Coaching Case Study
Accredited Master Executive Coach
This case study is based on a piece of coaching work I undertook with a Deputy Director of Finance for a Wealth Investment Company. John (not his real name) is a highly qualified Financial Investment Expert with three Masters degree and has two direct reports under his care. He reports to the Director of Finance who reports to the CEO. John came to this coaching as part of a leadership development program having attended a five-day intensive leadership program where he will have a personal coach assigned to him for a duration of 12 months, with 10 coaching sessions to be completed. As part of a coach assignment process, John had difficulty finding a suitable coach, having rejected all the coaches he had met before. When I first met John in early March 2013, I saw he was a very soft spoken person, highly intelligent and displayed good commercial judgment having in-depth technical knowledge about credit administration and risk portfolio.
As I get to know John, I asked him: ‘What do you look for in a coach?’ And: ‘How will you know when you have found the right coach?’ That seemed to have given him the space to open up. As I inquired more about how I could partner him for his leadership development (which was the intent of the coaching), he became friendlier. We had a good chat – about half an hour. The collaborative interview session went pretty well. I had no expectation if he would hire me. I believe that if the client is ready, and if there is match, then the client will make the correct choice. I had earlier sent my executive coaching proposal (a copy of which is attached at the end of this case study). Then the following day, I received a call from his Human Resource Director that I had the ‘green light’ to proceed with the coaching assignment. There were no objection to the coaching fee and the agreement was signed the next day.
Prior to the first formal coaching session, I had a meeting with the Human Resource Director and on the same day, two other meetings with John’s immediate supervisor and the CEO. The purpose of the meetings was to understand the presenting challenges of the client and to engage the key stakeholders who are important to John’s success. Here’s what I gathered from the three important stakeholders:
John is a high-potential employee on a leadership development journey. His expertise is in Risk Management. He is technically competent, sharp, prudent and detailed. He would benefit from inspiring his people by empowering them, delegating more and being more strategic.
In the words of the CEO, “he needs to temper with the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride” and “be accepted as part of the senior leadership team.” His immediate supervisor encouraged him to run the ‘relay race’ and not ‘take over the baton’ all the time. He must be seen to be confident with his people and empower them. The HR Director just wanted to be informed of the progress with the coaching – in which case, I took the opportunity to explain the triangular relationship between the Coach, Client and the Organization. All parties are responsible for communicating on an on-going basis. Because of the confidentiality agreement, the coach encourages feedback exchanges between the client and his organization. This ensures progress gets noticed and that issues don’t turn into blind spots. The client always has the option of keeping certain objectives confidential with his coach.
In my first coaching session with John, he was very clear about what he wanted to work on. He mentioned that he spoke to his supervisor and the CEO to ask for their input on what’s important for him to work on. I commended him on taking the initiative to ask for the support and that made the coaching agreement process very meaningful. So we came to the agreement that he would benefit from big-picture thinking, coaching his employees and empowering others.
As a measure of success, I asked how he would like to hold himself accountable for what he choose to focus on and we worked on a one-page coaching plan with details on the coaching focus, assessment summary, action plan, desired outcome and how results will be assessed. We also agreed on a process to collect feedback from additional stakeholders, including his subordinates and peers. I shared the Goldsmith stakeholder centered coaching process of survey questions, but he has a preference for personal interviews. We also agreed that he take an EQ-I 2.0 Workplace Assessment online to help him with his self-awareness in a range of functionally critical areas and as a practical guide to improvement.
Coaching Process & Observations
From the second coaching session onwards, I observed that John was a keen learner, although he still complained about how some of the people he has to manage were not good enough and that he has to jump in to take over. So it was an opportunity to raise his awareness about the distinction between his expertise and leadership behavior. Changing behavior is hard work.
It was time to collect some feedback for John and I interviewed several of his co-workers, including his direct reports and peers and summarized them under four headings: What others appreciate about him, What others want him to continue doing, What others want him to stop doing and What others want him to do differently. All the suggestions and feedback were presented to him as a GIFT on the third coaching session. Examples of the comments were: relying too much on data and facts to justify your decisions, being sticky, over analysing, looking worried, being regimental and stubborn.
Some of the suggestions shocked him, so I asked John what the take-away for him was? What if he just said ‘thank you’? How could other people’s perception of him contribute towards his leadership development? He eventually accepted it as a gift, not having to justify himself, although he was affected by it.
In between sessions, I recommended that John read some coaching books and he said he had enrolled himself in a coaching workshop. So this will serve him well in terms of equipping him with new skills to engage others. This will help to fast track his development. From my own experience, it is inevitable that some form of knowledge transfer has to take place over an extended coaching period, so a coach has to take off the ‘coaching’ hat and play the role of a ‘trainer’ occasionally.
By the fourth session, John was already curious about what his EQ report says about him. What stood out for him when he saw his report was that his lowest score was Optimism and his optimism was lower than his inter-personal relationships. He realized that he does not take the time to celebrate success and is very stingy with compliments. Without going too deep into the EQ assessment itself (which required two sessions), John saw a need to engage his stakeholders better. I had asked John to rate himself on three scores – Mastery (undertaking whatever he does to the highest standards of which he is capable of), Chemistry (relating so well with others that they actively seek to associate themselves with him) and Delivery (identifying the needs of others and meeting them). And it became clear to him what he needs to focus on, and to tie them to the goals of the coaching.
As he made progress with the coaching, our subsequent sessions were more focused on leadership issues – how to engage leaders at the board level. Because of the work that he does – risk management – John is often called into the board meeting to present his risk assessment. So the coaching session goals were about influencing without authority, being more strategic, building relationships, inspiring employees and developing others. Focusing on employees’ strengths, knowing when to let go, when to coach and when to teach were also discussed. John was particularly focused on working on his ‘ask-to-tell’ ratio, especially after attending a two-day coaching workshop. He has stopped going out with his people on client visits, empowering them and hence freeing up his time to focus on more ‘big-picture’ stuff.
However, John did have difficulty on dealing with people who think highly of themselves and giving feedback to others. So I coached him around the courage to do the truth telling.
So how does John know that he is making progress on his leadership development journey? I have John fill out a one-pager with two sentences to complete, after every session:
• I found the session to be helpful in ……………………………………………………………………...
• The most effective feature in this session was …………………………………………….………………………..
As we reflect on how useful the coaching has been, John shared how he has applied his new found skills at home. It was heartening to hear John talk about his observation of his interaction with his five-year-old daughter – “When my daughter asked me a question; I used to tell her to do this or that. How can I answer a question with an instruction?” Wow, that was an ‘ah-hah’ moment for me as well.
By the time we were through with the eighth session, it’s time to have another chat with the key stakeholders. While John was happy with his own progress, he did not want to have the delusion that all is well. He wanted to hear from his bosses. So I arranged for another meeting with the three key stakeholders, namely the CEO, his immediate supervisor and the HR director.
Here are their comments: His immediate supervisor observed that John is slower to respond, even though he is the ‘beacon of light’. His mastery is high, and if he sees the goal post, he does not just kick the ball in although it was so obvious what he would have done in the past. He now considers what other people’s values are. He should continue to work on the high level strategic stuff. His immediate supervisor also bought him a book by Marshall Goldsmith: What got you here won’t get you there. And that happened to be the book I recommended to John for his reading. His direct reports have become more engaged. John had told his boss that he was affected by the feedback collected for him, but he slept over it. He has shown clear improvement and is due for a promotion and has been tasked with taking over a new team, some of them probably don’t belong there. So he will be stretched.
The HR Director observed that John is more of an enabler now, he listens more, can gel better with his team and handles conflicts better. He is thoughtful and genuine. He is more aware of how to influence and bridge the relationships across functions.
The CEO has noticed that John is more mature. It is no longer about him, but helping others to deliver. He thinks ‘deeper’ on his feet, but not quickly enough. His ability to read others is still not good enough. But he will be exposed to more board level meetings to help him grow and develop.
John welcomed the key stakeholders’ feedback and is committed to continue to develop his leadership qualities. He did share his concerns about the new team he was about to inherit, but was prepared to take up the challenge. I affirmed John that he has the skills and the will to manage those challenges.
As we wrap up our coaching program, I asked John to summarized the learning over the past months and this was what he said:
“There is more than one way to the outcome. I need to allow people to express themselves. I am seldom wrong, but it’s not always about the numbers. I need to harness ‘buy-in’, add value to others and be proactive. I can’t always deliver by myself. At the boardroom meeting, there are often war stories to tell before the meeting proper. I shouldn’t be too impatient or be too quick to prove my point or to demonstrate my expertise.
I wish him well as he continues his journey of discovery and learning.
Reflecting on my work in the organizational context, I found that it is always fulfilling if you have a client who is ‘ready’ and open to possibilities. Assessment tools are useful, but not always necessary. Stakeholder enrolment is important during the contracting phase and the goals to be worked on should be some behavioral goals that are observable and measurable. What works for me is integrating the stakeholder-centered Goldsmith coaching process with my strength-based approach. Forms used should be simplified ‘one-page’ format where possible. Of course, grey-hairs are useful when working with ‘C’ level leaders. :)