Like to tell you a story about a graphic design studio called 5-Color Graphic Arts.
Angela is the founder and boss at 5-Color. Now Angela, interestingly enough, only sees … five colors: she sees red, blue, yellow, orange, and purple. Everything she designs is in those five colors. What she can’t see, strangely, is green. Anything green is actually invisible to her.
Now Angela’s employees like to criticize her behind her back because she can’t see green. Jonathan is the worst offender. “Why can’t Angela see green?” he asks his colleagues daily in a bewildered voice. “She oughtta be able to see green! What’s wrong with her that she can’t see green? Hey, Boss, look – green! See that? It’s green.”
Now if I were coaching Jonathan (and this is an executive coaching trick – don’t try this at home), I might say, “Hey, Jonathan — how’s it workin’ for you to demand she sees green?” I might suggest that he try showing up for meetings with Angela in colors that she can actually see.
On the Boss Show today, we talked about stages of leadership development.
What will this knowledge get you? It’ll get you what Jonathan hasn’t gotten – a level of understanding of your boss that helps you to work with him better. It’s that simple.
See, your boss’s developmental stage is a lot like Angela’s color sense. It tells you what he can and can’t see – tells you what he’s capable of and not capable of, tells you what motivates him, and what kinds of strategies make sense to him and why. If you want him to have a green consciousness, and he can’t see green, well maybe you can learn to forgive him for that – and maybe you can get some insight into how to work with the other colors that appeal to him.
The alternative is being Jonathan — criticizing your boss for what she can’t see, expecting her to be someone she’s not – expecting her to get over her colorblindness, like, now. How well is that workin’ for ya, Jonathan?
See, we’re all trapped within our level of development. We’re not trapped in it forever. We can grow to the next level. But that doesn’t happen overnight. So we might as well accept where we are and where our boss is – and work with it in two ways:
- deliver what the boss needs at her level, to the limits of our capability and our integrity, plus
- help her fix whatever she can fix without the ability to see green.
Now if you’re at a later stage of development than your boss – and you’re really skillful – you can help your boss see green where she hasn’t seen it before. But you can’t expect her to see it overnight. And first, you have to understand that her stage of development matters to you.