Coaching to Improve Ability to Lead Others
Art was a CEO who felt overwhelmed by all of the human interaction required of him in his position.
He had built incredible technical expertise as a developer, but had little experience managing others.
Running a startup meant that he not only had to keep his employees motivated and connected to the company’s mission, but he also had to maintain good relations with his primary investor, too.
He was having a lot of communication problems with his employees and, especially, his primary investor. They did not see eye-to-eye on the company’s next steps. He had tried to remind himself that communication failures were not a reflection of his skills as a leader, but he often left meetings feeling depressed, so much so, that they would ruin a whole day or even a week. He could not shake the bad feelings of a negative interaction.
He often felt like his employees and investor were trying to play him or get one over on him, so he would anxiously prepare for face-to-face meetings by strategizing how he would handle them in an attempt to “try to play the players.” I asked him what would happen if he continued on this track for the next year. After a long pause, he admitted, “Our investor’s faith in our company would deteriorate and our top employees would jump ship, just because I was impossible to get along with. Worst case scenario: we’d go belly-up.”
We both agreed The Mindfulness Coaching Program would be ideal for him because:
- It would be fast: only eight weeks of one-on-one training
- It would create almost instant stress reduction.
- It would build emotional intelligence without being "touchy-feely"; everything taught would be backed and supported by scientific data.
- It would teach simple and practical interpersonal tools that could be used to increase leadership effectiveness long beyond the eight-week period of time we would work together.
2. Meditation for Stress Relief
Art left our initial consult with homework: set aside 20 minutes a day over the next two weeks to listen to a mindfulness recording that exercised his capacity to concentrate. He also read about the philosophical framework and scientific data that supported the technique he was learning.
Art noticed that he was experiencing a lot less neck and shoulder pain that typically accompanied stress and his nervous urge to eat when he was anxious was missing. He also felt less wary of social interactions. He no longer laid awake in bed, sleeplessly strategizing the night before an important discussion.
The simple act of noticing subtle body sensations and emotions naturally releases tension and emotions. This release of tension is not the aim of mindfulness, but can be seen as a positive side-effect of the practice. The ultimate aim is to develop non-reactivity and even-mindedness no matter what the emotional content so one can make skillful and wise choices.
3. Mindful Communication
Art reported spending much of the time in one-on-one interactions strategizing how he was going to outwit or outsmart his opponent. I had him play with the possibility that interactions were not necessarily confrontations with adversaries but an opportunity to collaborate. So I taught him a mindful approach to active listening.
In his next meeting with his primary investor, Art didn’t try to outfox him but instead listened closely and repeated back what he was hearing without adding any more detail than what his investor had expressed. He still did not agree with his investor, but when the conversation ended, he felt less distant from him.
Art had previously feared that if he acknowledged his investor’s perspective, he would have to capitulate his own viewpoint, that acknowledgement meant agreement. Of course, his primary investor probably wanted his own plan to take form, but Art began to see that it was more important to acknowledge its merit.
This was no small revelation for Art. He had been so preoccupied with proving that he was smart enough to deserve the respect as CEO, that he had not been acknowledging others’ value; in fact, now that he was no longer a developer but was, instead, a CEO, he needed to learn a totally different set of skills. He needed to learn how to relate and how to offer respect.
In this eight-week training, the meditation practices Art learned helped settle his nervous system enough to be able to see past and through his defense mechanisms. What allowed Art’s leadership to flourish in such a short amount of time were the mindful approaches to communication that he learned.
Art became much more comfortable hearing others’ perspectives and willing to stand in their shoes. He came to realize that this simple act created rapport, sustained relationships, and initiated creative expressions of collaboration. He also realized that if his organization were to survive, he needed to stay aware of his reactive proclivity to prove his intelligence.
He was, now, curious about others’ perspectives. Instead of waiting for something bad to happen with his primary investor and a few key employees, he initiated meetings with them with this basic question: “What have you been trying to tell me that I have not been willing to hear?” This was a pretty bold move for Art.
These meetings were not easy for him. But something had substantially changed. He no longer felt anxious going into these interactions, and when he chose not to use the skills I taught him about creating rapport, he did not feel horrible about himself and his poor communication skills. Instead, he got curious and wanted to figure out what had gone awry.
When we closed our work together, he reported: “I used to go to my wife for advice on how to handle sticky conflicts. Now, my wife is asking for my advice. Go figure.”