It was an uneasy conversation.
You have this very capable subordinate. She had asked for a change of job responsibilities and duly got it. But she is new to this work in which you are an old hand. So, you offered to help and mentor her. The immediate context was that you overheard her struggling to connect with a valued client. You just happened to pass by her desk when she was talking. When you called her in to offer help, she knew where this was coming from. And her demeanour showed she did not like this one bit. She politely declined any offer of help and said she will ask for help when she needs it.
You quietly reflect on the conversation.Here was a capable individual who could do with a little help. But she takes quiet pride in her work and is very sensitive about any offer of help. She interprets such an offer as a lack of confidence in her. You accept you got it wrong from the word go. Given the context, she was going to react this way.
The same evening, you go for a dinner with a school buddy at this cosy restaurant. You are meeting your school buddy who stays abroad after fifteen years.There is so much of catching up to do! So many childhood secrets to trade, so many absent buddies to slander in good humour, so many what-ifs to mull over!
You are there for close to three hours. But you can swear, it felt like half an hour. Both you and your buddy are feeling content. To give credit where it is due, the booze kept the conversation flowing. But, so many good things happened at the same time. You had a sumptuous meal. Everything you wanted came at just the right time. The food. The drinks. Nothing came in the way of you and your buddy having a really memorable time. The service of the waiter or the serving staff was such.
Now, if you are not so tipsy as to feel like hugging the floor; can you connect the two experiences – your dining experience and the uneasy conversation with your subordinate.
The contention is simple. The waiter has something of value that you can learn from.
Your waiter made himself ( or herself) invisible to you and your school buddy when you were lost in your talking. At certain moments, he would appear in easy sight as if he could read your minds. You looked around and there he was; awaiting a motion of your hands or even just a look in your eye. He would come, do his bit and gracefully fade away. Till the next mind-reading moment arrived.
If you gather your wits and let the alcohol settle down; here is the opportunity. Give the most generous tip to the waiter. And say to him or her, ” You were fantastic in the way you served us. I know you are on duty. When can we talk? I want to learn from you the art and sensibility of being invisible and picking up the perfect time to appear – to serve and to be of help. How do you do it?”
Isn’t it true that this is exactly what you require when it comes to managing your your subordinate? There are many notions holding you back from realizing this and learning from it. I mention just one.The notion that the two things are worlds apart : Waiting in a restaurant & your world-saving magnificent job.
My response : Granted, the worlds are apart. But, isn’t the competence the same?
Wait, I should have said this first. Can you let go of ego and considerations of social status for a moment? Now, is the competence involved in being invisible and picking up the perfect time to appear, the same?
I rest my case. You won’t get the whole answer to your challenge. But you will get something very, very useful. You can learn from every experience. A shift is all it needs.