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.

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