In this executive coaching success case study, Carm Moceri explains how an executive leader expressed concerns that coaching would require him to change his character. Thus, he was unwilling to accept qualitative and quantitative feedback from his peers, subordinates, and superiors. Committing to an executive coaching engagement, through the process of active inquiry, he reconsidered the feedback and used it to gain insight into his thinking and behavioral styles. Investing in changes in his communication and leadership style, he improved his leadership effectiveness and did not sacrifice his character. Since adopting these changes, he is experiencing greater satisfaction in his role, improved this relationship with others, increased trust, and is helping the organization to achieve its goals and objectives.
Well, as the chair of the board, you likely are focusing more around your senior leadership or maybe one individual, in particular, that you believe could really receive great value from coaching.
So let’s use an example …
So, we have a senior leader that is extremely well-educated at the highest level of Education, has had an illustrative career, but maybe not within the environment in which you need them to lead. And that individual shows up in a difficult situation during a time of great change across our country, across the world and is isolated from collaborating with their team in ways we used to collaborate. And now (he) has received some feedback. The chair has received some feedback that this leader has not necessarily engaged the team in a way to drive high performance that they don’t feel like they’re valued in this relationship and that it’s more of a command-and-control style … that’s an authoritative style or an authoritarian style, which is more typical of organizations of 10, to 15 years ago.
And now you’ve invested a lot. You’ve hired this individual. They’ve been in your organization for a little while and you’re getting feedback that the performance is just not there. And people are feeling disengaged. And you’ve determined that coaching can help.
So, you go out and you find someone like myself, an executive coach. And in this particular case, it’s an executive coach, me, that has experience in similar issues … have experienced leaders that have struggled with similar things or have experienced them myself … and have been coached around them.
And now you ask them to come in. And you’d like them to help to improve this individual’s communication style because you believe it’s all surrounding communication … because that’s the feedback you’ve received as the chair.
And as we start to define the goal with the client … now, so, the organization hired you … and now you’re working directly with the client …
First and foremost, you define for the client that what you’re going to talk about is confidential.
And only what the client wants to go back to their leadership is what we’ll share.
So, we have to maintain that confidentiality .., with the chair and the leadership of the organization, (we) have to agree to that.
And then once we define what their goal is, we then determine how we’re going to develop a plan to help them with this communication. And within that, I talk a bit about (how) we need to do some assessments. Because all I have is the information I have received.
But to give them a rich experience, and to give them the greatest opportunity for growth, and determine how they can be more effective receiving both individual feedback about themselves, and looking at about how they think, and then ultimately receive feedback from others about how they actually show up, will help to round out that plan.
And what becomes evident, many times, is how we think is not necessarily how we show up in this feedback helps them to see that there are opportunities beyond what they think are just communication.
So, in working with a particular client right now, … the feedback that came back was ‘some of the most dramatic ever seen’ by the organization that I’m partnering with on the assessment side.
They said ‘In the 50 years they’ve seen, this is one of the most dramatically different … where the individual believes they’re thinking and behaving constructively, when actuality, the behaviors are very passive aggressive.
It was one of the most opposite results that you would expect.
And to the client, it was devastating.
The client believed other than communication, (that) they were effectively leading the individuals that provided feedback at all levels of the organization, above, at-the-same level, and below … said your behaviors are very different.
And what was interesting is that the variation and the feedback was great.
Some individuals saw this individual more aligned with the way they were thinking.
Others saw it polar opposite.
And initially, the client struggled to the point of saying, “I think the feedback is invalid because there’s so much wide variation, so it can’t be real.”
And so we focused more around what the client said about their thinking style and where the client rated themselves outside effective leadership.
And we tried to say, “All right, let’s not focus on the feedback other than your feedback, where you say you are where you say you think and where you think differently than effective leaders think.”
Because this is a validated tool.
That said, here’s where effective leaders think typically …
Initially, though, reluctantly, that process started.
And then, about 10 days later, we touched base around “now, what’s your plan around the areas that you are not effectively leading, thinking you’re leading?”
And the individual came back and said, “Listen, I’ve got to tell you, I didn’t want to hear what the report had to say. I didn’t want to believe it was true. But, as I look more in the way that I think and I look at how those behaviors are showing up to others, even though there’s still wide-variation in their statistical variation in their results, I have to stop worrying about that. If I want to become a more effective leader, then I have to agree that there are things that I’m doing that are not effective.”
And as a result of that, we have a very detailed action plan that the individual is making sure that they’re following.
They’re now doing things very differently.
For example, when meetings are being held, they’re actually going out to the environment to hold the meetings and not having them come to their office. When they’re out now, they’re interacting with the teams that are out there in the environment that are feeling and experiencing the culture.
The challenge is by sitting in the office, those experiences weren’t being gained.
Now the individual is going and meeting in those environments, and they’re having to interact with the teams to find out what they’re experiencing. They’re giving more control to the people that report to them for the meetings. They’re starting to seek input around decision making opposed to being command and control.
So, even though we started focusing on ‘communication,’ we found, within the assessment tools, there were things that were beyond communication, in which, that leader was not effectively leading.
And now, all of a sudden, there are changes taking place.
And the biggest fear this individual had going into the process is people are asking me to change my character.
But, the reality is it has nothing to do with his character, his character is his character, his values are his values, how he’s thinking about leading and how he’s behaving is what’s changing.
And there’s enough research that shows that you can change your thinking style; you can change behaviors and how you show up without having to change your character. Because what you’re looking for is ‘if I’m going to be the most effective leader I can be, there are things I need to do differently.’
But that doesn’t mean myself, and my identity as a person, are going to need to change.
And for this one individual to watch the transformation that’s taking place is phenomenal because this is an individual that’s very stoic.
This is an individual that needs a lot of time to think before replying. And that develops mistrust. Because people thought that they were thinking in a way of “how do I outsmart them?” As opposed to saying, “I just need time to process?“
And I asked the client, “Did you tell people that your style is, that you need more time than maybe the typical leader to process before you give a response?”
The response was, “No, I didn’t think that was important because that’s just been my style.”
Now, he’s communicating differently, saying, “I hear you. And in this particular case, I’m going to need a few days to process that before I come back with a response. Is that acceptable? Does that work for you? Is there anything else I need to know from you before I come back with a reply?”
And engagement didn’t take place six months ago.
Now, it’s taking place because the individual sees that by communicating differently, they can become more effective and the team is more effective.