How Jim Regained Control

By J.D. Geertsema – Senior Consultant

The Problem

During an online Human Logic™ coaching session on April 1st , 2020, I spoke with a client who complained that the error rate in his company has dramatically risen since the COVID-19 stay-at-home order for California was issued on March 20. Since that day, most people in sales and in administrative functions are working from home. To minimize the risk of infection the essential warehouse and shipping staff on the various packing locations had started working in smaller and shorter shifts.

My client, let’s call him Jim, is the founder and CEO of a 600 million USD producer, packer and shipper of agricultural produce in California, USA. Jim was having a hard time getting used to the new reality in which he felt he could no longer control what was happening in his company. Jim was complaining about how the sales executives, who normally share an open office space in the company’s headquarters, were completely out of sync with each-other regarding product allocation and pricing, and he complained about how the shift workers in the warehouse and shipping department were making mistake after mistake in processing and shipping orders to retailers throughout the country, who of-course were dealing with their own volatile dynamics, and were getting increasingly frustrated with getting the wrong products shipped. Apparently, the errors were caused by insufficient handover between shifts and by hampering communication between customer service and logistics working from home and the shifts working on-site.

How Jim’s Leadership Style Was Getting in His Own Way

Jim, who is a highly engaged Driver-style leader, is known for his hands-on leadership style, in which – under normal circumstances – no detail escapes his scrutiny. But now, with all of his key sales and administrative people working from home, Jim felt that he completely lost control.

For our MS Teams meeting Jim called in from his office at the deserted company headquarters, and I listened to his story. At some point I asked him how often he speaks with his key people. Jim answered that he could hardly reach them because their lines are always busy. In normal circumstances he would just walk over to their cubicles to get things fixed off-the-cuff, but since March 20 those cubicles are empty. In an attempt to regain control, Jim frantically started calling his people on the phone many times a day, getting increasingly frustrated with the fact that he could hardly reach them, or they simply wouldn’t return his calls. I suspect that some of Jim’s people indeed no longer answered his barrage of calls, simply because they were getting annoyed by the controlling nature of the calls, and because they felt that it didn’t serve any purpose to answer.

The Solution

Based on a behavior style assessment we made prior to our call, Jim and I discussed the strengths and internal blockages of his personality, and how his Driver-style leadership under pressure may become overbearing for others in its need for autonomous control, clarity and immediacy. We analyzed the behavior styles of his direct reports and defined the communication needs of each of them. We worked out a new way of working for him that is more acceptable for his co-workers, in a way that would restore his sense of control. The first and most important practical measure was to schedule a daily half-hour morning video call on MS Teams. We made it mandatory for all his key staff to participate each morning, and each call should never take more than thirty minutes. In case topics would take too much time, those topics would need to be taken off-line and discussed between the people who are directly involved.

The purpose of the daily call is to evaluate the past day, define priorities for the current day, share essential documents and statistics, coordinate actions across functions, and define topics where troubleshooting is required. We worked out a list of fixed topics which include staff health updates, sales progress, pricing, product allocation, inventory and logistics.

But most of all, the daily morning call serves as a way to maintain the social fibre in the team and simply stay in touch with each-other. I suggested Jim to refrain from making calls during the rest of the day, and simply trust his people to carry out what was agreed in the morning briefing.

How It Worked Out

Jim and I evaluated the results in our first follow-up meeting, the day before Easter. Jim sounded calm and confident. He told me how -after some initial technical hick-ups- the half-hour morning briefings had become more productive than he expected and how everyone seemed increasingly engaged. It led to improved coordination, and results were much better than the week before.

To Jim’s surprise people started calling him during the day with questions and volunteering short updates, and Jim was surprised how everyone took full responsibility for making things better.

Probably the most surprising side-effect of the morning briefings, however, was that everyone got an informal sneak peek into the lives of their co-workers, simply because many of them were video calling from their kitchen or living room tables, with family members and pets going in and out. It actually led to a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere, which perfectly synergized with productive work coordination. Many of Jim’s people were happy with this arrangement. It gave them as sense of direction, and they felt like a team in spite of the fact that most of them were working from home. But most importantly: Jim regained his calm as a leader.

The Bottom Line

By explaining Jim the differences between his personal leadership style and the behavior styles of his direct reports, Jim learned to crack the code of human behavior, and become more socially versatile. The daily updates gave him a sense of control, which in turn made him regain his calm and sovereignty as a leader, which in turn gave his people a sense of direction and stability.

In our next follow-up meeting, Jim and I will specifically discuss some issues between him and his Analytical-style CFO. Due to the differences between their personalities there is a lot of friction, certainly since they have to work remotely. Jim is more confident now that he will crack this behavior code as well and will be able to respond better to the needs for professional recognition, evidence, details and time of his CFO.

(This case study is based on real events. For privacy reasons we changed the name of our client)


Bianca, a 42-year-old Analytical-style logistics manager highly regarded for her professional knowledge, diligence and accuracy, needed personal coaching to improve the surprisingly high error rate in her department, in spite of her obvious qualities. When doing interviews in her department, we soon found out that the high error rate was related to Bianca’s leadership style. We found out that Bianca, who tried to control every little detail of the logistics process, was overly critical of her direct reports’ performance, and she hardly ever gave them praise. Team meetings were seldom if at all; most of the interactions with her people were one-on-one, and even those interactions were scarce. The error rate was rising because there was little to no communication and feedback among co-workers in this culture of distrust.

Most of Bianca’s people would simply sweep mistakes under the rug to avoid her harsh criticism. They would refrain from providing and sharing adequate performance information, which of-course got in the way of taking necessary improvement measures. Bianca’s people had grown weary of her micro-management, and of her critical lectures of how they again had fallen short. Most of them were demoralized.

In the course of our coaching process Bianca started telling me about her deep fear of being seen as incompetent, which led her to being so overly self-critical and constantly pursuing ever-higher standards in a situation she in reality could no longer oversee and no longer control.

Through her micro-management on details she lost oversight.

As many self-critical people tend to do, she held others accountable for the same extremely high standards she held for herself; it was never good enough. Bianca at all cost tried to prevent her people from making mistakes, which over time led to the opposite: a tense culture of distrust in which more and more mistakes were made, and nobody learned.

We were able to work out with Bianca that her style-related primal fears were getting in the way of her true qualities, and it eventually helped Bianca develop a more effective leadership style, in which she learned to fully employ her Analytical qualities: patient listening, a great eye for detail, focus and perseverance. She gradually became the patient and coaching leader her people needed. She learned to balance her cognition more with her intuition and learned to appreciate and trust the input from others.

Bianca also learned that mistakes are inevitable, but that a culture of trust, open communication and open feedback is an essential prerequisite for developing a learning organization, in which systems are continuously improved, and errors are minimized. She installed process-improvement task forces, and frequently held team meetings to fine-tune processes based on the direct input from her employees. She gradually was able to restore trust on the work floor, and the error rate sank very fast.

Based on real events. For reasons of privacy no real names have been used.


A while ago, I was working with Michelle, at the time a 34-year-old amiable-style research assistant at a biotech start-up company. I got to know Michelle as a modest, friendly, incredibly supportive and laborious young woman. Michelle, an undergraduate in biology, reported to Darius, an expressive-style biochemist originally stemming from Iran. Darius received his postgraduate degree in Germany and had developed a strong reputation in the industry for his impressive subject-knowledge. As a leader Darius was perceived as dominant and often autocratic; he managed his department with a firm hand. Higher management was happy with Darius because of his impeccable image in the industry and because he brought the results the company needed.

One day I noticed that Michelle was in distress. When asked, Michelle told me that she was considering her resignation. It soon became clear to me that she no longer wanted to work for Darius. She could no longer trust him. She told me that no matter how well she tried to deliver her tasks, Darius would always find something to criticize in her work, and he often would call her out on her mistakes in front of the team. Michelle couldn’t recall a single time Darius had praised her in the two years she had worked for him, and it had completely worn her out. No matter how hard she tried, the result was never good enough. As a final result, Michelle had firmly rejected him.

In my conversations with Michelle I gradually found out that at home her support network seemed dysfunctional as well: according to Michelle her driver-style husband Detlev didn’t really understand her and always came up with quick fixes without listening her out. On top of that Michelle’s expressive-style mother had recently moved in next door and required so much personal attention that Michelle felt that there was no space left for herself. Michelle felt completely depleted. She felt that the only thing she could do to improve her situation was to leave her job.

Eventually I succeeded in persuading Michelle not to give up her job before developing a better understanding of her own role in the whole situation. After helping Michelle understand what the primal needs and fears of amiable people are, Michelle realized that she needed to learn to firmly stand her ground, give sufficient push-back and say “no” in situations that are harmful to her. She learned how to give feedback to Darius about what she needed from him as a leader, she took the time to explain her husband Detlev what she needed from him and how their personalities were perfectly complementary provided that they were willing to accept each-others differences, and she started to tell her mother to solve her own drama.

As a result, Michelle got a lot of respect from Darius, who told her how Michelle’s lack of push-back had always angered him. Michelle’s direct feedback simply gave her expressive-style boss the sense of recognition he needed. Michelle’s driver-style husband Detlev appreciated her clarity and confessed to her that he had never understood her. Being able to understand how amiable people don’t need quick fixes, but rather a trusted, willing ear to just share and reflect their thoughts and feelings gave her husband the sense of clarity he needed. Michelle told me that her husband had become way more patient and helpful to her. And finally, Michelle’s expressive-style mother started to respect the lines Michelle drew in the sand. Michelle’s clarity created the structure and stability her mother so much needed. Michelle found a lot more harmony and stability in her life. In fact, by defying her primal fears, by looking the devil in the eye, she was much more successful in fulfilling her own primal needs as well as the primal needs of others.

Based on real events. For reasons of privacy no real names have been used.