Reluctantly developing great leadership


I had no choice in the matter… Jane was imposed on me, as part of the my company’s Leadership Programme, of which I did not approve, and in which I did all I could to avoid participating. I came from the Gordon Gecko era, where, if you wanted to get on, you generally needed to act like a guy. I didn’t do authenticity, and found watching the C-Suite standing up and sobbing unbearably lacking in integrity…


Emma was not, by any stretch, Jane’s easiest coaching candidate ever! She had just returned from maternity leave, to her first operational role for a while, after a series of corporate postings. She was struggling and cynical, feeling stranded out in the field, and focusing far too much on telling others how to do their jobs rather than how she could improve her own performance.


The client company, a FTSE 100 giant, was passing through a period of questioning about the future, and, on reflection, came to the conclusion that it was through exceptional quality in their leadership team that they would best differentiate and succeed in the long term. A very substantial leadership development programme was created, initially for the Top 90, (though later for the Top 1000). Emma was given a ton of homework to do, and a set of dates for offsite sessions in warmer climes. She was also assigned to Jane, for coaching support in whatever way she needed it…


Leadership set an ambitious agenda, and Jane was part of a team of coaches who supported, challenged and nurtured their coachees throughout. The first significant hurdle was to shift Emma’s resistance to attending the first offsite session in Miami. Emma tried every trick imaginable to come through the experience looking good and giving away nothing. She even consulted a theatre coach for help on how to act her way through it.


On return from the Florida conference, a beaming Emma triumphantly announced to Jane that she had survived, and kept up a good appearance. It was only when Jane asked her to consider whether it might also have been useful to try and get something out of the sessions that she realised how damaging her attitude and behaviour had been.


The second major revelation came a few months later, as Emma was responding more openly to Jane’s probing and nudging. Together, they had been exploring some of Emma’s “career-limiting” attitudes and behaviours. While perceived as a star within the Leadership group, Emma had not escaped a few pockets of negative feedback. This was generally coming from older, male, managers, whom she felt to be arrogant! Jane facilitated a new way of thinking about these relationships, which had substantially deteriorated over time. Emma had never truly acknowledged the problem of her relationship with one of the senior directors, and yet they were in a cycle of conflict and mutual avoidance. Jane helped Emma to find the courage and the confidence to ask for a conversation with this director.


In order to prepare for the encounter, Jane asked Emma to work on a roleplay. Not surprisingly, the reponse was “I don’t do roleplay”… This time, it took only a sideways look, with that quizzically raised eyebrow that all who know Jane have experienced at one awkward moment or another, to transform the situation! With a setup of two chairs, representing the two people, Emma spent some time sitting in the other chair, speaking and reacting as “the other”, and she describes the experience as being like “having my eyes lasered”. She felt totally different by seeing things from his point of view, and described this as a career-changing conversation for her. This exercise was such a success that she has used it several times since…


Overall, the experience of working with Jane helped Emma to see that the issues she was struggling with were in fact her own, and to build more real, authentic relationships. She thrived to such an extent on the progress, that she found it difficult to extract herself from it, once the given coaching period came to an end. Here again, Jane’s professionalism came through, in that she spotted the dependency, and they talked about it. In this case, the solution was to prolong the engagement, while spacing the sessions further and further apart.


The relationship between Jane and Emma continues as a friendship, as sometimes becomes the case. Both are careful to avoid slipping into coaching mode, although it happens, and that seems to be acceptable, on each side. Emma has recommended Jane to others, not least for her high level business experience, as well as her skill in coaching techniques. Indeed it is this mix that allowed Emma to accept Jane’s comments, as she was always credible as well as perceptive.

Jane has worked with easier clients, but few as rewarding. There is always a new way to see the situation you are in, and Jane will make doing that much easier.