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THE COLOMBO LEADERSHIP TRICK

Remember the Peter Falk detective from TV?  He always seemed disorganized and bumbling and gave off the impression that he wasn’t all that smart.  Ah, but he always got his man.  Once he had put the pieces together and sized up a suspect he had this routine.  Just as he was walking out of the room, all befuddled and rumpled, he would turn to the suspect and say something like, “Help me out here.  My wife says I’d lose my head if it wasn’t attached.  You told me last week that you never met that young woman but today you made a reference to her parents.  Maybe it’s just me but if you never met her how come you know who her parents are?”  Naturally a confession followed.

One of my clients, W, uses this same technique to get people to accept responsibility and accountability for their shortcomings.  Privately with me she rants and raves about someone’s sub-par performance.  And the language can get very colorful sometimes.  Once W has vented and we’ve talked through the issues she schedules time to talk with that staff person.  When she and I meet again she tells me what transpired.  I must admit my sheer delight and amusement with her methods.

W sits down with the employee and starts with something like, “I just want to be sure I understand what happened in the meeting last week so I can fully understand your thinking.  Can you please walk me through it?”  As the person is describing the exchange…in excruciating detail…W is ready to blow her stack.  Later she tells me, “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  It was even more insane than I imagined!  It was all I could do to keep my cool.”  But she does not lose it.  When the narration ends W asks a series of Colombo questions, being sure that the employee is thinking about W’s low wattage.  “So you’re telling me that you didn’t think it was necessary to escalate this issue because you’ve never seen this be a problem before.  Did I get that right?”  “So just because you’ve never encountered this before you assumed it was unimportant?”  “Again, let me get this straight.  Something that you are unfamiliar with occurs and there is no alarm ringing in your head that says I should talk to someone about this?”  With each affirmative answer W keeps setting out more bait.  By the time the discussion is over the employee is abundantly clear that s/he screwed up.

But the beauty of this technique is three-fold.  For one, the employee comes to accept responsibility for his/her actions.  Two, the staff person never feels belittled or embarrassed or berated because the leader is guiding a recitation vs. pointing fingers.

And last, the leader gets some backhanded street cred.  “She’s not as half-witted as she appears.”  W has great success with her Colombo impersonation.  This may not be for everyone but for those of you who have softer styles I suggest giving this one a try.

For more information on GetReal help: https://getrealleadership.com/get-real-help/

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