Case studies

Strong words

Sabine Murner* is a successful and at the same time very attractive woman in her mid-thirties. She has a steep career path behind her. After an excellent high school diploma, she completed her business administration studies at an elite Swiss university with a master's degree. Afterwards she started in the marketing department of an international pharmaceutical company and quickly advanced to the position of Head of "Marketing worldwide". She is responsible for a budget of 5 million US dollars per year, with a total of 350 employees at international locations reporting to her. "My job is my passion," she answers my question about her job satisfaction.

The assignment to the coach

"Everything is obviously going well for you," I open our first coaching session, to which - as she had already told me during the preliminary telephone conversation - her boss had sent her. What exactly is your coaching concern? According to an employee satisfaction survey, Mrs. Murner is not very popular with her colleagues in the respective international locations. They accuse her of being impatient and emotionally cold and criticize her for not expressing enough appreciation and goodwill. Her coaching assignment is therefore: How can I achieve a better management style?

The rephrasing of the coaching concern

After a few questions, it becomes clear to me: the request she made was worded like this by her boss. Although Mrs. Murner wants to make an effort to improve her management style, she herself does not know exactly what she is doing wrong. We talk about leadership principles and examples from her everyday life. For example, she describes a situation to me, which she concludes with the following sentence: "How am I supposed to lead someone else who is as stupid as Mr. Hauser? "Those are strong words," I think and decide to take a closer look at the reason for their behavior during our coaching. So, first of all, back to your coaching concerns.

We try to work on her definition of a good leadership style and in the course of the coaching we find that she suffers greatly from the rejection of her colleagues. At the same time, she realizes that she will not be able to maintain her team's success in the long run and admits a little bit submissively: "I think I have to be more polite with my people. After further queries from my side, we will modify your coaching requests in this way: How can I show my employees more appreciation?

The steps to the goal

Mrs. Murner's boss has approved her five coaching sessions and I encourage Mrs. Murner that I think it is feasible to take a good step forward on the way to more appreciation in these sessions.

In order to get a more detailed impression of her leadership behavior, I would like to ask Mrs. Murner to describe a typical conflict situation with an employee. Again, I hear that she communicates with her team members in a very harsh tone. Therefore, we first work on her definition of appreciation. From her heavy breathing I can see how much effort it takes her to formulate numerous positive and appreciative standards of behavior. She is particularly tormented by the idea of formulating criticism of an employee with goodwill. "How is that supposed to work? If someone has screwed up, I don't have to wrap him in cotton wool as a reward, do I?" Therefore, I would like to point out: " Mrs. Murner, to criticize a person appreciatively does not mean that they consider what he has done to be quality. Might it not be possible that this is more about you, about your attitude towards this person and towards the subject of 'error'? We try to formulate constructive criticism together and in the course of this coaching session Mrs. Murner realizes how important appreciation is for the motivation and willingness to perform of the employees.

Through various methods such as role-play and perception exercises on her own behavior, Mrs. Murner realizes how difficult it is for her to express appreciation.

Behind her superficial emotional coldness lies a very sensitive personality who now speaks in a much softer voice: "Sometimes I find myself just as horrible as my father. He used to drill us like that, was so strict and ambitious with us. Mistakes were not tolerated. Woe betide us if we didn't realize soon enough that we could have done something better." So, there was a cause for Mrs. Murner's behavior. As an ambitious and successful father-daughter, she had unconsciously adopted the value patterns.

In coaching we often come into contact with our childhood and youth, nothing shapes us more than parental role models. More and more my client sinks down on the chair in front of me. Her forehead is wrinkling, and her skin is also becoming blotchy - an exhausted and injured person.

As a coach I always have to keep a close eye on the body language of my clients. It often gives me the key to a deeper cause. I explain to her driving models and life messages that our parents give us.

The five drivers from the Transactional Analysis according to Taibi Kahler are:

Each one of us carries several of these drivers, in the case of Mrs. Murner we encounter the particularly exhausting combination of "Be strong" and "Make an effort". I draw her attention to the strong dynamics of this combination of drivers and ask her to prepare for the next session which of the drivers she would prefer to do without.

In our next session Mrs. Murner comes a little sad: "To be honest, I wanted to work with you on my leadership style, but I didn't want to find myself in my old stories. I don't want psychotherapy here after all. I've long since finished with my father." I take away her despair a little and try to make her aware that everything is not so terrible. "Can you imagine taking a little speed out of your life? What do you think your employees would think of that? And your boss?" With such circular questions a systemic coach achieves an opening of the client. By involving the whole system around the client through questions, the coach often widens the view and triggers a more comprehensive reflection that is not so much focused on the client himself.

The insight

Mrs. Murner allows the idea of less speed and impatience with her employees. Even if she herself is not yet really comfortable with it, she realizes: "Well, I think my people would at least be better off with it. And that is not unimportant. Because there's no way I can afford to have their motivation slipping away." In the two following coaching sessions we continue to work on the quality of patience and appreciation, on the merits of goodness and slowness. Mrs. Murner leaves our fourth session with the intention of paying more attention to her appreciation not only of her employees but also of herself. Appreciation and benevolence are the two index cards that she takes with her as a motto from our coaching. She has recognized that these qualities are more likely to bring success in dealing with her employees in the long term than resentment and impatience. She appears relieved and realizes that her perfectionism, coupled with her strong urge to give everything and spare neither effort nor trouble, cannot be a secret of success in the long run. She only burns out more and more.

We agree that Mrs. Murner will take her final session after three months. In this session we will reflect whether and how her changed attitude has affected her employees. We will then decide whether she needs further coaching. In any case, the ball is now rolling.

* Name changed for privacy reasons.

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