Overwhelmed and frightened - finding a way forward

The elevator doors whispered open, and I was greeted by my client’s executive assistant. She escorted me to Martha’s office. There, I found myself seated across the table from a personable young woman who greeted me with a warm smile.

A few days earlier, her CEO shared with me some insights into Martha’s career. In her twenty years with this national retailer, she worked diligently to progress through a series of increasingly senior management roles. Two weeks ago, Martha was promoted to a key role on the Executive Committee.

Once settled comfortably, with introductions out of the way, I asked Martha, “How can I best help you and what are the benefits you hope to realize from our coaching relationship?”

Her response was illuminating and would form the foundation of our process moving forward. She said, “While I am delighted to be a member of our Executive Team, I am feeling totally overwhelmed and frightened at the prospect of failure.”

I could see the tension in her face as she shifted uncomfortably in her chair. I asked her to share more and to be specific about why she felt this way.

“Roger, I have worked hard throughout my career. I started in an entry-level, customer-facing role, with no formal business education or training. While I am proud of my success, I now find myself questioning whether I can pull this off.”

She continued, “I find myself a member of a seasoned leadership team and worry that I may let everyone down. Most of the other members are older, have MBAs and spent much of their careers with tier-one organizations that are highly regarded for their training and development programs. My background does not include any of these experiences.

“Also, our CEO and leadership team just introduced a new corporate strategic plan and a new centralized organization structure, moving away from our historical, decentralized, regional structure. Many people are worried about this change and morale is low, particularly in the regions.”

Martha went on to explain, “Our CEO expects me quickly to develop:

  • a strategic plan for my function, consistent with the new corporate strategy;
  • a new centralized, functional organization structure, fully staffed within 3 to 4 months; and, 
  • to become a fully participating member of the leadership team within the same period.

Honestly, I just don’t know where to start.”

As her new coach, I now realized why she was feeling so stressed. Who wouldn’t be when faced with such challenges? But, I also knew that the CEO would not have promoted her if he didn’t believe that she had the skills, experiences and growth potential required for the role. I knew that the challenge would be to help Martha see herself, her strengths and capabilities in a far more positive, can-do light.

We agreed on what Martha wanted to accomplish during her coaching sessions:

  • increase her self-confidence
  • become an effective leader
  • integrate quickly into the executive team
  • gain approval for her functional strategic plan and organization structure/staffing plans.

At our next session, I had to get Martha focused on confirming her strengths and embracing her past key accomplishments. While it took two coaching sessions to achieve, I could see a positive shift occurring. She became more comfortable and relaxed. 

At our third session, I asked Martha why she thought the CEO had selected her. What does he see in you? I watched a curious expression come over her. I suggested that she start listing her rationale on the left side of the whiteboard. Thirty minutes later, she finished.

I then suggested that she list her key strengths on the right side of the whiteboard. Then she was asked to compare the lists to uncover any gaps. After a week of reflection, this exercise helped her to articulate her main coaching needs. They were:

  • How to develop a functional strategic plan. “I’ve never written one and am unaware of the key areas to address.”
  • How to become an effective leader, not a manager. “I need to better understand the difference between being a leader and a manager and how to establish key benchmarks to aim at with regard to my behavioural development.”
  • How to build and maintain healthy relationships. “I know that I have to start reaching out to build relationships with my peers, my staff and our CEO.”
  • How to build momentum and secure some early wins. “I know that I will be judged by the results. However, you have helped me understand why I should focus on hitting singles and doubles, to begin with, not home runs.”

After developing and implementing her Personal Leadership Development Plan addressing each of the issues, Martha went on to surprise herself and others on how quickly she stepped into her new role accepting each challenge and accountability while becoming an effective Executive Team member. I am extremely proud of Martha’s work and accomplishments.

This was one of my most enjoyable and successful coaching relationships. Martha’s commitment to learn, grow and focus on meeting her personal development objectives in a timely fashion were impressive and, as an added benefit, we enjoyed many laughs and good times during her coaching journey.

Does any of this story resonate with you? Would working with a coach help you step into a new role or situation faster and with greater confidence? If the answer is yes, then give me a call for a complimentary chat to discuss your needs in more detail