I have coached two clients in the last week, each of whom had deep issues around identity, values and beliefs that were showing up in their leadership. The level of exposure is new for both clients; they have previously climbed their respective corporate ladders in a way that whilst stretching, had been essentially safe.
In the coaching sessions, both clients were really rocked because in a new context, their leadership style is under scrutiny and falling short. One might say to yourself ‘aha, same issue, good, I know the approach to use!’. But each need a different approach entirely, because of the start point of their resilience levels.
Take Client A. A senior operational leader, come up through the ranks, always been about delivering turnaround and distinct stretch in their area. Phenomenal track record of taking more and more areas under their belt and delivering sustainable high performance as they go. I meet them when they have been reassigned, suddenly, into a problem area. This is all at the same time as a restructure of their original business division.
As a result of the reassignment, client A loses all their staff, all their normal areas of control, all influence on how the new structure should be managed, everything. On top of that, they have no idea how to approach their new problem area, there is no defined goal, little clarity, no direct control and lots of stakeholders jostling for power. The client is daunted and overwhelmed. Meanwhile they are hijacked by why this whole situation has arisen: the reason for the transfer are unclear but the client cites the following as possible:
- The problem area needs this vast experience and confidence, and since the issue is at the CEO level, the client’s boss has put their best person on the job. This would mean it’s an accolade.
- The client has displeased the boss/the CEO/someone and is being hived off into a smaller (even though currently more critical) area. This would mean it’s a punishment.
- The client has got so good at leading and managing their area, that there is little room for growth of their next best people unless they move on. The client just can’t see that, so a forced move will leave others to backfill and grow. This would mean that the client is stifling team growth and individuals coming into leadership. Serious!
As the coach, I can’t assume any of this is either true or untrue. I note the polar opposites. I note the negatives. I especially note the energy associated with having to please others. And I work with the ‘data’ that the client presents to me:
- The client’s confidence is rocked, deeply rocked
- They are lost in the new job and seem cognitively to be stuck
- They are suffering from multiple losses in terms of clarity of remit, sense of team and responsibility for staff, their authority.
- They are so angry, and so upset, they have already applied for a job elsewhere which would mean then uprooting themselves from a home they have built and love. It doesn’t seem the right answer.
Pretty mega stuff for a first session!
My approach as a resilience coach includes a sense that the client, whilst rocked in this context, is not rocked at their core. They can articulate their abilities and reflect and even take challenge, they aren’t stuck on one conclusion. They in fact know they can perform really well given the right conditions.
So I trust that. Whilst gentle, I do not hold back in the flow of unpacking the whole situation. It helps reframe, it helps spot the lighter moments, it creates laughter when the client notices their own – annoying but true – drivers of wanting to please. It is also clear they are a cognitive learner, the client needs to understand and see the whole picture, and that creates a shift. The whole picture is big. It includes the potential drivers of needing to please at the heart of their success to date. And how this then hijacks them in this new situation.
We shape the resilience coaching work to be to unlock this. The client feels relieved, clear, with a plan, and ready to consider how to practically raise their ‘resilience river’. It’s the full jugular, but without being too heavy, intense or over-exacting. It suits the client’s learning style. Most of all it suits their resilience, their capacity for change.
The work of this resilience coaching is recognising how resourceful the client is in the moment, and whilst having to cope – or not cope – with a massive big issue that has knocked them for six – helping them to reconnect with their resourcefulness and work from that point.
It’s a very different story for Client B.
Client B is also a senior leader, fantastically clever, systemic in their thinking, also on the way up in their organisation. They have recently presented an organisation –wide vision for a new way of doing business in one whole business sector. It crosses over many other areas, joining and leveraging them. Client B is granted the remit to lead this. But they are immediately up against other leaders, who sit in authority positions and control how the business is done with suppliers and partners.
Most of the resilience coaching work is enabling the client to understand options, work through flexibly how to influence, how to establish their authority and credibility. But nothing works against this one particular leader who refuses to engage, and indeed actively undermines the new vision.
The client has a particular difficult interaction with this other leader. They write it all down. They show an email to me that they wish to send. It’s full of wanting to please, capitulation, and does not affect any kind of leadership on the situation.
In the coaching session this one email unravels how Client B really has no idea how to deal with people. They are intellectual in their approach with everything. They plan, decide and act from the mind, cognitively driving any sense of mirroring or matching others. They have little bond with others. Bonding is the basis of secure based leadership, which is in itself resilient leadership.
So again this resilience coaching unlocks a massive truth about how it is that such a senior person can have ‘learnt how to act’ around people, without actually integrating this into who they are. They are in fact detached from a part of themselves, and this detachment, it turns out, is a strategy they have learnt very young because of issues with their parental relationships.
Now this is big. I mean really big.
In uncovering this during the session, the client joins up who they are with how they lead. Or cannot lead. They are overwhelmed as a result. And they are not resourceful as a result, they are indeed lost inside. The resilience coaching thereafter was all about the very pragmatic, practical steps they can take to make changes, using the NLP model Logical Levels of Change. We contracted in the short term at least, that all the beliefs, values and identity conflicts that were driving the results weren’t going to be the focus of the coaching. They can wait. Change can happen in easier way. So we will concentrate on skills.
The choice is all because the resilience of this client, client B, was never fully resourceful. This leader had been stuck in Bounceback1 for a long time – able to perform within a particular context, but unable to transfer out into a different context because of these underlying deep and personal issues. This is deep work. Potential therapeutical work, and not coaching at all. So the resilience coaching, whilst helping to name the issues, also bounds the issues into something safe.
Both extraordinary clients. Both sessions extraordinary sessions, with very deep satisfaction of real, impactful and paced work. That is what resilience coaching is all about.