Coaching an Abrasive Female Leader
Mercedes works at an insurance agency. She is widely respected for her knowledge of insurance, the company’s processes and procedures, and her hard work. She is also extremely loyal to her team, well spoken, and full of ideas.
However, given Mercedes’ knowledge-base and skill level, she could get easily frustrated when others didn’t see her point of view. Given her loyalty to her team, she could have strong reactions when the higher-up’s made decisions she didn’t agree with.
After several unsuccessful attempts from HR and her manager to help Mercedes make positive change, they sought out a coach.
After my first round of interviews, Mercedes and I reviewed her 10 pages of feedback together. Interview notes are moved into themes in order to protect confidentiality and to make the information more digestible.
The themes and developing strategies to change them are the crux of coaching conversations.
Examples of her feedback included (actual feedback):
HARSH/CONDESCENDING TONE: “She will be insulting you and screaming at you and then at the end of it she will say that she was coaching you,” “Feedback is condescending like, ‘how could you do this’ instead of here’s some feedback for improving,” and, “Her communication can be condescending, insulting and intimidating.”
CLOSE MINDED/NOT FLEXIBLE: “Sometimes she can be rigid about ideas that she has. It’s from a place of passion but I think once she makes up her mind about something it’s hard to get her to see a different point of view.” “When someone is pushing back or trying to express their feelings she cuts them off,” and, “Once she makes up her mind about something it’s hard to get her to see a different point of view.
DOES NOT LIKE TO BE DISAGREED WITH: “When Mercedes feels she is questioned instead of diffusing she escalates the issue – the aggressive tone, the high emotions.” “When you don’t agree with her she almost takes it personal. Or she feels like she has to defend her position.” “If people don’t agree with her she says ‘just deal with it’ – she doesn’t like push back from her staff.” “When you disagree with her she tries to squash it instead of smooth it out.”
ABRASIVE & DIRECT: “She has a strong personality. She’s just really direct, there is no beating around the bush with her.” “Her communication can be raw and nearly abrasive. It’s definitely up front and in your face which can be distressing.” “I think other people feel she is a direct person and can be hard to deal with in certain situations. She is very vocal and has no problem letting you know what her thoughts and opinions are and that might scare them a bit.”
Three months and eight coaching sessions, we re-interviewed the same group of people. It was important for Mercedes to see that her behavior changes had been noticed, and in fact have a positive impact on others.
Mercedes changed 180 degrees! For example, actual feedback from her peers included:
IMPROVED LEADERSHIP: “She asks us what we need from her. I do feel I can approach her and ask for help and she would do what she could to help me within reason.” “She has been checking in with people now instead of asserting herself and taking charge. She is saying ‘here is what I am thinking, but you tell me what you want to share or do you want to present instead of me’.” “She lets me do my work and is not micromanaging. That’s the biggest difference I have noticed.”
PEOPLE FEEL COMFORTABLE TO SHARE OPINIONS: “I feel like I have more freedom to have my own opinion without having to prepare to defend myself or see if she is going to react poorly. That has improved a great deal.” “The one major area was people feeling that she was being hard or sarcastic or not wanting to disagree with her and she has toned that down a lot. She has been appreciating how different people communicate and recognizing how people are different than her.”
PATIENT & THOUGHTFUL: “She seems to be patient and listen well and she gives pointed advice. She tries to make sure that when she is giving advice there is a value and purpose to it.” “She has toned down her delivery. I have not seen that more forceful communication anymore.” “You get the impression that she is listening to what you say, thinking about it and then responding instead of assuming what you are going to say instead of responding based on her assumption.”
IMPROVED COMMUNICATION:“She doesn’t do what she may have done before where she would express her frustration of how somebody might be affecting her.” “She is genuine. She comes across as being sincere.” “My relationship with her is getting better. Things are going well and I am enjoying working with her more than ever.”
Mercedes continues to use what she learned in coaching to build relationships with her team and all others she works with. She has gained self-awareness, developed tools for slowing down and considering how her messages might be received, and can more effectively lead and communicate.
Mercedes’ change is a triple win. She is more effective, her team is more effective, and her manager has more time to focus on his team’s success (rather than on managing complaints).