Work Speaks for Itself Case Study

Situation

An apolitical leader is one who does great work, wants the work to “speak for itself,” and refuses to engage in politics. These leaders:

  • Do not want to bother management with bad news until it has been resolved.
  • Do not want to be in the spotlight, and therefore may hesitate to share good news or good results.
  • Expect to get recognized for their work or their results without engaging in politics or managing up—which usually does not occur.
  • Are perceived as lacking a sense of urgency, which may also carry over to their teams.

Impact if Unresolved

  • Management may make costly decisions because they are lacking vital information.
  • These leaders produce great independent results, but often become frustrated when they are not promoted.
  • Direct reports may feel invisible and find it hard to get promoted.
  • These leaders and their teams are likely to look for a new job outside of the department or the organization, and turnover costs will range between 90% and 200% of the salary for recruiting, training, and lost productivity costs of each person that leaves.

Options For Improvement

  • Provide feedback to these leaders through the company’s internal performance management process
  • Attend internal or external seminars or trainings
  • Take management courses as part of continuing education

All these options could produce some level of improvement. These leaders might come away with some techniques to improve their situation temporarily. These methods may fall short because they do not cause the leaders to confront the root cause. Also, these methods don’t incorporate the use of an accountability partner, which is needed for real change. 

Coaching

A coach would use personality assessments and reflection to dig deeper and uncover why these leaders want the work to speak for itself. The coach can help these leaders see the impact of their actions through 360° feedback data. Additionally, a coach can hold the leaders accountable for making incremental adjustments that eventually lead to sustainable changes. A good coach can also teach the processes of reflection, self-diagnosis, and course correction for any future self-improvement. 

Coaching Anecdote

Our firm recently coached a senior manager named Sharon at a large financial institution. She was responsible for giving a weekly update to senior management. She would give very quick factual updates about results but never elaborate about what was done to achieve them or how the results factor into the strategy. She was also stiff, quiet, and unassuming during the updates and never asked questions during others’ updates. Behind the scenes, Sharon was bright, funny, charming, and even socially adept. She also worked hard and produced good results. Unfortunately, the perception of her lagged far behind the reality because of her management updates.