Sharon was a marketing manager for a mid-sized health care company and was known for her ability to focus her team and to get things done. However, she often felt an undercurrent that she didn't understand and sensed that morale in her department could be better.
Prior to her coaching call she stopped in the hallway to talk with Tom, one of her direct reports. Tom is a top performer, and his contribution to the team is widely appreciated. As Sharon was speaking with Tom, she noticed that he backed away and withdrew from the conversation, politely stating that he had a meeting where he needed to be. Sharon didn’t know what to make of Tom’s behavior.
When she discussed the encounter on the telephone with her coach, Sharon realized that her tone of voice might have conveyed something other than what she intended -- something Tom might have interpreted as accusing. When the coach asked if she had checked with Tom to see if it was a good time to discuss the project, Sharon realized that she hadn’t. She also recognized that she had stepped toward Tom a number of times, which may have been perceived as confrontational.
While talking with her coach, Sharon realized her intent in talking with Tom, which was to gather information about a project with a pending deadline, had a different impact on him than she intended. Tom unfortunately had viewed Sharon as abrasive, directive and intimidating—behavior that made him uncomfortable.
With her coach’s help, Sharon began to see that her actions and words might be affecting the rest of the team’s morale in ways she didn’t realize. She also questioned whether her family perceived her as confrontational at home. She and her husband had been having some difficulties, and her older daughter said more than once that she didn’t like the way Sharon spoke to her. Before the conversation with her coach, Sharon had not connected what was occurring at work with what was going on at home. Once that connection was made, Sharon and her coach began to strategize about both situations.
Immediately after speaking with her
coach, Sharon walked down the hall and approached Tom. She told him that
she observed that her request for information evoked a response she didn’t
understand. She asked if she had come across strongly and explained that
was not what she had intended. As the conversation continued, Sharon noticed
that Tom began to relax. The next day, Sharon received a call from Tom
with information about the project.
When asked where he wanted to focus during his first coaching call, James decided to start working with his family’s concerns. He called a family meeting, and together the family put together a contingency plan for future crises. The plan called for each family member to have cell phone access to each other, which they purchased that weekend. The plan was so successful that neighbors heard about it. So did the school system, and James’ wife was asked to share the contingency plan during the next PTA meeting. Within two weeks, James was back as a leader of his family and his community.
Being a leader didn’t stop there. The next step was his company. James and his coach began discussing what to do at work. James knew that a contingency plan was the right solution for his area within his company. He designed a plan and then implemented it immediately. Within a month, there were several threats that his plan thwarted. He was so successful that he received a letter from the chairman of the board. His first.
Within two months, James went from being in a leadership crisis to being a leader extraordinaire in all three realms of his life: his family, his work, and his community. Coaching broke through the crisis and helped James to prioritize his choices and take intentional and effective action.
It took several coaching sessions before Burt started to break through and understand the need to change his actions. When he did, it was like being struck by a bolt of lightening. Suddenly, he realized that taking care of himself was only part of the picture.
During the next coaching session, his coach asked Burt to come up with some specific actions he could take. First Burt acknowledged his people and openly praised them when a job was well done. His coach suggested that Burt be as specific as possible with the acknowledgements. Within a week, Burt was getting feedback that his direct reports liked what was happening.
With his coach, Burt strategized what was next. They decided that Burt needed to collaborate more with his reports so they could provide needed feedback on Burt’s behavior. With fear and trepidation, Burt asked two direct reports if they would signal him when he was acting like “the old Burt.” They were surprised and thrilled! Within 24 hours, one emailed him about how much she liked what was happening with their relationship.
The theme for the next coaching session was how to include Burt’s manager in the changes. Burt and his coach scripted several key points that Burt wanted to make with his boss. They practiced asking for what he wanted. Armed with this experience, Burt approached his boss, who was pleasantly surprised and fully supportive. Burt felt like a new man, ready to continue his quest for collaboration with his direct reports as well as his boss.
At first, Kristen really didn’t know why she was working with a coach. From her perspective, she was doing fine. Yet, she also verbalized that she wasn’t as high in the organization as she would like, and she didn’t know what was stopping her. One of the first coaching sessions helped Kristen focus on talking with her manager, an Executive Vice President in the company who confirmed that the coaching was about her ability to work with her people.
During the second month, Kristen and her coach agreed to do a face-to-face meeting. Within two hours, the coach commented on Kristen’s attitude and challenged her to make it through 24 hours without sarcasm. Kristen’s response was, “That’s like asking a smoker to stop smoking.” However, she accepted the challenge which produced an immediate and noticeable change in her attitude.
Part of the meeting included the executive coach “shadowing” Kristen on a teleconference with her reports. During the call, the coach noticed that whenever Kristen mentioned Troy’s name, she rolled her eyes and grimaced. Kristen’s coach commented on this non-verbal sarcasm. Light bulbs went off in Kristen’s mind. She realized that she had been communicating disrespectfully for years without knowing it.
Together, Kristen and her coach worked out a plan for clear, clean communications. This included a letter of commendation that she wrote to all her direct reports at the end of a successful year. Someone forwarded the letter to her boss, and Kristen received the most positive response ever from her manager.
Enter an Executive Coach. When Rick mentioned the communication breakdown to his coach, he had no idea that he might find himself approaching Tom and apologizing to him. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. After several coaching sessions in preparation for the meeting, Rick called and set up a meeting with Tom.
Rick was well prepared, and the meeting went better than expected. Rick apologized for not discussing the miscommunication sooner and the men were able to design a way to move forward. Rick was pleased and knew that the foundation was laid for a strong working relationship. Equally as important was the life lesson on the importance of apologizing and cleaning up miscommunications as quickly as possible.
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