I am often asked about the value of executive coaching my answer is simple based on 18 years coaching experience - change is hard to do on your own. Of course self determination can go along way, but often we get so far and relapse into old ways, get triggered by our emotions and then get stuck. We know and feel things aren't right but we are not sure what or how to change. When you have an experienced coach along side you helping you explore and asking the tough questions, you see for yourself whats at the heart of the matter. Things become clearer and the decision to change and experiment with new ways easier. Below are some short examples of real life executive coaching stories of change.
How do I get the right balance?
Sarah is a deputy CEO for a government agency. Newly promoted she is working long hours, feels overwhelmed and then feels guilty about not spending enough time with her family. Knowing that how she feels isn’t working she comes to coaching to find out what she needs to do to get balance back in her life. Assuming this is about self discipline, she asks about techniques for dealing with her work load such as prioritising and time management. Though it would be easy to talk about techniques for these, deeper questioning around the situation reveals for Sarah that this is not the cause of her problem. What is revealed is her thinking about her new role is awry. She sees through exploration that since the promotion she has a strong need to prove herself in the role and so she is trying to control and therefore do everything, assuming others will take too long and require too much time. Her insight is that she needed to change her mindset and see her new role differently; she is now in a leadership position not a management position this requires her to think differently about her work and her purpose. When she sees her role as a leader with greater clarity she sees how she must delegate and allow others to perform. From here the motivation to delegate becomes clear, the focus of her thinking moves from herself to her team and the organisation. After investing time in the team her workload changes as she feels less overwhelmed and more supported.
My boss isn’t a role model
Peter is a National Sales Manager for a large food business. He loves the company and his job. He is ambitious wants to be a senior manager and knows that self development is important to growing his leadership capabilities. He decides to get a coach to help him develop his leadership. Early in the coaching relationship Peter talks about the different styles of leadership he is seeing in his company. He quickly focuses on the CEO whose style is aggressive and often abusive, Peter does not think this style is right but it’s a tough business and maybe that is what is required. But though he tries to convince himself that it’s okay to be aggressive and sometimes finds himself behaving this way, it does not feel right to him. This is often one of the most difficult places for middle managers – finding their own leadership style in the shadow of a leader whose style feels wrong. Many assume that to be successful they need to be like their boss. Often this assumption is not a great one. Peter and I talk about what sort of leader he wants to be, and to reflect on when he was lead well what that was like for him. On reflection he realises that to get the best out of people it is unlikely aggressive and abusive behaviours are going to work in the long term. We talk about the shadow of a leader and how the behaviours exhibited at the top table are often seen down through the organisation. So if Peter behaved the same way as his boss was he helping or harming the organisation?
What did this mean for Peter? Most leaders take accountability for their actions. That is how we got to be leaders. What we often don't take enough accountability for is the very way "we show up" each and every day-our being as opposed to our doing. That means that one of our highest obligations is to do our best each and every day to live our personal values and the values we espouse in our organization. Whenever we violate them there is an impact that is far greater than we could imagine. If we complain, don't show enough appreciation, have low energy, are in a low mood, don't listen, or aren't respectful, we give permission to all those under us to do the same. Peter realised as a leader in his organisation he had an obligation not to be like his boss.
I feel pigeon holed
Sonya is an experienced HR Manager for a financial services firm having been in the role for a year she is frustrated and wants to be involved in more strategic HR activity. There is potential to develop her role into a more senior position but she feels that she is being pigeon holed as a good operator and not having the potential to be a General Manager. As part of her development her boss has told her to get a coach so she can develop her general management skills. In the coaching Sonya talks about her concerns. Initially the conversation is all about what she needs to know about HR general management, should she go on a strategic management course etc. I steer the conversation away from this to what she thinks makes a good GM of HR. She describes a list of traits, the majority of which are around confidence, trusted adviser, and having strong relationships with the key decision makers. It becomes clear to Sonya that though some knowledge around HR general management may be helpful, the real thing that is stopping her from achieving GM is not giving herself permission to start thinking and acting like the one she described. Once she had this insight her whole state shifted, she gave herself permission to start thinking like a GM and surprisingly quickly she started acting like one.
Why doesn’t my client like me?
Alison is a Marketing Manager for a large pharmaceutical firm. She has just joined the company and is very enthusiastic about her new role. Coaching has been offered to her as part of her personal development. She comes along to the first coaching session somewhat upset about a meeting she has had with a customer. She recounts the story that when she arrived in the role she was told to be very weary of this customer who could be very demanding and often very aggressive towards suppliers. Alison took their comments on and so would turn up for meetings with this customer fully prepared and armed with all the information. But this did not seem to work, each time she met the relationship did not improve. When Alison met with me she was quite despondent about the situation. In the coaching we talked about Alison’s thinking about the customer. Alison described her as hard work, difficult, rude and cold. I asked her if there may be a correlation between the thoughts she was having about the customer and the experience that she had with her. After some discussion around how our thoughts create our experience, Alison had an insight that she was already writing off the meeting before it had even started, that the quality of her thinking was getting in the way of her being able to listen and understand her customer. She suddenly saw that if she did not take this thinking seriously – suspended her judgment and just turned up she may be able create a different outcome. Two weeks later she reported she had had a completely different experience with the customer. Alison found out that her negative thoughts about the customer were getting in the way of her relationship building – once these were gone – she relaxed and was just herself, and the customer then relaxed.
If you would like to experience the value of Executive Coaching for yourself why not get in touch. Just request a call on my website www.thriveatwork.today I'd love to hear from you.
Judith Jamieson is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of Thrive At Work. Thrive At Work believes people thrive when their leaders thrive; providing executive coaching and leadership development programmes to grow thriving leaders.