• Kevin Nourse, PhD

Coaching Success Story: The Demanding Director

Martha is a marketing project director in a pharmaceutical organization and reports to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Because of her forward-thinking, strategic capabilities she is very effective at working with senior executives in her organization. However, Martha is challenged with her ability to manage her stress reactions and as a result, her relationships with her peers and subordinates are suffering to the point

where she may derail if it is not addressed quickly. Realizing this, the CMO engaged me to work with Martha as an executive coach to help address these critical issues. Fortunately, Martha gained awareness of these issues and took a number of steps that helped her recover from near derailment.

Martha's Perspective

When I spoke with Martha about the challenges she face, she initially admitted to be being baffled by how she got to this point. She admitted that the lack of support from her colleagues and direct reports caused her to have to work long hours to be able to fulfill the requirements of marketing projects requested by various company executives. As a result, she constantly feels stressed, anxious and under the gun to work longer hours to meet her deadlines. This then causes her to react strongly to others who she believes are not demonstrating comparable commitment to the projects. She's also feeling very tentative in her role and wonders whether she has the support of her boss, especially given the fact that the CMO has requested she engage a coach.

Assessment Findings

I gathered baseline data for Martha from two sources, the Bar-On emotional intelligence self-assessment (EQI) instrument in and interviews with one dozen subordinates, colleagues and senior leaders in the organization. Together, they provided a very powerful perspective on Martha's strengths and weaknesses.

First, the EQI assessment suggested that Martha was highly focused on self-development and improvement. However, interviews with her subordinates suggested that she had such high standards that they believed could not meet these standards she sets for herself and implicitly seems to expect of others.

Second, feedback providers identified two parts to her personality: the upbeat, positive, supportive person and the stressed and confrontational self. This dissonance between her selves eroded trust with others, caused them to feel defensive, and afraid to raise issues or concerns with her directly. As a result, Martha was kept in the dark on important issues impacting project schedules which, when she discovered them, caused her to feel even more stressed and demanding.

Finally, senior executives loved how Martha was able to assess their needs, help them envision possibilities for marketing campaigns, and adapt flexibility based on changing business requirements.

Coaching Goals

After we debriefed her assessment feedback, Martha articulated several development goals for herself including:

  • Building emotional intelligence through self-awareness and self-management, particularly in situations where she experienced stress triggers

  • Rebuilding trust with colleagues and staff by balancing her focus on the task with care for the person, recognizing that her commitment to growth was not necessarily shared by others, and learning to recognize her impact on others by being aware of their non-verbal behavior

  • Developing her ability to coach subordinates to help them grown and increase their capacity to take on additional tasks and future roles based on their career interests

  • Rebuilding her reputation with her boss

Given these goals, I introduced a number of coaching developmental strategies to Martha to help her reach her goals. These included debriefing the feedback with her raters, feed forward, awareness building through journal writing, on-going relationship building, and resilience maintenance strategies.

Feedback Debriefing

Martha conducted one-on-one meetings with each of the subordinates and peers that provided input into her assessment. She focused on sharing key themes, asking for clarification, and communicating her intentions for her own development. Despite her feeling vulnerable, this effort had a significant impact on rebuilding trust with others and helped her identify a number of useful insights on her own behavior by exploring specific examples shared by others.

Feed Forward

In order to build situational awareness, Martha contracted with key stakeholders to provide real-time feedback about her behavior to enable there to make immediate adjustments. By doing so, she was better able to recalibrate her behavior to achieve better outcomes.

Awareness Building

I invited Martha to keep a written journal to capture and reflect on past behavior, as well as explore upcoming situations she faced as a means for enhancing her self-awareness and capacity to self-manage. In reflecting on past experiences, I suggested she capture the situation, her behavior and the outcome along with a critique of what worked and what did not. For prospective situations, I suggested she plan the outcome she was looking for along with actions she would need to take to ensure the targeted outcome. Finally, I also suggested Martha use the journal to track a daily self-defined resilience rating to build awareness of her level of stress resilience.

On-Going Relationship Building and Network Building

It seemed important to help Martha increase her level of perceived support by creating a strong social support network so that she could maintain a stronger sense of resilience. We examined the depth and breadth of her professional network, then identified specific goals for enhancing it. Among the discoveries of this activity was Martha's realization of how isolated she had become and how important it was for her to have a mentor and other advocates who she could engage on a periodic basis.

Outcomes and Next Steps

As a result of her developmental actions, Martha achieved some amazing outcomes:

  • She rebuilt relationships with many of her colleagues such that they have become more willing to raise critical issues with her directly about her projects as well as increasing their willingness to take on new assignments

  • She felt less stressed and more satisfied with her work as a result of building a stronger professional network, being able to delegate and let go of tasks, and repairing the relationship with her boss

  • She has maintained a sense of resilience as a result of her heightened self-awareness and ability to regulate her functioning through self-awareness and self-reflection.

Career derailing behavior can quickly destroy a leader's career and reputation. The key is self-awareness combined with action to move past denial and adapt ones' behavior. Martha is a wonderful success story and case that illustrates how career derailment can be avoided.

(c) 2014 Kevin Nourse, PhD

#casestudy #leadershipdevelopment #womeninleadership


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