The string of recent media headlines centring on allegations of harassment - from Philip Green and Ray Kelvin to the Lloyds of London “toxic” workplace culture, leave us in no doubt of the impact inappropriate behaviour
can have; employees affected by the behaviour, share prices tumbling and reputational damage.
And what of the leaders themselves?
In working with senior people called out for inappropriate behaviour the journey is an interesting one. For one thing, it’s not planned. No leader called out for inappropriate behaviour expects to be publicly exposed. And when they are, the fall out is challenging.
Driving success in an organisation often needs single minded focus and strong personality - but these are also the qualities that can lead to abuse of power. And when a leader’s behaviour which crosses the line is left unchecked, a culture of tolerance and even acceptance can grow up around them.
So, when they are ultimately called out for their unacceptable behaviour
embarrassment and defensiveness are the dominant emotions. A challenging start, if you’re brought in to coach them.
What’s more, they know they’ve been called out. You know it. They know you know. Bosses, employees, others may know it too. You sit across a desk with a space between you. A conversation starts. And in that moment a pathway is created. Bizarrely, given they are often senior professional leaders, they often expect to be reprimanded, chastised, metaphorically given a “don’t do it again” lecture, from which they hope to escape as quickly as possible. But that is very far from the pathway we advocate.
Instead we start by talking about their choices, their influencers and things that influence them. It’s not therapy, but it’s not the moral brigade either. Rather we want them to share their story, honestly and openly … and let me as the coach hear who they are as a leader and who they want to be. We want them to talk about what they value and why those values matter to them. And as their thoughts unfold, I truly listen.
And then we talk. Not chat. We talk about the situation and reasons why we are in the room. We explore what or how this situation impacts on them, their sense of self, on those they care about, on their organisation and what they care about. I share any contradictions, lack-lustre connections, incongruencies I hear. Authentically. Assertively. Not apologetically or aggressively. And we continue the path from there.
Is inappropriate behaviour ever inspiring?
When someone lets you in, and shares their inner world, warts and all, it’s a truly amazing, precious experience that’s filled with worth and value.
When there’s honesty and you can be heard without judgement or criticism there’s well-being and safety.
And when you combine honesty and safety with focussed dialogue, thinking and feelings can be explored, risks can be taken and new patterns and insights created.
Is inappropriate behaviour ever inspiring? Absolutely. Every time. Just ask the clients who have been through this process.
For more information on how we work with managers and leaders at every level when their behaviour has crossed the line, take a look at our Risk to Reward coaching programme
or our case studies
where we have helped similar organisations get an individual’s behaviour back on track.