To choose to lead more consciously is a great thing. Leading is a challenging activity that that keeps us all in the learning loop. Coaching is one of the most effective methods for supporting this ongoing learning. With coaching the leader develops stronger self awareness and builds confidence and competency. More importantly, the leader’s growth is grounded in who he/she is (not what they or someone else thinks they should be).
Let me share this case study of Carrie, a client transitioning into a senior role managing more people and having the need of a broader span of influence to bring people along with her. Carrie is an incredible woman and has a great reputation for delivery. This reputation had been well rewarded in middle management, and left Carrie with some well honed habits to react and deliver to requests. These habits, as a senior leader has led Carrie to be very hands on. Carrie has looked to deliver on tasks instead of the more senior leadership focus of influencing, building relationships between parts of the business, contributing more to broader discussions outside her ‘division’ and setting the agenda rather than waiting to be told. Carrie’s habit of doing to be rewarded was keeping her too busy to allocate time to these less tangible activities. These habits were now getting in the way of Carrie’s success.
Carrie and I initially met over coffee. Our conversation covered questions I’d sent in advance. I find this helps potential clients get clearer about what they are hoping to achieve through coaching. It starts the conversation and demonstrates how it would feel working with me. We discussed Carrie’s strengths, her thinking on leadership, role models, and her aspirations. This gave me insight into Carrie, how we could work together, and what it would look like to be successful.
I produced a brief summary of our conversation and a proposal for coaching.
Carrie: “We co-created 4 goals that centred around building awareness of impact, developing a more balanced strategic approach to interactions, and being grounded. All of which feed into developing stronger leadership capability.”
Setting goals at the very beginning helped ensure our coaching sessions were focussed on achieving the outcomes Carrie was seeking.
Carrie and I worked together through 10 coaching sessions spread over nearly 12 months. We focussed on the original goals though they evolved a little over time. Coaching Carrie involved asking thought provoking questions, helping Carrie to see her own behaviour patterns and their outcomes, sharing observations, providing insights and structuring learning activities in the session that aligned to Carrie’s goals.
“Jackie challenges me. Not only does she put forward an often contrary view, its a view that doesn’t necessarily align with my natural thinking, which is really challenging.”
When I asked Carrie about her experience of coaching she said
“Enlightening, empowering and just a little bit frightening! The coaching has helped to bring the best of me to work but its frightening to look at your own behaviour and actions in the cold hard light of day.”
I think “Just a little bit frightening” is true of deep learning. I witnessed Carrie work earnestly with this learning (certainly not always with great comfort). Carrie was brave enough to venture into the edge of her potential. Here Carrie was often excited by the possibilities ahead and her progress. AND I also watched on the sidelines as Carrie worked through some of the fear that arose as she stepped out trying something new and letting go of the well honed habits that she had been so attached to! I noticed through the coaching work, that Carrie has become more courageous and more confident. She is more willing to look at her own behaviour and even challenge some preconceptions about herself.
“After the first few sessions I thought “got that sorted” when we hadn’t even scratched the surface. I have had a series of breakthroughs over the year, all of which have helped me to be more composed, thoughtful and strategic in my approach.”
Throughout the year we worked together, we introduced some mindfulness practices — noticing what was going on in her mind and body better enabled Carrie to make choices in the moment that were more aligned to her goals. It helped her become more grounded. This coupled with reflection developed stronger self control. Core to her goals!
Carrie talked about this when summing up her key learning “Many of the issues that I have faced as a leader have been as a result of my own action or inaction. I can’t control what happens but I can control my reaction to it.”
To keep Carrie “In the game” between sessions there was always ‘homework’. Homework for Carrie was always something she was going to try such as handing a stakeholder meeting differently or a behaviour she wanted to observe such as how she responded to requests. “Jackie regularly sends relevant articles to me but has also given me specific “homework” to work on and tools to use in my day to day interactions. These comprise real actions as well as models that I can overlay to my development.”
Each session we explored Carrie’s experience and reflections since the last session. What’s worked? What’s not? We set up various feedback loops to help monitor the impact of the coaching on her work. Of course, achieving the coaching goals is a clear measure of success.
Carrie said: “I am a more composed leader. I am able to step away from a situation and assess it unemotionally which makes my leadership decisions better. Honestly, I think that the coaching has led to me having a very successful year.”
Carrie did receive recognition of her development in the year from her manager in a very positive performance review.