Working and consulting within many corporations, I have experienced the good, the bad, and the inept of people within the role of human resources.
I’m contracted for two years by a senior chief operating officer to lead a series of managerial-leadership development coaching and learning workshops with 15 staff from various teams. Four months into the process, I check in with the COO. She shares that everything is going well, we are making progress based on the objectives and key results expected, and she sees improvement in most people.
The following day I received a call from human resources, asking me to come to the office for a meeting.
The meeting went like this:
HR: Mike, 2 people came to me and shared that you are encouraging aggressive interactions and questioning each other and the internal experts sharing with the group.
Me: Aggressive? Maybe, and I encourage them to question and move each leader off their scripted and habitual reactions. As defined in the contract, my goal is to make progress and develop a team of thinking managers that can openly challenge how things are done and secure the future of this organization.
HR: Yes, the COO told me that. I am concerned that people feel uncomfortable and do not respect the internal experts who are speaking with the group. We should show them our respect for taking the time to talk with us.
Me: We show them respect by engaging them in a dialog. Showing that we care and are listening well enough to ask questions. Would you prefer that we all sat like apathetic robots?
HR: What are you going to change to ensure that I do not hear these concerns again?
Me: Nothing. In our 1 on 1 coaching times, I’ll speak with each person and remind them of their objectives, my objectives, and what is expected from the COO. I’ll also meet with the COO and review this discussion with her.
The meeting ended weirdly, and I am still meeting with the team and sharing updates with the COO.
What causes some to feel that the slightest bit of resistance or questioning is an affront?
As leaders within organizations learning how to discuss topics, work with resistance, listen to your skeptics, identify what about your ideas are wrong, and develop skills to explain or justify your thoughts is a requisite skill.
When someone is using scripted responses, we ought to challenge and break the script to find out where the thinking comes from and examine the epistemological foundation that developed the idea. Leadership is the ability to think about where your thoughts and beliefs come from, then consider them with a group of people to understand what is working to increase and not working to decrease.
Would people prefer to have silent sheep that stab them in the back? Would people prefer to keep their heads in the sand with their asses in the air, like the ostrich?