A few days ago I was on a video conference beginning a new coaching engagement with a client, Robert. In this initial meeting I walk the client through my typical coaching expectations; what Robert can expect from me as well as what I am expecting from him.
In addition to myself and Robert, his supervisor is on the call, along with someone from Human Resources. It is really important that all of these parties are engaged in Robert’s development so that there is clarity of expectations and organizational support for Robert’s development.
When we had finished aligning expectations I asked Robert if he had any questions. He did not.
I asked if the HR rep had any questions. She did not.
Last, I asked Robert’s supervisor, Sam, if he had any questions. He did not, but he did have something powerful to say: ”I went through some coaching several years back and it was a turning point for me as a leader…”
I couldn’t wait for Sam to finish the story and tell us all why the coaching he had received was so impactful, but there was dead silence on the phone. In true coaching form, I waited through the silence, suppressing every urge inside of me to fill the air with noise just so the silence didn’t feel so lonely.
After what seemed to me to be an eternity, Sam continued in a rather subdued tone that the coaching he received had uncovered that his strength had a dark side to it.
Sam shared that his strength had always been in understanding and interpreting data. He possessed very strong analytical skills and a belief that the numbers told the story of the situation. He was a very rational thinker and an excellent long-term planner. In addition to the scientific approach that he brought to his work, he was very self-confident - sure of himself with a strong ability to keep his composure.
Robert chimed in at this point and said, “I can see all of these things in you today. I have never worked with anyone whose analytical skills were as sharp as yours. In fact, there are times where I triple check things before I bring them to you because I want to make sure they are right.”
Sam replied, “And that is a good thing. We want to make sure the data is correct. However, for me, these strong analytical skills also came with a dark side. I was very skeptical of other people on the leadership team. I was distrustful of them and very cynical if they had an idea or wanted to change something without data to support their rationale. My focus on the negative became a real distraction to the point that people would stop coming to me with problems I could help them solve.”
At this point, the call seemed like a conversation between Robert and Sam. A conversation maybe they should have had a long time ago, but this coaching kick-off was giving them the safe space to talk.
Robert said, “Sam, I don’t sense that in you at all. I do not see you as negative. I see people coming to you all the time to help them solve issues.”
To that, with a bit of pride in his voice, Said said, “Coaching was a turning point for me as a leader.”
What a powerful moment I had just witnessed.
Sam’s coach was able to help him see how his strengths, while for sure personality assets, had also been holding him back in ways that he just didn’t see.
His coach helped him identify this dark side, or blind spot, then helped him put together a plan to take advantage of his strength while not over playing it to the point of dysfunction.
I am sure most of you can self-identify with Sam in this story. Like Sam, we all have strengths and weaknesses. You may be really confident in what you are good at, but can you identify some places where your strengths are not serving you? Are you overplaying them?
Perhaps you are really good at relationship building, but there are times you are overly cooperative and say yes when you should say no.
Perhaps you are a real risk taker, but there are times where your thrill seeking has landed you in a bad place.
Perhaps you are very colorful and the life of the party, but you walk away from conversations not having heard what the others in the room have even said. (And that is if you even consider there were other people in the room at all.)
One of the great things coaching can do for you is to help you focus on your strengths so that you use them to the best of your ability, but not over play them. I hope you are able to use your coach in this manner. It is one of the true values that coaching can bring to any relationship.