Difficult Journey of the Middle of the Road Executive


Difficult Journey of the Middle of the Road Executive

“I’m a very different person at home than in the office.” How often is it that we have we heard that at VIM Executive Coaching? The logical next question to the executive leader’s statement is “Well, just who are you at the office?”

Unfortunately, our experience (both professional and on a more casual basis) is that they are not separate paths. One veers into the other. 

We spend so much of our life in work situations and dealing with workplace issues. That unless we are authentic responsive, compassionate people in the office, unless we are mindful and in the moment in the office setting (whatever setting that may be), we can easily bring the same unresolved workplace stresses and difficulties to our social situations.

“I’m Demanding at Work, but a Pussycat at Home”

Even if the executive is one of those rare personalities who can completely turn off a “personality switch,” it is an impossible regimen to maintain. The executive who is angry, aloof, or “demanding” in the workplace is usually the same at home. Obviously, the best of all possible situations is consistency. When executive leaders tell us, they are “demanding,” it is always wise to ask for clarification. If the executive strives for excellence, we would agree that excellence is a reasonable goal providing the expectations are linked to specific outcomes. 

However, having the expectation linked to a feeling, a judgment, a bias or even a distant memory, is the opposite of mindfulness. 

We knew such an executive who was himself fired after angrily (racially) disparaging the janitorial night crew because they failed to wipe the mirrors in a men’s room. In fact, he yelled (with documentation apparently) that three times in the past month they had failed to wipe the mirrors. It followed a pattern of behavior on his part that also led to several employees leaving his department.

We never learned how he was in his home life, obviously it is not the focus of business coaching. Parenthetically, we understand that he was unemployed for quite some time due to negative feedback from ex-employees and even those the executive had interviewed for prospective positions. He wound up in leadership coaching.

When the “strict executive” tells us that they are a “pussycat” or quiet and introspective at home, we would briefly comment (again, not wishing to intrude) how they maintain their “separation,” they often shrug and say, “I just do.” It leads us to not be judgmental, but more than a bit skeptical. “Just doing,” implies turning off that switch we talked about. We have never seen it successfully done. 

An executive leader we once coached who was said to be intentionally distant and “non-personal” at work (her word) once blurted in a conversation that she was afraid of often being too aloof and “antisocial” with her family because she did not want to bring negativity into the household. Being aloof, is often being negative.

The Journey

There is that somewhat famous line from the Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi explains to young Daniel about life. You can travel on the left side of the road or the right, but when you try to walk in the middle you can get run over. It is sound advice for those of us who are executive leaders. It is apropos to this post.

The executive leader who is demanding or mean or angry at work, will generally veer off and wind up on the wayside. He or she will realize they need business coaching to try to improve how they interact with others. Long-term, we have never seen it fail.

The executive leader who strives to be authentic, mindful and compassionate at work will generally have a good career. One note on that journey: compassion is an expression of openness and non-judgment; it is “not about being a sucker” to every story, situation or circumstance. We can view that journey as being the safer and better side of the road.

But young Daniel-san was warned against the middle – and with good reason. The middle is the nowhere path and it can hurt. Be real, authentic and mindful and be careful of the side you choose.

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Bruce Wolk