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Case Analysis: Dramatic Change

Does Shamsher expect Madhav to change through a few sessions of coaching?

Photo Credit : Bivash Banerjee


Shamsher, what does it mean to be assertive? Assert what? Opinion, judgement, point of view, analysis or decision? In a sales job, does assertion mean being more decisive? Do you want the sales guy to be ‘My way or highway type’? Preside over a command and control system? Is that what you mean by assertive?”

An assertive person is generally more energetic, exuberant, enthusiastic, and powerful. They usually have no problem expressing anger and engaging in conflict. It can cut both ways. Sales teams evolving in a command and control culture look for decisive team leadership and owning up to results. Great team leaders, while being assertive also have a nurturing side — looking after their team. The relationship can be based on fear, respect, loyalty or even love. The down side is loyalty can grow beyond reason and become toxic!

The context against which Madhav is being considered is sales team performance. The expectation from Madhav is to transform the performance of the team. The key to transformation is the focus on better knowledge of the product, selling skills, improvement in sales management processes and management leadership. The core concern that the senior management team expresses is the style of leadership. The question to be asked: Is an assertive leadership the only solution to the problem or are their other alternatives?

To comply with the behavioural model prescribed by the seniors, Madhav has to work towards developing, perhaps, an artificial management style quite alien to his native personality. Behaviour is a complex phenomenon. For example, is it easy for an introvert to become an extrovert? Is it easy for an affiliative person to become an aggressive person? So, let us assume that Madhav is an extroverted affiliative personality. Easy to get along, liked by all and perhaps even non-intrusive. This behaviour did not develop because Madhav works in the organisation. It developed from childhood based on the context of his familial and social environment, the kind of relationships he grew up with, his sense of himself as his personality developed, the beliefs that own him, the values he has learnt to respect, his attitude towards fellow beings in a social and work environment. Does Shamsher and his management team expect Madhav to change through a few sessions of coaching? And will an alien style of behaviour make Madhav more effective?

Context and emotional states are powerful drivers of change. We have seen this happen in different walks of life. Indira Gandhi was a shy, introverted person in her early life and even after she entered politics. However, we observed a dramatic change when there was an opportunity for power, protecting her father’s legacy and combating the old guard of the Congress party. She even split the party and asserted her power during the 1971 war and subsequently to the extreme demonstration of authority by imposing Emergency. So, was it the sense of threat, the lure of power, the need to protect the political progeny that created this dramatic change?

The possibility of Madhav changing his behaviour may also be dependent on how he views the change: power, authority, challenge to his ability or professionalism or reputation. What we know about the possibility of change in human behaviour is the extent to which the reptilian brain comes in to play.

At the very basic, the threat for survival of the physical self and protection of the progeny has the maximum impact on human behaviour. The evolution of the self from physical to emotional to moral in a variety of contexts, changes the nature of threat perception. However, the threat remains. So, will Madhav extrapolate the conversation regarding his deficiency in assertiveness as a threat to his perception of the self? The response can be fight of flight. If it is flight he will withdraw, but if it is fight, then all that Shamsher or Raghav may need to do is to find a way to amplify the threat perception.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Subhabrata Ghosh ‘SG’

The writer is CEO, Celsius100 Consulting, Bangalore

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