to give you a flavour of some typical coaching assignments. These are all composites of genuine work problems and challenges. Names are fictional.
Felicity was a Managing Director at a large Investment Bank. She was highly respected and extremely effective in her role but struggled with managing her workload and a team that seemed to lack genuine initiative and commitment. She also struggled in her role as the mother of two small children with a stay-at-home writer husband. Being supremely clever, with the ability to process and analyse at great speed, and being driven by the need for everything to be ‘perfect’, she was impatient with her team and was often brusquely critical when their work was, in her eyes, below standard. She would then take their work home with her and work late at night to edit and reframe it all. This left her feeling resentful and exhausted. Her home life put huge pressure on her as well, as she felt uncomfortable and guilty at being the main breadwinner and seeing her husband in the traditional ‘wife’ role. Because of her guilt she took over more of the household duties than she could reasonably manage.
The coaching allowed Felicity to step back, breathe and gain needed insight into the impact of her bad-tempered behaviour on the members of her team as well as the self-punishing nature and relentlessness of having always to strive for ‘perfect’. She also took stock of the negative impact of her unsustainable working hours on herself and her family.
Her growing understanding of her longstanding need to control every detail, propelled her to want to change. She began to appreciate that delegation through investing the time to coach her team to gain more expertise would pay off long-term, and indeed was delighted at the quick positive results she saw in her top team’s work. She was also pleasantly surprised at the sense of energy and new initiative she found in these direct reports who were valuing their new-found challenge and responsibility.
Felicity learnt as well to be more open with her husband and to share her feelings. This improved the tension that she felt, removed the extra burdens on her, and in fact she found that her husband was quite happy to take on the extra chores.
Charles, CEO of a division of a large Pharmaceutical Company, was anxious to build the leadership capabilities of his talented top people as well as to help them to work together collaboratively, becoming a high-performing team. His talent in crisis management and troubleshooting failing companies had stood him in good stead over the years, but now he needed to move into a consolidating and unifying leadership role. He needed to develop his core players to take on more responsibility so that he could focus on his strategic and ambassadorial role as CEO. It was essential for him to focus on how to step back from the day-to-day and build stronger relationships with the global leadership and external stakeholders.
Alongside one-to-one coaching with Charles it was decided to roll out a tailor-made 360 degree feedback process for both the CEO and each individual member of the top team. The in-depth one-to-one coach debriefing sessions with Brenda helped each team member to take on board their detailed feedback, and understand the range of perceptions of their leadership strengths and weaknesses. Individual action plans established the work that each needed to do to build their personal effectiveness even further, as well as helping to establish even closer and more productive team working.
With his team pulling together far more, and Direct Reports able to carry their responsibilities with more authority, Charles was able to concentrate on his broader CEO role.
Felix was the owner and Managing Director of a group of three successful restaurants in the North of England. He needed help in managing his top team of Executive Head Chef and Head of Front of House. Not surprisingly, expert as they were in the realms of hospitality, fine dining and excellent cuisine, they had not had any training in managing people either in the kitchen or front-of-house. Clearly, the hot work in the kitchen and extreme and exacting pressure to deliver perfect food to a rigid time-scale, led to huge stress. Shouting, cursing and fury were the principal tools used to govern the kitchens and restaurants. This led to high churn rates and low morale, tired and frustrated Heads, and a very anxious Felix. For this organisational community, we decided that the most appropriate method of collecting rich 360 feedback would be for me to conduct one-to-one interviews with all the key staff, and establish how the two Heads as well as Felix were perceived as leaders.
The feedback report from the 360 interviews provided Felix with an accurate picture of how he and they were perceived. The impact on staff of inadequate structures, poor instructions and training, and a culture of mistakes and blame became clear, and thoughts on what needed to change in both leaders were very clearly expressed. Felix himself was perceived as too detached from the operations and not providing sufficient vision or inspiration. Armed with this immensely useful feedback, Felix was able to draw up a detailed action plan for himself, to start coaching and working far more closely with his top Heads, and developing clear thoughts and communicating widely on his vision and expectation for the improvement and growth of the businesses.
Rupert was a valued B Partner in a large city Law Firm, hoping to be promoted to become an Equity Partner, but his record of bullying behaviour and emotional harassment was a serious obstacle to his advancement. One Associate had had a nervous breakdown and was off work for two months and then left the firm, and a Senior Associate was threatening legal proceedings because of alleged shouting, biting criticism and humiliation. Rupert was not intentionally harsh or overbearing, and cared deeply about his work. He always strove to achieve the most exacting standards in all the work he oversaw and delivered, working incredibly hard. Growing up in a family with the highest of expectations, whenever he himself failed to receive the top marks at school, or perform his music brilliantly, he would be punished severely. As a consequence, his own troubled internal feelings of ‘not being good enough’ were far too easily unleashed as angry outbursts towards those he thought were underperforming.
There was a further complication in that the Senior partner consistently avoided confronting Rupert with his damaging behaviour. He feared arousing Rupert’s anger and felt ill-equipped to broach the problem. Several phone calls with Brenda later, the Senior Partner felt more confident and assured in conducting firm but respectful conversations with Rupert.
Through the coaching, Rupert gained insight into the complicated dynamics that led to his bullying behaviour, and acknowledged the sadness he felt at the pain he had caused around him. He started to work on techniques and skills to manage his frustration and respond calmly. We also engaged in some role consultation work between Rupert and the Senior Associate in question. They both learned how to communicate openly and clearly about expectations, the help that was needed, the work tasks involved, and about how they were working together. The legal proceedings were dropped and the working relationship improved enormously, and Rupert was indeed promoted to Equity Partner.
Isabelle was a newly appointed CEO in an NGO and was feeling under-confident and overwhelmed. The organisation was creaking, not having been restructured for many years and change was imperative. The problem was where to start. The coaching helped Isabelle to embark on a detailed consultation process, talking to a large number of colleagues at every level of the organisation, understanding their views on what was and was not working, and collecting ideas of what needed to change. Her report underlined the problems and laid out plans of the changes and how those changes were to be implemented. This was communicated throughout the whole organisation. There then followed a clear strategy of working groups, workshops, town hall meetings, and a range of preparations for the changes, keeping in mind all the time the importance of carefully managing the frequent psychological resistance to and fear of change.
Isabelle found herself far more confident in her leadership role, with a clear and authoritative voice, able to listen and able to be decisive.