Our client was the European Logistics Director for a major automotive organisation and had progressed rapidly through several organisations to a very senior level. Many of the roles he had undertaken had relied heavily on his technical experience within his specialism and he was in the process of being groomed for a CEO role and had requested coaching to help him prepare fully for the challenges that lay ahead.
He worked closely with colleagues in the senior leadership team who would, in the event of his promotion, become his direct reports and had a number of criticisms about the way that the team operated.
He voiced these comments in the first session and, when challenged about what he was doing to address the issues, replied that “it was not his place and that he would address them as and when he was appointed to the role of CEO.”
Our focus in coaching was to help the client to recognise that positional power was a seemingly attractive proposition but, in real terms, the most short-lived and unhelpful influencing base from which to effect change.
He would, in all likelihood, create a very poor impression with his new direct reports if his early interventions were focused on criticising them for their behaviours. Particularly when he had, at best, not said anything prior to assuming a power position and, at worst, been perceived to collude in those behaviours himself.
The secondary focus was about preparing for a leadership position and thinking through how he would need to purposefully manage the development of relationships from peer to line manager, again without relying on positional power.
How we helped
We helped our client to recognise that, as a senior leader within his organisation, he had an accountability to ensure that the behaviours exhibited by the team were effective and demonstrated role model leadership. If the team were not functioning effectively or appropriately then he really needed to think through how he could intervene to challenge the behaviours and help the team to become more effective.
The principal issue that emerged was his belief that he couldn’t say anything because to do so would be to openly criticise the current CEO and that would be “disrespectful.” The coaching explored the difference between disrespect and appropriate challenge and examined ways in which he could challenge the behaviours in a way which was supportive, developmental and impactful.
After several role-plays he developed an approach that was authentic and appropriately challenging. He tested this out with colleagues who were also concerned about some of the behaviours but also felt unable to act due to being teams members not team leaders.
As a result of the coaching we provided he recognised that he needed to address issues now, rather than wait for the promotion and did so very effectively with his colleagues and his CEO. This led to a higher degree of openness within the team and, as a direct result of his interventions, the team took time out to review and discuss how they operated, what behaviours were effective and which compromised their business delivery and aspirational leadership style.
These conversations were frank and open as well as challenging and the team created a set of operating principles that enabled them to work more effectively, but also gave permission for ongoing challenge as the team continued to mature.
Our coachee recognised through this process that he had an accountability to act as a leader at all times and developed his range of influencing skills without resorting to a power base. He used these more widely across his team and function to significant effect and secured engagement ratings higher than he had previously achieved, with a concomitant increase in operational performance.
When he was promoted into the CEO role he did so quite seamlessly with his colleagues who had seen him as ‘first amongst equals’ and, therefore, naturally expected him to progress. His management of the leadership team is highly effective and the process of challenging behaviours continues to good effect.