If you have goats, you have goat problems

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

“The work is not at the level or on the timeline we need,” Myra complained about a key contributor to a project she oversaw who reported to Myra’s peer, Jae.

“Have you brought it up to Jae?” I asked.

“Oh, yes—Every time we meet.

A smart, driven client, Myra had just broken into the C-suite for the first time at her fast-growing tech company. What she’d quickly realized was, though she had fewer direct reports than before, because of the scope of her role, her peers’ performance was vital to her success.

And they didn’t always do what she needed them to do.

“Rachel, if I’d known this is what I have to do in this role…” Myra trailed off. “Jae nods his head, but nothing changes. We’re two quarters into it now!”

“What do you think needs to happen next?” I asked.

“Really, I think Jae’s team member needs to be replaced. I know half a dozen people who could do better.”

“Considering that he hasn’t acted yet,” I pointed out, “this isn’t a priority for Jae. You’re going to have to try a different approach.”

Right.” 

Managing peer relationships is part of the unwritten job description. Myra had done everything she could to prepare, but this still caught her by surprise—as it does many rising leaders.

It reminds me of a saying by a Tibetan Buddhist monk: “If you’ve got goats, you’ve got goat problems.”

To be clear, I’m not saying that your people are goats, even if it might feel like that sometimes. What I mean is:

Different roles bring their own suite of new and different challenges. Whatever the role, there will be that role’s specific challenges.

At this level of leadership, you need to collaborate in new ways with people across the organization—over whom you have no direct authority. 

Myra shook her head in frustration. “Jae is always looking to improve, he’s always open to feedback. That’s why his unresponsiveness is so mystifying.” 

“Okay. So, how do I get through to Jae?”

“Well, we know this is more of a priority for you than him. So what are Jae’s priorities? What’s on his plate right now?”

“I know he’s worried about missing his OKRs,” said Myra. “He showed me the numbers. A change in his operations is the last thing on his mind.” 

We settled on Myra opening the conversation with that, letting Jae know that she knows he has other priorities right now. This sensitivity to other people’s priorities is part of making them feel seen and heard—which goes a long way toward their hearing you out.

“I have the network. I can send him candidates,” Myra offered.

“Perfect. But I’d get his buy in first.”

“Yeah, he won’t appreciate my telling him what to do. Ha! He hasn’t liked it so far.” Myra laughed, realizing this may be part of why she hadn’t made any headway with Jae. Together, we came up with this approach for Myra to try: 

Hey, I just want to acknowledge, I know you have a lot going on. This isn’t your first priority. You’ve made that clear to me, and I totally understand why. 

And: this isn’t working. What can we do differently? 

I was thinking I could tap my network and send you some candidates, since you haven’t got a lot of bandwidth. What do you think?

Acknowledging Jae’s perspective gave Myra a chance to meet him where he stood. That might mean sending him those candidates—or, in the meeting, a different solution might arise. But by changing her approach, Myra knew they wouldn’t still be at an impasse.

Myra felt a spaciousness around the situation that she hadn’t felt in months—instead of feeling like she was hitting her head against a brick wall. Changing how she approached the situation meant it was already on its way to being solved.

And by the way, that individual was no longer on the team within a month of Myra’s conversation with Jae! A huge turnaround after two quarters of stagnation.

It comes down to knowing who is in the room. Understanding and respecting their position and what it will take for them to feel seen, heard, and supported. 

Next time you’re challenged by a similar situation, ask yourself the same questions:

What are the other person’s priorities or position—and the action they’re taking (or not) as a result?

How can you move things forward in a way that makes things easier for them to move in the direction you want (without using brute force or manipulation)?

That opens up space for other leaders to take cues from you and walk alongside you—as leaders managing leaders.Next-level challenges need next-level responses. Uplevel your leadership to put ease and impact within reach for yourself and your organization: Schedule a complimentary discovery call with one of our coaches.

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Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

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