Coaching Case Study: Coaching Young Executives

Case Studies

Coaching Case Study By Tan Nguyen
(Executive Coach, AUSTRALIA)

A Journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step – Lao Tsu

If I have only one choice for who should I wish to coach, this will be the young executives.  People who are between 2-10 years in their career. I am not sure why perhaps it’s a combination of the gratitude I have toward people who guided me in the early stage of my career and perhaps the youthful curiosity of these people.

I have the privilege to be coaching 4 young executives who all working in professional service companies in Vietnam and Myanmar.  They are all in between 3 – 10 years of experience, some already leading a small group of members, some are on their way there.  Despite differences in their job and stage of career, I observe some similarity in the areas that they would like to work on with a coach and below is one typical goal

The desire to be a good leader and therefore the need to develop their team members, for them, good leadership must:

  • Possess the ability to build capable team members (which will involve delegating works),
  • Encourage trying new things which will involve making mistake (and learn from it to move forward), but they also insist they don’t like making the same mistake
  • Encourage an open-minded environment, especially about making mistake, receiving constructive feedback
  • Has the ability to give constructive feedback, especially when team member screws up

While we all agree on the perfect definition of good leadership, various conversations with them reveal some insight which has brought them headache and dilemma about where and how to start (learning to be a good leader)

  • The tension between the need to build team member capability, delegating jobs versus making sure jobs are good quality/error-free. Especially when under pressure, most would choose to do the jobs themselves (to make sure I trust the quality) and therefore later feeling bad because they move nowhere on developing team.
  • The tension between encouraging trying new things (which will involve making more mistake) and not to make the same mistake. They seem to be disappointed about the same mistakes within the team and in most cases, for them, this happens because team members do not be serious about their job.
  • And the tension about who own the mistake and how to provide feedback. They feel upset because they believe “the team is not vulnerable enough, does not own their mistake” but at the same time they feel like they must try something else to provide better feedback

This is clear for them that they are confused and not sure how to move forward and this is the bottleneck that holds back their development. 

One of the many things that I tried seem to provide a positive result for this group of young executives is a SIMPLE step in a JOURNEY.  I must say I got this inspired from 

A Journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step- Lao Tsu

What I tried consistently in all of the 4 clients are

  • To work with them to identify their goal, especially for them to realize the meaningful importance of being a good leader for them and what leadership will entail (both privilege and responsibility)
  • To work with them to understand how they view the journey of becoming a good leader will be. To them, it’s a long, painful yet rewarding experience
  • To help them identify steps they must take which will lead toward their goal and
  • Most importantly, to help them realize that the most important thing is to TAKE THE 1st STEP forward in the right direction.

What I learned going through this exercise is that

  • While people know the direction of their goal and the journey they will be going through, many still not move ahead simply because it’s overwhelming and some might fear failure

So, the approach that I have tried in these cases have been

A reflection exercise where I ask them about the experience they are going through when they were young & developed by their bosses. “How did it happen and how did it make them feel, what they appreciate the most then and now and what can be done differently then and now?”. 

I think this is quite a simple exercise, easy to understand and visualize but at the same time powerful because it allows the clients to reflect on what truly works on both short term (then) and longer-term (now). It also allows the client to see the issue from both lenses (staff – then) and (leader – now) of what truly work / not work and what are the critical lessons.

A reframe perspective exercise base on a simple question “what would you 5 years ago (as a staff being developed by your boss) advise you now on the matter of people development”

again, this exercise is simple but bring AHA moment. In all cases, the reframe perspective helps the clients realize a more reasonable angle to approach the same issue and that opens up the door for them to move forward.  What I can observe is that all of them can jump right into the action with very specific steps

A fear vs courage We need to acknowledge that people don’t change easily and know exactly what needs to be done does not guarantee that step will be taken. And that at this stage while the client knows exactly the step they need to take, we need to make sure they are fully aware of that stand on their way, especially it’s them that stand in their way. And here we usually discuss what will eventually happen (which will involve both things that go their way and not going their way) if (a) they take the step versus (b) they do not take the step.  This exercise usually results in the client realize that to change/make things happen, they must give up something else.  I call it fear vs courage choice.  Simply because to make that choice, they must have the courage to face fear, face giving up something for something else more important. 

At this stage, it’s too early to conclude what works best when coaching young executives. However, I will continue to follow this route to verify or improve it.  Working with these young executives also inspire me to develop

  • My coaching model: THE JOURNEY
  • My power tool: FEAR vs COURAGE

I also must thank my peer coaches who inspire me / lead me to a simple but powerful statement

A Journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step – Lao Tsu

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