When Peter*, a senior executive at a large financial organisation, began a coaching program with me, our conversations ranged from subjects as concrete as board relations to less tangible areas such as the emotional drivers for success.
Taking the challenge
It was a challenge for both of us to relate emotions and business success – and to explore the relationships between them.
We began with a 360 degree review of Peter’s leadership capabilities.
As his review progressed, an unexpected focus developed; tension between Peter and the executive team. We spent the remainder of the session discussing and unraveling the reasons for this tension amongst the executive team – and found that most of it originated from Peter himself.
Peter, though aware that he was personally challenged by periods of tension, had no idea about the effect it had on his team members.
This was Peter’s most difficult leadership experience in his time as a senior executive – and it was clear he needed someone to help identify his blind spots, as well as be a sounding board for his concerns.
Honesty can be difficult
Candid feedback is always difficult to hear and digest, no matter your position.
I had to help Peter to change his behaviour, specifically to manage his tensions for the benefit of his team and company.
The coaching process provided analysis and feedback on Peter’s actions; by comparing what he thought he was doing with what he was actually doing.
We worked towards a “systemic personal inquiry”: identifying what roles and responsibilities could be delegated and what he should focus on to ensure he could give his full attention to leading his business.
An essential part of the executive coaching process, 360 reviews help participants evaluate their positions, action and goals, providing information that can help shape their leadership and can provide reference points in their personal journey.
The insights of an outsider
In this instance, Peter learnt that he could become overly involved in his teams’ work, be too optimistic and consequently very tense when his expectations were not realised. Often this tension caused him to launch into attack mode, especially if he didn’t have full visibility of projects.
Through the 360 review process, Peter realised that his behaviour simply transferred this pressure to others and made them feel uncomfortable speaking with him. Consequently, his team members thought he didn’t appreciate how difficult their tasks were to accomplish and that he undervalued their efforts.
Spreading the power of change
After such honest critical feedback, it would have been easy for Peter to simply change his leadership style and to bury the new information about himself. Instead he chose to lead by example and share it with the rest of the company.
The result was a wave of change that created a more open and supportive environment for his leadership team; one that recognised that both emotional and business perspectives have important roles in a happy and productive workplace.
Peter himself now makes a point of going out of his way to recognise people and their efforts, sharing the learning he gained from the coaching process.
*Subject’s name has been changed
This article was first published at HRM Online.