I have an interesting job.  Some might call it a little crazy (I wouldn’t disagree).  After all, who’s ever heard of a workplace therapist?  When I’m doing my workplace therapist thing, one of the more important roles I play is that of an executive coach.  And let me tell ya, this “coaching thing” can take many forms.  Sometimes I’m hired to support a newly promoted leader (“happy coaching”).  Other times, I’m hired to help a leader round out his or her rough edges (“development coaching”).  And then sometimes I’m hired to save a client from being fired (“fixer coaching”).  And sometimes, I fail. 

Recently I’ve been reflecting on all of the clients I’ve worked with over the years who I failed.  And when I say “failed,” I mean it.  They lost their jobs.  Exited.  Fired.  Canned.  Booted.  Downsized.  Invited to leave.  On the surface, the reasons were not obvious.  It’s not like these individuals were unethical, unprofessional or walking H.R. nightmares.  No.  The reasons were much more subtle.  Over many hours at the gym, shower-time-pondering and long Atlanta commutes, here’s what I’ve come to (it’s actually a pretty short list):

They function like consultants and not like owners

All consultants, former or current, need to take note.  In fact, share this with your consultant friends.  These clients held onto their consultant hat way too long.  Maybe they were once consultants and now they were hired into a senior role by a company.  Or maybe they held internal “consulting” kinda roles (regional director, etc…).  Regardless, they were reluctant to take ownership inside their organizations and push results.  They preferred to spend their time thinking big thoughts and painting bold strategies.  They are rarely around (think workplace ghost) and when they are, they are masters at delegating so well that nothing is left on their own plate.  No one really knows what they do.

They are reactive and not proactive

These individuals can never seem to get in front of any problem or issue.  Their days are spent putting out fires – usually ones they’ve themselves created.  They appear unprepared and reactive in meetings and seem to lack the ability to follow things fully through.  This is the kind of feedback I’ve heard over the years about these folks:

  • “He can’t tell his boss ‘no.’ Ever.  This just means we’re left to do the work, and we’re already overloaded as it is.”
  • “She is constantly changing her priorities.  Daily.  Her priorities seem completely driven by random conversations she has in the hallway.”
  • “He is not strategic.  He just reacts to stuff.  Honestly, I don’t think he can think beyond this week, even if he was forced to.”
  • “She never takes initiative.  She just sits in meetings and waits for her boss (the CEO) to tell her what to go do.”

They have no fans

SeveImAstar256ral years ago, I had just completed a round of 360 interviews for one particular client and it was time to meet with him to review the feedback.  I sat down with him to go over the rather hefty report and as I began, point by point, he attempted to discredit every potentially negative piece of feedback I presented to him.  When I finished, I closed the report and looked up at him.  He looked back at me with a smug expression as if he had won.  I pushed the report to one side, slowly leaned forward and matter-of-factly said to him, “You have a fan problem.  The problem is that you have none.”  Leaders with rough edges tend to have at least some fans.  But if someone doesn’t have any fans (not administrative assistants, direct reports, peers, bosses, customers, the janitor, etc…), the writing is on the wall.  He was “invited to leave” about two months later.

That’s my list so far.  As I think back to all of my “downsized” clients through the years, they really didn’t have too much in common (other than rock star resumes which should tell us something).  There were men and women equally in that group.  They represented different ethnicities as well as a variety of industries.  They were Directors, Vice Presidents and C-Level Execs.  But what they all did have in common is that they had at least some combination of the items above before they were shown the door.

That’s what I’ve seen.  So the big question to you is:

What am I missing?

Other than naked pics of course.   Those never go over well.