In this edition of The Coaching Conversation, I'd like to share with you some of the outcomes that we've seen from some of our mental fitness coaching program and to give you examples of the kind of development that is possible.
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Clearly there's a lot of confidentiality around this, so I'm not going to be able to name names, and I'm going to have to mask it a bit to protect people and protect my relationships as you can appreciate.
The first thing to say is that coaching and mentoring programs from us at The Executive Mindset are goal-oriented. The coaching is designed to change things, to help people be the person they want to be, to do the things they want to be able to do, primarily in their work life. As I've said in the previous editions of The Coaching Conversation, that often spills over into their private life.
Typically, what happens in our coaching program is that participants will be introduced to their coach - participants could be the business owner, it could be one of their senior team, or some of their senior team, or it could even be some people that they believe are ‘fast-trackers' that they want to accelerate - I would be introduced to them, and there will be a couple of conversations that are pretty important.
One conversation is with the sponsor, the person paying the bill, around what is it they want from the program, and we distil that down into one, two or three key development targets - top goals. These are not necessarily criticisms of an individual, there are often opportunities for improvement rather than correcting bad practice.
I then have a similar conversation with the individual; and it's very rare that those conversations don't coincide - it's very rare that they don't know themselves well enough to understand what their boss or the sponsor is thinking they should be working on. In addition to that, they'll probably have two or three other big things they want to work on at the same. So, we'll end up (prior to the start of the program) with about half a dozen key goals that we're looking to help them develop their capabilities around over the course of the coaching process.
Goals can vary. They are obviously particular to the individual or particular to the organisation. There are common things (and we've talked about those before in previous editions of The Coaching Conversation), but things like interpersonal skills, commercial skills, developing particular relationships that are key to the organisation. It tends to be repetitive in some senses in that we routinely had problems around stress management, time management. We typically have problems around work-life balance, which are almost universal to senior roles.
However, in some organisations, particularly smaller SMEs or even family-owned organisations where there's a degree of succession planning going on, there is a desire to prepare people with a wider understanding of their role at the next stage of their development.
They think they might be a departmental head and they're going to become a director. They might be a director and they're going to become the Managing Director, or at least that's the plan. We are guiding them, helping them work through where they are now and where they're going to be, and what they’re going to need that they don't currently have – it is all part and parcel of the same coaching program. Clearly that those specific skills will be particular to that moment, that situation.
Here is an example; We were working with a technology firm - it was a family owned, technology firm - that was growing very quickly. The firm had a very unusual position in its marketplace, not exactly unique, but a leading position, and the non-executive chairman who was a significant shareholder, was very keen to do two things.
Firstly, he wanted to reduce the dependence on him and the Managing Director - he wanted to create a wider executive board that was capable of running the business without the two of them, which in turn, would secondly, enable them to sell the organisation, at a premium, and release the value that they built up in the organisation.
So, our brief was very clear. Could we develop each of the members of what was then the senior leadership team to become effectively capable of becoming promoted to the board of directors?
We did a lot of work in helping each of the individuals determine exactly where they were with a lot of self-awareness work, who they are, where they're at, and our understandings. We talked a lot about what they thought was missing in their arsenal and we worked generally on a on a one-to-one basis with a universality to the conversations and the work that we undertook.
The coaching program lasted about nine months and the following things happened subsequent to that program. There were six people in the program, five were promoted to directors and one didn't make it. Two years later, the organisation was sold to a global multinational (and if I told you that was, you would instantly recognise them) for a very significant premium and ultimately the Managing Director and the Chairman were able to move out of the business after a short six-month handover period.
Better, still one of the members of that senior management team that became a director was then promoted to Managing Director. Three years later, they were still running and growing the organisation, and in fact has trebled the size of the business since.
So, by any measurement, the investment in that particular coaching program achieved exactly what the individual sponsors wanted at the beginning; it helped the individual members of the senior team get what they wanted, and it resulted in the kind of liquidity event that many people only dream of.
In another example, we were working with the Chief Executive who was planning his succession, within a five-year period, but he needed to be sure that the person he believed would be the next CEO was going to be the fully rounded, complete article to do the job when he stepped back.
This was a particularly sensitive organisation. It reached out with a very large customer base and had not only a lot of interaction with the individual customers, but with associated trading partners and government bodies and so on. It was a very influential business and it required a high level of interpersonal sensitivity.
The individual selected initially to be the successor for the Chief Executive role was an incredibly talented person an amazingly capable individual - exceptional in many ways, and clearly stood out from his peer group as the obvious, next leader save for a couple of really big issues.
He was very, very inter-personally challenged. He was so fixated on his work that he was working exclusively on his own agenda and had absolutely no time for anybody else or the people that work for him, the people around him, and indeed some of the external contacts, critical as they were to the performance of the organisation.
He was insensitive to some of the points of their needs and requirements from him. The second challenge he had was more to do with the commercials, not in the context of not understanding how to make money, but how to do so in a way in which everybody benefited - both the customer, delivering value and the organisation in terms of turning a surplus and a profit.
They seem relatively straightforward challenges, but they are actually quite complicated. First of all, getting someone to understand and willingly accept that they are inter-personally challenged is not an easy thing. First of all, because they don't realise that they are inter-personally challenged - they have very little sensitivity around the matter. So, we had to do quite a bit of work around self-awareness tools, quite a lot of work around helping understand that what other people saw when they did business with him - we did some 360-degree work, we did some psychometric testing, we did a number of workbooks around emotional intelligence and management and leadership programs and a whole bunch of stuff which got him to open his mind up to other ways of working other ways of seeing people.
Getting someone who is very intelligent, very smart, and has got a successful track record of recognising that perhaps he didn't really understand that, in a commercial transaction, both parties could win - it didn't need to be a win - lose scenario where all of the value fell on his side of the fence, getting him to understand how he could deliver value to a client, which didn't necessarily impede his ability to make money for his own organisation was revelatory for him.
Now we didn't have any universal insight. We didn't have any clever tricks, other than having him think it through, other than asking him open questions that got him to explore what the client might be looking for above and beyond the monetary aspects.
So, what happened? It was a six-month coaching program. He started to experiment with the interpersonal challenges, and he had some really tough feedback from the beginning because it was a different set of behaviours, and people who he interacted with on a regular basis were seeing him behave differently, whether it was in meetings, whether it is in social contact, and he was asking the questions that he'd never asked them before, he was getting them cups of coffee that he'd never got them before, and so he was getting some push-back in terms of ‘what's wrong with you? What's happened?'. He pushed through it and within the six-month program, he had revolutionised people's view of him.
Now, I won't pretend that he was everybody's best mate, and I wouldn't pretend that he was on the top of the Christmas card list and invited to every office party - that would be an exaggeration. However, it had substantially moved to the point where the Chief Executive could see that a very strong foundation had been laid, and his awareness had been opened, and it was something that he could continue to work on and would as a priority.
When it came to the commercials, this was a really big issue because at that moment, they were tendering for a very large piece of work. In fact, a transformation, and they needed to demonstrate that they were going to be delivering something more than the competition. Not only were they going to be cost-effective, they needed to actually demonstrate value for the client.
In this context it was legacy know-how. In this context, it was making sure that the client had adopted the internal skill-sets that the client had effectively paid for. Not only did they win that contract within the six-month program, but the feedback initially from the first phases of the roll out were substantial because they had included all of the staff and the client that needed to be included in terms of owning the project, rolling the project out, understanding intellectual property and so on.
At the end of the six-month program, we had done two things with the client - he had re positioned himself to a position of greater opportunity for success and he tackled, head-on, two very significant challenges very, very successfully – a transformation.
In a third example, we were working with an organisation that moved and transformed its legal entity status. It had been an independent business and was effectively subsumed by a larger parent. In turn, the Chief Executive had been promoted to a larger role within the new enlarged organisation, but retained direct line responsibility for the operation of the new business. That meant, in simple terms, that he not only needed to back fill, he needed to back fill successfully to enable him to take on his wider role and be confident that these old jobs were still being done successfully, and in a new culture to boot.
So, we coached the new CEO, who had been working with in the organisation for 10 years - so he wasn't new to the organisation, but he was certainly new to the situation and certainly new to being a CEO. We coached two or three of his direct reports at the same time, because not only did he need to back fill, but they needed to raise up their skill sets at the same time. It was a complete elevation of the team into a new culture.
The kinds of things we were working on were leadership and management; what is the role of a CEO? What is the role of a leader? What is different between the head of a function or director of a function, we were dealing with how to lead a cultural change within an organisation that was previously independent and now isn’t? How do you motivate a team that's been effectively thrown into whole melee of change that it has to have very little control over?
It was a nine-month coaching program, which in fact continued for about 18 months in truth, and was an enormous success to the point that the elevated CEO became promoted further and then moved on to an even larger role. The CEO of the original subsidiary has now been well-established as the most successful CEO of that division in its time. I can point to a whole raft of successes that possibly people weren't expecting.
So, the program itself has proved to be a transformation for those two guys, and at the same time for both organisations - the acquirer and the subsidiary - and for the cohort of senior managers, immediate below. These are the sorts of environments, the sorts of challenges, the sorts of opportunities we encounter on a regular basis in our coaching and mentoring programs.
If any of this ring a chord, if any of this seems to make sense to you and you think it's a sort of coaching that you're looking for. I can only recommend finding yourself an excellent coach and mentor or an organisation of action coaches and mentors, and exploring with them how they could help you, because there's no doubt that coaching does help.
Ultimately, the work that is required comes from the clients, but it won't happen without a coach and a mentor, without the accountability, without the open questioning, without the pushing and prodding that comes from a coach on a regular basis, the additional development simply will not happen.
So, there you have it, the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at theexecutivemindset.co.uk
If you want to reach out you can send us an email at email@example.com you can book a free 30-minute coaching session at theexecutivemindset.co.uk which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.
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