"Dispatch from the [Internal Coaching] Front" by Ian Flanders (Guest)

Helping a coachee to recognise that how they traverse the change curve impacts those travelling with them, especially if they are the ‘guide’.

I’ve just read Lynne Hindmarch’s piece in this blog on resilience, and I was particularly struck by her assertion that highly resilient people may, without realising, impact those around them by:

  • Expecting those around them to be able to react to stressful situations in the same way as they do, but in doing so actually increase the stress level those around them feel.

  • Appearing disengaged or uncaring by seeming calm and unaffected when others feel anything but!

It chimed with, and made me reflect again, upon a coaching session I’d had earlier in the week with a senior manager who was having to confront some difficult feedback from their team.

Anxiety, stress, resilience were not words that featured in our coaching session at all

Instead, the coachee talked about having taken on responsibility for all the customers in their business unit; previously the customers were split between two teams. That, as a result the number of people he was now responsible for had increased significantly. And, the handover process from the colleague who had previously held responsibility for the other team; who was now his boss. Six months on, the new boss had sought feedback on each of his reports from stakeholders, including their subordinates. The feedback the coachee received was a tale of two teams: old and new.

For the old team everything was basically ok. For the new team however, their boss was “uninterested”, “indifferent”, “lazy?”. When they were able to talk to their new boss they were often cut-off half way through as their boss grew “impatient”. Immediately following this feedback the coachee had driven for several hours to a business meeting. And though initially “shocked and upset” by the unexpected feedback, by the time he arrived at his destination had absorbed the feedback, rationalised it, and decided on a plan of action to address the issues: Resilience in action!

In this initial session we started to explore the differences between my client and the boss; the previous leader of the other team, that now formed one half of the coachee’s enlarged team. The coachee identified that the other manager had involved himself in the detail of what the team were working on, often having discussions with people on a daily basis. For the coachee this was overly intrusive, didn’t demonstrate trust in people to do their job, was not appropriate for a senior manager. As we explored this difference in styles the coachee reflected that the change in structure, resulting in a change in manager for half of the new, enlarged team, was significant. However, for the coachee, “as a strong T” (MBTI), change was something to be got on with.

By their own reckoning the coachee, from hearing shocking and challenging feedback, had traversed the change curve, end to end, in about 3 hours. The punch had rocked him back on his heels, but he had stayed upright and was back in the fight! Resilience in action.

Reflecting on this session

With the benefit of Lynne’s piece for company, it seems clear that she was describing exactly what I was seeing. It is clear that I need to help the coachee to explore how different people travel along the change curve, and what role they can play in supporting these travellers. But, I also need to help him to see how his own journey, in this case a sprint, also impacts the journey of others, who, are looking to their new leader for support and guidance. For these people it appears that their guide has run off along the trail, and abandoned them!

My other reflection, is that my coachee genuinely believes that his approach empowers his team, demonstrates trust, and gives them space to grow. For him, the ‘old’ half of the team is proof that this approach works and is appreciated. However, I need to help him to see that for the ‘new’ half of the team the potential benefits of their new leader’s approach are lost, because their leader, in striding out resiliently along the new [change] trail is not bringing the ‘new’ team with them. It is clear that the benefits of change need to be sold to some people, which is ironic given the team’s day-job! I noted after our session that my job would be to “slow [him] down, and make him explore his own, and others, feelings and perspectives more”. I will now add to this that I need to get the coachee to recognise their role as change ‘guide’, and the need to ensure that as guide they do not lose any of the party they are responsible for getting safely to the end of the change curve because they are setting too fast a pace.

Ian is a senior executive working in a major international business. In addition to his current responsibilities, he has become increasingly involved in his own practice of Coaching. 

He has developed his own coaching approach and practice over a number of years, participates as a member of various coaching (internal and external) networks, and also contributes regularly to the supervision of other coaches