Coaching Case Study By Cecilia Chew
(Career Coach, SINGAPORE)
Who are the main players in this case study?
Stacey (changed for anonymity) is currently the Director Research and Planning in a medium sized company. She has been with the organization for about 20 years now and just got posted by the Headquarters to assume the leadership role of Director in this region. She was adjusting to the demands of the job, a team who can be more motivated as well as a boss who appeared to favour a group of Directors who are in his inner circle, and wasn’t taking too well to Stacey as a new Director.
What is the core problem or challenge you applied your coaching skills to?
I first had to understand what were the key issues which Stacey faced at the moment, and encouraged her to share openly on her challenges.
Fast pace work
The portfolio that Stacey holds is one which necessitates prompt follow-up due to time sensitivity and high visibility of issues to the top management. This means that she can ill afford to drop the ball and often had to roll up her sleeves to get things done.
Lack of good team support
Her team was used to the previous Director who was with them for 7 years, and who was well versed in the area of work and also well-liked by the boss. Thus, Stacey felt that there was a fair bit of resistance by the team in accepting her as their new boss and some of the senior staff also chose to skip meetings which they are supposed to attend, thereby showing disregard to her authority, she felt.
Fear of the boss
Adapting to the new operating environment and issues meant that Stacey was still trying to suss out the management style of the new boss. There had been instances where the boss chided her for issues that did not turn out well and thus, this had created a sense of fear in her.
What specific coaching skills or approach did you use in this case?
Stacey came across as a self-driven individual who had gotten to her current position at a fairly young age. She is bright and motivated to give her best. However, there appeared to be some stumbling blocks that are preventing her to achieve the breakthrough in this current role, even though she has been in post for about a year.
Building trust was what I felt was key in this instance, as she had to be comfortable with me first before she could share her inner thoughts. So, we spent some time getting to know each other and fostering a comfortable and safe environment for sharing. It helped that we did so over coffee, which was what both of us enjoyed.
I have often been told that one of my strength is that I’m a good listener. Applying the principle of active Listening was what I felt was key in allowing Stacey the space to explore her thoughts, values and priorities. I was mindful to refrain from offering my views unnecessarily from my own corporate experience, so that she could try to unravel her own feelings.
Adopting the approach of powerful questioning, I was conscious to pose open-ended questions that started her thinking on how she could tackle her challenges at hand; for eg, she realized that she would need to work on forging better rapport with her team members so that there is mutual trust and support, and in accepting her as their new boss. She also drew the connection that when these fundamentals are set right, they would then be more motivated to play a bigger role in achieving team outcomes, thereby lightening her own load in a fast-paced environment.
It is clear through the sharing that Stacey values the attributes of teamwork, discipline and fairness. This became apparent as our coaching conversations helped in unravelling the underlying beliefs. It is for these reasons that she felt the team members should work better together with her, and be disciplined in their work and meeting commitments. The value she places on fairness meant that she needed to tackle her perception of her boss as a biased individual who favoured staff who share common interests with him.
We established the understanding that certain action steps would need to be taken to address the issues at hand. This included her reaching out to her subordinates through team bonding activities and prep talks for unmotivated staff on areas of improvement. She also recognized that she needed to overcome her fear of approaching her boss, as this fear had built up over time unconsciously. A baby step in the right direction would be to proactively look for opportunities for her to interact with him in more casual settings over food to build more comfort level and engage him on issues which she is more confident of, in order to build more trust.
What were the results of your process ? Was your coaching effective ? Why ? Why not ?
Stacey stepped away from the coaching a lot more energized and raring to go. She shared that she felt relieved that someone understood her predicament and had enabled her to put her thoughts into better perspective.
If you could approach this problem again, what would you do differently ?
I would try to also employ the use of visualization and ask that she recall a past experience where she had successfully overcome several obstacles before she achieved the desired outcome. I would suggest that she recall what were her feelings at that point, and encourage her to visualize her tapping on that positive energy then, to similarly manoeuvre the current situation.
What are the top 3 things you learnt from this experience ?
Fear paralyses, faith energizes
I have titled my sharing as “Helping an unwilling leader succeed”, because in my coaching experience with Stacey, I realized that while she is fully competent and driven, having come far in her own rights as a leader at a young age, she was being crippled due to her fear. It inadvertently resulted in her being an unwilling leader, fearful of forging stronger relationship with her team and her boss to improve the trust and comfort level. Only when one can turn that fear to faith in the action plans agreed upon, then can we transform that negative energy to a positive one, with great potential waiting to be harnessed.
It’s always nice to have someone to journey with
Stacey had always enjoyed smooth sailing and good relationships with her previous bosses, who nurtured and mentored her well. While that has worked for her in the past, it is clearly lacking in the current situation that she is in. She felt comforted to have a coach to journey alongside with her at this point, since she herself is a boss now and have to learn how to stand independently too.
A new beginning
I came away from this, feeling happy that my coaching journey is off to a good start. Exploring coaching as a second career and being in direct contact with people to add value, brings refreshed meaning.