Stewart Felt Stuck, then Broadened his Perspective
Stewart, an executive in an investment company, had an impressive background including an MBA from a top-20 U.S. business school, successful positions in prestigious financial firms in San Francisco and New York, and successful seven-year start with his current firm.
A 360-assessment revealed that Stewart was a talented, hard-working and productive employee with great industry-wide relationships. There were also significant challenges and he felt stuck unable to make progress. Specifically, Stewart needed to improve his leadership (delegating, taking tough positions, challenging others), communication (confidence, leadership presence, ability to “bottom-line” a story), and ability to manage complexity (moving to action with enough, but not all, of the answers).
Through the coaching engagement, Stewart realized that he was essentially working hard, but playing small, which was no longer serving him or the firm. He had to broaden his perspective to “see” things in a more useful context. Developmental coaching allowed him to recognize his fear that taking the lead and making tough decisions might harm his reputation as a “good guy”. He also realized how old assumptions that he could not lead and be liked were self-limiting.
The big shift for Stewart was his new commitment to place greater value on voicing his ideas and opinions. He became comfortable being more visionary, making difficult calls, and charting the way for others at all levels in the firm. He shifted his energy from worrying about his reputation towards strengthening his voice and leadership vision.
To his delight (and surprise), he found that instead of that negative feedback that he feared, he got positive responses from everyone, including from the partners of the firm. From his new perspective he can now recognize, appreciate, and develop the firms’ goals by employing leadership and communication skills appropriate for the complexity of his work. He saw himself in a new way after letting go of old self-limiting beliefs that had been holding him back.
Liz Stretches her Thinking with Peers
Liz, a bright and thoughtful leader was eager to explore the edges of her thinking. She saw herself as an independent thinker not easily influenced by outside forces or circumstances. Early in the leadership program, she was introduced to the concepts of thought habits and complexity of mind and encouraged to pay attention to the way she made sense of her world. She shared and explored self-observations with peers at monthly sessions. Liz was surprised to discover a number of unquestioned assumptions and beliefs she had been holding. One “ah ha moment” was when she realized she wasn’t nearly the original thinker she had considered herself to be.
Liz began asking different kinds of questions of herself and others. At first these questions were geared toward problem-solving and finding fault with ideas that were not her own. At the same time she (and her peers) noticed the quality of her questions were developing teeth – she was asking more self-revealing questions. An example of how Liz’s questions became more nuanced follows.
During a group session, her peers were exploring “Why do staff resist getting involved in key improvement teams?” Liz remained quiet for much of the discussion. At one point in the conversation a hypothesis was raised, “Could fear of failure be playing out in these teams? It was then that Liz asked: “I wonder…what do I do (or not do) that reinforces this resistance in others?” “What definition of failure am I holding?” “How do our people define failure?” “Is there a relationship?” “What if I/we redefined failure to mean something other than being a bad thing?” “What would need to change in me (and others) to shift the experience of failure into a learning experience?”
These questions caused the group to stop in their (thought) tracks and everyone was quiet for awhile, seriously rethinking their assumptions about failure, and their contributions to this dynamic. Liz’s line of questioning was stretching not only her own but also her peers’ thinking habits.