Research Paper By Meiling Canizares
(Career Coach, BRAZIL)
This case study aims to present details of a coaching process, organized by session, and its outcomes, to show how coaching can be used for leadership development and growth. This case study also suggests the existence of some critical success factors for coaching process as well defines a suggestion of the basic structure for the coaching process, that might be generalized with the analysis of future cases.
The client and their need
P.A. is a Senior Manager of a large Brazilian company. Aiming to progress in his career and become a Director in the future, he decided to look for a coach. He reports to the CFO. His direct manager, peers and the board of directors see him as an important resource for the company.
After the discovery session, we agreed to work together in a 10-session process, scheduled in a weekly basis, 1 hour each, in order to achieve the expected results: answering the question about which kind of factors would be important for him to qualify for a Director position.
In this session, we started exploring the reasons why he wanted to become a Director and his readiness for such a position.
According to the client, his strengths were related to results-orientation: he described himself as someone who strives to deliver the best. During his description of his team, it was clear that there were performance issues. I gave him the following feedback: while he was covering the team´s gap, he couldn´t focus on developing new skills to prepare himself for a Director position. Sometimes, because of team´s performance, he was playing a coordination role, not even fully acting as a Senior Manager. Then he asked himself if he had issues to delegate. Being a high achiever, he wanted to control things and deliver them in his own way.
Homework: explore improvement opportunities on how to play his current Senior Manager role, comparing individual contributor role and manager of individual contributors role, using the check list published in Ram Charan´s book (The Leadership Pipeline, page 40, Table 2.1 – Passage 1: 1st Level of Management). (Note 1)
We discussed the outcomes of the homework about acting as an individual contributor, 1st level leader (manager of individual contributors) and 2nd level leader (manager of managers).
He referred that, when there was a complex and urgent issue to solve, he tended to assume the responsibility to do it by himself.
How could he deal with such issues in a different way?
He mentioned that he could delegate more, but in order to be able to do so, he needed to prepare his team. After listening to him, I reminded him that four of his five direct reports seemed to have performance issues, based on different reasons. How did this affect his performance, as a manager of other managers? Then he noticed the situation very clearly. He needed to set a strategy to develop his team, in order to be able to develop himself in a more senior leadership role.
Homework: read Chapter 3 of The Leadership Pipeline book. (Note 1)
In this session, P.A. stated he wanted to improve in delegation and planning. For that, he needed to develop his team. If the team was not ready, he would execute and guarantee the quality of the delivery himself.
The main concern he had in the team was one of his coordinators, because he thought he couldn´t develop him to achieve the expectations of the job. We took time to discuss, in details, the feedback and development plan for this coordinator. At the end of the session, he decided he needed to give this coordinator feedback about his performance and discuss the topics listed above.
P.A. said that he was trying to delegate more, but there were some tasks he couldn´t delegate without a risk of not getting things done. He noticed his tendency to get involved in the execution of complex issues.
Then he described a situation when he lacked in diplomacy, when he gets involved in such complex and urgent matters. He is more “assertive” (in his words) than diplomatic. I asked him how he evaluated his tendency to get involved and deliver results, sometimes lacking diplomacy. He said that this style could be more negative than positive, sometimes.
Talking more about assertiveness versus diplomacy, we found out P.A.´s underlying belief: he believed that being diplomatic meant being deceptive. I pointed this belief out for him, and invited him to challenge this perspective.
Homework: Read the text about political savvy (Book: How to stand out as a first-time executive, Chapter: Political Savvy, page 41). Note 2.
We started the session talking about the connections between assertiveness and diplomacy, and diplomacy versus deception.
P.A. mentioned he didn´t have relationship issues with all colleagues, but only with some people who were more sensitive with his approach. He said that he would be able to act in a diplomatic way, but this was not his natural style. I asked him when his natural style (being direct) helped. He mentioned when he needed to deliver results. Then I asked him when his natural style made things difficult. He answered – When I need to manage, not execute.
In this session, he found out that his natural style operated better in execution. In order to prepare himself to delegate more and assume more strategic roles in the company, he needed to learn how to be diplomatic and delegate.
In this session, we did a mid-process evaluation. Major achievements with the coaching process until this point, mentioned by the client were: awareness of being highly involved with execution, lack of delegation and diplomacy and awareness that his behavior patterns affect his and team´s performance.
He mentioned he felt responsible for delivering the results and not getting involved in the execution was wrong. I asked to him: When is it wrong? He said: There is the option of leaving things go wrong… I asked: Is this the only possible outcome for not getting directly involved in execution? He said: An alternative would be developing my direct reports…
So, he reached more clarity around the importance of developing his team.
Homework: He will ask for HR support to develop his team.
I started the session asking P.A. if he had the chance to put into practice something that was related to our coaching process.
He answered that he couldn´t apply actions to improve delegation, because he had a real overload of activities at work. He knew he needed to change, but he couldn´t delegate without preparing the team. I said that I recognized the importance of preparing the team, so he could delegate more. He said that he wanted to create a high performance team. I invited him to reflect what would be necessary in order to create a high performance team.
He listed the following actions:
- Clearly define performance expectations for the team and provide feedback
- Define how to deal with poor performance
- Use the competency chart already implemented in the company with his team, as a basis for the feedback and development plans
- Build an alliance with HR in this project of creating a high performance team
P.A. felt this had been the most productive session since the beginning of the process, where he could see how to implement the changes he wanted.
Homework: to document all the actions listed above in an action plan template suggested by the coach.
P.A. started the session talking about his goal of creating a high performance team and how long this would take – about 6 months. He showed his concerns about this taking so long.
I reflected back to him he had the expectation of a faster implementation. He agreed, and said he understood that this would take time.
He said he needed to “confess” (his words) something. He had been finding very difficult to conduct good interactions with that low performance coordinator in his team.
I asked: What were the reasons for you finding it difficult to work with him?
He presented the following list of reasons:
- The coordinator doesn´t document important things
- Tasks under his responsibility don´t flow properly
- He misses follow-up of things he delegates or tasks under his responsibility
I told him that all the reasons were related to the employee. Then asked where his part was in this, since he used the word “confession”? He said he was struggling to find the right way to provide him with feedback. I invited him to think about other approaches he could use with this employee to stimulate his development. He left the session with this open question.
In this session, he was feeling frustrated and had to talk intensively. He gave me small chances to ask or talk. It was like a storm of his own ideas and thoughts.
He mentioned that his action plan was not in the way I expected. I asked him how he could know what I was expecting, if I didn´t give him any feedback on that? He couldn´t answer it. I pointed out that he was talking about his feelings and expectations, not mine… Wasn´t the action plan in the way he expected? He smiled with the insight. He told he wanted to create something original. Then I gave him the feedback that he seemed to have high expectations for everything and sometimes he could make things more complex than necessary. What would be the extra benefit in creating an original action plan in this case? Would the template (the form) affect the results? He thought for a while and said the form would not affect the results in this case. He realized that he needed to focus on the actions. This made him question himself about how he used his time.
We reviewed the action plan together. It was complete.
Then I asked him to evaluate the coaching process. Considering he looked for the process with the goal of qualifying for a Director position, what had been the results? He said the increased awareness was the major outcome – awareness about leadership passages, delegation, diplomacy and his use of time. All these elements were important for his career progression.
As an important output, he also cited the definition of an action plan to improve team´s performance and, as a result of that, making the passage for manager of managers (his current position). He committed himself to implement his action plan and mentioned, in the future, would need some extra sessions.
First, my client and I consider this coaching process successful.
From his perspective, he acquired deeper awareness on what matters for leadership growth, what were his gaps and how to overcome them.
In my perspective, success of this coaching process depended on some critical elements:
- Client´s level of engagement: P.A. was willing to change and open to challenge his own perspectives. Based on my experience as a coach, highly engaged clients lead the process to better results.
- Client´s personality treats: In this case, the client was focused on getting results and this helped the process.
- Qualification and experience of the coach in executive coaching niche: Since I had been an executive, passed through different levels of leadership in my career, was familiar with the challenges faced by the client and read many books about the theme, I believe I was able to better guide the client in his own process of increasing awareness.
As a learning exercise, it is also interesting to analyze how the coaching process flowed in this case, identifying the main steps and movements done in the process. Even though we know that each process is unique and we let the client free to decide how to go in the process, searching for some structure after closing the process can help in future findings.
Based in my analysis of the process, I would say that the major four steps were:
- Desire for change – the process started with a desire to build a new reality (preparation for the next step in the leadership growth).
- Awareness through clarifying the topic for focus on coaching – the initial request (prepare for the next position) has been drilled down in three very specific challenges (develop a high performer team, improve in delegation skills and develop diplomacy).
- Choices through reframing perspectives – as we went deeper in delegating and being diplomatic, we could identify the beliefs that were sustaining the way the client structured his leadership approach. Then we could challenge them, so the client reframed his perspectives and made new choices on how to behave as a leader.
- Creating a new reality through action planning – after increasing awareness, it was time for planning actions that would enable the desired changes. This phase can give the client a burst of energy, because they can see a clear path that take them closer to the expected outcome.
Finally, the basic assumption of a coaching process is that the client will start the transformation process with the help of a coach, but they will not completely finish it by the end of the process. They will be capable to continue their transformation journey, after having some learning together with the coach and after clearly defining the path to go through. Coaching approach doesn´t aim to be complete or miraculous – it only aims to help the client to have some insights they couldn´t have had by themselves and help them to set the basis for the change they want to promote in their lives. Sometimes coaching can also accelerate results, because of its methodology, which is intensely focused.
Notes About Bibliography
Note 1 - CHARAN, R. , DROTTER, S. and NOEL, J. The Leadership Pipeline. São Paulo, Elsevier, 2012.
Note 2 - LOMBARDO, M. and EINCHINGER, R. Prep for success series: how to stand-out as a first time executive. Loeminger International, Copyright 1996-2012.