Modifying management behaviour

Would a half-day management training seminar have made a better boss of Ebenezer Scrooge? You and Bob Cratchit already know the answer: Ebenezer needed a more personal approach to turn him around. Dickens understood that. And now, just 161 years later, using personal coaches to modify behaviour is all the rage in the enterprise.

A great many companies are looking at extremely high turnover rates for their C-level executives, whose bad behaviour is often the reason for that turnover. In any 18-month period, 50 per cent of Fortune 1000 CEOs will be fired or asked to resign. Likewise, the average CTO at a Fortune 500 company lasts about 24 months, according to Ted Bililies, partner at executive performance and assessment company ghSmart.

Companies such as ghSmart & Co. Inc. and Marshall Goldsmith Partners use coaching to modify bad-girl or bad-boy behaviour among executives. A manager might need anywhere from three to 12 meetings with a coach, depending on how hard a case they are. Over time, coaches help managers acknowledge weaknesses and develope new, more successful behaviours.

According to Bililies, the problem is that CTOs rarely get feedback on their performance because in the technology world, reviews are a rare thing.

“If you want the unvarnished truth, tell HR to go to six people and ask for an anonymous opinion of your management skills,” says Bililies, adding that this one act might save an executive’s job. He tells me that in 20 years of working with C-level execs, he’s learned that communication is the Achilles’ heel of CTOs.

“Basically, CTOs are introverts,” Bililies says. Preoccupied with technology, a CTO’s people skills often amount to, “I told you the right answer, so why don’t you do it?” CTOs want to be the smartest person in the room. They are infamous for being condescending and using knowledge as power to make others, even CEOs, feel inadequate. And that, says Bililies, is a recipe for disaster.

“If you want to derail as a CTO, just make the CEO feel like a ninny,” Dililies explains.

Successful management skills have nothing to do with IQ. Emotional intelligence is the key — understanding how to work with people, how to identify those with the most influence in an organization, and how to build relationships.

“Unsuccessful CTOs think all they need is the right answer and that will get them the brass ring,” Bililies says. “It almost never does.”

Good CTOs know the strengths and weaknesses of their subordinates; in other words, they put an emphasis on fostering development.

IT professionals often operate as individual contributors. Getting them to position others for success is counter-intuitive. That’s why in the past five to 10 years the idea that you can send someone off for a day to “learn something” has been debunked. Two months later, those employees will be back to their old ways, Bililies says.

There are lots of technology geniuses out there, but not all of them get to start their own companies. When those employees’ poor executive skills become HR liabilities — inappropriate corporate behaviour might be the diplomatic way of putting it — nothing can save them.

Let’s hope the profile I’ve described doesn’t fit you or anyone you have to work with. If it does, don’t take it personally; send in the coach. Just don’t send me e-mails that say, “Bah, humbug!”

Ephraim Schwartz is an editor at large at InfoWorld U.S.

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