Alicia said. “And you haven’t written off Lee yet.” She paused. “Or have you?”
“Well, not really,” Scarlett said. “He called a couple of times, but I haven’t called him back. I’ll do that tonight.”
“Good for you,” Alicia said. “Maybe you will meet both your professional and personal goals by working with Jack!”
“I hope so,” Scarlett replied with a smile. “Thanks, Alicia.”
She called Lee that evening and apologized for the delay in getting back to him. She told him about her progress at work and thanked him again for the conversation that they had the first time they went out. He said he was really happy to hear about her progress and added that he looked forward to learning more about it then when they got together next.
After a productive day at work the next day she got ready to leave early (as part of her plan to start adding a bit more balance to her life) because that night she had a date with Lee. Lee was right on time to pick her up. He handed her a bouquet of flowers and gave her a hug when she opened the door. Scarlett could feel herself blushing.
“Thank you! That was very thoughtful of you,” she said. “Let me put these in some water.” She walked to the kitchen with Lee following her. “How was your drive?” she asked.
“It was easy,” he said. “You look lovely by the way. It’s so nice to see you again,” he said as he leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
She blushed and said, “I’m glad to see you, too.”
They looked at each other and smiled. “Shall we go?” Scarlett asked.
At the restaurant, Scarlett caught Lee up on her progress with Jack. “You don’t know how much I took our conversation to heart last time,” Scarlett said. “I had already been working with Jack, so I brought up some of what we spoke about with him and have incorporated more of the relationship work into it. I’ve had a few sessions, and it is unbelievable how helpful it has been. I can’t thank you enough for telling me about your journey so that I could realize that there was a different way.”
“Wow, I am so glad to hear that. What have you discovered so far?”
“Well, I have realized that I want to not only work on my work relationships, but my personal ones, too. A real relationship is important to me, and I don’t want to leave that by the wayside by just being solely focused on my pursuit to be partner.”
Lee was smiling at her. “What?” she asked.
“It’s just that I can see how excited you are about these sessions and that you’re actually learning something in the process. Some people would see this as a punishment or obligation, but you’re really seeing it as the opportunity it is. That’s great. And I’m so glad that sharing my experiences was helpful in getting you started. It sounds like you’re doing great work!”
Lee smiled broadly.
“Cheers,” Scarlett said as she lifted her glass of wine, “to lots of positive changes in the near future.”
Scarlett and Lee were out until midnight. Once they reached her home, Lee gave her a hug and a tender kiss. Scarlett’s heart was beating out of her chest. She was so happy that Lee was turning out to be such a nice guy. She had such a great time with him at dinner talking; they could talk for hours without either looking at a watch. In fact, she didn’t know how five hours had passed by so quickly and easily.
Chapter 6: Leadership Style
When she saw Jack next, she was eager to share her ideas with him. She had really put some time and thought into the assignment.
“Hello, Scarlett. How are you? How have your two weeks been?”
“Overall the two weeks have been good. I struggled in the beginning to create a vision, but when I finally sat down to do it, I enjoyed it. It was very interesting because I know a lot of the vision in my mind, but writing it down made it so much more real.”
“Tell me what you wrote for each of the timeframes, and what stuck out for you as you did it,” Jack said.
“Well the 10-year plan is that I want to be running for office – either for city council or county board. By that point, I also want to be married with three kids and have a house in the country. For five years, I want to be partner with a solid book of business and be married with one kid, considering the move to the country. For one year, I want to make partner, and be dating the right guy.”
“Ok, so what I heard is that becoming partner is the first step and then becoming a local politician. But it seems like you have fleshed out your personal life as well.”
“Yes. I’ve had so many disappointments in that arena for a long time that I didn’t want to focus on it and be disappointed again, but I realize that just like I can change relationships at work, I can also change them outside of work.”
“Great. Let’s get into details about the style of leader and partner you want to be. What would it feel like to be the leader and partner that you want to be?”
“Well it would feel like I am serving others to increase their wealth, their family fortune and their ability to create the life they want. I do this with my clients and I now want to do that for my employees/colleagues. I want to push people to be the best they can be, and that is the type of relationship I want to be in as well – one where we grow as individuals.”
“So you want to empower others to really grow into the people they are meant to be like you do with your clients and their finances. That is great. Knowing that vision is the first step in beginning to create it. Having people around you who believe in that vision and want to be a part of it is the next step. That is the sign of a great leader—having followers, leveraging their strengths, and really creating the environment for other people to grow. As for a romantic partner, the clearer you are on what type of person you want to be with, the more able you will be to know when you meet that type of person.”
“This visioning exercise really has helped me put detail around what I want to accomplish personally and professionally. I’m realizing that to be the leader I really need to be, I need to help mentor my junior colleagues become who I know they can be. How do I continue to grow and become that leader I want to be?”
“Well there are a couple of things I want you to concentrate on for the next couple of weeks. One is to continue building trust with your subordinates. Share your vision with them of growing this business so that they have a better idea of how to align with your goals and grow with you. This will be an exercise on seeing whether you are creating a compelling enough vision for them to want to follow you and if they are the right people to help in creating your vision. You will also begin to see whether Melissa truly can step up into the vision that you are creating given the performance questions you have been having about her.”
Scarlett felt a little vulnerable. What if her team wasn’t on board with her vision?
“This is where it is critical to break out your vision into more detail. Split your next year’s vision into quarterly, weekly, and daily tasks so that you can meet your one-, five-, and 10-year goals. Share this with your team and encourage their feedback so they feel part of the process. The more that they feel invested in your vision—making it their vision, too—the more they will want to help you make it become a reality. They will feel that their work also has a purpose, and it will fuel them to want to do even more. I would also ask that you speak to Melissa about her performance now and see whether she truly is invested here.”
“The other thing I want you to do is start setting up some lunches with your colleagues at your level. I want you to start getting to know them better so that you can build alliances and trust with them. At some point you may need each other, so it’s important to get to know them so that you can move in the right direction together.”
Scarlett’s stomach suddenly sank. “Jack, I’m a little apprehensive about this assignment. First I am scared that Melissa and I won’t be aligned and I will have to get rid of the 10th admin in three years. Also because this is a pretty competitive firm, I’m pretty hesitant to share too much with my colleagues. I certainly don’t want them to use anything they learn about me against me.” Scarlett hoped Jack understood, and didn’t think she was paranoid. She had heard too many stories however to know she wasn’t wrong about this.
“This is the time to find out about Melissa and see if she is the right person for you team. If not I can help you hire more effectively next time. As for your colleagues I’m not saying to share everything with them,” Jack clarified. “Just get to understand who they are and where they came from so that you can relate to them better. How do you feel about that?”
“I see your point. I’m still not entirely sure that in our environment it’s the right move, but since the last assignment you gave me worked so well, I’m going to trust you.” She knew that of all people he would understand the most how much progress that represented. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”
“Great. I will see you in two weeks, but if you need me in the meantime, just call or e-mail,” he said reassuringly.
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.