Jerry was the CEO of a large bank headquartered in New York. As a client of mine for several years, he had grown to trust my ability to work with “difficult” executives.

One Friday evening I got a call from Jerry’s executive assistant, asking me to meet with him to discuss one of his direct reports’ performance and development; it sounded more urgent than was typical of his requests. Three days later, I went to NYC for a luncheon meeting.

Jerry explained that one of “his guys,” as he called him, comported himself in a way that was unacceptable. He regularly threatened members of his team with termination; he ignored people to “make a statement;” he demanded phone access to people 24/7/365; he required that they provide his assistant with copies of their calendars so he could see what they were doing, and he treated people like “servants.” There was more, but you get the idea. He then asked me if I could “fix” Steve (the culprit) by coaching him. I said, “no.”

Jerry tilted his head, looking perplexed, and said, “You fixed ME!” I challenged his thinking with several questions. He concluded that I did not, in fact, “fix” him. What I did was help him accept that his style (some of his substance, too) detrimentally affected corporate results. Together we then crafted and implemented a plan to improve his performance along the dimensions that we (along with feedback from others) identified.

I agreed to meet Steve to discuss the possibility of working together. A couple of weeks later, we met. He had a physically commanding presence. In a Brioni suit and Gucci loafers, Steve looked like the Wall Street guy that he was. He shook my hand firmly and gazed right into my eyes as he introduced himself. His office resembled a Ralph Lauren showroom – dark wood, antiques – very “Harvard Club” looking.

After a couple of hours with Steve, I was perplexed. He was a charming gentleman. I had a hard time imagining him getting angry. I could imagine, however, that under certain circumstances his understated tone and stare could give chills to someone on the receiving end. I also sensed that while he accepted the need to change, he didn’t understand the magnitude of his problems or the challenge that they created. We agreed to work together and signed a one-year coaching agreement.

Fast forward three months.

We had gotten feedback, developed an action plan and begun working in four categories: Delegation; Impulse Control; Communication (especially “listening to understand” rather than just “listening to respond”); Trust. A couple of these had psychotherapeutic implications, and Steve engaged a renowned therapist to partner with us. He was “all in.”

Steve had a sincere attitude and a willingness to do the work; I was encouraged and optimistic. I believed that we had begun making real progress. Then on a Sunday night, my cell phone rang; it was Steve.

“You have to come up here for a talk,” he said. I wasn’t sure if it was a request or a demand. Either way, he sounded agitated. When I arrived at his office the following day, I found him pacing. His assistant briefed me before I entered his office. Apparently, he had been asking her to evaluate his management style. He was looking for validation.

Here’s how my conversation with Steve went:

“So … how can I help you today, Steve?”

He started: “My team doesn’t appreciate me, Rand. I’ve been working my tail off to change perceptions of me by changing what I do. I really appreciate your help, but I’m not getting any love from my people!”

“Tell me more,” I said.

“My results have been substantial. I feel really good about our progress. I don’t think my team notices, however. They still seem leery of me. When I’m around, I sense that they’re overly careful. When they’re in the middle of a conversation and see me coming, I can tell that they either change the subject or end the conversation. I don’t feel as if they’re opening up to me any more than they were before.”

I laughed!

“Why are you laughing? You know I’m serious! I’m tempted to just go back to being who I was before!”

“Stop,” I said. “Please listen to what I’m about to say because this is as important as anything we’ve spoken about since we’ve been working together.”

He quieted down, and I continued by going to the white board hanging on his wall, picking up a marker and drawing a long line. At one end, I wrote “Steve, the jerk.” At the other end I wrote “new and improved Steve.” Then I asked him a couple of questions:

“How long have your direct reports worked for you, Steve?”

“Two of them for over five years; two of them for three to five years; three of them for two to three years,” he said.

I went back to the board and continued: “OK … let’s say that this line represents five years – the length of time that your two longest tenured guys have reported to you.” I then segmented the line into the chunks of time that each of his directs had worked for him.

“What’s your point?” Steve asked.

I then depicted, on the five-year timeline, the amount of time represented by our working together – three months. I looked at Steve to get a sense of whether he knew what I was going to say next. He didn’t. I went into a measured, non-judgmental semi-rant:

“So Steve … your guys have worked for you anywhere from two to five years. You and I have been working together for three months. Giving you the benefit of the doubt and for the sake of argument, you began demonstrating new behaviors six weeks ago. These guys saw the old Steve for anywhere from two to five years. They have seen the new and improved Steve for six weeks. Which Steve do you think they believe is the REAL STEVE?”

“I get it,” Steve said. “When will they come to accept that I’ve changed? Is it going to take FIVE YEARS?”

“I can’t answer that,” I said. “I do know that it’ll take a lot longer than you’ve had so far.”

“So I’m going to have to be this way for a lot longer?”

“I’m not sure how to respond to that, Steve,” I responded. “But I’ll try if you’ll indulge me for a minute. First, your guys probably view the changes you’re making as being ‘forced’ on you. They know you’re working with me. Second, your changes are uncomfortable for them. Even though they probably like ‘new Steve’ better than ‘old Steve,’ they don’t know what to make of new Steve. They don’t know if he’ll last; they don’t know how to relate to you. They don’t know how to relate to EACH OTHER. Not only will their relationship with YOU change, the entire team dynamic will change. You have to be patient with this ambiguity. It’ll work itself out. You have to persist.”

“What should I do with my discomfort?” Steve asked.

“Acknowledge it. Tell them what you told me. Ask THEM to be patient. Tell them that you’re available at any time to discuss their concerns, collectively or individually, about what they’re seeing, thinking, or feeling.”

“Why does all this ‘change stuff’ have to be so hard?” Steve asked.

“Because it just is,” I said.

Think about the implications for you. As you have embarked on either individual or team change initiatives in the past, where did your impatience or need for certainty derail either the effort or your psyche? In the future, what are the lessons for you contained in Steve’s story?

Copyright 2016 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit