Are You the Leadership Equivalent of a Lump of Coal?

    M. Nora Klaver Posted by M. Nora Klaver, Executive Coach, Bouchard Executive Coaching Ltd..

    Nora is an accomplished executive coach with 25 years of experience developing corporate leaders. She is the author of Mayday! Asking For Help In Times of Need.

    Say hello to M. Nora here.

    Are You the Leadership Equivalent of a Lump of Coal?

    For some people, the holiday gift giving process is exhilarating. They joyfully skip from store to store, picking out the perfect gift for each recipient on their list. Their gifts communicate commitment, appreciation, creativity, understanding, and most of all, complete competence in the holiday season. They are totally in control.

    I…am not one of those people. Holiday shopping, for me, usually involves a lot of banging my head against the wall and trying to assess how many years in a row it’s acceptable to give everyone on my list pine-scented candles.

    It occurred to me the other day that leadership is a lot like holiday gift giving. Some people love it, procuring and distributing gifts with ease. Others find the process complicated, confusing, and elusive. They want to throw their hands in the air and say “Screw it! You’re all getting candles again!” – behavior deserving of that lump of coal!

    For IT in particular, there are too many leaders that spend every day of the year running around like its five minutes before the mall closes on Christmas Eve and they still have three people on their list.  The never ending demands to coordinate diverse skill sets, coach highly specialized professionals, wrangle complex code, and navigating cross-departmental pressures leaves them in a state of holiday-like panic all year long.

    How are they to handle such a challenge?

    The answer – soft skills! (I think I just felt every single one of my clients shudder).

    I get it. IT professionals thrive on all things logical, sequential, and rational. Do any of those things sound like people to you? NOPE. People are messy, unpredictable, and temperamental. Dealing with people, and giving them gifts, requires a completely different set of skills than those needed to write great code or build awesome infrastructure.

    Luckily, leadership and gift-giving are both skills that can be learned. You just need a little help from BEC, and we promise you will be better for it! Take a gander at what giving the perfect gift and being a good leader have in common.

    1. Both require you to listen. People drop hints, deliberate or otherwise, about what they need. Whether it’s a new sweater or advocacy for a new idea, they’ll mention it more than once. When it comes to leadership, all you have to do is listen. Even if you can’t do anything about it in the moment, remember to tuck away the request for future action.
    2. Both leave everyone feeling appreciated. Gifts should be given graciously, and accepted gratefully. Like a good gift, strong leadership should encourage appreciation both ways. The leader’s team will be grateful to have purpose, motivation, autonomy, and a common goal – everything they need to be highly engaged and fulfilled employees. Conversely, the leader should always be grateful for the hard work, commitment, and effort that the team brings to work with them each day.
    3. Both require you to empathize. Good gifts display an understanding of recipient, who they are, how they tick, and what they want. Your 17 year old nephew will appreciate a book on gardening about as much as your grandmother will appreciate tickets to next month’s Star Trek convention. Similarly, not everyone on your team wants to be treated the same way. It is your job as a leader to understand your team members and adjust accordingly. Maybe Joe wishes that you’d stop by his desk and chat every once in a while, but Sue would rather you just compliment her code and then leave her alone. Both in leadership and gift giving, you must think about what will resonate with each individual.
    4. Both highlight the importance of relationships. Think about your last family dinner. Was it as charming and joyous as a Norman Rockwell painting? Or did Great Uncle Larry get in a full out shout fest with your cousin Dave over an old feud? Your family’s relationships can either make it a perfect holiday, or lead to a full-on family meltdown.

    Now think about you team. Do you have relationships with your team members? Your peers? Your superiors? Do they innovate and collaborate seamlessly? Or do egos, lack of communication, guardedness, and a siloed workforce constantly slow progress? If you’re an IT leader and have spent your time focusing on tactical execution rather than cultivating relationships, your probably aren’t unlocking your (or your team’s!) full potential.

    Giving a gift to a friend is a gesture commemorating the symbiotically beneficial relationship you have with one another. If you aren’t cultivating relationships in your professional life worthy of the same type of appreciation, then you will only achieve a fraction of what you would be able to with a strong team!

    1. Both require a little ongoing effort. It’s uncommon to know exactly what to get everyone on your list. It is also uncommon, for a leader to have all the answers, all the time. Even the naturals have to do some planning, research, and coordination to ensure success. Want to find the perfect gift? You’ll probably need to brainstorm a bit and then hit the web for some price comparisons. Want to be a great leader? You need to try, fail, learn, grow, repeat. In both cases the process takes time, but can be incredibly rewarding.

    We have faith in you. Cheers to a year of growing as a leader and the sharing of your many gifts!

    M. Nora Bouchard, MA, is a senior-level executive coach with twenty plus years of experience who has chosen to work with those who value an analytical mindset. She enjoys working with CIOs, leaders of IT teams, as well as the people who wrangle code, DBAs, data center operators, and network administrators. She’s also great with other analytical minds in finance, engineering and science. Nora is author of Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need. Learn more about her background, programs and clients at


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