The new stress

CEO problem: I didn’t see this coming, but the board gave me an ultimatum — shape up my attitude or ship out. The managers working under my supervision have been complaining about me, and the board is afraid they’ll leave. It seems we have a huge ego clash. I have to do something; I can’t afford to lose my job.

Our CEO has learned a painful, contemporary lesson — he’s out of style. What’s worse is that he should have seen it coming. An up-and-coming manager when he started, his confidence turned to arrogance. His verbal style and visible demeanor were once thought of as leading.

The problem is, a leader doesn’t start out as a leader. A leader must first be a servant, then a coach. Only when he or she can enable others to become their best should the person become a leader. This guy has been wearing blinders for years. Now comes the wake-up call, and he’s experiencing the new stress — command and control is out of style, and he has no clue. He brought this on himself.

I helped him work on his attitude about himself and toward others, including managers. Shadowing him, I noted his interactions, as well how he was when he was alone. The real him wasn’t a pretty picture. Did he notice? Not only did he not notice, he didn’t even realize this was his biggest obstacle.

So, how did I help him acknowledge and internalize an obstacle of his own making? And how could I get him to take action? He had to make a major change of behavior.

During his coaching intake, I assessed his motivations, strengths and emotional intelligence, including social awareness. He needed to make many changes, but I focused on two key areas to yield quick results — self-awareness and friction-free communication.

By changing in that manner, he learned to remain secure in himself while staying on top of his work. By learning how to think before he spoke and put himself in his managers’ positions, he reduced tension. His next step will be tougher. He’ll have to replace the rough-rider act with new behaviors.

He’s not convinced, but he has college-aged kids as motivation. He’s got a lot to learn, and it can be achieved if he chooses.

Behaviors are learned and easier to change than beliefs (beliefs affect action). If he decides to work on changing, it will take time. If he doesn’t make big shifts, he’ll fade. I’m betting he’ll try.

And the stress? He didn’t turn all warm and fuzzy, but he admits (with surprise) that he feels better about himself. The tough question: Will others support him in time to save his butt?

It’s a positive start, and the only possible solution for his future — anywhere. Bernadette Mihalic, M.Ed., psychology, is an executive and organization coach specializing in emotional intelligence, communication and effective leading with class. Reach her at (412) 828-9501 or at [email protected]. Her Web address is