Turn Frustration into Empowerment


My client Debra is a high performer so frustrated with her boss that she is ready to find another job. So, I asked her, “What would have to happen for you to recommit to your current company?” This simple question helped her start moving from frustration to empowerment.

As we talked, I quickly learned that Debra’s boss is under tremendous stress and often micromanages. This leaves Debra feeling mistrusted and underutilized. She feels that the company just isn’t benefiting from her skills and experience because a disproportionate amount of her time now focuses on administrative rather than strategic activities.

Here's how I helped her think through the situation. These strategies may help you the next time you are frustrated:

1. Assume that you have to work within the current set of parameters.

Start by assuming that nothing major will change in the short term. For example, you can’t get any more resources than you have today. You can’t add anyone else to the team or get more time. If resources aren’t the challenge for you, identify the other parameters you must work within.

2. Get clear about what's really going on for you underneath the frustration.

Debra’s frustration made her forget what she enjoys about her role. At the end of the day, she just wants to contribute to the success of the company in a way that helps her grow and feel like she’s making a difference.

3. Identify what's really going on for the other party involved.

Debra pointed out that her boss is laser focused on delivering high-quality work, regardless of the timeline. If her boss understood that her own actions are actually putting the quality of the work at risk (through impending team burnout or turnover), she might make different choices. But no one has yet had the courage to give her feedback.

4. Identify one or two steps you can immediately take.

As you begin to develop solutions, remember that they must address the underlying needs of both parties involved, and must assume the current constraints will still exist in the short-term. Taking this approach will force you to get creative and view the situation from different vantage points.

Because Debra won’t get the luxury of more time, she has to make better use of the time the team already has – by rationalizing and refocusing team meetings and one-on-one time, and identifying what the team will stop doing. We quickly identified several changes that could be easily made.

We also discussed how Debra could get more meaning from her administrative work. Because she often collaborates with business leaders as she does this work, the exposure and relationship-building opportunities are tremendous – but only if she recognizes and maximizes them. Taking advantage of those opportunities would further engage her in this work.

Hopefully you now have some ideas on how to turn a frustrating situation into one where you can more directly effect change. This approach doesn’t fully address the underlying issues, but it starts to create the capacity and energy to do so.

Remember that you work in a system and when one part of that system changes (i.e., you), it can create a shift in another part. So, what small step will you take this week to drive the change you would like to see?


© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

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