Results and Relationships: Executive Coaching Case Study
M. is a Senior Program Manager for a non-profit foundation working to ensure quality education for children across India. Its mission is to improve educational outcomes through literacy, technology tools, and government advocacy.
Jennifer had a previous coaching relationship with one of M.’s new team members, Z. Z. is highly creative and desired to be treated more as a peer than as a subordinate. Z. felt boxed in by M., who has an affinity for structure and liked things done a certain way. With competing priorities and communication styles that clashed, the relationship was tense. Even though the two were at odds, Jennifer could tell they really respected each other. She suggested eight individual sessions for both M. and Z., along with four joint sessions.
It was important for both M. and Z. to get an understanding of their own styles and internal struggles before they could be open with each other. Jennifer began with three individual sessions to do some discovery and set individual goals for development, followed by joint sessions interspersed with continued individual sessions. The sessions were held via video call, early in the morning for Jennifer and late at night for M. and Z. in India.
“In our video calls, Jennifer picked up on non-verbal cues really well. She’s really experienced at noticing facial expressions, picking up on passion and concern, and following up with the right questions.”
Jennifer also did an Integrative Enneagram assessment, which evaluates core motivations, for both M. and Z. Z. is an Enneagram type 4 – Intense Creative. M. is an Enneagram type 1 – Strict Perfectionist, focused on things being done “the right way.” M. found this tool “extremely helpful” because it gave her and Z. a shared understanding and vocabulary.
“I had done the MBTI (Myers Briggs) testing before, but the Enneagram was richer and more helpful. It gave me a good understanding about myself—the way I interact, my relationship style, my shortcomings. It allowed me to be much more open and reflective in the joint coaching sessions.”
In the individual coaching sessions, Jennifer helped M. reflect on relationships in general. M. realized that she had always thought of herself as a great doer, excellent at completing tasks. The coaching helped her make the shift from being the doer to getting things done more collaboratively
They also explored what it meant to be good with people. M. was able to discern that being good with people didn’t mean being a pushover, but rather valuing their points of view; giving them space, guidance, and accountability without compromising on the quality of the work; and making them feel they are contributing and growing, and that they have a stake.
“My conversations with Jennifer enabled me to become a better people person.”
Jennifer also recommended the book Crucial Conversations, which M. found to be filled with relevant examples and tools that helped her be more intentional about relationships.
In the joint sessions, Jennifer helped the pair articulate goals and come up with an action plan. Over time, both M. and Z. could clearly see that the other was making an effort.
M. reports that the coaching has helped her shift from only being results-oriented to also being relationship-oriented. Whereas before she had felt it was OK to be tough on herself and tough on others, she has become much more patient, open, and collaborative. Instead of thinking, “This is how it should be,” she focuses on respecting people to come up with their own solutions and opinions.
“It’s been a big shift. I understand that I don’t have to figure everything out on my own. It’s not up to me to figure out what’s right and make others do it. Instead, now I prioritize relationships. I think, ‘How do I allow for discussions where we can benefit from everyone’s pool of knowledge, and get everyone invested?’”
She also has a richer appreciation for the fact that when people feel invested and appreciated, they work harder and get more done for the organization. Education in India is incredibly complex. The people in her organization really care—they feel aligned with the organization’s mission, and they compromise on salary to work there. She has a deeper understanding of how important it is for them to feel they are contributing, learning, and growing, and she focuses on inspiring her team to work together to solve the tough problems they face each day.
M. now consciously keeps an open platform for everyone to collaborate. At the start of a meeting, instead of saying, “Here’s what you must do,” she now says, “Here are the challenges. Let’s discuss.” She finds that this approach leads to greater ownership and greater buy-in.
“When employees feel they are contributing, they feel a sense of ownership and they have a richer work experience.”
Z. has since moved on to another team, but M. reports that they have a very good relationship and that they still reminisce about how much the joint coaching helped them. M. recently transitioned to a new team, and was able to start the new relationship on a good note.
“I now know to watch out for the signals early on in the relationship, and not let it reach a stage where it’s problematic. It’s harder to turn relationships around than it is to start off well.”
M.’s family and friends have noticed that she is more patient, calm, and composed as a result of the coaching.
“I used to be more reactive. Now I’m more patient, more open-ended and accepting.”