Common sense – a case history

A good mentor / coach needs several qualities. Top of the list is common sense. S/he must also be capable of tactful plain speaking. That means knowing when a client’s button can and cannot be pressed. You learn it through trial and error but you are required to have a lot of it even before you start helping people. An individual’s vulnerability varies from moment to moment and is affected by a myriad of things. Learning how to spot the changes is key to being a coach or mentor. Without common sense and plain speaking your mentoring / coaching will be fumbling and amateur, lacking in confidence and confusing to your client.

You are a mentor / coach already. Even if you are still very young, you have influence with people who are lost, who cannot see their path ahead, who need a steady and experienced hand to hold. You may have limited experience but if you are intelligent you can use what you have to good advantage. Experience is often overrated – experienced fools remain fools.

Common sense is about getting to the heart of the matter. In any opportunity / problem setting there will be many considerations, a complex of thoughts and pressures. Considerations of the power of others involved, fear of possible detrimental facts being used against you (blackmail), danger to future employment or promotion, breaking of confidences with someone who considered you a close friend – all these entanglements distort thinking and delay action.

A client in early forties wanted to get rid of a subordinate who was causing mayhem and disruption to the work of her department. The long history with the company of the man she wanted to fire plus the extended ritual of firing that had been introduced because the organisation was an ‘official body’ meant that the business of actually getting this tyrant out of the office would take perhaps a year or more. During that time he could do much disruption and damage.

This is a classic, deeply difficult situation. You have to judge the risk you may take by breaking the rules, and the risk others will take if they defend you. Your common sense tells you that the objective is to get the person out of your operations. You think he should not work in the industry but you don’t run the industry. When you do you can take that decision, until then be practical.

We helped prepare our client with the facts to support her position. Options: [1] Claim that his mind is disturbed and he is not fit to work. She would need to have or get evidence. Referral to a good psychiatrist might help but if the man is a sociopath he will be clever enough to convince his therapist that he is sane. [2] Insist on him being summarily fired for being a big enough trouble to threaten the stability of the organisation. Take the decision and just get him out of the building. He may / will (threaten to) sue so there will be a severance negotiation to deal with.

[3] Get him transferred to another department, maybe even in the guise of a promotion. Bad luck on the receiving department, good luck for you. It is just possible that the personality clash is mainly between the two of you and another can deal with it. [4] Try the mentoring approach to helping him. Devote real time to getting to know him, helping him sort out his identity problems.

There are, of course, other ways she could look at this problem. But what is the common sense heart of the problem? It is simply to get rid of the man by determining what price you are prepared to risk paying to do so. People sometimes back off the real issue which is their own courage, determination and stature. But if they take a calculated risk and get rid of the man they will be considered for promotion earlier than those who stayed silent. Put simply: no risk, no reward; take risk: good reward. It’s common sense. And courage is determination, not flair.

The jury is still out.

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