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Being what you're not seeing

(September 12, 2023 Newsletter)

The challenge: Middle and senior managers model unhealthy behaviors displayed by their superiors, even if they recognize that they’re not acting like the kind of leader they want to be.

In the real world:

  • A recent client ended our conversation by saying that she realizes it’s time to be the best leader she can. Why? In her words, “leadership is lacking” in her organization.

  • Another client had a realization that she did something to a direct report that she absolutely hates that her boss does to her. Until we talked about it, she hadn’t made the connection. She left the conversation resolved to chart her own path, despite unspoken organizational culture to treat one’s team unfairly.

This might feel familiar to you. Maybe you wish you could…

  • Make and stick to plans, despite those above you throwing wrenches into them.

  • Give colleagues the benefit of the doubt in an environment that lacks generosity of spirit.

  • Create an environment that welcomes collaboration, despite turf-wars being the norm.

It takes guts to swim upstream. There could be pushback, criticism, implicit punishments for trying something different. But that’s ok. If you’re a regular reader of Comm&Lead, if you buy into the Dolgin Leadership Group’s approach, you’re willing to give it a shot anyway.

Here are a few ways to get started.

  1. Visualize: Draw up a clear image of the kind of leader you want to be. The three things to think through are (a) the actions themselves, (b) the values in which they’re grounded, and (c) the presence you want to portray.

  2. Awareness: Compare the situations when it’s possible for you to be your best to those when you revert to the behaviors of the unhealthy organizational culture. Start to notice (and even keep a log) of times when you slip – and then visualize how else you could have handled your side of the interaction.

  3. Find allies: Chances are, you’re not the only one in your organization who feels like you do. Who would be on board to experiment with alternative ways of leading?

  4. Track progress: I love James Clear’s concept in Atomic Habits, “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your identity.” You don’t have to be 100% from the moment you decide to develop a new habit, but if, over time, the trend is in the direction you’ve chosen, you’ll get there.

Bottom line: At the risk of bringing a banal Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

  • Every organization is flawed because humans are flawed. If you sit around waiting for someone else to be the first to change the culture, you’ll sooner be polishing up your resume, hoping you’ll be happier somewhere else, rather than contributing the change you wish was happening.

And of course, having a coach to cheer you on can only help. Be in touch if you’re looking for support in becoming the leader you know you can be.


The Coaching Corner

Welcoming honest admissions of struggle

One of the key elements of coaching is creating a safe environment for the other person to be honest. Considering the manager-employee power dynamic, you might suspect that your team members are holding back instead of expressing when something is hard for them.

  1. Eliciting honest answers – one little technique is shifting from closed to open questions. Instead of “Is anything unclear, from what I just said?” try “What might not be totally clear, from what I just said?”

  2. Sharing your vulnerability – another technique is making it clear to them that not everything comes easy to you. Walking them through how you handle roadblocks (including getting help from others) can normalize the responses you’re looking for.

  3. Encourage honest responses – when someone does express something to you that seems more honest than usual, be explicit in your reply: “Thanks for sharing that with me” or “I appreciate you opening up to me” are good places to start.



  • Feedback Isn’t Enough to Help Your Employees Grow: Don’t skip Step #1 of 4, "Shift from critic to ally." It is essential for establishing trust as part of the feedback process.

  • 4 brilliant minutes of Parks and Rec. I think I’ve mentioned that my husbandand I are deep into Parks and Rec. Last week, we watched an episode where City Manager Chris Traeger (played by the one and only Rob Lowe) forces two of his Parks Department colleagues to sit through the “Chris Traeger Management Training Seminar” (or “Kah-tumts,” for short). It’s a delight.


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