Clive Bennett & Associates
Leadership coaching case study

The Managing Director and her head office

The situation
Jane (not her real name, of course) is a brilliant marketer and, during her rising career in two major multinationals, her extraordinary motivational skills and market insight had given her top marketing roles and then a business unit manager position. All with great success. Finally, she had been headhunted as Country Managing Director for a fast growing global player in her sector. This was a great opportunity.

Things began to get unstuck soon after she arrived. The team she took over had been drifting complacently without a local leader for well over a year. Two key Directors were clearly incompetent and one of these was a danger to the business.

Jane quickly took control. She faced up to the various cosy alliances and petty battles that had become the way of life in the management team. She set out a new strategy and challenging targets. She moved one of the weak Directors and asked the lawyers to prepare dismissal papers for the Director whose actions were putting the business at risk. Reactions were poisonous. Soon, senior executives in the European regional office in London and the US HQ were getting highly critical emails and phone calls from unhappy managers in Jane's team. The dismissal proceedings were totally out of hand - the hot shot lawyers flown in by HQ actually made things worse as they did not understand the local laws and the Director in question refused to go, however big the compensation cheque.

Jane's bosses in London and the US were not pleased. This small market was now a problem. Her team was apparently in total revolt and they felt she didn't have the guts to fire a Director who was obviously bad for the business. They wondered if they had made the wrong decision in hiring her.

Clive Bennett was called in to see if he could coach her through this challenge.

The intervention
After a two hour introduction with Jane's London based boss, Clive recommended involving the whole of Jane's new management team (except for the Director being dismissed), in the coaching process. Following an initial three hour session with Jane and a couple of psychometric tests he then interviewed all her Directors at length in open, confidential conversations.

It became clear that Jane's main problem was not leadership of her team - it really had needed a big shake up and the best amongst them recognised that fact. There was some resistance among some managers but in general there was a willingness to change. Her authoritarian and centralizing tendencies were mostly a result of justifiable insecurity about her new team's loyalty and competence than her natural leadership style. While she needed to adjust some of her behaviour, as the team settled down, overall it was clear that Jane was a talented and motivational leader in both business and motivational terms.

Her real failure had been in her management of relationships and information above her, in the UK and US head offices. The company has a very different culture from the one she had left. Instead of the collegiate, thoughtful approach she was used to, here was an aggressively results driven culture run by technologists with little interest in soft skills. Their returns and turnover growth are outstanding. Clive also uncovered that Jane was not dealing with some critical matters in her personal life and this was causing her considerable heartache and interfering with her ability to be objective at work.

Jane and Clive worked out a plan of action and Clive reported back in detail to Jane's boss in London. This report was first agreed with Jane. The report argued that Jane's leadership was basically excellent but needed to be more inclusive; she needed to risk delegating more tasks and responsibilities; the dismissal problem was in fact a legal question and not a failure of resolve. She needed to be more assertive and open with her superiors in the UK and the US and explain her challenges more effectively. Finally but importantly, she needed to restore a better work-life balance and give more time to her family in order to be more level-headed at work. Her boss was relieved - he had not screwed up this important hire after all. Jane's leadership would stop being a problem for him and his own bosses in the US.

Locally, the action plan involved toning down Jane's leadership style and getting her best managers on side with her vision and objectives. Internationally, with Clive's support, Jane carefully explained the impossible local labour laws - in this country if someone really refuses to budge it is almost impossible to fire them, however much you pay. The company appointed competent local lawyers who took a more effective approach, using both technical disciplinary issues and a tough overall position - the responsibility was, in the minds of her bosses, no longer Jane's. Clive's assessment of her excellent leadership skills also helped convince HQ that the problems were not of her making.

Taking a more open approach with her team, gaining support by her behaviour and example, the results began to come in. She and her team exceeded the almost impossible budget dictated by US HQ and she made sure that celebration included the whole of her company unit.

Clive and Jane also discussed her work-life balance and the role of her career in her life, at length. They set some, apparently trivial, but symbolically effective, goals for her personal life. Jane took the challenge and re-focussed on her family rather than just her career.

The outcome
After six months, Clive, Jane and her boss agreed that Jane really didn't need Clive's help any more. Her results were fantastic, her management team was buzzing and her bosses were happy. And so was Jane and her family.