Coaching Case Study By Lisa Diaz
(Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES)
Who are the main players in this case study?
The coaching session involved my client (Kelly) and myself as a coach. I worked with Kelly over six sessions, and this case study is going to focus on the first three sessions.
What is the core problem of challenge you applied your coaching skills to?
Kelly came to coaching very frustrated and a bit angry at the lack of leadership she saw in her boss (Brad). Though this lack of leadership was not always directly related to the work she was doing, she could see the impact on those around her and this added to her frustration. She had reached a point that no matter the issue, the blame rested on Brad.
Kelly had worked for Brad for a little over two years and personally thought he was a kind and caring person. As a leader, however, she had very little respect for him. She felt he lacked the ability to be visionary and often found their one-on-one and the executive team meetings to be focused on the how of the work not the vision of the work. Kelly felt he overused his “boss card” to get things done or to get them done his way. She thought he was not capable of making a decision and thus they would often spin in circles, which was very frustrating.
Over the two years working for Brad, Kelly’s frustration continued to grow and, though there were some good moments along the way, overall Kelly felt she might not be able to continue to work for Brad. Kelly had lost respect for Brad, and she felt Brad was disrespecting her and her team by playing the “boss card” on in the weeds (how it will be done) work.
In the first few sessions, as Kelly brought up all the different situations that would reinforce her issues with Brad, she had just started to identify what was in her control. She was beginning to explore ways to give Brad feedback but was hesitant because she was skeptical it wouldn’t have any impact. Kelly did, however, express a desire to continue the work she was doing and was bothered by the fact she was feeling as if leaving was her only option. It was becoming more evident that Kelly had a sincere desire to change the circumstance she found herself in, but she was not yet ready to use her voice. Additionally, she was still not clear on what was in her control and what was out of her control.
What specific coaching skills or approach did you use in this case?
Session three started with a bang. Kelly was distraught with Brad after a strategic planning session where he announced a significant strategic change that significantly impacted her and her teams work. She was very emotional and was crying as the session started. Her outcome for the session was to find a way to be able to attend the second day of their organization’s executive strategy session, which at the time she felt was not possible in her current mental state.
To shift Kelly’s perfective and get her into a learning mode and out of a fight or flight mode, we used visioning.
The process in detail.
To start, after we clarified the goal and outcome of the session, I asked Kelly what was getting in the way of her achieving her goal. Of course, there was a long list of situational things, some from the earlier strategy meeting and some from the weeks and months before. After she had some time to vent, which it was clear this was feeding her frustration not providing clarity, I asked her to shut her eyes and take a deep breath. I then asked her to be an observer in the strategy session room the following day and asked her to describe how she would want to show up as a leader.
Kelly painted a vivid picture of herself as a leader who was not quick to criticize but was a good listener and took time to process information. She talked about someone who would share their thoughts without putting another person’s ideas down. She spoke of being a team player and wearing her “big hat” lens, not just the lens of her specific department. Finally, she talked about what being a respectful leader meant to her.
This visioning exercise not only calmed her down but clarified that regardless of Brad’s shortcomings, she knew what kind of leader she wanted to be. From this point, we talked about what was getting in her way. She uncovered some critical events in the past that had accelerated her frustration with Brad, as well as what her fear with the suggested strategy moving forward was really about.
This awareness helped Kelly outline a plan for action. She was determined to show up to the meeting the next day as the leader she wanted to be and to do this she needed to have a conversation with Brad. Kelly needed to share with him the issues of the past and how she had allowed them to affect her and the impact they were having as she continued to carry them with her. She also needed to share with him her fears regarding the strategy change, not to influence him to change his mind but to help Brad know why she might be struggling. Finally, Kelly realized that although she might not like all of Brad’s leadership characteristics, she could not let that be the blame as to why and how she was acting and feeling. She realized she could control herself and how she leads, but not Brad.
What were the results of your process? Was your coaching/program effective? Why? Or Why not?
The results of the process were that Kelly had an awareness which helped generate some key action steps. Late afternoon the next day, I got a text message from Kelly telling me she was able to live up to her vision. She explained to me how she had met with Brad in the morning before the session occurred and she was open and honest with him. She said they had a good discussion and, although she still had some reservations about the strategy changes, she felt good about how she showed up as a leader.
If you could approach the problem again, what would you do differently?
I am not sure I would change much, but I might consider not asking the question of what was getting in the way of her achieving her goal so early in the session. It was clear that Kelly came into the session “hot.” She was already a well-fueled fire and, I think by asking the question, I just added fuel to the fire instead of working to calm the flames.
What are the top 3 things you learned from this experience?
- When a client is very emotional, using visioning as a calming practice worked in this situation.
- Getting to the root cause of the elevated frustration was vital. Kelly identified she was carrying baggage from past experiences with Brad into this situation, which made this situation seem like Mt. Everest.
- As a coach, not to panic when a client comes in panicking is very important. Staying calm and using different coaching tools to get the client from the fight or flight mode to the learning mode is critical.