The Puffer Fish

“When I get upset, my team feels it”

Sound familiar?  One of my favorite coaching stories is about a leader that wrestled with just that.  Her team knew just by looking at her if she was displeased, having a good day, or a bad day.  It was like the saying, “she wore her heart on her sleeve.”  And, she was also incredibly self-aware about it.  That’s the first step.  Ginny looked at herself in the mirror before deflecting blame on others.

In our first coaching session, she shared her leadership challenges.  She admitted, “I am direct, I have a short temper with my team, I expect quick results, and I know I need to delegate more.”  She opened up in ways that was truly vulnerable.  She then admitted, my team’s nickname for me is the “puffer fish.”  They say when I get upset, I puff up like a puffer fish.  She said it with a smile and a shrug, signally with her body language that she wanted to change this.

Together, we found ways to harness that vulnerability, and safe ways for her to lower her guard with her team.  We started with goals.  Instead of making soft goals, like “I want to do this” or “I can try to do that,” we crafted some firm nudges in behaviors.  Ginny committed to specific steps in behaviors she wanted to change.  She stated her goals in terms of “I will do this” and “I commit to that.”  Our minds map to what we tell ourselves.  When we tell ourselves we will do it, we do just that.

She knew time management was a challenge.  So instead of setting a lofty, unrealistic goal to clear her desk every night before she left, she committed to breaking her goal down into manageable chunks to clear the to-do stack in the next four weeks.  Just doing that alone lowered her stress and downshifted her emotions.  It freed up time more spend with the team, and get more done.

She had a high number of millennials on her team.  She sat down with all of them, one-by-one, and asked them what motivated them and what she could do better to motivate them.  She was surprised by the answers.  No one asked for a pay increase, many just wanted the opportunity to learn more and feel important.  It was easy to find opportunities together.

She took the time to plan difficult conversations.  She practiced what questions she might ask before she shared constructive feedback or addressed issues.  That helped her remain calm, using breathing and pauses to limit her emotional reactions.  She chose to respond rather than just react.

In our final session, Ginny shared with a smile and now open arms, “now they call me the porpoise with purpose.”  It was so endearing.  In addition to the nickname, she also got some accolades from her leadership team.  They shared that she no longer puffed up the way she used to when she was mad.  She paused before she spoke.  She was not afraid to ask for input from others.  She remained calm in difficult conversations.

Leaders that are self-aware, leverage vulnerability, and set firm goals have better business results.

What did you learn from The Puffer Fish?