Authority Affects Our Careers
May 2000 Coaching Story
Senior management sent a 37-year-old high-potential executive for coaching. He was well respected and produced results, except in presentations to the senior management marketing committee. When senior managers would ask him questions, his responses provided lots of information but rarely ever answered the questions directly.
I asked him to tell me about his experiences with authority and a sad smile spread across his face so I asked, "Why are you smiling?"
He told me about a number of continuing experiences with authority. He started with his early years in a Catholic school where, if he didn't answer a question correctly, he got hit with a ruler. He told me about being questioned by the high school principal for cheating on papers he wrote because she didn't think he was that smart. He also received little support from his family, who always felt that the teachers and the principal must be right, and then would punish him when he got home.
I asked him, "Are you telling me that when a senior manager asks you a question in a meeting, you're afraid you'll get punished if you don't give the right answer?" He sheepishly smiled and said he thought so.
His old strategy was "to avoid answering a question directly so as not to get punished." I suggested a new strategy, "to answer every question directly and briefly." Then we spent two hours drilling ways to answer questions directly and briefly.
Two weeks later he came to our next meeting laughing. He told me that he had just made a presentation to senior management. He said, "I cut down the amount of information I gave them, which forced them to ask me questions. What I discovered was that by answering all their questions, I accomplished two things. I provided all the information I wanted them to have anyway, and I looked damn smart doing it."
He learned a fundamental truth about communications. Communicating is giving people the information they want when they ask for it.
©2002 Peter deLisser. All rights reserved.