Wan is a high performer in his Business Unit which is part of a large international engineering firm. From the time he started with the organization he proved to be a fast learner and embraced taking on more responsibility with bigger, more challenging projects.
Very quickly he was identified as someone in whom the organization wanted to invest.
Wan’s organization requested coaching to help him round out his leadership skills and support his growth into a senior leader.
Feedback from his direct reports was that he was an excellent technical leader, but he was very abrasive when things went wrong, or when an employee was struggling. In recent months, a couple of people had requested to be transferred off his team.
Wan came to the first coaching session a bit hesitant as he didn’t know what to expect.
He initiated the conversation with, “I’m interested in learning however I don’t really know what we will accomplish together. You don’t work in my industry, so how are you going to help?”
“You are right, I don’t work in your industry,” I answered. “I’m not going to tell you how to run your business. You know your business better than I do.
The coaching process is about you. It’s about seeing where you are right now in your career and exploring where you want to be. Then it is about pinpointing the major pieces that are within your control and will help you get there.”
As we explored Wan’s history it became clear he was caught in a shift that was happening at the organizational level. The leadership culture throughout the whole company was being challenged to change.
Wan’s mentorship from the beginning came from ‘old school’ managers who were command-and-control type leaders. This type of leadership worked well for Wan as he was open to tough feedback and was intrinsically driven to perform at a high level.
“I don’t need ‘warm and fuzzy’ leadership. Just tell me how it is.” he stated quite proudly.
“What’s your definition of ‘warm and fuzzy’ leadership?” I asked.
“You know, where everyone is all nice and complimentary and nobody gets anything done!” he chuckled.
“And they sit around and sing kumbaya at the end of each day.” I added and we laughed.
“Hmmmm…so you think being nice means people won’t perform and get results?” I asked for clarification.
“Exactly!” he said, “You understand what I mean.”
“I think I understand that high performance and getting results is very important to you, is that right?” I asked for confirmation.
“Absolutely, what else is there?” he went on. “That’s what we are all here for. To do a great job for our customers and get results. That’s what gets us more business and keeps the company doing well which means I keep getting a nice paycheck.” As a coach, I was extremely excited to get this insight from Wan.
During our first session we were able to quickly narrow in on a very strong belief Wan had that was unconsciously impacting his leadership behavior.
Our next session was focused on exploring Wan’s ‘beliefs’…beliefs being defined as ‘things we hold as true’.
Wan recognized he could not contemplate changing his behavior if he first did not change his belief.
After just a few coaching sessions I received feedback from Wan’s manager that he was showing up differently. It was going to take time to develop the full spectrum of Wan’s ‘people-centered’ leadership skills however the beginning stages of progress was evident.
In one of my follow up emails to Wan, which always contained an action plan and resources, I shared this quote by Gandhi, which sums it up nicely,
“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”
Have you tried to influence a leader to shift their perspective and come up short?
What beliefs do you hold to be true that are impacting your behavior?
What beliefs help you and which ones might be holding you back?
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