Food for thought
You have to fix this guy
by Julia Weiss
There I was sitting. Already 25 minutes in the anteroom of the CEO, waiting. Not that I had been warned in advance that my conversation partner would be extremely busy. But of course I had shown up perfectly in time for the clearing conversation for one of his top managers from the first management level, responsible for 16.000 employees in more than 20 locations.
Originally I had suggested a meeting among the three of us. So, we could start coaching process with the same basis. But this suggestion was crushed by the CEO’s secretary weeks ago. He wanted to speak with me alone, the matter was critical.
10 minutes later I am confronted with a southern European charm offense. Coach – what a fantastic job and the high expectations he has of me. I ask him about his expectations for the coaching process. His answer: “Julia, you have to fix this guy”. Followed by a long description about different conflict situations between him and the soon-to-be-coached manager in the last months and about behavioral change that the manager should undergo in his opinion. In my head I am examining different reactions.
How can I make clear to him that coaching and “fixing someone” are two different pair of shoes. Without the wish of self-development of the coachee it would become difficult to do anything at all. When the CEO is done with his speech, I ask him what his impression is, whether his manager is also interested in self-development. Astonished he stares at me – he does not know and it would not change anything anyways. I explain to him how well it changes things, as I am only able to accept the coaching mandate as long as the coachee himself is also interested in achieving the coaching goals and he finds himself in those. Whether the coachee’s goals would be the same ones as formulated by his boss I could not promise. At this point it is getting a bit too complicated for my counterpart. “As I said – fix this guy – as long and whatever it takes – I need him in best shape for the next restructuring phase”. With these words I am dismissed.
The first conversation with my potential coaching client evolves according to the circumstances. At first he is completely closed, hiding behind organizational and business-related facts and figures. Not opening up. Until I ask him what he would like to do instead in those two hours reserved for the coaching - if anything was possible except working. And under the condition, that everything discussed is confidential. He, who just told me about his 16 hour-work days and 7 day weeks, is looking puzzled at me. Emptiness. No idea.
Then, I spread 20 picture cards in front of him, with different motives. I ask him which one displays his recent status best and which one would be an attractive goal to work towards. His attitude remains defensive. Such a nonsense in the middle of his valuable working hours.
But suddenly, his hand hushes to the front and a smile on his face. A kite surfer surfing towards the sun lays in front of him and suddenly the words start bubbling out of him. He talks about his summer cottage, his passion for fast sports, how he only seldom has time for this passion and how the surfer in the picture represents freedom to him… Then we talk much longer than planned.
We develop a “surfer goal” something that is worth to work on together. A goal attractive enough to dedicate valuable working time to it. We work on building inner freedom also in situation where confronted with high pressure from the environment. We also work on how to decide and design in self-determined way within one’s own area of expertise and achieve the feeling of being seated in the driver seat.
For my client this self-determination has become hard to impossible to achieve due to the directive leadership style of his manager, the dense matrix organization and ambivalent roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, we work together on his self-determined posture, the posture of a surfer that is also exposed to the nature of elements, which he cannot change but only use in order to move on. With the self-efficacy comes the ease in the intercourse with his manager. The same manager that “ordered” the coaching, now 6 months after our first meeting congratulates me (or rather himself) on the success “You see, it worked!” While I remember the most important factors without which the coaching would not have been so successful: the true wish of the coachee for change, an attractive coaching goal and last but not least the coachee’s trust in the discretion and competence of the coach.
Julia Weiss works with her executive clients to unleash their full potential in their varying roles, and/or of their work teams and organizations. Thus she enables the executive and his or her team to achieve a sophisticated and sustainable level of performance. Julia is a certified executive and team coach, moderator and speaker with a focus of sales performance and change management. She works as a Partner of Leadership Choices, an international consultancy focusing on leadership development at Top Management level. Julia’s experience is based on more than 15 years of work in different senior management settings – as a strategy consultant and as managing director - sales in the media industry.