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Coaching case study: The whistle blower


This month in our popular coaching series, Richard Hawkes looks at a situation where personal issues are clouding an employee's judgment.
Our coachee tells about somebody who is working against the organisation and this has cause severe angst. The coachee has also been working without getting balance of life in perspective.
We are about to read an example of how a coach holds a metaphorical mirror up to the coachee with very powerful results.
Coach: "So Erik, what would you like to talk about today?"
Erik: "I've just found out that Jack Williams from the technical department has been selling information about our new Q412 project to Ablons Research. They're also developing a similar project to ours so this information will be invaluable to them. Good thing I say. This lot deserves this. They are too greedy and selling the company last year, well all that's done is to line the pockets of the CEO and his cohorts"
Get the picture? Erik is very disillusioned with his employer and what they have done.
Coach: "So Erik, what do you have in mind to do about this?"
Erik: "Nothing of course. However I have heard that Tom in research development is going to blow the whistle on the whole thing. I'm going to make sure that he will not do that"
Coach: "What had you in mind Erik?"
Erik: "I'm going to sort Tom out. After I've finished with him, he won't be fit to blow the whistle on anything, let alone this."
Here is an interesting conundrum. The coach has now been exposed to two possible misdemeanours – Erik will not tell the company about something very detrimental, and he has also made threats against Tom. Both if not illegal are bordering on the illegal, and the coach now has his professional integrity sorely tried.
Clearly Erik is very angry on several fronts; which is the symptom and which is the disease?
Some coaches may work on what he has been told and focus on solutions. Try to get Erik to go to his company, talk it out with Tom etc. Our coach has decided to take a completely different approach and try one of the very powerful questions that is in the toll bag.
Coach: "Erik; tell me what you should know that you don't know."
Erik: "Eh! That's not relevant"
Bearing in mind that Erik has built up considerable trust in our coach over the sessions they have had to date; our coach tries again.
Coach: "Stop and think for a minute, if you can. Then try again; tell me what you should know that you don't know."
Erik: (after a pause) "Well there may be several things: for example, why I am being asked to do things that seem irrelevant; why we are developing a product which does not fit with our normal portfolio; why do I always seem to be disagreeing with everybody, why Jack is doing what he is doing; what is driving Tom?"
Coach: "What else?"
Erik: "Why is my line manager always chasing me?"
Coach: "Go on."
Erik: "Um...My partner is giving me a hard time"
Coach: "Anything else?"
Erik: "What made me leave the committee at my club? They are such fools all those other people on the committee."
Coach: "What else?"
Erik: "OK.OK. You've made the point. It's me again. Just the same as it was last time and I haven't changed."
Coach: "I am not sure it is not you that has made the point, however, where would you like to go now?"
Erik: "The Maldives – no I didn't mean that. You were asking me what I need to resolve in my mind where I have gone off track."
Coach: "I was, but let's think about The Maldives, your immediate reaction. Do you need a break?"
Erik: "Not really...maybe I do. I've been working constantly for 18 months without a break. Come to think of it, that's probably not too good for me."
Let's take a break here and look at what is happening in the conversation. First, our coach took a different approach and was in effect getting Erik to dig into his subconscious. The conversation took a seemingly random course. During this time, however, our coach was drawing on the depth of his experience and asking questions that were not necessarily directly related but lead to the realisation by Erik of where he is in his mind.
Note the persistent use of "What if?" A very powerful coaching tool.
We have a lot of unfinished business yet to complete. 
Coach: "So Erik, summarise what you have heard yourself say in the last 40 minutes or so."
Erik: "Ok. I'm very angry with the world, and more to the point with myself. I'm taking this out on the company and those around me. I am being irrational mainly because I've stopped having an enquiring mind. This must affect the research I am doing; which is probably why my boss is not happy with me. This is also having an effect on my relationship with my partner – how silly is that? Don't ask me another question; I want to follow this through myself. Stand back Erik – stop; review; analyse; come up with a plan."
Great news. Erik has stopped his reactionary brain taking over and has moved back into his logical brain. Now all the coach has to do is sit back and wait. Let the silence do the heavy lifting.
Erik continues: "How stupid are you Erik, you should go and speak to Tom and find out what his approach to the company is and support him as much as possible. Your future is at stake. You, Erik, need to support this organisation to the hilt. Yes; that is what I shall do. I shall now become the whistle blower – I feel good about that. Thanks coach."
Coach: "I have done very little other than sit here, but that sounds a satisfactory solution. I suggest that we finish now; there's no point in sitting here for another half hour just to eke out the two hours. You've got more than enough to think about and do."
A good move by our coach. Erik has taken himself apart and put himself back together again with a few gentle nudges by our coach; a great example of the coaching process. If the coach decided to start another thread, it would probably negate a lot of the work that has been done in this session.
Sometime less is more.
Richard Hawkes is a leading business coach with Unlimited Potential

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