Developing Leaders at Millennial Motors: Part 2

Pemba, faculty and coach, takes over. She supports learners to apply theory to real life

Flashback (Part 1):
At Millennial Motors, it has been felt that though top level executives are very capable, there isn’t a credible 2nd line of leaders. Lilette, the Head of L&D feels that business heads must learn how to do this, and asks Ashok, an external consultant to help through an intervention. After some persuasion, 8 Heads of Businesses agree to participate in a 4-month long learning journey. Ashok brings in Pemba Tsering to act as faculty and coach for this intervention.

(Part 1 can be accessed in full here.)


April 15th (Workshop, in a hotel’s conference room)

Pemba: Good morning, all. I am Pemba Tsering. Since you’re familiar with the background of this intervention through the emails we exchanged, I’ll get to business right away. This intervention will help you create second level leaders in your teams. Lilette confirms to me that this program is different from previous ones you’ve attended at this company, in several ways.

It will be longer and more intense than others you’ve experienced. There’s a reason for the change. This time, we’re unwilling to say, “Lets provide some inputs and hope something changes”. We’re aiming at nothing less than ensuring that every participant in this program makes a significant leap.

Secondly, it also allows you to opt-in to whichever of the 2 objectives you feel drawn towards. So, your learning journeys will differ, based on what you’ve chosen to learn. You will notice that 3 business heads aren’t here… they’ve chosen to attend the other program which will run simultaneously, the one on communicating effectively so that your entire team is in sync with you.

Third, for an intervention of this size, our learning as a group is unusually short… just a single day. After today, I will work with you individually, sometimes in person and at other times, over telephone.

(Workshop continues)

Meanwhile, in the Hotel Lobby

Lilette: You know, Ashok, I have to confess… when I met Pemba for the first time, I wasn’t too confident that she could handle this intervention. To be honest, I’m still apprehensive.
Ashok: Perfectly understandable… she doesn’t come across as your typical trainer or coach. Doesn’t have a swagger. Doesn’t spin tales. Humour isn’t her forte either. But she’s got what it takes for this intervention. I assure you.
Lilette: I’m worried about how the learners will take to her. She’s younger than they are, by a full decade. And our leaders are all alphas… opinionated, skeptical. Some are probably hoping to prove that they know their stuff already and this program is a waste of time.
Ashok: Pemba has the gift of drawing people out so that they can see reality. She can look people in the eye can deliver candid feedback without being offensive. I’ve seen it happen before. On that occasion, she faced a skeptical group of learners, but very soon, they were eager to hear her out. This is a program where practice and feedback is the key, rather than shock and awe during the initial workshop. I’m confident she can handle it.


6 pm that evening (Lobby of the hotel)

Zubair: Hey Shaan, I was expecting we’ll have some role playing, but we had none of that here.
Shaan: Oh, I asked Pemba about that during a coffee break. She says practice is best done on the job, where the situation is realistic. That’s why she focussed solely on conceptual understanding today, through demos, explanations and FAQs.
Zubair: I guess that makes sense. I wasn’t in the mood to stay away from business for longer than a day.
Advika (joins them): Hi there. Not checking the urgent emails you missed, Mr. BusyMan?
Shaan: Speak about yourself, Ms. RisingStar. You seemed quite focussed on the workshop today.
Advika: That’s true. After a long time, I’ve seen a facilitator who’s intent on helping, not just talking down to us. She may not be an impressive speaker, but who cares about that? I personally think the design of the program will be helpful… the many cycles of practice and feedback.
Shaan: But the keeping-a-daily-journal bit? That won’t work for me.
Zubair: How about the other option Pemba offered? Recording the developmental conversations with the team… I think I can do that using a phone app.
Shaan: Yes, that’ll work. Actually, having an observer present during the conversation is ideal. But since my team is spread all over, having an observer turn up every time is impractical. So audio recording and transmitting it to Pemba is fine.
Advika: I’ve scheduled 2 conversations this week.
Zubair: I got one this week and another next week. Actually, I kind of liked how Pemba had us call our team today and fix these appointments on the go. Very action oriented, no?
Advika: Yes, I like the pace of the whole thing. Have a conversation, upload it using the app, listen to the playback together with Pemba and get feedback right away. All done in a 2-hour slot. Quite neat!
Shaan: And if you don’t repeat it next week as scheduled, you get a reminder call from “The Pemba”!
(Everyone laughs)

Practice and Feedback!

Two days later, 17th April. A phone call.

Advika: Hi Pemba. I was expecting your call. Did you get to hear the audio file I sent?
Pemba: I’d rather that we hear it together. That way, we can pause it when we want, discuss a bit and continue.
Advika: Sure thing, lets do that.

Playback of audio recording
Advika: Savio, don’t worry too much about me recording our talk. I’m doing this so my coach can hear it.
Savio: Okay.
Advika: I’m assuming you’ve seen the one pager I emailed?
Savio: Yes, I did. What I’ve understood so far is this: there are 4 different ways of working together. I recall there is one where you closely monitor everything, there’s another where its up to me how I do things… I can’t recall what the other two are.
Advika: We can quickly go over it again, if you wish.
Savio: Yeah, we can. But I have a question… what are we doing differently? I thought we’ve always worked together like that.
Advika: I think the difference is that we’ll keep reviewing it more deliberately. We’ll schedule these conversations into our calendars, instead of leaving it to chance.

Advika: I think I can delegate the branch-audits to you. You’ve been doing those for a while now.
Savio: Okay.
Advika: And for the hiring task, I think more hand-holding is still required.
Savio: All right.
Advika: Ditto for the…

(Pemba pauses the playback)

Pemba: Advika, do you sense a change in Savio’s responses in the last couple of minutes?
Advika: Hmmm… well, he seems to be agreeing with what I said. So, it seems okay to me so far? Did you catch something more?
Pemba: He could be agreeing with you. Or he could have turned passive, given up, and he’s just going along with what you’re saying.
Advika: That’s possible too.
Pemba: If that’s the case, it could be due to a deviation from the script, that I noticed. Do you want to hear about it now?
Advika: Sure.
Pemba: A developmental conversation needs to be a two-way affair. For example, Savio and you need to agree that for the hiring task, he needs handholding. My observation is: you decided this on your own and announced it to him.
Advika: I see your point. But what if we have a disagreement. My concern is, Savio might just want everything to happen in Delegation mode… that’s not right. I don’t think he’s that ready yet.
Pemba: He may well feel that way. It’s his prerogative to self-assess; just like it’s your prerogative to assess his readiness. Ask yourself this: What can both of you gain, if it’s a two-way conversation, and you arrive at a consensus after some struggle?
Advika: Well, if there’s consensus, then… he won’t resist later. Also, I’ll rest easy if I know I have his concurrence. But honestly, reaching consensus isn’t easy.
Pemba: That, I agree with. Do you recall what we discussed about the art of consensus building?
Advika: Actually, no. Let me leaf through my workshop notes… found it. It says, “Ask for their expectations. Listen. State yours. Find common ground.” So, what do we do now? Have I blown it for good?
Pemba: Far from it. I’d say, have another chat with him.
Advika: Er… maybe I should just leave it as it is… learn from this, and do the conversation differently with the next team member.
Pemba: And why would you leave it as it is?
Advika: (after a longish silence) You know, its not practical. It would weaken my position if I admitted that … Pemba, this is not easy!
Pemba: I can sense your discomfort, Advika. But think of it this way… if you re-opened the conversation with Savio, what would it give you?
Advika: I’m not sure. I don’t know if I’d lose respect or whether he’d respect me more, knowing that I’m willing to seek his opinion.
Pemba: That’s true. We cannot predict which way it’ll go. There’s only one way to find out, which is…
Advika: I know… I know. I’ve got to try it out.


27th April at 9am, A Phone call

Pemba: Good morning, Shaan.
Shaan: Hi Pemba.
Pemba: I called to remind you about having a chat with Dileep, one of your regional managers.
Shaan: Oh, yes. I know it was due yesterday… the reminder did pop up on my phone.
Pemba: I didn’t hear from you yesterday, so I guessed you might have missed it.
Shaan: I appreciate the call, Pemba. This week has been crazy, and I got caught up in something else yesterday.
Pemba: Ideally, I’d like that conversation to happen today, and in the afternoon, we can review it together over phone.
Shaan: I’m travelling with a string of meetings lined up. Today won’t be possible, but tomorrow I’ll do it for sure.
Pemba: And my notes here say that this is your second conversation with Dileep. Is that right?
Shaan: Yes, it is. And I remember your feedback from last week… it is okay to push back gently, when Dileep comes to me for answers he can find out on his own.
Pemba: Nice. So we’ll speak tomorrow, immediately after you speak to Dileep. Bye.

Status check!

15th June, two months after the workshop. At the office of Millennial Motors.

Pemba: I had a telephonic chat with the 4 people who report to you last week. I repeated the questions we had asked them before this program was planned. As agreed, we’re not sharing with you what they said individually, but just the summaries.
Advika: Yes, that’s fair.
Pemba: If you compare the pre-program and mid-program ratings, the biggest improvements are in the areas of delegation and involving them in decision making. I’m referring to questions 2 and 4 in the questionnaire.

Advika: That’s good to see. This was the hardest part for me. I’ve run my team with very close supervision for many years. Only recently did I consciously start trusting that some things can be left to them. Frankly, its getting easier by the day… it’s quite a relief not to follow-up all the time, you know.
Pemba: Not just for you, but also for them, I imagine!
Advika: That’s so true. Our interactions have become … how shall I put it? Lighter and more relaxed.
Pemba: I also noticed that the rating has dipped in response to question 1. The change is small, but it may help to remember that there are still some areas where strongly directive leadership is called for.
Advika: Right. I need to guard against going from one extreme to another.
Pemba: And the last question is really about the outcome of it all… your team is feeling that their leadership ability is growing.
Advika: What’s the 5th question about… ‘conversation about progress and learning’? How is it different from the 4th one?
Pemba: That refers to the kind of conversation we’re having right now.
Advika: I see. It’s a discussion at a broader level. Like asking them “Are you growing as a leader”, “What support do you need” and so on.
Pemba: Correct. Sometimes, people need to talk about their progress in an open way. It lets them know that that you’re thinking about them. Could you start doing that from now on?
Advika: Will do. So far, I’ve been talking to them about specific tasks in their roles, but not about their overall growth.
Pemba: I’m going to be speaking with you regularly for a couple of months more, while you try that out.

New beliefs!

Pemba: Moving beyond this status report, do you have any concerns you’d like to talk about?
Advika: Hmmm… it’s not a concern, but a general comment. An insight, if you will.
Pemba: I’m all ears.
Advika: For the longest time, I’ve worried that if my team becomes too capable, too independent, I might lose relevance. I’ve tried to avoid that fate by being proactive, intruding into every decision, rushing into every conflict. I didn’t give my team room to play their game their way.
Pemba: Yes, that showed up in the pre-program survey.
Advika: Now that I’ve started to let go, I find that the sky hasn’t fallen on my head.
Pemba: I like that metaphor. Go on, please.
Advika: This new way of managing has freed up my time, so I can look at some projects that have been gathering dust for a while. You could say, I’ve found other avenues to stay relevant and contribute in this organisation.
Pemba: And in that way, invest in your own growth?
Advika: Yeah, that too. It’s like I was rooted to a spot for a long time, and now there’s some movement ahead.
Pemba: Cheers to that. And that reminds me… I’ve got to move on too. I’ll meet Zubair next.

Next fortnight in Part 3:
– Conclusion of the intervention and Results obtained
– Replicating the intervention organisation-wide