Troubleshooter: Collision course

The strategic head of a global telecoms organisation is considered integral to the business. But when a new CEO arrives with his own team, the head is left isolated and unclear of his role. What now?

Colin is a vice president of a multinational telecommunications company. He was hired as head of strategy for his experience and exceptional capability in thinking critically. He was a crucial member of the executive team.
The board of directors then replaced the current CEO with whom Colin had had a very constructive relationship. The new CEO wanted to bring in his own people, but was warned to leave Colin in place, as no one understood the business or the market as well as him. So Colin became the only member of the executive team with no previous relationship with the CEO.
The new team did not appreciate his style, feeling he was too direct and fixed on clarifying all the details. Relationships became more antagonistic and contentious. In performance reviews Colin was told not to be so negative and to try to get along with the others. Colin interpreted this to mean they wanted a ‘yes man’.
As head of strategy, Colin felt very strongly that he was hired to make sure the plans of the executive team were rigorously tested and that to be more compliant would be to the detriment of the business. What is his next move?

Elizabeth Barrekette
Managing partner, BRK Partnership
Working with a coach will help Colin pause and look at his situation objectively. What does he really want? Only he can determine whether he wants to be a subject matter expert or a more general kind of leader.
Does he want to be in a company that appreciates his style, or stay in his current role and find an amicable way of working together. And if he wants to look elsewhere, does that mean leaving the company or might there be opportunities in other divisions?
Whatever he chooses, Colin would benefit from looking at his style of working with others. We would work on identifying which of his skills he could use to build a relationship with the management team.
Can Colin think of other scenarios and relationships he has successfully forged in the past? Or relationships that have come with no thought or effort? How do they differ? Are there alternative options for interacting with people that he can try out? What about trusted colleagues elsewhere in the business who might shed light on the new management?
This is where coaching can add the most value: going deeper to try on behaviours to see which feel comfortable and real for him and exploring what doesn’t feel right, and modifying accordingly.
Eventually Colin should be able to feel confident in a greater selection of styles he can apply, while discovering he has examples of successful relationships he can draw on to build trust and gain confidence with his current team, or indeed elsewhere.

Natalie Holt
Capability lead, leadership & coaching, Capita Consulting
It is clear that Colin has a great deal of expertise to offer the organisation. It is also clear that the style he adopted previously, to great effect, is no longer creating the desired outcome.
He is experiencing change and it would be helpful for him to consider how he is responding. Coaching would provide enquiry and challenge around the scenario and uncover to what extent his emotions can be mapped on to the change curve so he can better understand his resulting behaviours.
Coaching will help Colin build his self-awareness, understand the style and approach he chooses (perhaps unconsciously), and allow him to see the impact on others. An experienced coach will challenge Colin’s thinking and give him an alternative view on how he can be perceived by others.
Colin has access to many behaviours to which he may be oblivious. Bringing these to his awareness will allow him to choose the right one, at the right time, to have greatest impact.
The essence of a good leader is the ability to seamlessly adapt style to any given situation. Colin may find he can achieve the outcome he desires, but in a way that the new executive team accepts.
We would explore whether the new culture is aligned to his values and beliefs. Now is a good time to evaluate what is important to him and his role.
Coaching will allow Colin to take a step back from the complexity of the situation, evaluate the changes that have occurred and leave him with clarity on what he wants and how he will achieve it.

Coaching at Work, Volume 8, issue 4