A Closed Mouth Gathers No Feet

By Linda Henman, Ph.D.

In my coaching work I frequently “shadow” clients so I can give them feedback about their behavior with their direct reports. Usually before the meeting we talk about their goals and messages. No client, ever, has asked me how to improve listening in these meetings.

Recently I attended a meeting during which the client did 80% of the talking. He had the formula—just exactly backwards. He did listen well that other 20%, but I commented that I had heard most of what he had to say before, so my guess was his direct reports had heard the messages ad nauseam.

After the meeting one direct reports told me privately how much she appreciates my presence in those meetings. Feeling very full of myself, I said, “Oh, thank you. But I really don’t contribute much.” She said, “No, but Craig doesn’t scream and use the “F” word when you’re there.”

I naively believed the days of tantrums in meetings were over. When I first started consulting and coaching thirty years ago, they swept the nation. But when unemployment decreased and top talent was scarce, managers behaved better. The tide has changed in recent years, so there’s more talent on the market now than ever before. Therefore, too many leaders are developing bad habits.

Forty years ago after my dad, Friday Henman, retired from the Air Force, he entered the civilian sector as a brilliant CFO who could save a company more in ten minutes than a typical one could in a year. But Friday had a boss who liked to scream and use profanity.

After warning the boss, Sam, several times, during one of Sam’s particularly nasty tirades, Friday told Sam that he quit. He simply wouldn’t put up with that kind of abuse and was happy to take his talent elsewhere. Sam, the owner, apologized, but Friday didn’t accept the hollow attempt to reconcile. He did say, however, that he’d be open to being rehired at a $10,000 increase. (Forty years ago that was serious money). Sam caved but didn’t learn his lesson. The sequence of events occurred four more times and cost Sam a total of $50,000 to keep my dad.

In my coaching experience with Craig, we explored the value of listening more and sending clearer messages. But the one lesson he needs to learn—the one that cost Sam $50K—is that the biggest troublemaker in his chain of command watches him from the mirror every morning.

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