This is the first in a series of stories about Sam, a fictitious coaching client who is a composite of many I have worked with over the years. Sam’s experiences contain helpful insights for leaders, and they illustrate how an individual can grow through coaching.
Sam is the Vice President of Marketing for the North American region of a global manufacturing company. Several of his peers had been working with an executive coach, but he hadn’t seen the value until his boss, the Regional EVP, along with his HR Business Partner, suggested it in a way that got his attention. All I had heard about Sam was that he was a super-star with some rough edges. Sam had been given the same “rough edges” story, but I suspect, like most constructive feedback, it was soft-pedaled for fear that he would be de-motivated, try to retaliate or just up and quit. So Sam had just dismissed it as trivial, assuming that it came from a peer he had little respect for anyway. (“She’s a whiner.”)
When I met Sam, it was clear that he was confused about what coaching was all about and why he was doing it. So I asked him some questions: What had his past successes been? (I got an impressive list.) What did he attribute those successes to? (Mostly hard work and not letting anything get in his way.) What were his career goals? (Getting to the top. Next stop: EVP of a region, preferably this one and preferably soon.) And where did he need to grow to succeed at that next level? (Blank stare, furrowed brow.)
Between Sam’s track record and the miserably inadequate feedback he had received over the years, it had never occurred to him that he had room for improvement. So I gave him his first assignment to be done before our next session in two weeks.
Homework assignment #1: Who do you consider to be a great leader? What does this person do – and not do – that makes him or her so effective?
Like many of Sam’s assignments to come, answering these questions would require him to slow down and reflect – not his typical approach.
We both had to know more, not just about where Sam was lacking, but also about his strong suits. He needed a 360-degree feedback assessment. Was it just that one overly sensitive peer who complained? Or were others feeling chafed as well? This led to his second assignment.
Homework assignment #2: Who are your followers? (Hint: Not just your subordinates.) Whose perceptions are important to your effectiveness?
Before our session drew to a close, I asked him who he wanted to be. It’s a hard question for anyone, and he had no idea how to answer it. I could see he had been stretched enough for one day. There was another piece of homework begging to be assigned, but it would have to wait. A tiny seed had been planted, and we would get to his personal vision in due time.
Next up: Sam’s First “Aha” Moment