“Primus inter pares”

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Client: Fiona, age 26.

Position: Personal Assistant Team Leader.

Situation: Fiona worked as an personal assistant in a large partnership. Recently she had been promoted to team leader and was now responsible for co-ordinating the supply of personal assistants (PAs) to the partners.

Fiona was challenged by the change. The partners (business owners) were very demanding. Until recently, PAs were allocated to partners on a one-to one basis, but now they were allocated on a needs basis. A partner might share a PA or, in demanding times, be allocated their own. Old habits die hard however, and partners were reluctant to relinquish their preferred professional assistants at the end of the case or project, worried that the next one might not be as good. Thus the partners conflicted with the flexible business model that Fiona was required to implement.

She found that relationships with her colleagues were affected by the promotion. A friend found it difficult to relate to someone who was now her boss. Another colleague was playing power games and, while their combative stance related to a relatively minor issue, the intensity of the conflict was a major stressor.

A recent recruit to the EA team was under-performing in the role and was unlikely to pass probation. Overall, Fiona felt that she was spending all of her time putting out fires and had little or no time for the more strategic aspects of her role.

She felt that she had little or no power to make decisions and solve the problems that came her way. She felt that the situation was exacting a toll on her that would not be sustainable in the medium to long term.

Coaching: Coaching took place over four sessions.

Session 1—two hours face-to-face—during which time (1) we agreed the expectations and targets for the program and (2) discussed the issues, during which time I applied questions to ascertain precisely what the problem was, and why. At times I challenged aspects of Fiona’s world-view, we reviewed different scenarios, and explored different approaches that she could take. We role-played the more challenging situations that she expected to face. We set the targets that Fiona would aim to achieve over the coming week.

Session 2—30 minutes by Skype—we reviewed the targets we had set at the previous meeting and reviewed what had gone well and what had not. We discussed remedies to these and agreed to targets to be achieved by the next meeting.

Session 3—30 minutes by Skype—a similar format to session 2 though with different issues and targets.

Session 4—30 minutes by Skype—a similar format to session 2 & 3 followed by a wrap-up of the learning of the four sessions.

Outcomes: Coaching gave Fiona time out and space to reflect on what was happening around her, and to prioritise and make plans to deal with the issues she faced. Coaching enabled her to put the problems into perspective and enabled her to explore different ways in which these could be addressed. For the more challenging things, such as difficult conversations, role-plays enabled the rehearsal that led to improved performance and successful outcomes.

“Coaching did not make my problems go away, but it did fundamentally change how I viewed the problems and my approach to them. I went from feeling overwhelmed to feeling optimistic that I was up to the challenges associated with managing people.”

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