Coaching Case Study Dianne Ward
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
In my current role as a Sustainability Coach for leaders, I have the combined role of being a consultant, mentor, and coach. So, my case study is not pure coaching, but blended coaching that is expected in my role.
Who are the main players in this case study: Bill Smith – Team Leader
What is the core problem or challenge you applied your coaching skills to?
Bill is a visionary thinker, and he promotes growth, inclusion and innovative thinking. When Bill talks to his team, he is very inspiring and appears to be very open-minded. In the last couple of months, Bill has noticed that his team seems distant, and does not seem to be communicating with him. This is a huge problem because Bill needs the support and commitment of his teams, and the free flow of information is critical to his success as their leader. Because Bill wants to inspire trust and growth in his team, he is frustrated that this gap is showing up. Bill asked me to provide coaching on what could be in his style to keep his team members from being more open with him. After several conversations with Bill to try to get him to identify what may be going on, he asked me to reach out to his direct reports.
From talking with some direct reports, I have been told that Bill is not as open as he promotes. Team members have stopped sharing insights and feedback because they feel that Bill is resistant, he will not let them finish what they are trying to say, and Bill makes them feel that they are wrong. Morale has been slipping for months but does not show up on the monthly satisfaction surveys. Because his team is uncomfortable giving feedback or being transparent on the monthly employee satisfaction surveys, Bill has acknowledged publically that there must not be any problems with employee engagement.
What specific coaching skills or approach did you use in this case?
Explain your process in detail
We have had many attempts at this issue, and we are still in the process of sorting it out. Here are some of our attempts and the result:
Aligning to Bill’s values
- I try to use powerful questions to help Bill understand his values and why they are important to him. He can clearly articulate his vision for his values, and he expects everyone else to blindly adopt them without resistance. Recently, we uncovered that Being Authentic is a big value for Bill, and I think this is helping him to see the disconnect between his words and his actions.
- I used the information that I gathered from his direct reports to ask Bill questions that will help expand this perspective and then tie this back to his values. Recently, Bill sent an email to his direct reports, acknowledging that receiving feedback was a weakness, and asked them to let him practice by giving him feedback. Several people tried but came back to their desks more discouraged than ever. When I chatted with Bill about those episodes, he responded that he did not know they were trying to give feedback, and in retrospect, he reacted poorly.
Stay away from the story
- Even though I have talked with Bill’s direct reports, I am trying to help Bill focus on himself, and not dissect the opinions of his direct reports.
- Bill likes to focus on himself and talk about the future. So, each time this gets him in a good mood, and I take him through a visualization exercise to help paint a picture of his leadership in the future. He says that really excites him, but so far, it has not resulted in any new insights.
Action Planning and Structures
- We are in the process currently to brainstorm what structure can support Bill in his quest. We are looking at setting up a schedule of observation that will help expand Bill’s awareness. We are also encouraging our leaders to be more forthcoming on the monthly satisfaction survey. I do believe that Bill is coming to a place where he sees a comment in writing that he will respond in a positive manner.
What were the results of your process? Was your coaching/program effective? Why? Why not?
To date, I would say that my coaching has made minimal progress. With each attempt, Bill is very engaged and committed at the beginning. We always quickly align with his goal and his vision at the beginning of our session. As we put together his plan for how he wants to accomplish it, we run into roadblocks. As I ask questions on how his strategies will work, his intentions, and how his team may react, I get resistance. And, if we make some progress at that moment, by our next session (or even sooner), Bill has taken a totally different approach and has continued to reinforce the results that he says he did not want.
If you could approach this problem again, what would you do differently?
Because this is my corporate role, I do not have the option of saying that I cannot work with this client. However, if I found myself in this situation with an outside client, I would wrap up our sessions and advise that they need to another coach that would be better suited for them.
In my current role, I would spend more time upfront establishing a formal coaching agreement. I would also set up flags that would indicate that we ask for outside support (i.e. His boss or another coach) if we ran into permanent roadblocks.
What are the top 3 things you learnt from this experience?
- As we learned in a recent lab, I need to “Stay Away from the Story, and Focus on the Client”. This can be difficult but is the only way to inspire the client to focus on themselves too.
- As a coach, we are not responsible for the coachee’s actions.
- When I get stuck as a coach, I need to reach out to other more seasoned coaches for their advice (I did this and it did not help my client, but it helped me!)