Coaching Case Studies

Leader’s Emotions Sabotaging Employee Performance

Situation:

Angel investors of a biotech startup noticed that the founder’s emotional expression tended to sabotage employee performance. He projected confidence when talking to investors and other external stakeholders. Yet he expressed a great deal of anxiety about the company’s future when engaging with employees. This resulted in employees experiencing significant anxiety at work.

Analysis:

While a little anxiety can drive productivity in the short term, excessive anxiety decreases productivity, undermines employee mental and physical health, contributes to workplace accidents, decreases motivation, and increases turnover. When the Disaster Avoidance Experts team interviewed the employees, we did find that the startup was suffering from several of these problems. More, we learned that the founder’s behavior led to senior staff increasingly expressing negative emotions to junior staff. The founder failed to recognize that he needed to be “on” and managing his emotions effectively not only when engaging with external stakeholders, but also when interacting with internal stakeholders. That applies in particular to subordinates, who are especially strongly impacted by a leader’s emotions.

Intervention:

Our intervention involved coaching for the founder to ensure he managed his emotions well. He was resistant at first, but was persuaded when we showed him the results of our analysis and the extensive research of how the emotional expression of leaders is vital to company performance, especially in startup settings. The emotions that leaders express – frustration, anger, kindness, optimism – sway the attitudes of others through a process known as emotional contagion. These emotions are crucial for employee motivation and engagement. The wrong emotions expressed at the wrong times lead to poor performance by employees. Research demonstrates that one’s emotional management and projection grows more important the higher one rises in the organizational hierarchy. The founder focused on gaining skills in emotional and social intelligence, managing his emotions more effectively, and influencing the emotions of his employees through impactful and intentional emotional contagion.

Outcome:

Gradually, the culture of the startup shifted – in the words of one angel investor – “from toxic to flourishing.” This change led to higher employee motivation and engagement, less turnover, less sick days, and increased productivity. In the year after we completed the coaching engagement, the startup’s internal indicators of employee satisfaction improved by 34 percent, productivity improved by 28 percent, turnover decreased by 22 percent, and sick days by 17 percent. Altogether, the coaching intervention’s annualized gains were estimated at $1.2 million.

Are there any leaders you know who might unknowingly be harming employee engagement?

Our coaching can help: get in touch with us today!

Facing Financial Reality in a Social Enterprise

Situation:

The CEO of a mid-size social enterprise – a mission-driven for-profit company – tended to deny her emotions about concerns over the organization’s financial well-being. She would throw herself into working on addressing those concerns by focusing her efforts on serving the organization’s mission of finding appropriate employment for former prisoners. Yet she did not stop to consider whether the current costs of the organization were in line with its projected revenues. Over time, she grew increasingly burned out, while the organization’s Board of Directors grew increasingly concerned about the growing imbalance between revenue and costs. 

Analysis:

Studies show that one of the top reasons CEOs get fired is “denying reality” – failing to recognize bad news and respond to them adequately. The problem stems from various emotional drivers that cause us to flinch away from and ignore bad news, a dangerous judgment errors known as the ostrich effect. Leaders who are not sufficiently aware of emotional patterns that may lead them astray often cause organizations to under-perform, lose money, market share, and reputation. The situation with this CEO was a classic case of denialism. A member of the organization’s Board of Directors who saw a speech by Disaster Avoidance Experts CEO Dr. Gleb Tsipursky discussing the problem of denialism brought us in to provide coaching for the leader of this social enterprise.

Intervention:

Through a series of coaching conversations with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, the CEO realized that she had exceedingly high expectations for accomplishing the company’s – very worthwhile – mission, which were not in line with the organization’s financial reality. These expectations came from an emotional desire to serve the organization’s beneficiaries, former prisoners, and a consequent confirmation bias that did not acknowledge growing evidence about the excessive costs. It was crucial for her to recognize that the work of the organization was a marathon, not a sprint, and required her to slow down for the sake of reaching long-term goals.

Outcome:

As a result of these conversations and insights, the leader implemented a series of cost-cutting measures that resulted in the organization’s budget coming into line with financial reality. The annualized costs were decreased by over $900,000.

Do you know of a leader who may be denying reality and can benefit from similar coaching?

We can help!

Collaboration in the C-Suite

Situation:

A CFO was head-hunted away from a mid-size electronics supplier, and the company decided to promote a senior accountant from within to the CFO role. The senior accountant had over 20 years of experience in this company’s accounting office. Unfortunately, she had no real experience being in the C-suite and planning financial strategy. Her previous boss handled interactions with other top executives, but he left soon after giving notice and did not prepare her for her new role. The new CFO struggled with her new position and figuring out her role on the executive management team. She saw her role as defending the financial resources of the company, which led to frequent conflicts with executives in charge of marketing and sales, who were pushing for more funding for their needs. 

Analysis:

The CFO was the one who brought in Disaster Avoidance Experts, as she wanted us to coach her on social intelligence strategies to promote her agenda in the C-suite. Our principal, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, worked with her and recognized that she was not aware of her own role in the conflictual situation. He encouraged the CFO to focus on assessing and adjusting her own beliefs and behaviors, since the only person any of us can control is ourselves. After some hesitation and further discussion, she agreed that the first step was to address her own possible misperceptions and consequent behaviors. 

Intervention:

The coaching sessions focused on the fundamental attribution error, our tendency to attribute the behavior of others to their personality, as opposed to their incentives or context. The CFO recognized that the VPs of marketing and sales were not confronting her because they were being wasteful, but because they were working within a different context and incentive structure. We talked about how all people are generally heroes in their own story and how she needed to focus on figuring out how each person is working to advance the company’s goals within their specific role. You might be surprised that the new CFO failed to think about context of sales and marketing, yet remember, she was recently promoted from within and did not have experience thinking about other branches of organization and did not get appropriate coaching for her position. We asked her to imagine herself in the shoes of the Marketing VP and the Sales VP, and although it was hard for her to do so at first, she eventually succeeded in making this cognitive leap. We also discussed the broader strategy of mental map vs. territory of reality, and how any time she was surprised was an opportunity to improve her mental map. She worked hard to learn how she could balance her role of controlling costs with the financial investments needed to ensure quality marketing and sales, and grew more and more capable of navigating these challenges over time.

Outcome:

After the coaching engagement, the new CFO greatly improved her relationships with other C-suite executives, especially the Marketing VP and Sales VP. Over time, she grew into her role and became a top-notch CFO who wisely managed the company’s finances and was a respected and valued member of the executive management team.

Do you or anyone you know struggle to communicate effectively to peers and subordinates?

Get in touch with us today!

Partner Troubles at an Intellectual Law Firm

Situation:

A senior associate lawyer was referred to us for coaching by an intellectual property law firm that we work with regularly. She was a rising star and close to making partner, a critical achievement in the legal field. However, she started slipping in the last few months. She was making mistakes in her work and having strained interactions with some of her co-workers, which put her at risk of not making partner. At first, she was ambivalent about coaching. She knew that she needed to make a change after getting a formal warning from the firm’s senior partner, but she wasn’t sure coaching would do the trick. Still, she was willing to trust the senior partner at the law firm who referred her to us. We agreed to move forward with coaching to work on the challenges that were threatening her career. 

Analysis:

We started by doing a 360-degree analysis of her performance. Then, we met with her and discussed what she thought was causing the problems. At first, she blamed problematic situations on other people, not herself. However, we used the results of the 360-degree analysis to highlight some of her behaviors that other people considered problematic. We asked what she would think if she observed another lawyer in her firm acting this way, and she recognized that she did miss signs of problematic behaviors on her part. 

Intervention:

We started to explore the causes of the problematic behaviors. She revealed that she was feeling less and less motivated recently, like she was dragging herself to work. This low motivation showed up in making mistakes and snapping at her colleagues. To evaluate low motivation, we turned our conversation to her long-term goals, and it turned out she did not have any particular goals. She liked law and entered the field of intellectual property law because it was prestigious and lucrative, but she was not passionate about it. She shared that she was passionate about environmental activism and had volunteered as a board member of a local nonprofit. Yet a career in environmental law was neither well-paid nor prestigious. 

We decided to do a goal-setting exercise where she explored her sense of meaning and purpose. During the exercises, she realized that a part of herself was engaging in self-sabotaging behavior because she did not really want to make partner in the intellectual property law firm. She eventually decided that it would be much more meaningful for her to leave her current position and take up environmental law, even as it would mean sacrificing the esteem of some of her colleagues and accepting a lower salary going forward. 

Outcome:

She left the law firm and got hired by the nonprofit where she formerly served on the Board of Directors, a position where she felt happy and fulfilled. The senior partner at the law firm who referred her to us was ambivalent about the outcome, but overall grew to accept that it wouldn’t have been beneficial to have a partner who was unhappy and unmotivated.

Want to ensure you’re taking the right path to your future? Call or email us today!

Addressing Culture of Denialism in Hospital

Situation:

A physician wanted to address the culture of denial in medicine that prevents doctors from sharing and learning from their errors. She recognized this problem both in her own practice and at the hospital where she worked as an oncologist. She knew that failing to discuss mistakes was harmful for patient safety and contacted us after reading The Truth-Seeker’s Handbook: A Science-Based Guide, the best-seller written by Disaster Avoidance Experts CEO Dr. Gleb Tsipursky. The book discussed how to address mistakes in the most effective way to improve performance and outcomes in a variety of organizations, including hospitals.

Analysis:

Due to the delicacy of the issue, the physician wanted to keep the coaching private and not get other staff involved. Through a series of conversations we explored the factors that made her and other doctors reluctant to admit mistakes. After some questioning, we uncovered that she and other doctors did not want to lose face in front of each other. A secondary concern was the threat of lawsuits. The pervasive culture of doctors not acknowledging or discussing mistakes turned out to be a major obstacle to improving patient safety. 

Intervention:

We came up with specific action steps that the physician could take. First, we agreed she would find a fellow doctor outside her hospital with whom she can discuss mistakes and brainstorm about how to avoid them. Second, we agreed she would start conversations at her hospital about how physicians can share and discuss their mistakes in private settings in order to minimize risks of lawsuits. 

Outcome:

The physician did not only find fellow doctors outside her hospital to discuss medical mistakes, but created a mastermind group of several physicians doctors to privately discuss such issues. Over time, she organized a monthly event at her hospital unit where doctors talked about their mistakes behind closed doors and brainstormed ways to address and prevent them. We continued to meet with the physician to support her in leading these events, including suggesting ways for the doctors to keep each other accountable. Over the next 18 months, patient mortality in her unit decreased by 12 percent, without any increases in patient lawsuits.

Want to improve the way you or your organization deals with mistakes? We’d love to help!

Effective Leadership Communication

Situation:

We coached a software engineer during his rise through the ranks of a software consulting company into senior management. While this individual was an outstanding expert who excelled at time management, organization, and task achievement, he had some challenges when interacting with his co-workers. The biggest issue was that his intuitive approach to disagreements was to argue stridently for his own perspective and expect others to argue for their perspectives, with the best arguments winning out. 

Analysis:

While this argumentative approach worked well for him when collaborating with fellow software engineers who used a similar style when debating computer code, it did not prove suitable for corporate leadership settings. It did not work well for resolving disagreements with people from other departments who were not accustomed to such strident argument styles. He overestimated how persuasive his arguments were, as well as the extent to which others could observe his state of mind, a thinking error called the illusion of transparency. Moreover, as he was rising through the ranks his communication style was no longer suitable for interacting with other software engineers due to the power differential that prevented subordinates from honestly expressing their opinions when they saw their supervisor arguing stridently for his position.

Intervention:

To address this challenge, we worked with him to change his style of communication around disagreements to move away from arguing toward a combination of proprietary research-based communication methodologies from Disaster Avoidance Experts, such as EGRIP and collaborative truth-seeking. For example, he practiced starting conversations by acknowledging his perspective and weaknesses of his position. Doing so helped encourage those he spoke with to do so as well, building up equality and mutual understanding. He also focused on figuring out and directly addressing the emotions and goals of other people at the start of the conversation, which helped bridge the trust gap with those to whom he spoke.

Outcome:

As he rose through the ranks, the software engineer became increasingly acknowledged as an effective communicator and leader. As a result of relying on our research-based communication strategies, along with his other skills and abilities, he eventually reached the role of CEO. Over the course of his first 18 months in charge he oversaw the company’s revenue increase by $13 million and profits by $6 million.

Want to move your leadership communication from good to outstanding using strategies based on

best practices and cutting-edge research? We can help, just drop us a line!

Shopping cart

Subtotal
Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.
Checkout