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Ordinary People Taking Action
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As I entered Christine’s office, it was immediately clear that something had shifted. The appointment was part of our standing weekly coaching session, but today’s meeting started off very different from the others. Sitting at her desk, with tears in her eyes, she looked up at me and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I should back up six months, to the beginning of our engagement. When the VP of HR reached out, I was told that Christine was a “high-performer” and a real “go-getter”. She was the fastest promoted VP in the company and was on track to land a coveted role in the c-suite. Yet, she needed an executive coach to “humanize her” and to help her “become more emotional”. These are concerns that, as a coach, I hear all the time.
When we’d first met, Christine didn’t come across as confident and was slow to open up to me. The second part isn’t always a surprise. Clients can be ambivalent about seeing an executive coach. It may or may not have been their idea, and even if they are excited about the engagement – they are standoffish until we establish a rapport. Christine’s lack of confidence, however, was unusual for an executive-level professional. It’s more typical for me to see an “I’ve got this” attitude, with perhaps a bit of arrogance and aloofness sprinkled in. In many ways, it’s this confidence that got them where they are.
Christine was different though. She was quiet, kind of soft spoken, and very nervous to meet with me. She couldn’t see that meeting with me was looked at as a privilege – a good thing – that the company was investing in her development. She heard none of that – and kept saying that she felt like she was told to meet with me because she wasn’t good enough.
Before I met with Christine today, the CEO had called me and a left a message that we should touch base. Seeing Christine so upset this morning actually made me grateful that I hadn’t been able to take that call. Confidentiality is something that I take seriously, so I don’t like giving updates to management without the person I am coaching knowing what I am going to say. Obviously, I took the “touch base” in the message from the CEO as an update about my engagement with Christine. Yet, seeing her so upset, I realized there might have been something more to that call.
As coaches, we are told not to talk too much and to ask open-ended questions. While I attempt to do this, sometimes I get to the point that I start to annoy myself with the number of questions I ask. So, when I am working with someone like Christine, who is slow to open-up, sometimes I just start talking.
In our early days together, I would fill the time by talking about challenges faced by full-time working moms with demanding jobs. I opted to talk about this, because at one point, Christine did share with me the struggle of balancing her kids and work – the “mom guilt” was real. I thought maybe we could connect around a topic that we had in common – and a challenge that was real for us both.
After talking about my own challenges, I looked at her and that would be the first time I saw Christine cry. She asked me to explain the “fix” to balance kids and a demanding job. I laughed and stated that if I knew the answer to that question, I would write a book, be a millionaire and be sitting somewhere sunny with my children nearby, joyfully playing together. She laughed and said, “Well, at least you’re honest.” Followed by, “There is a flaw in your plan. Wouldn’t your kids, given their ages, need to be in school and not freely running in the sunshine mid-day?” My response would be, “Fair enough … and you’re that kind of person – an analyzer. We’re going to get along great.”
This blog series is part of my goal this month to provide 31 days straight of tips, advice, and inspiration to the Thinking People Consulting community. Watch for Part 2 of this story next week to find out more about Christine’s journey.
In the meantime, here are a few thought-provoking questions for you to reflect on:
Some great conversation starters or tips to keep dialogue going:
Author's note: Christine's name is not the clients' name, the name has been changed to protect the client identity and maintain confidentiality. Pieces of this story have been changed slightly while still keeping the majority of the story truthful to remove any elements that would identify or expose the client.