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Get out of ‘your’ way my friend!

Last month a friend approached me with a problem. Having moved up the hierarchy as a senior manager who oversaw a bunch of other managers, she was finding it difficult to get a grip on things. “I am having such conflicting thoughts in my mind nowadays, she said when I asked her the reason for that morose expression on a Friday evening.


Courtesy: Facebook Page on Get Out of Your Way

This surprised me as I had known her to be the archetypal dynamic manager who got things done with minimum of fuss and a lot of panache. As my direct report in a previous job, she was the one with whom I’d spend the least time – and I mean that as a compliment. She’d be the first in and the last out; she’d diligently take notes during project briefings; her status updates were a object lesson for others. And most importantly, the few times that she dropped in to discuss a problem, she brought with her three options for me to choose from.

That’s why I found it a tad difficult to understand why someone whose middle name was ‘efficiency’ was actually struggling at the next level. Having probed some more to understand if her personal life wasn’t in any way affecting the professional one, I decided that she was probably over-stating her case as it was barely six weeks since she moved into a new cabin and it was too short a time to get a firm grip on the job at hand.

At the back of my mind, the horrendous Peter’s Principle kept raising its ugly head and I couldn’t stop wondering if my colleague had reached her own level of incompetence. I forgot about the incident till 10 days ago, when we met up over dinner at another friend’s place.  During the casual chat before the meal, the discussion veered towards the book written by actor, singer and songwriter Tyrese Gibson “How to Get Out of Your Own Way“. I quoted from the book to suggest that knowing oneself was the most important knowledge we should imbibe.

My friend sidled up to me after dinner and asked me where to find  the book, which incidentally I had procured from abroad. I presented her with a short synopsis of the book but she stopped me saying that it was the title itself that interested her. When I asked her if she was referring to her office problem, she nodded and volunteered the information that two of her five direct reports were resenting her interventions.

“Well, you could be mistaken,” I proferred as a sort of ‘feel-good’ response. But, she insisted on this point and confirmed that these two managers had actually told her so on different occasions. “Did they tell you so in as many words,” I asked to which she said, “Well, they said “Look, why don’t you  tell us the result you desire and we’ll figure out how to get it done.”

“But, isn’t that what you always told me when we were colleagues,” I asked pointedly. She fell silent and the conversation drifted away. A couple of days later she called me and upon hearing a cheerful voice at the other end, I asked her, “So, you sound as if you have managed to sort out the problems at work. Why else would one be cheerful on a Monday morning?”

“I am not sure about that, but I realized what was going wrong. I think I was trying to drive results and not empowering others to make it happen,” she said. Pressed for more inputs, she said our conversation had made her step back for a moment and contemplate on her recent actions.

“I realized that for some reason I was trying to command and control where I should have stuck with what I always did best – to connect and relate. Somehow, the position was making me feel important and this feeling led to the desire to help, even if uncalled for. Maybe I was getting in the way.” What’s more, I don’t think I was communicating well enough,” she said.

“So, you just got out of your own way,” I said and heard peels of laughter from the other end!

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