Isabelle was the Senior Communications Director for the largest eastern European region of one of the world's leading FMCG multinationals. She'd been in her job 8 months, steadily hitting, even exceeding targets defined by her boss, driving objectives forward ambitiously, even earning national awards in the Communicaitons field for her highly visible successes.
Isabelle had been hired away from the competition and proved to be an exceptionally relentless workhorse. She had a need to perform and succeed that left many around her speechless, including her team of 11 who reluctantly shared, in standard 360-interviews conducted by HR with Isabelle's boss, that Isabelle was, well, amazing. And overpowering. They were awed by her efficiency and resolve yet, at the same time, rendered helpless to the point of quasi-paralysis, by her enormous personality. With her determination and zeal, Isabelle seemed to consume all the oxygen in the room and want all the light.
Her boss mentioned to the country's Chairman that Isabelle was determined to secure a VP and board position, in that country. To which Chairman of said country replied, simply, "She is not board material." This caused Isabelle's boss to realise just how rough around the edges Isabelle really was and, worse, how utterly oblivious Isabelle was of her impact on others, more specifically: on her direct reports and on her hierarchy. It was time to confront her lack of self-awareness before it began to sabotage her progress and erode the investment it had cost to hire her. This is when I was called in.
After my briefing call with her boss, Isabelle agreed to meet with me and check me out. We had a tete-a-tete that lasted 2 hours—her opportunity to ask me questions and decide if she felt comfortable being coached by me. When I plainly told her: here's what your team is saying about you, she answered with outstretched palms and a shrug and asked me, as if I were already an ally: "what can I do if they're all stupid?" I knew instantly that we had our work cut out for us.
In the 6 months of coaching that followed, Isabelle slowly—sometimes painfully, often reluctantly—explored new levels of self-awareness that ultimately led her to see how she had been the source of the demotivation and paralysis she observed, and railed against, around her. She saw how her need to always be right, always be in the limelight, and always be first, best and most powerful actually sabotaged her team's efforts. Both the individuial and collective. Sure they respected her, but for utterly shallow reasons. More than anything they feared her and danced around her bullying and ferocious authoritarian manner, which ultimately disempowered the team and made Isabelle's job harder.
Throughout the entirety of our coaching relationship, I steadily held a mirror up to Isabelle. She was very good at rejecting it, and very self-righteous in doing so too, but I had nothing to loose in pointing that out as well. Slowly but surely, by raising her awareness of some of her basic behaviours attitudes, and helping her put down some of the toughness and armour that had been her trademark, Isabelle began to expose some of her softer, more vulnerable sides. With practice, she saw how that was actually a useful thing to bring to the mix too. She started showing more humanity and, in turn, received a new kind of respect from her direct reports. She injected a little more heart into her expression and her exchanges with people at work and reaped huge returns. She learned to delegate—even the big, attention and mileage-getting things—and practiced stepping back to let others drive the car, and shine.
By the time we concluded our coaching relationship, Isabelle understood the added value of leading from behind versus always occupying front and center stage. She saw how less could be more in getting people to understand her and act responsibly, and she had federated her team in new and empowering ways. She applied herself to the mission of developing a team that could run just as smoothly without her, as evidenced when she took 2 weeks off. She was also appointed to the country's Board.
Benjamin was talented, creative and self-motivated enough to rapidly outgrow the responsibilities of his first two jobs in a leading cosmetics company. His boss saw a greater future for him in the company and wanted him to take on a broader scope of responsibilities.
Just before we met, his boss was negotiationg to secure Benjamin a new title and therefore needed Benjamin to step up and manifest more authority, something Benjamin was not naturally good at and had a tendency to shy away from.
I was called in to accompany Benjamin's transition into what we together dubbed "a pin-striped flannel suit." He would need to be more assertive and less "worried". More daring and less fearful. More authoritative and less submissive. More of an initiator than a task over-seer.
Early on in the coaching, we realised that the challenge would be closing the gap between how Benjamin still saw himself (and therefore how he behaved and reacted to situations and people) and how his hierarchy wanted him to be perceived by the rest of the division. We worked on the urgent imperative of boosting his confidence, credibility and gravitas. We examined his default behaviours, namely the "more junior" tendencies he relapsed into and which threatened to undermine his authority. We found ways in which he could be more "at home" in the new flannel suit without feeling like a travesty or someone who had been mis-cast. Benjamin also practiced using the macroview lens to approach business issues, when he'd previously only relied on the microview. He learned to be more strategic and politically savvy versus merely tactical and reactive. He also realised, with some surprise, that he was more of a long-term thinker and planner than he'd at first appreciated. All of which contributed to his overall confidence and solidity, as he began to call the shots on bigger and bigger projects.
George was the Chef de Cabinet of a European Member of Parliamanent. In this capacity, he had become used to remaining in the shadows as the silent emminence grise that gently (but solidly) made the MEP he worked for look good. He had become so accustomed to making his MEP shine that he'd somehow began to dilute his own presence in all sorts of situations.
George came to me at a point in time where he felt he was "no longer driving his own car." For this brilliant, cultivated, well-read, well-travelled, highly educated and handsome man, such an admission was not easy. He also felt adrift when it came to making decisions about his own professional priorities, personal preferences and...life.
Through the coaching, George began to reclaim sides of himself that had become eclipsed and began to identify his values. In very little time, he began to make choices and take actions that were aligned with these values and which he dubbed "courageous". All of which allowed him to own and design his future more consciously, versus drifitng reactively in the wake of someone so visible, i.e. hi boss.
He put an end to a demeaning romantic relationship that had eroded his self-worth and (for various reasons) his world-view, picked up golf and sailing again, enrolled in a Mandarin class, began to travel more often on week-ends, and even launched an association he'd been meaning to give life to for years. Also thanks to what he learned through the coaching, he now made a point of reaping the mileage of his very impressive networking efforts for his own benefit too, not just for the sake of his boss. He began to appreciate the real influence and power he had in this key cabinet position and how he could in fact leverage it to propell his own career forward, in new ways, without guilt, stress or even effort.
Noreen had recently been promoted to a VP role within global HQ at a major pharmaceuticals company. Throughout her career with this company, she'd been posted abroad a couple of times and now needed to settle into this more senior role while learning to navigate the political waters of HQ where she would suddenly be more visible and more accountable. The stakes (and the pay and the opportunities to be judged more broadly and more immediately) being higher, Noreen needed to start approaching decisions and people with more executive presence.
Being a die-hard perfectionnist and lifelong high-performer, Noreen was beginning to run herself ragged in the pursuit of achieving and displaying excellence everywhere, on all fronts. She came to me at a time when she thought she would snap, from exhaustion(sleep deprivation)and from a constant worry that rendered her efforts counter-productive. She needed to regain her footing and break the cycle of panicking-reacting-jumping zealously-into-overdoing-collapsing-on-weekends. Not only was this not a sustainable way of coping, it was beginning to threaten her private life too.
Through the coaching, Noreen became aware of some of her most entrenched default behaviours. She saw how reactive she could become in classic situations and how this was turning into a liability vis-a-vis her hierarchy. She came to terms with the fact that she could not be everywhere, with everyone and on top of everything at the same time, and that there were places at work where she could actually let go more. And needed to. As Noreen re-learned to trust her sense of priority, her own self-trust grew too, as did her trust in others. Which in turn helped her delegate even more.
Slowly but surely, she discovered the power of stepping back, even if only for few seconds, to breathe and question her default response, and calibrate accordingly, or even "drop it" altogether. Suddenly she was no longer fire-fighting all day, she was keeping her energy-consuming reactions in check and, to her pleasant surprise, getting more done. As she started to leave work at more civilized hours more often, she appreciated the direct correlation between how rested she was at home, and her ability to practice real "executive presence" at work. All of which fed a number of virtuous circles that contributed to her overall serenity, which in turn helped her be more "tuned in" to issues and questions that came up, versus consumed by in-the-moment-problem-solving.
Where there was once jumpiness and worry there was now wisdom and an even keel. What's more, Noreen now had the self-awareness tools she needed to quickly catch herself whenever she sensed she was relapsing into old habits of behaviour. She continues to keep herself in check and gets more sleep, more time with her family, and more respect from her peers and bosses.
James was a senior Creative Director within a major media organisation. He had risen in the ranks by making astute choices, meeting the right people, and consistently deliviering top-notch creative concepts. And yet, slowly and imperceptibly, he'd managed to box himself in through his own impeccable professionalism. He realised, but hadn't come fully to terms with it, that something in him had been watered down and that his career was starting to plateau.
After our initial session, James confessed that he hadn't been very playful for a number of years and felt more bridled in then ever. He mourned the loss of his old fearlessness, which had been replaced with a concern to not ruffle any feathers and to "do the right thing," which was also starting to reign in his creativity. All of this worried him enough to contact me.
It became clear that it was high time to reconnect with his more colourful, creative self before he withered away completely. He also realised that he'd adopted an overly modest stance in being reluctant to "show off" his impressive track record in the field, and his reluctance to step into some more visible, high-level arenas. Before long, he began to multiply public speaking opportunities and even started to seek them out actively, across the world. he realised that he hadn't been leveraging his very prestigious reputation and had also underestimated his expertise and talent. Indeed the influencers and decision-makers in the media-design world saw him as far greater than he saw himself. It wasn't long before James disengaged from the media group where he was working in order to pursue a long-shelved dream: opening his own creative consultancy.