Coach at work: 'I'm a go-getter surrounded by sheeple'
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Coach at work: 'I'm a go-getter surrounded by sheeple'

We put your workplace woes to an executive coach.

I'm a go-getter at work and I'm surrounded by sheeple who just do as they're told. One of my senior managers really likes me but the others think I'm a pain who won't follow orders. I'm not so sure about that: I have no trouble following direction if it's logical but, time and time again, I've been proven right when I've questioned my supervisor or pointed out flaws in the way people are trying to do things.

I'm starting to think I'll never succeed in any job unless I'm the boss – other people's bad decisions really get to me. At the same time, I have a wife and our first child on the way so I don't feel I have a lot of options. I'm now drinking more than I think is good for me or my family. What do I do next if I want to stay solvent as well as sane?

"It sounds like you have a tendency to overrate your judgment, and a compulsion to assert yourself no matter what."

"It sounds like you have a tendency to overrate your judgment, and a compulsion to assert yourself no matter what."

The coach:

This story is a mundane tragedy of competence going to waste, of clear vision being thwarted by someone else's pedestrian plan. Although it's enough to drive a man to drink, you aren't the first person to find out what it's like to live with a gnawing fear about whether your job deserves you. And since we're not on Oprah here, it's possible you're never going to have a job that will grow you into all the man you are and then reward you for it. That doesn't mean you're a failure. Nor does it leave you without options.

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Almost everyone (men and women both) feels ambivalent about how children can mess with your professional life, your privacy and especially your sleep. For every exhausted working mother I talk to, there's a man out there feeling quietly desperate about how much harder (and in some cases, actually worse) his life is since he and his partner had children. So I'm sensing some timing issues here: add a baby to a relationship and you get an extra helping of existential angst about what the hell you're doing with your life and whether your job can get you where you want to go.

The coach: Jacqueline Jago.

The coach: Jacqueline Jago.Credit:Sari Sutton

Let's pause to let all that in: ambivalence about parenthood doesn't suggest you'll be a worse-than-average dad. Let's also pause to let in your ambitions for yourself at work, as well as your frustration. So far, so perfectly normal. What stands out about you from your letter is your sense of responsibility, as well as the hurry you're in. You can see how things could be better, and are driven to make it so. In fact, I'd say you're a born leader. You'll step up, you'll put yourself on the line and, very often, your talent for getting things done will get you and your team across some pretty daunting lines.

As your staff and colleagues (and, I daresay, your wife) will already know, what also stands out about you is a habit of making other people wrong in the process of bringing your vision and courage to life. Mr Right. Mr Always Right, in fact. I'd say your current style is "heroic", in which you alone get to set the direction through dangerous territory, while others follow. Sometimes, this style is just what the doctor ordered: organisations in crisis mode, for example, can recover well through a directive style in its leadership team.

However, if the stories of former prime minister Kevin Rudd in the post-global financial crisis phase are to be believed, heroic leaders also tend to be serious pains in the butt once the crisis is over. Problems get harder and more complex, and workplace routines change to promote teamwork and collaboration – specifically not heroics. While you have the makings of a terrific entrepreneur, it sounds like you also have a tendency to overrate your judgment, and a compulsion to assert yourself no matter what. Are you willing to see this in yourself? This ability to confront and work on your weaknesses is the essence of the coaching conversation – as well as a sign of a maturing leader. Data nerds might think of this habit of self-controntation as a "hack": you're always actively looking for and patching up flaws in your human operating system, to make your work, life and family hum along more smoothly.

The story you're running with (of overlooked leadership potential in a workplace that doesn't deserve you) is only partly true. The other, happier tale is a parable about using your situation to learn humility and become a better person (leader, father, husband) for it. Again, the timing is in your favour: your circumstances suggest it's worth sitting tight and seeing what lemonade you can wring from these organisational lemons. Wherever you go, you and your blind spots are going to follow, so it's worth pausing your impulse to mope on out of there, and instead run some diagnostics on your professional habits.

In hindsight (later in your career, when you're in charge of your own business or are a member of a senior leadership team), your current situation might look completely different. The time you spent toning down your arrogant streak may later turn out to be what made it possible for you to bring your vision and competence to full and satisfying life, and to create an enterprise and legacy that's worthy of you and all that talent.

So here's a job for you: stop talking. Not literally never speak at work again – rather, start growing a habit of speaking last in meetings. What's missing for you at present is the capacity to understand and value the points of view of others: how they reached their conclusions, what they're seeing that you're not, what technical or personal strengths they add to make up for your weaknesses. You can grow these from now on, while you sit there, manfully containing your urge to speak.

If you get cranky if you can't drink, or you hide your drinking from others, you may have an active addiction. My friend and colleague, Mr D, tells me there's fantastic and non-judgy peer support at your local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for anyone struggling with alcohol or narcotics. For anyone related to or otherwise affected by an alcoholic, he recommends Al-Anon. You might begin by talking to your GP. Hard physical exercise, talking about your feelings in whatever gross boy language floats your boat, meditating, socialising with men you want to be like – in the longer term, these, and not alcohol, will bring you balance and a more humane vision for yourself as a man and a leader. I wish you well.

Jacqueline Jago is an executive coach and the principal of Bloom Coaching & Consulting. Send your questions to counsel@canberratimes.com.au.

Heroic leaders tend to be serious pains in the butt once the crisis is over.