One-to-one leadership coaching case study

Business meeting asian people two male middle-age discussing while sitting together in modern office.

N.B. Identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

Manager’s profile: A specialist in electronic payment systems, John is part of a very small pool of experts in a fast-changing and vital area of banking. Highly rated by clients from large multinational corporations around the world, John seemed to have reached a career plateau because of difficulties developing constructive working relationships with peers. His supervisor, a senior banking manager responsible for a global team of around 100 people, recognised it was essential for John to develop in this area before taking on additional responsibilities.

Pinpointing behavioural challenges: CxC Consulting carried out an in-depth 360-degree feedback survey focusing on leadership skills and emotional intelligence. John scored in-line with his peer group overall, and considerably above his peer group on the dimensions Creativity and Drive & Initiative. However, he scored slightly to considerably below his peer group on “Team Commitment,” “Open Communication,” “Conflict Management” and “Understanding Others.” One feedback giver noted: “He has very little interest or curiosity to figure out how to work with others. There’s his own personal agenda and damn the rest of you.”

An additional issue was improving John’s work-life balance, reducing his weekly working hours from about 80 to a more sustainable level of around 55, building in more time for his family and for his physical fitness.

Rehearsing key workplace conversations: Both the coach and John’s supervisor embarked on the process with a bit of skepticism about John’s willingness to engage fully in professional development. But after an extensive three-way meeting followed by the debriefing of the 360-degree feedback, John steadily began to apply himself. Firstly, he accepted that many colleagues saw him as dismissive, unhelpful and at times aggressive. Secondly, he understood his colleagues’ perceptions had created an organisational reality, and he would only progress in his career by bringing them around through persistent but polite persuasion and sincere offers of help.

John found that “dress rehearsing” dialogues, with the coach playing the role of a peer or senior manager, to be a powerful way of identifying and fixing bad communication habits. These conversations were video-taped and reviewed, highlighting areas where John could use questions rather than bold assertions, or lighten the mood with a bit of humour, self-disclosure or a self-deprecating comment.

Another important element of the one-to-one coaching was regular reviews of John’s e-mail correspondence. As about 75% of peer-to-peer communication at his firm is by email, this also proved to be a highly effective way of shifting team members’ perception of him. At the start most e-mails were toned down, more respectful language was inserted, requests were stated more politely and appreciation was explicitly given. Increasingly John originated e-mail correspondence that was well-received and achieved its aims.

The coaching period lasted about 15 months, with meetings approximately once every three weeks, supplemented by regular e-mail and telephone contact. Two additional three-way meetings were held between John, his supervisor and his CxC Consulting coach. The programme benefited hugely from John’s enthusiastic participation and his supervisor’s willingness to attend check-up meetings and participate in them actively and constructively.

Results: Across the board improvements in all John’s developmental areas to at or slightly above peer group in key areas like “Team Commitment” and “Understanding Others.” Working hours were reduced to an average of about 55 per week, with considerable holiday time being taken with his family. John’s supervisor said he was “very positively surprised” and increasingly confident in John’s abilities. John has been given a larger role in the organisation and has been put forward for an even more senior position, which would involve managing a substantial international team.

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