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Coaches Diary: Play to Your Strengths


In the casebook this week, a partnership learns how to delegate.

Husband and wife team Michael and Jane were both gazing at me from the sofa, their eyebrows furrowed with worry. The couple had been happily married for 14 years, and just three years ago they had decided to pursue their dream of working together. However, reality was not matching up to their original plans – and the couple had decided to sign up for a coaching programme to help them get back on track.

Michael’s career had mainly been in property development and estate agency and the couple had decided to remain in this line of business when they started out on their own. Jane had started her working life as a secretary and office manager, but had spent the last ten years at home as a housewife and mother. Jane lacked confidence and was happy to allow Michael to take the driving seat in their new operation.

Michael clearly relished his “senior partner” role, and proudly told me that he had a clear vision for the company. “And does Jane share this vision?” I asked. Michael looked a bit sheepish – especially when Jane widened her eyes in surprise, declaring that they had never really discussed it.

The reason for the couple’s lack of success was beginning to become clearer. Michael perceived the company as his – and saw his wife merely as a “paper” director who occasionally provided some secretarial support. Jane, doubting her abilities, had allowed Michael to take charge – and even though she could see that more efficient working systems were needed, she had felt that Michael would simply ignore her – or worse, lose his temper.

The couple’s real problem was a lack of communication – compounded by their assumptions of each other’s strengths and aspirations. Both Michael and Jane were tired, stressed and increasingly irritated with each other. They had decided that there was too much to work to do – and not enough time in which to do it – and the only solution that they could both agree on was that they needed to take on another member of staff.

“But the problem is,” said Michael, “that it will be very difficult to find the right person that we can trust – and neither Jane nor I feel very comfortable about the financial commitment involved.”

After further questioning, it became apparent that while the company was particularly successful in generating new business leads, Michael’s forte, the follow-up and relationship management systems were sadly lacking, with the result that clients were being lost and revenue was dwindling.

I asked Jane if she wanted to take a bigger role in the company’s future. Watching her eyes light up, it was evident that she had been waiting a long time for this moment. Jane then proceeded to tell Michael and I that she had always wanted to do more in the company – but that most of her time was spent looking after the home and caring for the children.

Frowning in frustration, she proceeded to point out that while Michael was brilliant at making all the right contacts, he was less good at creating the systems that would actually produce the cash. “I can see what’s needed – and I would love the opportunity to create the procedures that will make our company an operational success.”

Although shy, Jane also confessed that she wanted to be more involved with building long-term relationships with clients. Clearly, the pair had the makings of a great team – Michael enjoyed marketing the company and winning new business, while Jane relished the idea of “making it all happen”. For the company to be successful, both its directors needed to be free to play to their strengths.

With this in mind, I suggested to the couple that – instead of hiring new blood into the business – they should consider employing a house-keeper. I watched as both pairs of eyes swivelled in my direction.
“After all,” I continued, “Jane has been the missing ingredient in this business and by freeing up her time, your company will be well on the way to success.” Seeing the sense in this obvious – and simple – solution both Michael and Jane started smiling and the tension in the room quickly dissolved into eager anticipation of what the future could hold.

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power” at


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