Charm School for the Steelworker

By | April 21, 2010

I worked with a fast growing company that had an ex-steelworker for a CFO. Growing up in the rust belt and working in the mills of the late 60’s he developed his management style and approach to employees and life in general: Work hard, play hard and just deal with me being “rough around the edges”.

It was the “rough around the edges” which caused his steel company employer to send him to sensitivity training because of the complaints with his approach. To this day the CFO refers to that as the time he was sent to charm school. When I was hired to work with this new company in developing leadership, I heard this story from him over lunch on the first day I was there. I asked him how charm school worked out. His reply was, “It didn’t do me a G’dam bit of good.” Followed by a hearty laugh. He later confessed he did learn how to better understand how people see things differently and that he needed to have different approaches to managing a workforce, but he was still a man with his rough edges permanently in place, and proud of them.

Focus on Strengths

The old farmerism of “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” also applies to leadership development. You can’t make someone be who they are not. People can modify behavior and learn new techniques and skills to becoming a better leader. The key is setting up the proper expectations and clearly defining the expected outcome. When I coach executives or work on leadership development programs with my clients I concentrate on this piece of leadership wisdom:

People can only change so much

Someone who is not a people person is not going to attend a class and suddenly feel the need to embrace the world and give everyone a hug at the end of the day. These type transformations only happen in the movies, or with celebrities going to rehab (cough, cough) or over decades of therapy. Can someone that is xenophobic learn to appreciate differences in people and modify how to approach them for pinnacle performance results? Absolutely. Just don’t expect it to be accomplished with a completely different personality than the one they currently have. The key is to focus on results and progress toward the desired outcomes.

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