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Communications: Case PARMANU

Our very recent association was with the CEO of an FMCG firm. PARMANU, as we may call him, is the Marketing Director of his division.

An introvert and someone with high expectations, PARMANU has always strived for perfection, so much so that his eagerness makes him step in and take over when someone doesn’t live up to his expectations. If he finds someone merely deviating from standards or not completing his/her tasks, it would bother him so much that he would eventually take up the task on him.

It was evident that a key area to improve upon was Emotional Intelligence. The mentor began with a 360-degree evaluation of PARMANU. The evaluation was necessary to identify the blind spots while also inviting multiple viewpoints. His ratings for self were higher than those given by his direct reports; they rated him low on emotional quotient and social awareness.

PARMANU was resistant but when explained how his weaknesses were directly affecting his leadership style, he realized the need to improve to advance in the company. Connecting with other members of the team was no longer an option, he sensed. Improving emotional intelligence and social awareness --can’t be taught within a weekend or in a session – needs continuous efforts over months.

As soon as PARMANU realized the importance, and agreed to improve in areas as suggested by his mentor, he along with his mentor worked up a plan to turn his day-to-day job into a learning laboratory. For example, PARMANU understood that, when calm, he was empathetic. However, it was under crisis that he would tune out others and fail to associate. This tendency hampered his listening skills and he would lose focus of what people wanted to tell him in those very moments when his listening skills were most required. PARAMANU’s course of action necessitated him to identify such moments when he would be turning rigid while maintaining his composure. He was required to listen to others before querying or quizzing them. The point was to remain composed irrespective of the situational pressure.

The outcomes weren’t immediate, but with patience and practice, PARMANU learned to defuse his flare-ups by entering into a dialogue rather than launching a harangue. Even when he did not agree with others, he would give them a fair chance to make their case. Moreover, PARMANU also started giving his direct reports more positive feedback: reminding them how their work contributes to the group’s mission. Also, he restrained from micromanaging his team.

PARMANU met his mentor every week or two to review his progress and get advice on specific problems that he faced. For instance, occasionally PARMANU would find himself falling back on his old pace-setting tactics: cutting people off, jumping in to take over, and blowing up in a rage. Almost immediately, he would regret it. He and his mentor, thus, dissected those relapses to figure out what triggered the old ways and what to do the next time a similar moment arose. Such “relapse prevention” measures inoculate people against future lapses. Over a six-month period, PARMANU made real improvement. His own records showed that he had reduced the number of flare-ups from one or more a day at the beginning to just one or two a month. The climate had improved sharply, and the division’s numbers started climbing upward.

The other dimension was to understand the set of people PARMANU had to interact with. The boss is only one-half of the relationship. Team interaction often accompanies conflict; thus, even team members need to tweak their style accordingly.

For example, NAGRAJ, as we may call him, is a smart, confident, forward-thinking, and resourceful individual. There have been several circumstances where he ran into a problem with his boss. Now the way he is, PARMANU, the boss, often hardens his position and overstates his point in case of such disagreement. In such a circumstance, a high performer, like NAGRAJ, reacts by upping the ante and intensifying the forcefulness of his argument. This often escalates to a cycle where one or the other is adamant about his original position. Consequently, the subordinate tends to not get involved in any discussion which may lead to potential conflict.

Upon discussion with NAGRAJ, it was found that his reaction to the arguments was like that of any other argument with his peers, except that it was towards his boss. Generally, in the arguments he has with his peers, he tends to overwhelm them, but that is not the case with the boss. A senior-junior relationship is usually a mutual dependency. However, this dependency is more inclined towards the senior. In circumstances where the junior’s movement is restricted by that of the senior’s action, it often leaves the junior frustrated and may tend to undesired escalations.

This majorly requires reflecting on past experiences. We figured that NAGRAJ was not good at dealing with difficult and emotional issues wherein people are involved. The natural suggestion was to break up at instances when they reach such impasse; work on the idea individually before they get back together; and work on it together. The point is to give them the time to work on their differences and work through them the next time. Hence, self-awareness is not just an important parameter for the leader but also for the teammates. It takes time and adjustment as it requires a fundamental change – to unlearn and learn new a set of habits.

Over a period of five months after the mentoring, the sales were up, the department-level attrition rate dropped, employee morale received a significant boost, and PARMANU was en route for the promotion that did not seem likely around a year ago.