Case Study: Clare Leads the Way

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The last two years had been a frustrating ride for Clare, the VP of

business development in a medium-sized technology company. She

was selected for the VP position, mainly because of her ability to see

and cultivate opportunity that others overlooked. At the director

level, she had landed some strategically important acquisitions.

Since taking the VP role two years ago, almost all of her innovative

ideas had been shot down by her colleagues on the leadership team.

But now, perhaps, the tide was turning.

The leadership team had been working with an executive coach

named Tressa for six months, both as a team and individually.

Although there had been some bumpy spots, the coaching had gone

well so far, and the team was much more focused and communicating

more effectively than ever before. The multirater feedback

sessions were a real eye opener for some of the team members.

Coupled with personality profiles, these assessments clearly shone

the light on areas that each team member needed to develop. For

the most part, team members were making solid strides toward

enhancing their abilities as leaders and team members. As a result,

they were increasingly able to talk about the kind of challenging

issues that previously would have locked the team up in a seemingly

irresolvable knot. The team was edging toward taking some greater

risks in a bid to turn the tide on their sliding margins.

Clare had focused her coaching work with Tressa on getting her

ideas across in ways that others could understand and support.

Her multirater feedback revealed that her team members respected

her sharp intellect and original thinking, but it was not uncommon

for team members to have difficulty understanding what Clare was

talking about when she got excited about a new idea. If she perceived

that others were not tracking with her, she would just keep talking,

piling explanation on top of explanation until even the people who

thought they had the concept were not quite sure anymore. As a

result, few of Clare’s more original proposals were accepted by

the team. Clare was deeply frustrated by this outcome, particularly

because she felt strongly that the company needed to push into some

new areas that she was proposing to spur growth in more lucrative

markets.

Clare moved fairly quickly through Quadrant 1. As a former

athlete, Clare was familiar with the concept of finding her center,

although she had never really thought of applying this kind of focus

in a work setting. Tressa helped Clare see how she sometimes

derailed her own efforts by getting caught up in her stories about

what others were thinking or doing. It was not uncommon for Clare

to assume in advance that certain team members were against her

proposal even before she presented it.As a result, she often presented

her ideas from a defensive posture. Through reflection, Clare learned

to discern the difference between stories that she was creating and

events that were actually happening. By catching herself in storytelling

mode and stopping the story, she was better able to stay

centered and focused on what was happening in the moment.

As the coaching work moved into Quadrant 2, Clare became

aware that her tendency to become overly enthusiastic about her

ideas was getting in the way of getting her proposals accepted. She

could see that when she became really excited she tended to tune out

the subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—clues that others were

sending her about their reactions to her idea. As a result, she did not

fully understand why others did not see the value in what she was

presenting. Tressa coached Clare on ways to keep her emotional

center and really listen to what others had to say. Clare found that

if she listened attentively to her colleagues, she became more aware

of what their real concerns were. Clare decided to apply this new

approach to build support for a proposal she was putting forward.

She found that by engaging her team members in one-on-one conversations

that addressed their core concerns, Clare could find workable

compromises. She started small with some new ways of looking

at opportunities that extended the current thinking of the team.

It took a lot longer to move her proposals forward, but she was

finally getting traction. By the time she presented her idea to the

entire team, she had already secured enough support to move the

initiative forward. With every success, Clare found her confidence

returning.

In team meetings, Clare found herself listening to the dialogue of

the team on new levels. As she listened to what was being said—and

what wasn’t—she started to detect where some of the barriers to

change were for the team. She started to see that if several departments

worked together, they could offer an integrated solution that

Clare knew the market was looking for. She knew where to find

the technology that was needed, but there was no point in moving

in that direction if the leadership team was not prepared to work

together in new ways.

In her previous way of working, Clare would have gone into a

leadership meeting and beaten the team over the head with her idea,

until the resistance was so great that it was clear the idea was going

nowhere. This time, Clare decided to apply some of her insights

from her more recent successes.With Tressa’s coaching, Clare began

to engage some of the key players on the team in dialogues about

the integrated solution she envisioned. In the first couple of conversations,

Clare found that while there was agreement, and even

some excitement, about the idea, the team members with whom she

spoke had some deep reservations about the team’s ability to implement

such a challenging initiative. Clare considered playing it safe

and abandoning the idea altogether, but the thought of giving up

left her filled with disappointment. She truly believed the team was

capable of taking on this new initiative.

In her next coaching session, Tressa asked Clare what she really

wanted to create. This question, and the dialogue that followed,

helped Clare crystallize her thinking and get to the essence of what

she saw was possible.With this clarity, she could see several options

for moving forward, some that were likely to be more palatable to

her team. With this new perspective, Clare resumed her dialogues

with team members.Again, Clare found that when she listened carefully

to her colleagues, she could detect their concerns, even when

they were having difficulty expressing them. For example, the VP of

IT services seemed to keep coming back to concerns about “his

people.”With some careful questioning, Clare was able to uncover

the core issue, which was the readiness of his team to take on some

of the new client responsibilities the integrated solution would

require.With the issue clearly stated, the VP and Clare were able to

brainstorm some possible solutions. Although they did not resolve

the issue completely, the dialogue increased the VP’s comfort level

with the proposal, and he became an advocate for exploring the idea

further.

Clare knew that her boss, the president of the company, had a difficult

time dealing with overt conflict on the team. Although his

ability to step into emotionally charged conversations was increasing

with the coaching he was receiving, Clare sensed that she would

need to have a solid base of support before formally presenting the

idea for the team to consider. Clare recruited some of her supportive

team members to help her build momentum with the rest of

the team.

In the final coaching session before the big meeting, Tressa

coached Clare to separate her perception of who she was from the

idea she was putting forward. Tressa had noticed that Clare took

“losing” personally, and as a result, she would fight to gain acceptance

for what she wanted as if she were fighting for her life. This

approach left little room for the necessary compromises required to

build a consensus. Clare’s confidence and insight had grown to the

point that she understood what Tressa was saying. She could see how

the pattern of being overly attached to outcomes got in her way. She

had experienced centered detachment, and she knew that it was a

powerful place from which to work.

The meeting went well, and the team committed to work together

on crafting an integrated offering. Clare was asked to lead the effort,

which both thrilled and frightened her. She knew that through the

process of implementing the integrated solution, she would be presented

with many new opportunities to deepen her learning and

stretch her comfort zone. She looked forward to the challenge.