Executive Coaching for Senior Leaders and High-Potential Staff

The Challenge

The supervisor of the legal department for a major multinational corporation wanted to give one of her high-potential attorneys support to move up in the corporation. The supervisor thought the attorney had excellent legal and leadership abilities. The primary thing holding the attorney back was that she was perceived as either too nice, or, when angry, as too harsh in asserting her authority. The corporation had a tough corporate culture. The attorney’s in-house clients were primarily self-confident male engineers working on large, multiyear, multi-million-dollar projects. In addition, the attorney oversaw a number of outside counsel, who were also highly confident, opinionated men.

The supervisor hired me to coach the attorney. Our goal was to help her develop the skills to manage outside counsel effectively and to assert herself clearly and directly in a male-dominated organization, while maintaining her excellent communication and team-oriented skills.

The Process

Before accepting the coaching engagement, I spoke at length with the supervisor to ensure that she viewed coaching as a vote of confidence and a positive investment in the attorney; to clarify the desired outcomes of the coaching engagement; and to ensure that the supervisor understood the process. I then talked to the attorney to ensure that she wanted to be coached and would invest the time and energy necessary to make it worthwhile.

Next, the three of us met. I asked the supervisor to reiterate to the attorney why she thought the attorney was a good candidate for coaching. They had the opportunity to ask questions of each other and of me, and we established a one-year coaching schedule.

The first couple of meetings with the attorney consisted of getting background information from her about her career and interests, and talking to her about the results of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that I administered. I used what I learned in those initial meetings to develop a coaching plan with her, which I tailored to her personality, background, and learning style.

We conferred weekly over the telephone. Usually we began by recapping what had occurred since our last call. Her preferred learning method was to dissect a situation that she was involved in or about to be involved in, discuss how to handle that particular situation, and then extrapolate from that situation to general lessons for future use. In addition, we met quarterly with the supervisor to provide an update and to receive feedback from her on the attorney’s progress and whether the goals needed to be revised.

The Result

Both the attorney and the supervisor saw significant results from the coaching. The attorney changed the substance and the style of her communications and is stronger with both in-house clients and outside counsel. The supervisor observed that outside counsel are much more respectful of the attorney than they were before the coaching engagement.