John comes to me saying he wants to work on a pressing dilemma in his job as CEO. As we work together, he resolves the dilemma. He also clarifies his own truer leadership, meaning both the values he leads by and the leadership capabilities that make him effective.
John’s initial dilemma sounded like this: “We’ve signed an MOU with another company, so now I’m leading two organizations. One is in crisis and the other is growing, so every day I’m in reactive mode. I just never get out in front. I signed on to this because I think there’s real potential for both companies. But the workload is crushing me, and I’m dizzy from reacting.”
Learning, which is the essence of coaching, begins with exploring. John and I start our exploration with his real, current experience. John feels crushed and dizzy, and I’m curious to know more about what that’s like for him. Well, he says, the stress is terrible. He feels terrible about reports and deadlines that are way past due. He’s been sick twice in four months. He hardly sees his family. He’s an athlete and he has no time to exercise.
“Wow, that’s a lot to bear,” I say sincerely. “Yeah, it is a lot,” John says, and I see him nodding as he thinks about it. Often in a coaching session (it happens to me when I’m working with my own coach) we say things we sort of already know. But things have more impact when we hear ourselves tell our story or piece together a pattern. At the end of this early session with John, he says one of his takeaways is that he saw more clearly the relationship between stress, little exercise, missing his family, and two bouts of flu.
Other “ah-ha’s” lead to deeper discoveries that are the heart of transformational coaching. John realizes that he’s not just trying to climb out of “reactive mode” or “get out in front.” He realizes that in his current situation he’s not being the leader he wants to be and has been in the past: a strategic thinker, relationally connected, a person with a passion for achieving the mission, and who knows how to work with others to get there.
Over many coaching sessions, John grows really clear about his own truer leadership. Clarity comes from John’s reflective process, my questions, recognition of patterns and themes that surface over time, trying out and then reflecting on new behaviors, planning, and taking action.
As coach and client, we are often working on multiple levels, for example: co-creating strategies for John to carve out “think time” at work; noticing the positive results of taking small steps toward John’s strategic vision; noticing how his senior managers respond to his warm and collaborative way of working; problem solving specific managerial challenges; discovering and “growing” new capabilities John didn’t know he has.
John is a hero. All my clients are, because it takes great courage to find and practice YOUR truer leadership. Here are some exercises to help.
- Periodically ask yourself questions such as, What values do you try to follow in your work? What work is joyful? How do you lead?
- Every day for a week (or more), use the last ten minutes of the work day to take stock. What (and who) did you enjoy today? Why? What “good work” did you do? (Define “good work” for yourself.) What is one thing you will do tomorrow that will be “good work?”
- Do a thorough values clarification exercise. There is a really good one in Becoming a Resonant Leader, chapter 4.