Research Paper By Sreenivas Nagappa
(Executive Coach, INDIA)
Topic being explored:
Exploring Feelings & Emotions Gives Maximum Value to the Client
Coaching Model employed by the Coach:
Essentially the GROW model with an added emphasis on remaining true to one’s values.
Duration of the Coaching:
8 sessions spread over approx. 10 weeks.
Gist of the Case:
A successful Partner in a firm comes to the Coach feeling confused at the work place. The original problem stated is purely transactional but as a rapport develops between Coach & Client, deeper issues are explored. Eventually the Client realizes that what makes him happy and what he has been pursuing are entirely different. An action plan to correct this is drawn up. The coaching does not cover subsequent events.
A summary of Coach’s performance vs. ICF Competencies is appended.
Also attached at the end are Client insights & Coach learning.
John, a Partner in a HR Consulting firm, approached Coach for some coaching on how he had recently been feeling at work. He had heard of Coach from a common friend. Coach agreed to meet John for an initial exploratory or “Chemistry “ session and communicated that the session would not be charged and at the end of it John was under no obligation to sign up for subsequent paid sessions. John asked whether this was necessary given that the common friend had spoken well of Coach. While thanking him for his confidence Coach mentioned that this initial session was to establish rapport. He explained that while almost everyone is coachable, sometimes personal equation & chemistry come in the way of an effective coaching relationship and hence in his experience, this initial meeting was important.
The two met over breakfast at a convenient restaurant. Coach ensured he was there five minutes early and was pleasantly surprised to find John walking in at the same time. Both men felt good that the other had taken care to be on time. Coach started off by giving a five minute quick bio about himself. While he spoke about his professional qualifications, he also talked about his family and other interests. John responded similarly and many common talking points emerged e.g. a city where both had spent about a year, a few more common friends and interestingly, a co-worker both had separately worked with. They also discovered a shared interest in wines. Coach then steered the conversation deftly from this interesting discovery of mutual interests to explain what coaching was about. He explained the difference with consulting, counseling & therapy and emphasized that unlike, say, consulting, he was not going to be providing any magical solutions but would work with John to enable exploration of the issues. John liked the part about performing closer to his true potential. Since both seemed comfortable with the discussion so far, Coach decided to go further & they discussed possible frequency of the coaching, fee & payment options, and duration. Coach emphasized that the sessions would be in complete confidence and even the common friend who had brought them together would only be told, if asked, that they would be entering into a coaching arrangement with all requests for any further information politely declined. John was happy with this. The meeting ended with Coach agreeing to send John, later that evening, a draft agreement and a background reading article by Marshall Goldsmith.
Later that day, Coach edited his standard coaching agreement, incorporated items of discussion with John, and along with the article e-mailed John. The response was quick and positive and the first coaching session was set up.
The session started with Coach re-emphasizing the Confidentiality of the process. He then asked John what the issue was. John replied that he was recently unhappy at work because a junior assistant was consistently failing to meet work deadlines. Coach probed to ask how this was affecting John’s work and it emerged that as a result of the assistant’s non completion of the task, John’s report to his client was held up. To better understand the context, Coach asked a couple of questions about the organization. John explained that there was a Founder of the firm and John had subsequently joined as a Partner. The Founder was a well-respected name in the industry and about 10 years older than John. They had been working together now for 3 years and apart from being colleagues would also socialize together. John recounted how, in the prior month when he was down with flu, Partner had visited him at home thrice and had brought soup & fruits. The firm was a small six employee company with outside (off rolls) consultants brought on board if needed for specific projects. While there was a rough division of work, there was no formal organization structure or reporting. Founder’s word was considered final (although John was also an equal Partner in the firm).
Coach asked John about what he wanted to achieve from the session and John replied that he wanted to understand how to manage this junior assistant.
In the course of the questions asked, it was clear that John had adequately instructed the assistant on the requirement, that there was agreement on the deadline, the assistant was generally capable & had done similar exercises in the past and that John was usually good at getting others to do work in a timely manner. It then emerged that a couple of days prior to the deadline, the assistant had e mailed John (and copied Founder as was the practice) a draft for comments. John had replied with his comments (and copied Founder). To this, Founder replied to both stating that John’s inputs were interesting and proposed a short meeting that he would soon call between the three for better understanding. The deadline then came up, the meeting had not yet taken place and the assistant claimed he could not complete the work since Founder needed to first discuss it. John accepted that in the light of Founder’s asking for a discussion on the subject, the assistant could not be expected to complete it. He stated that he was frustrated with this situation. As they were at the end of their time, Coach asked if the desired outcome of the session (how to manage the assistant) was still a good outcome to expect to which John said “No, the problem is something else but I don’t know what. I do know there is no point in going after the assistant”. John asked if they could explore it further the next day but Coach offered a suggestion that John reflect on this for a couple of days and then meet. John agreed.
Sessions 2 & 3:
John returned to the next session part confused and part pleased. He had reflected on the situation and wanted to understand it better. At the same time, in the interest of meeting his commitment to his client, John had completed the task his assistant was to do, had re-evaluated his inputs to the assistant’s draft, had finalized it and mailed it to the assistant & Founder. To which, the Founder replied “Good job, John”. There was no mention from Founder about his inputs or about the meeting he was to call. All this left John somewhat confused although the immediate task had been completed.
Coach reiterated the confidentiality of the conversation & mirrored back to John his stated issue. He then picked up on John’s stated feeling of confusion and asked him to elaborate. John got into a lengthy discussion on a number of details. Without making it seem obvious, Coach started keeping the conversation on context rather than content as otherwise the conversation was meandering into numerous anecdotes.
A couple of key issues emerged:
- Founder was not an organized person. He was also more of a dreamer who hated doing anything mundane. When John had joined the firm 3 years ago the financials, taxes, returns had been a mess which John then set right
- Founder did not take decisions easily. The biggest of these was in recruitment: a number of vacancies always existed in the organization because he would say “This person is good but maybe we will find someone even better so we should look out some more.”
John also spoke of how salaries for the last two months had been delayed because Founder forgot or went on a holiday on payroll day.
Coach then asked John what he saw his role in this. John said that in the last almost 3 years he had been managing (in addition to his routine work) the financials, taxes & payroll. However, about three months ago, the firm changed banks. The new bank sent the check book & online password to Founder as, although both he & John were signatories, Founder’s name was the first. With the earlier bank John had both of these. But for the last 3 months Founder had not given the check book & password to John. After a month, John asked about this and Founder said he would give it but nothing happened. Last month John had again asked to which Founder replied that he wanted John to recover from his flu first.
While John kept describing these as minor, Coach could sense underlying currents. Hence, rather than the transaction detail of how payroll was paid (which John kept jumping to), his questions were all about how John was feeling. John’s answers got slower and the silences were more marked. Coach could see that John was reflecting and thinking deeply and so he resisted every urge to jump into the silences. Eventually, John said he felt that he was not trusted.
As usual Coach started every session with stressing on the confidentiality of the conversation. John would reply either with a smile or acknowledgement but in Session 4 he responded with “I know and I trust you.” Coach felt really good but all he permitted himself to say was “Thank you.”
John stated that he wished to explore the lack of trust angle a bit more. He said that the coaching was getting him to enter areas that he had not thought about before and asked if Coach was happy just going with the flow. Coach agreed and asked him if there was an eventual outcome to be reached even if not in that very session and John’s answer surprised him – “To understand why I am here.” That set the tone for the rest of the sessions with John & Coach at the end of each session measuring whether they had progressed towards that goal. Coach tried to find out if John could get more specific but he seemed happy and comfortable with this definition of the goal.
Building on the area of lack of trust, Coach asked what had changed in these last 3 years. And John explored how, to just join the Founder’s firm was a big event in his life then and now. Although John already had 25 years of industry experience and was therefore no novice, he treated Founder with a lot of deference although they were now equal partners. Thus, whether in the cases of the bank password or for the recruitments, he struggled with confronting Founder. With some of his other clients, Coach had walked with them down the path of developing assertiveness but in this case he could easily see that respect for Founder was one of John’s deeply held values. Disturbing this would be extremely painful for John and Coach had no idea whether John would necessarily be in a better place as a result. He therefore did not progress this line of assertiveness at all. They did however talk about respectful ways to address the fact that Founder was not into details. Coach, at this time asked John for permission to conduct a simple exercise called the Empty Chair & John agreed. During the exercise, for a brief part of the conversation John would be himself and talk about his issues with Founder’s working style; he would then cross over to another chair opposite and would assume the role of Founder; Coach would verbatim repeat issues that John had raised and John would reply from Founder’s perspective. During this exercise, John came to a startling conclusion that he would often ask Founder for his opinions or wait for his decisions even when the matter was well within John’s jurisdiction to decide and action. And the fact that Founder would not respond on time would often leave John upset. He realized that Founder did not expect to him to consult on some routine matters and therefore might even be wondering why he was doing so. He also realized that Founder probably cared for him and maybe did not actually want to over work him. He also realized that many of the so called lapses on Founder’s part were just because he was not a details person.
As the rapport between the two developed, the discussion often touched upon what John wanted and what would make him happy. It emerged that John had an ambition to make the firm big. He wanted to triple the billing over the next two years. He wanted to market the company aggressively. He wanted to pitch for big projects that would require significant recruitment and managing many outside consultants. A big frustration that he felt was the absence of processes & systems in the firm. He believed that without standard processes, the firm could never scale up. He had introduced a number of measures in this regard but the lack of active backing from Founder meant that all of these were short lived. Founder did not think along those lines of scaling up. He was happy with the work he was doing and that it was appreciated.
At the bottom of it all, John wanted to be associated with a large and growing firm. At the same time, he could not even think of parting ways with Founder. This was his dilemma.
“I am pleased I know what the problem is; I can now work towards resolving it “, were John’s opening remarks at the start of their next session. “For someone who has a big dilemma, you are remarkably cheerful”, replied Coach.
Coach’s next questions in the session forced John to reflect what his ambition really meant to him. The one thing that struck Coach was that work dominated the conversation so completely. So with John’s permission he did a small exercise of looking into the future. They picked age 65 as John agreed that at that age he should have achieved what he wanted in life. After five minutes of centering themselves through deep breathing, Coach asked him to Visualize what his life at age 65 would look like. He urged John to look at it holistically – not just work but any other aspect that was important to him. He encouraged him to see the images; to see the colours; to see detail. He asked him to think not in the future but as if he was now 65 years old.
John spoke during the Visualization exercise about his farm house and the gardening that he had a deep interest in. Being a bachelor, he had no immediate family but he spoke of his involvement with the community specifically helping those with alcohol addiction. He talked of playing his guitar which he had been good at right through college. He saw himself as a respected member of the HR community present at industry events alongside Founder.
After the exercise and after Coach had gently brought John back to the present, there was a long silence. John’s eyes were moist but he seemed excited. In his words, “there is so much I need to do, rather than worrying about the trivia”.
For many minutes after the exercise, John was quiet and reflecting. Coach understood and was respectful of the silence. When he felt the time was right, Coach asked him how he felt. John’s answer was that he felt liberated.
After spending some time discussing the impact of John’s age 65 vision, for the rest of the session and for the next session, Coach and John spent time planning the next steps. They drew up milestones working back from age 65 at 5 year intervals i.e. age 60,55,50 and then at yearly intervals back to John’s present age of 47. John realized that he needed to quickly get moving on the farm house as prices were rising and the search might take some time. He also realized that he needed to raise his profile within the HR community. At Coach’s gentle questioning on how he would do this, he began to draw up a list of influential persons and also events that he should be seen at. He realized that he could request Founder for help in the introductions and had no doubt that the help would be forthcoming. As the planning process gained steam, Coach also asked John to build plans for a support network. This would be the network he could get resources from and call upon for help. John was amazed to realize that he could even think of drawing upon the expertise of fellow practitioners from other firms as he was no longer seeing them as direct competition. Since John knew that Coach had interest in Community Service he requested a couple of introductions which Coach was happy to do.