The Coaching Ultimatum: Tale of Two Executives

What do you do when you have a hard-working, talented, and knowledgeable direct report whose aggressive behavior frequently causes problems for others? When you brought up the topic of coaching, he became defensive, pointing out the good work he does. Now what?

The answer comes from Alan Mulally, former CEO of the Boeing Company, of the Ford Motor Company, and a coaching client of Marshall Goldsmith.

Alan employed an executive who was absolutely brilliant. However, the executive treated others with condescension and abrasiveness. The executive’s behavior chilled discussions. People felt intimidated.

Alan pointed out to him that this kind of behavior ran contrary to Alan’s clearly articulated culture, values and expected behaviors to create a smart, safe, healthy, and high-performing team.

The executive shared that this was the way he was, and he didn’t think he could change.

Alan told him that was okay. The executive smiled, relieved to be able to continue to behave this way.

Alan clarified that what he meant when he said “okay,” was that if the executive did not choose to develop the expected behaviors he was choosing to move on.

Alan had a very different experience with another senior executive who likewise was brilliant but had similar problematic behaviors. Alan had a similar conversation with her.

She responded that this was what she had learned and had made her successful. However, she also said she was open to learning the behaviors Alan expected.

Alan arranged for her to get a coach and a 360-degree assessment was done. Her coaching plan identified three behaviors to change.

According to Alan, this leader became one of the most trusted, valued and appreciated executives in the company.

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