Case Study

David had a high IQ and worked for years to get to the promotion he had just achieved– SVP Engineering. Because of his technical skills and reputation, he was chosen as the leader of a high profile and exciting new initiative for the company. The stakes were high. He inherited a team of engineers which included a few brilliant recent graduates as well as star performers from different divisions of the company. Previously, he had a small team of trusted team members who had worked with him since he joined the company 15 years before.

When I met him, David was failing miserably according to his boss. There was a line outside his and the HR director’s office and several people were threatening to quit or already had. David now had a reputation as a taskmaster and had extremely high standards. Those weren’t the issue – the bright and once motivated staff wanted to please him, do excellent work and be involved with this exciting project. But David sulked when they didn’t get it right the first time, although he gave very little direction as to what he wanted from them. Once or twice he just flat out exploded and started yelling when they missed a crucial deadline that only he was aware of.

At our first meeting I discovered that David was just plain bewildered and distraught. After an outstanding academic record and with a stellar career to date, failing was not in his road map. He also wasn’t used to any self-examination or paying attention to his emotions. In his previous job, the team had been working together so long they pretty much knew how he thought, weren’t afraid to ask for guidance and liked the fact that David left them alone to do their work.

This approach just didn’t work with the new team –none of them knew how to read David’s mind! Some of them were inexperienced working in a large and diverse team and others, despite their experience, were dealing with a new location, a new boss and new team members as well as having relocated themselves and their families for this exciting opportunity.

The first task at hand was to have David stop and identify, as well as get in touch with his emotions. He didn’t always have much of a handle on this so we started with an exercise called “Name it to Tame It”. David found this much more challenging than all the technical or complex calculus he’d done in Graduate School. Then, he had to do a rewind with every single staff member on his team. He sat down with them individually – this wasn’t easy by any means. Each member of the team took the Gallup CliftonStrenghts assessment to identify their core talents and I used the CoreClarity methodology to amplify the significance of their individual talents when working alone or together. Then we did a Team Values Exercise. David started having one-on-one meetings with each staff member every week for the next three months. In addition, they had a weekly team meeting when each aspect of the project was discussed, and progress reports given. He had to slow down and set clear expectations with each team member. This became easier as time went on and he got more information about each person’s unique talents and communication style. He slowly came to understand what each person’s genius was and what put them in flow.

Ultimately, David came to understand that focusing on his technical skills alone was no longer possible and that his primary role was pulling the team together, setting clear expectations, coaching, giving regular feedback and holding people accountable for the results, good or bad. Things started to improve gradually – the line outside the boss’s office thinned out to nothing and David started to act like a leader – in addition to still being the brilliant engineer he had built his whole career on.

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