“She is driving me insane. She thinks she knows all the answers. I don’t even know what she is thinking, she doesn’t know how to run this business. Hell, she doesn’t even know this industry. Plus, she’s not even in my chain of command.”
Thus began my initial conversation with an executive coaching client. He was based in San Diego and oversaw a team of roughly 50 people.
The problem was that his boss had left the firm and his boss’s boss would be leaving any day. Suddenly a peer level individual from the HR department was telling him how to run his team.
She had no experience in the industry, no operational experience, and yet was acting like his boss. He described her as arrogant, brash and difficult to work with.
He hired me as an executive coach to help him manage through this issue and accelerate his career overall.
As we delved deeper into the problem, it became clear that her boss (the head of HR) had a heavy hand in what was going on.
In other words, while at face value he was butting heads with a peer, in fact he was taking on someone who out titled him by a mile and was one of the most influential people in the firm.
He couldn’t win this conflict at work battle head to head.
As we examined options together, we came to a strategy that was perhaps counter-intuitive.
Let her win.
Wait, what? Why would working with an executive coach drive you to that conclusion?
Yes, let her win the battle… so my client could win the war.
We created a new strategy for my client: Flatter the person from HR. Make her feel smart and capable. Be in alignment with the change she recommends, and try to co-create solutions with her.
In the case where a suggestion was made that he knew wouldn’t work, he would agree with the idea, point out the problem they had experienced in the past with the idea, and ask if she had thoughts on how they could overcome it.
He would brainstorm solutions himself as well… and he had to do it all sincerely.
Here is why. Going tit for tat with a peer is almost never going to work out, and it certainly isn’t going to work out when she is backed by someone several levels up the chain of command.
Instead, his objective during this time period was to prove himself amenable to change. This would certainly set him apart from his peers (who were also resisting what was going on), and win him favor with the head of HR.
Executive coaching tip: Conquer conflict at work by playing the long game.
We estimated that the two roles above him would be filled in 6 months at most. At that point, my client would have a division head titled to take on the head of HR, and the influence of this individual tasking him with how to run his business would be diminished.
Yet, in the process he would have increased his political capital and survived his role successfully. He would have proved himself ready for an executive role.
In other words, my client had to let go of what was fair in the moment, so he could re-emerge as the winner six months later. A short term loss, but a long term win.
In the end, you have to remember the outcome you are driving towards and use that to frame your actions today. Yet somehow it can be hard to overcome the emotions of today without the objective guidance of an executive coach.
I’m happy to say that this executive coaching client was ultimately successful as the roles above him were filled and he shined as a team player who was open to change.
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