Lynne W was a VP at a global bank who had been passed over for promotion despite all the right career moves, including some difficult expatriate assignments. She was an extremely hard worker, had strong financial skills and consistently demonstrated excellent results. However, she was seen as lacking in “executive presence” and had been labeled as someone who presented things in a negative, downbeat way.
Breakthrough: A shift in communication style and a strategic outreach campaign led to a career-changing breakthrough in how she was perceived.
What happened: After talking to her manager and others who worked with her, I discovered that people outside her immediate team perceived her in a completely different light. She was seen as a “negative Nellie”, and had made a poor impression on top leadership by giving long-winded answers to their questions. We set about addressing this feedback in a constructive way. She recognized the need to shift others’ perceptions of her and to develop stronger “executive messaging” capabilities. Before long, she recognized how to turn around problem statements into proposals for solutions, and how to cut to the chase, using a “headlining” technique. She also needed to proactively influence the promotion process the next time round, so I helped her identify all strategic stakeholders and launch a systematic outreach campaign to build relationships and awareness of her accomplishments. By recrafting her resume to reflect the firm’s leadership competency model, she was able to articulate her unique “leadership brand”.
Result: She was promoted to SVP within 6 months and continues to flourish as a rising woman leader in the bank.
Jim C was a brilliant engineer, but his personality was retiring and quite shy, so when he was put in charge of the highest profile technology team in the company, he was happy to do as much of the work as possible, which left his team languishing. One of his colleagues said to him “Jim, even when you are forceful, you are not forceful”. He realized he would have to improve his communication skills if he was going to be an effective leader.
Breakthrough: A highly analytical, left-brain engineer has a breakthrough in emotional intelligence.
What happened: Jim was completely committed to his journey to discover the human heart. He was open to trying anything, and was never defensive about receiving feedback, but I still thought it was better to use an analytical approach to help him understand the nuances of human interactions. We rehearsed presentations to encompass the arc of emotion, we pre-planned performance reviews to anticipate likely reactions, and we engaged in team-building exercises to help him “humanize” his leadership.
Result: Jim become one of the most admired leaders in the company, and he became so accomplished as a presenter that he was invited to give a TED-type talk about his innovative business division to the leaders of the finance industry. In a company wide engagement survey, his group received the top score and he has gone on to lead one of the fastest growing divisions in this global company.
Tammy D was a PhD scientist in charge of a large facility within a global bio-pharma company. She was caring, nurturing leader when it came to her direct reports, but fierce and competitive when it came to peers. Interactions were increasingly fractious, and her reputation for combativeness was hindering her career progress.
Breakthrough: A shift in her approach to people let to a breakthrough in peer relationships and a thaw in interdepartmental feuding.
What happened: She had been losing sleep worrying about the increasing hostility and non-responsiveness she was encountering. By helping her to realize that she had a part in the interpersonal difficulties, and that her hard-charging style might be creating unintended reactions, we mapped out a strategic “charm offensive”. We discussed experimenting with different communication approaches and learning from what worked or not. In some cases, a simple invitation to coffee shifted the relationship; in others, she needed to plan and consciously adopt new self-monitoring and dialogue-building strategies. Within weeks, she had learned the fundamentals of building productive work relationships.
Result: Within a short time, she turned around long standing enmities, turned former rivals into collaborative colleagues, and facilitated a smooth transition into a new facility while merging two teams seamlessly. The rapid integration due to improved working relationships saved the company significant time and money that would have been wasted in the previous conflict-laden mode of operation.
Len G was viewed as a “bull in a china shop”. As a highly effective project manager, Len was used to being praised and rewarded for his tough, get things done style. But his abrasive manner was no longer effective when he was asked to lead a global team. His understanding of cross-cultural nuances was pretty low and his directive style became counterproductive. He was frustrated by the lack of performance of her team.
Breakthrough: By pinpointing specific skills, such as listening actively and influencing, he saw a breakthrough in his overall effectveness as a leader, this assuring his future career path.
What happened: Len was reluctant to have me collect 360 feedback, thinking it would make him too vulnerable. But after working together for a few weeks, he decided to use the opportunity of his annual reviews with his team to ask them himself how he was doing as a leader. What he learned took him aback. He was stunned to learn that he had been perceived as an intimidating boss or even a bully. Although some appreciated his directness, he realized he had to soften his “rough edges”, and find ways of empowering his people. With complete dedication to his own, and to his team’s, development, he became a sponge for every new tool, tip and technique I shared with him during our coaching sessions.
Result: Within a short time, his reputation started to change and his confidence grew. No longer relying on his old driving micro-management, he became a better listener, influencer and negotiator, inspiring better performance from his team and better business results. The feedback he received from his team, peers and managers was extremely encouraging, and he was was tapped by senior management for bigger assignments, and set for a stellar career.
Marion C was a highly successful up and coming woman leader in a bank. She was jointly responsible for expanding the footprint and running all the retail banks in a large region. But she had two issues that risked dragging her down. One was extremely rivalrous relationships with her co-leader and other peers, and the other was a fear of public speaking.
Breakthrough: A breakthrough in confidence led to better business relationships and greater executive leadership opportunities.
What happened: Marion was a visual thinker, so we used several images and metaphors to capture her situation and create the shifts she needed to make in her peer relationships. With pinpointed coaching and pragmatic problem-solving that helped her improve partnership and collaboration, she was able to turn around her expectations of her peers and re-establish their relationship as one of mutual learning and support. We also developed strategies to help her overcome her reluctance to public speaking, which included several preparation and visualization techniques. Small triumphs turned into great successes, and before long, she was asked to present to 500 of the top leaders in the bank.
Result: The noticeable reduction in conflict among senior peers had significant consequences for the bank, in terms of increased efficiency and greater opportunities for cross-fertilization. And by extending her influence through public speaking, she became sought after as a motivational speaker and is one of the top women leaders in the bank.
Maureen B was an “out of control” controller in a global company. She was stressed, overwhelmed and pulled in a thousand directions. She felt increasingly isolated, and started to drop the ball, even in areas where she had previously been strong. Her personal life and health were starting to suffer. She was in tears in our first meeting, fearing she might have to leave her job, as she could not see a way out of her mess.
Breakthrough: Creating “strategic thinking space” enabled a breakthrough in productivity and performance.
What happened: Maureen was a perfectionist, and very self-critical. But she had so much to do, she was simply failing by her own standards. And then things got so overwhelming, she started to fail by others’ standards too. We started our work together by teasing out the emotion from the facts, and by engaging her analytical skills on her own situation. I asked her to map out everything she had on her plate, all the work deliverables, deadlines, family responsibilities, everything. She was surprised to discover how poorly she estimated the time it would take to complete each and how little she delegated to her team. We then established one guiding principle: how could she demonstrate fairness and equity to all her stakeholders, including herself? And we made one change to her mode of operating: she would block out a strategic thinking session three times a week. She had all the capacity to laser focus on priorities, communicate with her team, and get excellent work done. But she had simply not made time in her calendar to allow herself to think and plan. Once she had analyzed her own work flow and work habits, we helped her craft new strategies and practices that impacted her life, her team, her job and her career.
Result: After six months of coaching, her eyes were shining with renewed confidence and enthusiasm for her job. Her new efficiency and effectiveness saved her time and her company money. She began to coach her own boss, and became a force of stability and sanity for her team.
Michael K was promoted twice while I worked with him. The first time was within his financial services firm and the second was in a new company, in an even bigger role. Both times, he knew he was up to the challenge, but his daily “drinking from a fire hose”, was starting to exact a toll on him, in terms of personal stress. He was worried he was heading for burnout.
Breakthrough: Defining his personal “leadership brand” created his breakthrough as a powerful leader in a new role and a new culture.
What happened: Michael was an outstanding relationship manager. He could read subtle interpersonal cues and understood all the nuances of persuasive communication. But he derived much of his self-esteem from external validation, and was too inclined to “blow in the wind” of public opinion. We worked to help him develop his self-awareness and strengthen his personal power, as opposed to positional power. This held him in good stead when he moved to a new company, and faced a completely different culture, which rewarded different behaviors.
Result: By staying true to his “leadership brand”, he was nevertheless able to accelerate his progress as a leader in a new environment simply by shifting his communication style. He soon learned the new “rules of the game” and used his leadership position to influence change and make a strong impact on both the culture and bottom line of the new company.