We’ve all experienced shiny pennies. As children, it seemed so magical to hold a newly-minted penny, as it sparkled in the light of day. When we held it next to another penny, we instantly drew a comparison and decided somehow that the old one could have never been as new or stand out so brilliantly.
Many clients speak of new additions to their team much like those shiny pennies. The eyes of CEOs light up as they describe the talents of a new leader who has just joined the company. One recently told me, “This new person is so smart they can see around corners!” Another noted, “This one is a home run – a lot more effective than anyone else on my team – there’s no comparison!
Those other leaders who have been with their companies for a longer period of time often see their senior executives become enamored to the perceived talents of a new team member and can struggle with what they feel are unfair comparisons. They can often feel some sense of envy that can evolve into resentment as the boss continues to praise the intelligence, capabilities and potential contributions of the newest person to join the team.
And the new person who has just joined the company also feels the emotions and the invariable back-channel comments which occur.
In the Boston Executive Coaches approach, we work with clients on understanding what is happening within the “system” or company in which they operate and we encourage them to explore what they are experiencing and how they feel about it before drawing any conclusions or acting upon them.
We call it “Building Awareness before Moving to Action.”
As I work with a number of clients who are experiencing turnover at the highest levels of the company (and frankly, who isn’t?), I ask about the new additions to the team and listen carefully to the answers. One client recently told me that the boss had brought in a new member of the C-Suite and was speaking glowingly about that person.
“What are you noticing?” I asked.
“Well, the boss thinks they walk on water.”
“And what are you experiencing when you hear that?
“It really makes me angry – we’ve been working for years to make the company successful, and now the new person is seen as the leader who can fix everything.”
“I’m sensing some resentment from you,” I replied.
“You’re spot on – this new member of the C-Suite is a “Shiny Penny,” who isn’t any more experienced or smarter than me.”
“And what do you do with that feeling?” I inquired.
“Well, I tamp it down, but it doesn’t go away. It makes me feel unbalanced and even less productive – and I sometimes think the boss sees me differently than before. I find myself reacting to the new guy in a very unproductive way.”
It was with that remark that I saw the client’s perception shift. They suddenly realized that the situation – the new “Shiny Penny Phenomenon” was shading their approach to others. I asked one more question:
“And what would be a productive approach?”
From there the client spoke at length about how they had previously worked effectively with all members of any team. And the client realized that the Shiny Penny might have even been a label that had been put on them at times. They opened up about their feelings and realized that the label and the feelings they felt had shaded their approach to others – and they had effectively lost their “center.”
When my client found that center, the answer shined as much as any new coin:
“Every penny is shiny to begin with, and when it begins to dull, it still has the same value. It is up to me to not let the label get in the way of the real value – and work with that person as a member of the team, just as I always have.”
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