Executive Coaching and Leadership Development
Case Study

To explain how coaching works, let’s consider two clients and use their situations to better understand how it works. The first is Susan, a highly successful publications executive who has a record of success and enjoys the respect of her boss and her staff. During the past few years the world of publications has changed with a shift from print to digital and a rethinking of revenue streams. Susan saw the change coming and has the needed skills to figure out the mechanics side of the solution; it’s the people side that is causing her sleepless nights. She is struggling with how best to lead a group of talented, but traditional publications folks into the new world that confronts them. She enters the realm of coaching having exhausted all of her normal solutions to managing change and is trying to figure things out.

Jim has been identified by his company as an “up and comer” with high leadership potential. The decision to enter into coaching was made in tandem with the company CEO who met with him and announced in very flattering terms that the company views Jim a “key player in our future”. He went on to stress that, due to the new strategic direction, they needed Jim to accelerate his development.

While both individuals enter coaching with their own story and unique circumstances the common theme is their performance. Can they do the work that is necessary to grow in skills, gain the necessary emotional intelligence, figure out what it will take to succeed, and integrate it into a style that works for them while increasing the likelihood of sustained success?
More about Coaching - Coaching begins with an initial conversation that explores what is currently going on in a client’s life, what essentially brings them into the conversation. This leads to descriptions of style and expectations. This in turn sets the stage to determine fit and share perspective by exploring the events and issues that bring us together. This is followed by an objective look at the value our coaching skills and experience would bring and to candidly evaluate the “chemistry”. The introductory conversation is crucial in creating a foundation for success. The big items: trust, clarity, and establishing the right conditions for safety and risk-taking.

A coach’s role is to clarify, inspire, model and teach, challenge, and eventually celebrate. This is usually accomplished by developing a trusting relationship that sets the stage for a leader to collaborate with a thinking partner; to benefit from their collective wisdom, experience, and insights. Much of the challenge in coaching is to bring out the best in clients, sometimes helping them rediscover their gifts.

We view clients who are engaged in coaching as committed to the work and resources that will be required. They are willing to address issues of performance, relationships, and effectiveness that have become obstacles in life and work. Thus the work is challenging, often career impacting, and can place a client in a vulnerable position. Given these realities, we take particular care to understand a client’s perspective, raise questions and challenge assumptions, and collaboratively explore and identify desired outcomes and a mutually agreed upon course of action. In our work, we emphasize clarity and precision in communication, particularly in relation to establishing expectations, identifying desired outcomes and success measurements, and involving key parties in the conversation as needed. Two of the overarching themes are accountability and sustainability of performance. We take extraordinary care to ensure we are collaborating in a manner that is responsive, focused, and will ultimately produce the desired results.

Effective coaching occurs in two primary places. The first and most obvious is during the coaching conversation where great questions are asked and rich exchange takes place. The second place, often underappreciated, is the time between sessions (back in the office, among your direct reports) when “homework” is assigned, ideas are further contemplated, new behaviors are tested, and more observations and data gathering take place. The “next” session enables the coach to ask the client for their observations and assessments, review the outcomes and fine tune the process. Great value can be derived from clients acquiring more fully functional observational skills and insight.

Our coaching framework depends on a clear and unambiguous agreement on both outcomes and deliverables. Our philosophy embraces mutual accountability for achieving outcomes, the adoption of new behaviors and the use of catalytic questions and “real” conversations to move the process forward. Uppermost in our thinking is an expectation that together we will identify and execute a plan (or series of plans) that generate solutions that are customized and sustainable.

Our code of ethics is the same for our lives as it is for coaching. In addition to subscribing to the ICF (International Coaching Federation) code our practices and principles are based on a set of beliefs and values that center on the simple proposition - treat others as you would want to be treated, and furthermore, treat others as you would want a member of your family treated.

Susan and Jim both benefitted from coaching. Susan focused her time and energy on identifying the outcomes she needed to produce and exploring her leadership style and how it might need to be developed to be effective. She realized during her coaching sessions that her communication style left her staff confused and unsure about how to meet her expectations. In addition she confronted her own perceived shortcomings and vulnerability in terms of leading during this time of profound change. Much of her progress resulted from her rethinking and ultimately redefining her definition of success and the manner in which it would be achieved.

Jim began his coaching experience somewhat passively, attributing his involvement in it to the wished of others. Shortly after he began his work, he realized that all the discussion about being a high potential and on the fast track, while an ego trip, was unclear and needed further exploration. His effort to get that clarity and to fully understand his anticipated role and contribution were successful. It enabled him to very thoughtfully (in concert with the CEO) identify the skill sets he needed to acquire and the types of experiences he needed to have in terms of on-the-job preparation. The major focus of his coaching was leadership “presence”. This involved both how he showed up as a leader, but more importantly how he actually behaved: communicated, made decisions, interacted with others, maintained relationships, and self-awareness.