I sat with my CEO client in a cafe overlooking the beautiful cityscape of Perth. He was deeply concerned about his company’s situation.
Steeply falling sales, disenchanted employees and diminishing cash flow were taking a toll on his health and his ability to lead his people through the troubles.
“Tom, (not his real name) can you recall the most valuable project that you successfully completed over the last three years?” I asked.
Tom sat still and quiet for a long moment, then a grin spread across his face “Yes” he said. “We won the tender to build the production system for (company name withheld). It was hard fought and we had to be at our very best throughout the project. It came in on time and on budget.”
“OK”, I said, “What was the key learning for you and the team that came out of that project?”
Tom sat back and thought deeply again.
“Five things actually” he said. “What were they?" I asked.
Tom said “Firstly we can’t remember having done such a meticulous plan before, which we had to, to ensure we won the tender. Secondly we had to be certain that we were all on the same page at the same time, all the time. I remember being obsessed about everyone understanding exactly what they were responsible for.” He paused. “The third thing we did right was our self discipline, we were all highly motivated.” I nodded. “We were also very open to rapid changes caused by external factors. The client had a sudden change of direction that required us to modify our plan and the way we responded amazed us all.”
Tom went silent again, suddenly appearing reluctant to continue. “What is the fifth learning?” I asked. Tom looked at me and said “Our leadership. Not just mine, but all of us.”
I could see that Tom was a little emotional. “OK, what’s happening now Tom?” I asked quietly.
Tom took a deep breath and said “What’s happening now is that I, no we have to do that again and we can. Do you realise what has just happened?” “Tell me?” I asked. “You know exactly what I mean – you bastard – thank you.” Tom grinned. “We’ve got work to do, let’s go.”
Tom’s gift is not only his leadership skills, but his ability to reflect and own up to what works and what doesn’t work.
Having a valuable conversation requires the coach to listen carefully and ask just as carefully, the right questions in the right way and at the right times. We have to understand that people already have what they need within them. Our job as coach, whether as a leader coaching or as a professional coach is to help them access themselves fully. That is where the value lies.
Do you have high value conversations? What has been your experience?