The email from an old client came out of the blue. She was so excited to reconnect again because she had an opportunity to bring us in to work with some people at her new company. She’d like to set up a phone call with me and her new boss, the head of leadership development.
However, to be transparent, she wrote, “the boss might want to go in a different direction because she has no knowledge of you or what your firm brings to the table and has worked with other people like you.” Reading between the lines, it sounded to me as if the boss probably didn’t really want to talk to me but was doing her employee a favor. That’s OK. I looked at it as an opportunity to get in the door if I could gain a better understanding of the boss’s needs and how we could help.
I knew it was the right attitude so I dialed into the call. Following a brief introduction by the person who recommended us, the boss’s first words were, “What is your approach?”
I wasn’t sure what she was asking as our services vary, so I urged her to tell me a little about her needs. Strike one. She didn’t think that was necessary and quipped, “I want you to tell me what my people will learn from you if I send them to your class.” Realizing I needed to act quickly, I ticked off ways we help people communicate more effectively to get results and explained that our programs were highly customized as opposed to cookie cutter classes. Strike two. I wasn’t doing too well.
As the call went on, she told me what we should be teaching, how we should teach it and questioned our techniques. Perhaps I was the one not communicating effectively, so I tried again. This time, I explained our methods, offered examples and walked her through what a session might look like. She wasn’t buying what I was selling. Strike three. I knew we were out.
As I listened to her preach, it was clear she had participated in communications training before and liked her coach. Aha! That’s when the light bulb went off. I was not the problem. In fact, this had nothing to do with our capabilities. She wanted to work with that individual, but had been cajoled into calling me and was annoyed at wasting her valuable time.
So the call ended, but not before she said why don’t you send me a brief proposal with costs and references, but don’t spend too much time on it. Ouch. Some people might have said, why bother? Believe me, I thought about it. But you never know what might happen and I felt I owed it to my former client who really wanted to work with us. So I put it together and hit send.
A few minutes later, the phone rang. No, it wasn’t the boss, but my original client who began apologizing for the boss. In confidence, she told me the new boss was opinionated and didn’t have great communication skills. Then as I guessed, she revealed the boss wanted to work with someone else, but felt pushed into calling me even though she didn’t want to.
I’m fairly certain everyone reading this column has had those moments with clients or prospects. But how many of them were in charge of leadership development? This woman certainly has the right to work with anyone she likes, but as head of leadership development, she should be setting an example and earning the respect of every single person on her team. Instead, her employee is now badmouthing her to me. If she’s criticizing her to an outsider, you can bet she’s talking about her on the inside.
Forbes columnist Mike Myatt who writes on leadership wrote: “Show me a leader with poor communication skills and I’ll show you someone who will be short-lived in their position”. I have no way of knowing how long this boss will last, but her LinkedIn profile shows she’s bounced from company to company like a baseball free agent bounces from team to team.
Being in a position of leadership does not make someone a leader. Those who over-communicate can be just as harmful as those who don’t communicate at all. Both can signal an inability to welcome new ideas and approaches which suggest that the boss cares more about his or her own opinion than the collective ideas of their team. They may get that team on base from time to time. They may even win a few games. But they will surely lose the championship in the end.