The sun is scorching my back. A river of sweat is running down my body… I’m struggling to hold onto the thin edge of a rock wall. My sweaty fingertips are sliding off the grainy crimps of the granite face. I realize I can’t hold on any longer. I’m going to fall to the ground with a heavy thud a dozen metres below.

In desperation, once again I try to dig into the rock, yet my feet are slipping inevitably across the surface. I look down to my climbing team just waiting there, their eyes fixed on me. I look up… there are people above me! I could cry out to them for help. Surely I could grab onto a rope they’d throw down to me.

No. No way. I must not reveal my weakness; after all, I’m the team leader! I’ve always managed to get out of trouble… I’ve always had it my way… I can’t call for help. I can’t admit I’ve made a mistake. I can’t listen to anyone else.

This describes exactly what many managers are like nowadays… and this is just how they act in a crisis. When they lose the ground beneath them, they also lose the common sense, and their calm. As a rule they won’t ask for help. They don’t want to lose face. As a consequence, stress and tiredness creep in, putting them at risk of suffering an emotional breakdown or even exhaustion.

Research by one of the world’s leading business coaches Marshall Goldsmith highlighted a dozen or so characteristics of successful people that have helped many of them move up to higher positions. These ‘special’ qualities both help and hamper the changes they want to make, and they include: a positive self-image, self-confidence, deep personal involvement in everything they do, optimism, and perseverance. All these features help bosses achieve and maintain success.

At the same time, these characteristics result in several personal challenges that clearly hamper corrective changes:

·   belief that they are better than their co-workers, employees, partners and competitors

·   difficulty in accepting the feedback that fails to correspond to their self-image

·   difficulty in accepting opinions from people who are lower on the social ladder, hold different values, or have a different definition for “success”

·    indifference to the needs of people outside their innermost circle

·    difficulty in accepting failure (the need to be a constant “winner”)

·    being driven toward the relentless “pursuit of success” and/or getting involved in too many things at the same time

·    tendency to view changes from the outside as threatening

Employees and partners often find it difficult to openly criticise management. When they do, a problem might be denied, deflected, or belittled as a psychological reaction to earlier criticism. We would like them to acknowledge the information provided in our feedback, accept it, and make steps towards change. Yet, it’s difficult – not everyone can reach the level of awareness in which they can observe their own actions without emotional engagement, and not everyone is used to shouldering the full responsibility for their own actions – even the most intelligent managers have ‘blind spots’.

I tried to provide here a learned description of such a boss and the reasons behind the crisis situation. If this sounds true to you and you are asking yourself how to help such a boss please leave a note and I will post here the solution in a few days.

Thank you for your attention

Jacek Skyski Skrzypczynski, leadership coach, learning every day