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Difficult doctors: Coaching the alpha (Proceedings)
Why this? Why now? It's the most common complaint of managers in veterinary medicine.
Why This? Why Now?
• Most common complaint of managers in veterinary medicine
• People join practices and leave doctors/owners/boss
• We live in an era of consolidation and collaboration if we are to be successful providers
• Must address the "schism" between owners and doctors and front line employees
The Alpha Doctor
• Highly Intelligent
• Not happy unless they are calling the shots
• Use "Toxic Tactics" to get their way
• Note to women (rarely will you exhibit all of the characteristics of the alpha doctor), but you can have many
• It's about being socialized to be good collaborators and compromising
• Reach the "top" because they are natural leaders
• Comfortable with responsibility and being the "final word"
• Get stressed when they DON'T have tough decisions to make
• They get such a charge out of being in control that they willingly take on more responsibilities than any normal human being would
• Genius and Madness are hard to separate
• Their greatest strengths are also their greatest weaknesses
• Independent and Action Oriented
• Take for granted extraordinarily high performance
• Expect the same in others
• "Impressive, but I wouldn't want to work for them!"
• Think extraordinarily fast, hard to keep up with
• Prevents them from listening to others (especially those who do not alpha speak)
• Impatience causes them to miss subtle but important details (lack empathy)
• They have opinions about EVERYTHING
• Rarely if ever admit to being wrong or incomplete
• Early in life they KNOW they are smarter than most people and learn very early to circumvent "rules"
• "The rules don't apply to me."
• As adults they believe that their insights are so unique that they put complete faith in their instincts
• Because their intuitions are often right, they feel justified in focusing on the flaws in other people's ideas or arguments. The results:
• Co-workers are intimidated which makes learning difficult
• The more pressure the "alpha" feels the more he tends to shift his leadership style from constructive and challenging to intimidating or abusive
• Organizations become dysfunctional because people avoid dealing with the alpha male, work around him, or simply pay him lip service
• Unemotional and analytical in their cognitive style
• Eager to learn about business "things" but have little or no natural curiosity about people or feelings
• They rely on exhaustive data to make business decisions, but often make snap decisions about other people which they hold onto tenaciously
• They believe that paying attention to feelings (others or their own) detracts from getting the work done, making them surprisingly oblivious to the effect they have on others
• Judgmental of colleagues who cannot control their emotions
• Fail to notice how they often vent their own anger and frustration
• Often dismiss their won outbursts or minimize them as the rules "don't apply to the top dog"
• They make great mid level managers or entrepreneurs, but the more pressure they feel to achieve the more their faults become weaknesses
• They find difficulty in the transition to inspirational leader
• It is at this stage in their career process that coaching can become helpful
General Alpha Attributes
• Self Confident and Opinionated
• Highly Intelligent
• Action Oriented
• High performance expectations of self and others
• Direct communication style
• Acts decisively, good intuition
• Sees beyond the obvious-takes creative leaps
• Produces results
• Sets and achieves high goals
• Moves people to action
• Extraordinarily productive
• Laser focus on objective
Coaching the Alpha
• Requires much skill and "chutzpah"
• Difficult for them to ask for help
• Stubborn and resistant to feedback
• As much as thy love talking about accountability, they feel to see that their own communication style is the roadblock to progress-not someone else's shortcomings
• Uncomfortable not in action
• Feel that coaching is an unproductive use of their valuable time (out of control)
• Coaches challenge is to preserve strengths while correcting weaknesses
Tools and Traps
• The best tool is the 360 degree peer review
• Involve all stakeholders who have direct interaction or directly report
• Suggest a coach who is used to handling "superstars" and standing up to bullies
• Coach does not have to be alpha but must be able to think analytically and be direct in their communication style
• Playing "loose and light"
• Too passive
• Reacting anecdotally or with their won non-executive/entrepreneurial experience rendering them irrelevant in the alpha mind
• If the alpha believes that the coach will turn him into an overly sensitive wimp (which he KNOWS the organization does not need), he'll never give the coach a chance
• Excessive Secrecy
• Can't operate in a vacuum
• Only by seeking and getting input from co-workers can the coach truly understand the issues surrounding the alphas behavior
• Only by truly talking openly about his commitment to change can the alpha turn around the pervasive organizational distrust he has created
• Avoid kowtowing at ALL COSTS
• Alphas are relentlessly intimidating
• Expect the world to show them deference
• They possess genuine power
The Right Way to Coach
• Get his attention
• Copious, credible DATA
• Provide undeniable proof of how his behavior is negatively affecting the organization
• Let the data shape the questions and the ask the difficult questions
• Demand His Commitment
• Do you want to change?
• Are you willing to change?
• Will you allow me to help?
• If the answer is no to any of these-move on and let them stew-the coaching will do no good
• Speak his language
• Use graphs, metrics and charts for maximum impact
• Turn feedback into quantitative data
• Hit Him Hard Enough to Hurt
• Review and discuss verbatim comments from co-workers organized into competencies and themes
• "He's brilliant but he doesn't know a thing about people"
• "We feel as though we get raked over the coals every time he is around"
• Deliberately preserve the emotional language
• Many alphas have been dishing out feedback with a 2x4 their entire careers, and this process turns the tables on them
• "No pain, no gain" works with them
• Engage Curiosity and Competitive Instincts
• Defensiveness/Openness scale
• They often give long winded explanations for their shortcomings
• Quick to subtly blame others
• Alphas genuinely believe that everyone else gets defensive, but he just speaks the truth
• Ask the alpha to monitor his own defensiveness
How Defensive are You? (Better)
• Plan the change, engage others, set milestones and implement
• Communicate genuine enthusiasm about change
• Think out loud-make new associations about the problem
• Take full responsibility for the problem
• Request information and examples about the problem
How Defensive are You? (Worse)
• Appear to comply with no intention of changing
• Intimidate or attack the messenger
• Blame or complain about someone who is not present
• Make snippy replies and show your irritation
• Convince them they are wrong and you are right
5 Steps Toward Alpha Growth
• Admit Vulnerability
• Accept Accountability
• Connect with Underlying emotions
• Balance positive and critical feedback
• Become aware of Patterns
1. Admit Vulnerability
• Milestone when they express fear or admit vulnerability
• They will want the feedback to remain private-but it has to be open
• The stronger and more dominant the leader the more powerful the disclosure
2. Accept Accountability
• Difficulty accepting their responsibility
• Never met an alpha male who does not try to shift the blame to others
• Until they accept ownership, the problem will not go away
• The rule of 3: If something foes wrong three times the alpha leader needs to look to himself for the "problem"
• The most powerful step the alpha male can take is to assume that whatever happens or doesn't happen out there is a direct result of something that he has or has not done.
3. Connect with Underlying Emotions
• Doesn't like them because they cannot be controlled
• Will acknowledge they may play a role but not with him
• They confuse feelings and intuition and often mislabel them
• Tie emotions to physical sensations
4. Balance Positive and Negative
• They are uncomfortable with giving and receiving praise-don't over do it
• "When people show me appreciation I feel........."
• "If I give someone appreciation I would be afraid that....."
5.Be Aware of Patterns
• They spring from family dynamics and they are often predictable
• NO ONE is immune to the affects of their upbringing
• What to Expect
• 360 degree feedback and a few days does the trick for some
• Typically 6 months to a year is needed for sustainable change
• In the beginning of the coaching process he may only pay lip service
Are there Alpha Females?
• Can be just as data driven as men
• Comfortable with control but do not seek to dominate others
• Rise to their positions by excelling at collaboration
• More likely to use a velvet hammer
• Can be defensive and resistant to criticism
• Society is LESS tolerant of these behaviors in women than men
• Less likely to avoid interpersonal issues
• Follow distinctive patterns
• Stung by negative criticism early in their careers
• They come across as more affirming than their male counterparts so you may not see the criticism coming
• Can be accused of being political because they do not always let others know what they feel-what she calls diplomacy he calls politics