How Jim Turned Things Around With Social + Emotional Intelligence

Liz*, head of HR for a well-known high-tech company, called to ask for some help with Jim, the Vice President of Operations.

Jim* has been with the company for 24 years, and has steadily been promoted throughout the years because of his ability to get things done on time and within budget.

He is off-the-charts brilliant, a hard-working technical genius, task-oriented, ambitious, and driven to succeed.  He has little patience for people who can’t keep up with him intellectually or operationally.

The Screamer!Some people consider him to be arrogant and condescending, and if something goes wrong, explosive.  He has a reputation for being a bully and a tyrant.

As the economy has started to turn around, the employees in his area have begun leaving the organization, jumping ship to the competition.  Decades of cumulative experience as well as trade secrets are walking out the door and directly into the waiting arms of competing firms.  Exit interviews indicate that the employees are leaving because of the way he treats them.  He berates people in public meetings, he calls them names, he has even been known to throw things in a fit of anger.

Liz is tired of hearing the complaints, and is starting to have trouble filling the vacant positions because Jim has developed a reputation in the industry and in the community as being a difficult boss.  Quality candidates have no interest in coming to working for him.  She has discussed this with him on several occasions, and he refuses to see that he has a role in the problem.  He insists that it is his job to keep things running, and that if they can’t stand the heat, they should “get out of the kitchen.”  The CEO is aware of the problem, but also values the fact that Jim has a tough job and gets things done on time and on budget, and doesn’t want to let  him go.

“Can you help?” she asked when she called us.  “It looks like we need to keep him, but we need for him to start treating people better so they don’t leave.”   I told her we would see what we could do.

The following week we went in to meet with Jim, and we also met with several members of his team.  Liz had been very accurate in her characterization of Jim, and had even underestimated, to some degree, the impact he was having on the people around him.  Several more already had their foot out the door.

We laid out a plan for Jim to enhance his awareness of his impact on people, including doing an emotional intelligence 360, and we began a coaching program focused on impulse control, stress management, and dealing with conflict more productively.  We worked with him on taking more of a “coach approach” to his style of leadership and management, seeking opportunities to develop, coach and mentor people rather than scream at them.  We showed him how productivity (and profitability) could actually be enhanced if he modified his leadership style.

Jim was resistant at first.  But when he saw the results of his 360, he could see he had some blind spots.  He even took his 360 report home to show his wife, and complained to her that people didn’t really know him or they wouldn’t have answered the way they did, and that he had to keep doing things the same way or “nothing would ever get done on time.”

She disagreed with him.  She told him that the report was absolutely on-target, and that she had experienced his negative behaviors, his arrogance, condescension, and contempt, yelling, and anger enough over the years, and that quite honestly, she was planning to end the marriage when their youngest child (currently 16 and a sophomore in high school) left home for college.

Jim was stunned.

She also told him that their older three kids (already out of the house) didn’t want anything to do with him, and that they felt estranged from their father.

He was speechless.

And then she told him that their 16-year old daughter, who had been seeing a counselor, had talked with her counselor recently about suicide, and that she attributed a great deal of her depression and inability to deal with high school to the way she was treated by her father.

Tough news indeed.

Jim discussed all this with his coach very soon after this conversation with his wife.

He asked to review the 360 results again, and agreed that perhaps he did need to work on a few things.  Together we put a plan together, which he began to approach with the same drive that he approached most other aspects of his work.  He identified goals and very specific actions he could take to improve how he was interacting with people.  He also decided he needed to acknowledge publicly that his prior way of doing things had not been effective.

He sat down and had a very honest conversation with each member of his team.  He apologized for his past behavior, explaining that he hadn’t realized just how difficult he had been.  He told them what he wanted to change, and asked for their support in making those changes, even asking them to help hold him accountable in his quest to change.  Every day, he practiced the new techniques for managing conflict, and for managing himself.  He learned new ways of communicating with people, learned how to understand what motivated them, and how to work and interact with them more effectively.

Today, Jim’s employee engagement scores are higher than any other department in the company.  His team is happy, turnover has decreased to almost zero, and they are producing more than ever in the history of the company.

And on the personal side, Jim’s marriage has improved (he’s working really hard here), and his relationship with his children has improved beyond measure.  And his youngest daughter?  She’s now a beautiful 17-year-old, happy, well-adjusted, and thriving socially and in school. *

*This case study is based on real events, but the names have been changed and the circumstances altered slightly to protect confidentiality.

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