Have you ever felt like a key member of your leadership or management team is not quite working out or delivering what the organisation needs? Have you felt like tackling the challenge feels too big or complex to navigate?
This a topic that comes up regularly in our work, and in this case study we share some of the journeys and breakthroughs others have had. We hope it supports your courage and effectiveness.
The first place to start is that there is significant variability the kinds of situations leaders. The reason it feels 'hard' can be all kinds of things including that the person in question:
- Has fairly recently been allowed to pass their probationary period, despite reservations about their fit or ability to deliver.
- They have deep relationships or ties to, or profile with funders, board members, or other key stakeholders
- Have been with the organisation for a really long time and it feels like they’re part of the fabric of the organisation.
- The person is experiencing mental health, stress leave, or family complications.
- Has taken over from other people who have also not succeeded in that role or department, and there’s sensitivity to another perceived failure, and/or accumulated trauma in the organisation around turnover or changes.
Faced with these highly sensitive situations (and usually there's more than one of the above factors at play at the same time), our clients generally feel like they are facing an impossible dilemma: to ignore the situation and do their best to have the organisation and other staff compensate for the shortfalls, or to become hard-hearted in some way and take care of the organisation’s needs at the expense of the individual. Could there be a third way?
As we reflect on the many such journeys that we have gone on with leaders and organisations to chart a path through these sensitive waters, what stands out to us is the number of times we hear how helpful it was for the leader to just first gain an independent, confidential and informed partner to decompress and talk through the issues at play and to be reassured that there is a way to take care of everyone.
“I couldn’t have done the last few months without you. You brought extreme warmth and compassion with firmness, clarity and reassurance. Your message ‘I’m right beside you’ made a huge difference.”
The second source of value comes from the systemic coaching lens we bring to the situation. This is a creative and responsive process between the leader and us, in which we bring our rich organisational experience. Some of the areas we might explore include:
- To what extent has this person been set up for success in their role? Do they have all the information, resources and timely feedback they require in order to succeed?
- How has their role or the needs of the organisation changed over time? Is the role and context they came in to the same or markedly different? Is something different required of them now to when they were brought in?
- How happy is the person themselves in the role? Does this align with their real areas of genius or have things drifted or changed in ways that stretch them in ways that don’t really allow them to shine in what they’re great at? Is this situation impacting their wellbeing and self -confidence?
- What role is the dynamic between the manager and the individual in question playing? To what extent might it be differences in thinking / working or communication styles? Or is each individual aligned and representing different parts of your ecosystem or history? What value might there be in understanding that diversity in order to bring in insight?
This thought-provoking process makes is possible to deliver value to everyone, and it enables a meaningful and insightful diagnostic to emerge.
“You have an ability to unravel a knot and figure out what matters and what levers to pull – you helped us move from a situation in which it felt like so many things weren’t working to turning all that around.”
Leaders who have gone through this process with us, chart a path that makes sense for their unique context. It is not uncommon for them to gain value in one or more of these three key areas:
- Organisational improvements: This can include refining recruitment practices, strengthening people management skills, more effectively engaging an HR function, working through needed structural changes, or revisiting or clarifying strategy.
- Manager or Team dynamics: A richer understanding of their own leadership style, the needs of their direct reports, or the dynamics playing out in their team.
- Individual opportunities: through executive coaching, leadership profiling or career transition coaching, the individual gains support, personal insight, new skills, or a whole new perspective on what they want to be doing or the kind environment in which they thrive. They almost always report being deeply grateful for the journey, and proud of their growth and change.
"Next week I’ll be starting a role that is about as close to my dream job as I could get!! Thank you for all your support. It kept me focused on what I really wanted. I feel very grateful for the way it's all turned out!"
For social purpose organisations and leaders, being faced with what feels like an ethical dilemma – to take care of an individual or to take care of the organisation, is deeply draining and distracting.
By partnering with the system, we help leaders to see what is needed to have both the person and the system thrive, skills which they will use over and again, as they steer their organisations through the growth, change and challenge.