We’re only making plans for Nigel

Less XTC, more reconnecting with your “Why”

I have recently been working with a senior leader at a global telecommunications company. As his coach, he was describing to me his increasing frustration towards the members of his leadership team. He reported information (typically mistakes and errors) being hidden from him, some of his team forming unhelpful cliques, an apparent lack of accountability and a constant worry that his two “best” people might leave at any time.

Nigel (not his real name of course), had already started to question his role in the organisation. Was this really the place for him? Was everybody against him? What part was he playing in the growing problems within the leadership team?

Nigel was known as a challenging leader. He pushed people hard and had high expectations of himself and others. Colleagues referred to him as a winner. There was a bit of fear in the air when people talked about him.

When Nigel shared his 360 report with me, there was one consistent comment that emerged and rather stuck out. People said that Nigel talked a lot about his need to win, to be successful, to earn big money. At one of our sessions, we decided to explore this comment a bit further.

Nigel told me about his recent history. He was on his second marriage and had two teenage children in university. He also had a younger child in private school, was paying for three separate houses (his previous family home, his new family home and a holiday home in Florence). Life was expensive and he told me how he really needed a high income just to stand still. In many ways he described being trapped – where he had to work hard to maintain both homes, so he put in long, demanding hours, which in turn was placing stress on his new relationship.

I wondered how much of this his team were picking up on? Did Nigel share his life circumstances with his colleagues? Of course, he replied, wasn’t this a key part in building trust?

With his permission, we explored this further. Nigel explained how he felt it was important for his people to understand what was driving him. But as we continued the conversation, we started to think about what this meant for those that followed him. If we believe that as leaders we need people to follow us, not because they have to, but because they want to, why would any of Nigel’s team care? Why would they care enough to want to push themselves, to over-deliver, to face the tough times with Nigel, to stay loyal? At the moment, their endeavours were simply seen as helping him pay for his mortgages, his children’s education, his expensive lifestyle.

So why does Nigel really get up in the morning, travel a couple of hours and do this particular job? Why would anyone care enough to follow Nigel? Why would anyone trust Nigel and want to stay loyal to him?

Nigel’s real passion was about winning – and it was about winning together. Unbeknownst to most, Nigel was very active supporting the rising stars in the organisation. He was a mentor to a number of new graduates, keen to support them to achieve and give them some of the opportunities he had had. He freely gave his time to new starter and induction workshops – not because he had to, but because he wanted to and he enjoyed it. He talked about how it reconnected him with why he had started out. I commented on how different he was when he talked about this aspect of his work, how his eyes brightened, he smiled, he talked faster and he was so much more animated.

What became apparent to both of us was that Nigel had lost his personal vision. He had become so immersed in delivering operational targets over so many years, he had somehow lost himself. His purpose in life was still there and was trying to find a way out!

So Nigel has begun to explore more deeply his personal purpose and vision. For him it has much more to do with developing potential in those who are hungry for a challenge.

He has come to recognise that for others to want to take his cause and make it their own, they need to believe in him, to trust him, to truly understand his intent. If he is unclear on his personal vision and purpose, then others are left to guess what it might be. And their guesses might not be accurate or even helpful.

In the words of Simon Sinek “If you don’t know why you do what you do and people respond to why you do what you do, then how will you ever get someone to be loyal and want to be a part of what it is that you do.”

Do you remember the hit by XTC back in the 80’s :

Reflection by

Mark Manley partner at Gaia Leadership

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