A few months ago, I was approached by an executive at a large technology company to take on a coaching assignment. The executive had expressed concerns that one of his direct reports, a manager, wasn’t living up to his potential. He was frequently impatient on the job and didn’t appear to be engaged in his work. I immediately set out to dissect the situation. As Plato famously scribed, “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many.”
1. Diagnose the root causes
Oftentimes, we don’t invest enough time to understand the underlying drivers behind our actions and behaviors. This results in misinterpretation and flawed decision making. As an executive coach, it’s critical that I take the time to diagnose the root causes of situations before prematurely taking corrective action.
By engaging in diagnostic inquiry and active listening, I was able to discern the underlying causes and motives behind the manager’s actions and behaviors. By spotlighting certain issues, I was able to ascertain that the manager was indeed impatient, but not because he wasn’t engaged in his work. On the contrary, he loved his job and was highly engaged but he felt restrained by his executive. His executive had a longstanding tendency to micromanage him, habitually ordering him, “do this” and “don’t do that”. He longed for a greater sense of ownership over his work, and was getting irritated with his executive.
After coaching the manager and equipping him with the tools necessary to engage in a productive conversation with his executive, I reached out to the executive. The executive, albeit slightly grudgingly, agreed to meet with me himself. On the surface, he appeared similar to his direct report in that he was noticeably impatient at work. However, his impatience was driven by fundamentally different forces. The executive’s impatience resulted from him wrestling with an intense workload. He was overcome with projects and mandates, besieged with requests, and was succumbing to the intense pressure. To add insult to injury, turnover rates among his team members were increasing.
Always take the time to diagnose the root causes of your and others' behaviors and actions. As the acclaimed band “Sly and the Family Stone” reminds us, "Different strokes, for different folks."
2. Encourage time for reflection
After understanding the dynamics at play, I encouraged the manager and executive to engage in a joint discussion and reflect on their respective coaching sessions. It didn’t take long for them to connect the dots. They immediately recognized that they had both suffered from impatience, but for fundamentally different reasons. Both were largely aware of the impact they were having on the other. Armed with coaching, the two leaders were able to see each other’s perspective and understand their impact on one another. The results have been transformative. Both individuals are now high performers and are well attuned to how their behavior affects others.
Reflection is a prerequisite for learning. A recent study published by researchers at Harvard Business School, University of North Carolina, and HEC Paris found that employees who set aside time for daily reflection outperformed those who did not by 23% after only ten days. As American writer and management consultant Margaret Wheatley reminds us, "Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful."
3. Communicate the benefit of leadership development
Executives can sometimes be reluctant to partake in development. In this case, the executive was especially reluctant to partake in executive coaching. Time and time again, I find that the most effective means of motivating executives to embrace executive coaching is to highlight how they will benefit from the endeavor.
In the case of the manager, I helped him appreciate that increasing communication with his executive would enable him to assume greater leadership over tasks and projects. In the case of the executive, I emphasized the fact that effective task delegation and management would enable him to regain control of his schedule and make greater progress.
Research by McKinsey reveals that non-financial incentives are more effective motivators than financial incentives in the workplace. Specifically, the most powerful non-financial incentives include, in order of effectiveness:
Praise and commendation from one’s immediate manager
Attention from leaders
Opportunities to lead projects or task forces
Respondents to the survey reported these non-financial incentives as no less or even more effective motivators than the three highest-rated financial incentives, which include, in order of effectiveness:
Performance-based cash bonuses
Increases in base pay
Stock or stock options
Whenever you're trying to change behaviors, it's important to take the time to consider and communicate the benefit that the other party will reap as a result of embracing change.
Leadership is like executive coaching, in that they are both an art and a science. I’m adamant at getting beneath the surface and developing a holistic understanding of the intricacies of the situation. As French mathematician and inventor Blaise Pascal reminds us, “The world is satisfied with words, few care to dive beneath the surface."
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner
Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at