Did you ever have a person who “pushed your buttons”, who you felt agitated with simply by having them around? Recently I coached Joe, who had one team member that he struggled to communicate with. Joe claimed “Terry” was making life miserable for him and the team every time he showed up. The team agreed that there was a negative, intense emotional charge every time Joe and Terry were in the same room.
When questioned about the dynamic, each of them had a laundry list of emotional complaints about the other. At the end of the day however, they acknowledged that each of them had valuable skills that the team needed. The success of the team depended on their ability to have a solid working relationship.
It took some humility and tremendous self-insight for each to identify what they were doing that contributed to the problem. Coaching each of them individually was necessary and at times painful, yet each had to own what they could do to make it work.
When the smoke cleared, it came down to recognizing the things that they could not change about each other, and finding ways to communicate and even simply relax together. They had to identify ground rules and tools to make sure they stayed on track. Both had to check their egos at the door.
While each had their own ways of being, Joe, as the leader, had to take the first humble step to meet Terry where he was and adapt his leadership style enough to make life tolerable for Terry to help the team be successful. While he laughs about it now, Joe admits it was one of the hardest things he ever had to do.
Leadership challenges and stretches us. We are forced to flex and be vulnerable and confront our fears and frustrations and flaws. They often show up as a team member who embodies some of our worst hang-ups and fears. It pays to make sure we are looking in the mirror to ask what part we are playing in the drama. We may never know the “whys” of others’ behavior, but we often don’t have to. We don’t need to “fix” anyone. Just knowing what each other’s triggers are, learning what works, and doing what we need to do with compassion and without judgement can be enough.