Waste of Time
Allyn was mad. His manager, the COO of a large bank, had asked HR to find an Executive Coach for him. Allyn did not think he needed one and thought the process was a complete waste of time that could be better spent focused on his work as the CTO. He was not looking forward to his first coaching session.
Allyn’s rejection of coaching was clear from the first minute of his first meeting. He arrived late, earbuds still in his ears, ordered a coffee and sat down in a huff across from his Executive Coach, George. After a few minutes he finally got around to talking and sputtered out his ‘issue’ with his manager – with one ear bud still firmly planted in his left ear.
He proceeded to complain how he feels the COO regularly makes him look bad in front of the Executive team and Board during presentations by interrupting him and even makes him review his slides prior to the meeting. Allyn really had no clue why his boss was doing this, but guessed it could be politics, incompetence, trust or even jealousy of his skills.
After some short banter, Allyn replaced his ear buds and sat in silence with ignoring George for 40 minutes. Finally George broke the silence and let Allyn know they just wasted an hour of each other’s lives, he would get paid either way, and if they were going to spend time together they had to figure out how to make it work.
The Front Nine
George quickly realized meeting at coffee shops was not going to get anywhere. It turned out Allyn loved golf. George hadn’t picked up clubs in years and had a 25 handicap, no matter, they decided to have their next session on the golf course.
For the next five weeks at 6:30 on Tuesday morning Allyn and George met at a local 9-hole course. Generally, they did not keep score. Allyn talked – mostly about work—and George listened. Each week Allyn was left with a different version of the same question: What might your COO be getting out of publically shaming and being rude with you?
Allyn began giving George tips and his game improved, George was a competent student and listened to his advice.
Mechanic or Executive?
After 6 weeks of this “dance” Allyn was warming up to George. George was able to convince him to ask his boss why he was making him look bad in meetings.
The next week Allyn did not want to golf. Instead, they simply walked the course while he shared his conversation with the COO. In essence, the COO thought Allyn was confusing the Executive Team and Board with the minutia of the amazing technological solutions Allyn’s team had created and upon which the success of the Bank was now resting. Allyn did not understand why his boss didn’t see the importance of the information he was trying to share at meetings since it was crucial to the bank’s operation.
George knew that Allyn had a Mercedes that his wife loved, but she couldn’t drive a stick shift so they had settled on an automatic transmission.
George had an idea.
“I’m guessing that neither you or your wife care much about the technical details of how the transmission works, only that it works and neither of you think twice about it until it stops working.” George said.
“Perhaps your COO has supreme confidence in your team’s ability to design and keep running smoothly the automatic transmission of the Bank and is trying to get you to align your presentations with the same sort of expectations your wife would have if the designer of the transmission were to visit your home for a presentation. He wants it short, to the point and not full of technical jargon.”
Allyn sat in a silence that George had not seen since their first meeting months ago.
The AHA Moment
A massive shift had occurred as a result of the coaching sessions. Allyn went from adversary to a partner with George. As they golfed over the next few months, Allyn and George designed questions for his manager so he could understand the scope of the presentations needed – not the ones he wanted to give. Within a short time the COO stopped interrupting his presentations and eventually stopped wanting to review his slide decks before meetings. Mission Accomplished.
George received excellent feedback from the Bank’s HR director and he knocked 12 strokes off his golf game.
Allyn today is the COO at a different Bank and loves helping his CTO design impactful presentations on the Bank’s technology solutions.
It took months to finally get Allyn to realize and take ownership of the problem. This was done through the trust that George built with him that allowed Allyn to open up and finally get to the root of the problem. This is the essence of what a top Executive Coach does.