My first meeting with Martin* was challenging - he had an excellent track record of performance and delivery and almost revelled in an industry-wide reputation as being a hard-nosed, no-nonsense leader and negotiator. It was also quickly apparent that he was charming, humorous and highly intelligent; he was not overly impressed by this "soft lark" of coaching development. At the start of our first meeting he threw the "go on, impress me then" gauntlet to me, essentially relying on his well-rehearsed communication style to deflect an unwanted conversation.
In my coaching practice we don't work with unwilling participants. Principally because we consider this to be unethical but also as it is likely to be a poor investment of time and money. We are however happy to conduct initial conversations and explore any concerns with the participant. Very often this results in a change in view and a willingness, sometimes tentative at first, to progress further. In Martin's case, having successfully moved the conversation to a more objective and detached stance we were able to explore the staff survey feedback. Without feeling defensive and gaining trust, Martin slowly began to acknowledge that he'd prefer the feedback to be better and so began a conversation as to the possibilities and a commitment for us to work together to achieve them.
All of my coaching assignments begin with a period of reflection following the initial meeting so that the participant can think about whether they wish to proceed with coaching with me. Martin duly embarked on a coaching programme and we began with an assessment of emotional intelligence - using both self assessment and 360 feedback from colleagues. We used Roche Martin's Emotional Capital Report 360 for this exercise as it provides a deep assessment of ten EQ competencies which are particularly suited to those in leadership roles. Martin's report showed very high ("significant strength") ratings for a number of competencies including straightforwardness (assertiveness), self-confidence, self-reliance (independence) and optimism. The report showed very low ("development need") ratings for empathy and relationship skills. Given the situation, these results were not surprising and in some competencies, rather as expected. However the report was highly revealing and illuminating in a number of ways.
The report revealed the very wide imbalance and range between the very low and very high scores in his own self-assessment and enabled Martin to quickly see the benefits of having these brought into better alignment. Particularly, for example, in being able to recognise the combination of these competencies in practice; he was able to recount an example where his very strong optimism about a risky course of action had led him, without any consultation or collaboration with his colleagues, to push on and announce a course of action which they opposed but found themselves publicly committed to. Their anger, ongoing hostility and resistance to the action did trouble him but he hadn't been able to fully understand it or to respond in such as a way as to recover the situation. Instead he had bulldozed it through, exasperated at the "unreasonable behaviour" of his colleagues. By looking at the report and the granular nature of the detailed competencies he began to expand his self awareness. Comparing his self-assessment results with the 360 results highlighted other areas to focus on. These included a wide gap in his very high self-rating of straightforwardness with the 360 showing this as being low, a "development opportunity" - a very wide gap. It became clear that what his colleagues saw here was little information being shared at all and that what was communicated was unclear and inconsistent. They felt that Martin had largely determined his own course of action silently and they were therefore not on board with his decisions or understanding as to why they had been made.
In the two hour ECR feedback session we had a detailed and penetrating exploration to develop a clear sense of Martin's emotional landscape, his impact on others, and areas of strength and development. Having established a confidential, collaborative relationship with Martin, I was able to assure him of a non-judgmental partnership approach. The ECR results were used to pinpoint specific areas of development. In the six month coaching programme which followed, Martin worked to bring into better balance these EQ competencies, amplifying some, toning down others and developing a keen sense as to when to do both.
Martin is now enjoying a somewhat 'softer' but more respected reputation as a well-rounded business leader. He recognises that his tendency to be overly self-reliant can mean that he doesn't collaborate with colleagues and so he has new practices in place to address this. He has learned to listen more, be more genuinely interested in the views and perspectives of others, and to consider their emotional perspective as well as his own. Under stress, he recognises that he has a tendency at times to revert to type and he has developed strategies to recognise these potential trigger situations and to make a choice as to his response. His increased self-awareness and ability to exert better emotional control has led him to feel greater self-confidence and reduced his tendency to be on the offensive with others.
* Not his real name