Just over a year ago, a client for whom I had been providing a learning and development service, asked me to coach a manager who was promoted from an operations position to branch manager. The coachee has years of experience in the business, but had received little or no formal development, which he was open to, but probably did not realise at the time what he would be in for!
Using an assessment tool that focused on emotional intelligence, we began working together on specific areas of development that were identified, such as emotional awareness, empathy, trust, listening, empowerment, etc. These were proving to be stumbling blocks for the manager to develop a cohesive team who felt safe enough to take initiative in, and ownership of their jobs.
The manager’s leadership style was typical of what we often see in driver personalities and leaders who have been exposed to old-style, tough management role models. As a result, his comfort zone was to control every aspect of the branch, right down to the operational details. This took his focus from managing costs and important strategic issues that he is responsible for now in his new role. It also caused him to work exceptionally long hours that was detrimental to his working and family life. Needless to say, feedback from his team was negative, which was difficult for him to hear. However, his willingness to take on the challenge of letting go, developing trust and showing empathy was admirable.
During the coaching process, we also identified large gaps in staffing for the size and demands of the branch, as well as a lack of leadership skills in his team, which were part of the reason he took on far more than he should have. Once these fundamental issues were addressed, it became easier for him to focus on his development areas and strategy, and to grow the branch’s customer base. The success of his branch since then is testament to his determination to grow, and we have now extended performance coaching to the new operations manager and second in charge, so that he can provide support to the branch manager when needed.
The lesson in this case is that coaching or developing people in isolation of operational issues will not achieve the best outcome, as even with the best will in the world, people cannot fulfil their potential if there are obstacles in the business that prevent them from doing so. As a coach, having an understanding of business processes and what motivates people is essential if you want to make a lasting impact.