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Coaching case study: too busy to take a holiday

summer

Resident coach Richard Hawkes looks at a conversation that tackles the issue of being too busy.


Nikita is a workaholic. Her job is in itself demanding but flexible enough to allow her to take on as much or as little as she wants as long as it moves the organisation she works in forward. Nikita takes on more and more and as a result of this becomes more and more critical to the organisation and more and more committed.

So it’s review time and her line manager has raised the matter of holidays once again and the fact that she has only taken 10% of her entitlement this year, the year that runs out in three weeks. This has been a recurring issue at her review for the past five years.

Fortunately this organisation runs a Coach on Call programme in which they have arranged for an external coach to be available on the telephone, subject to booking only, for anybody in the organisation whenever they need it. Nikita decided that she would use this service to see if she could find a good answer for her line manager at the next review.

The coaching conversation went something like this once the introduction was complete:-

Nikita: "I am getting increasingly irritated each time I have a review that my line manager keeps on about the fact that I do not take my full holiday allowance each year. It is not that I would like to miss out on these breaks, but simply that I do not have the time to take off work without a lot of the projects I am doing going pear shaped and without letting a lot of people down. I am looking for a good retort to my line manager at our next review. What can I say?"

The opening sentences should alert the coach immediately. Nikita has asked a direct question for advice. Our coach needs to turn this back to avoid either being judgmental or consultative.

Coach: "Tell me what you mean by the word 'irritated'?"

Nikita: "Well it makes me angry that he is pushing me in a direction that I do not want to go and that he is effectively marking me down for not taking time off. That seems very unfair."

Coach"Angry?"

Nikita"Yes, angry. I get all hot inside, my brain starts to shut down and my eye focus becomes blurred. At that point I am in a defensive position for the rest of the review – maybe my line manager does this to be in control."

Coach: "Nikita, the root cause of this, you said, is that you are not taking breaks. You have told me that you are too busy, busy to be able to do this. So if you stand back and look at yourself and what you are doing, what do you think the impact of that is?"

Nikita: "Impact on what?"

Coach: "On your organisation and on yourself."

Nikita: "Well, I get tired, get home and go straight to bed, think all the time about work; probably do not listen to my family – and thinking about, it they do not listen to me anymore."

Coach: " . . . and at work?"

Nikita: "I just get on with it.  Head down and move everything forward; keep everybody happy, but . . . I’m too busy to do anything else."

Coach: "And what else should you be doing?"

Nikita: "I should be keeping my department running absolutely smoothly."

Coach: "What else?"

Nikita: "Checking that everybody in my department is as good as they should be; has all the training and skills development they need."

Coach: "What else?"

Nikita: "Making sure that all the projects I am doing are totally relevant to the organisation."

Coach: "What else?"

This is great use of the What Else technique by the coach. Digging deeper and deeper it should get to the bottom of the real reason that Nikita is too busy, too busy.

Nikita: "OK, making sure that I do not have to think about that awful accident that my brother had by filling my time to the full."

So, the coach has now got to the bottom of why Nikita is making herself so busy. Now what to do about it?  Coach must make sure that now she has been "taken apart" she must be put back together again before the session ends. This is a difficult area on the coaching/counselling border. Coach needs to be very careful not to stray over that border. Coach also has to make a quick decision on whether to recommend a psychologist to Nikita. Our coach now carries on.

Coach: "Nikita, do you want to tell me about that accident?"

We are going to skip the horrific details of her brother’s accident that Nikita shares with the coach. It is not relevant for this case, but suffice it to say that as a result, he will never be the same again and he was entirely blameless. 

Coach is now in a real dilemma. This is looking more and more as if it needs clinical attention. However, Nikita suddenly continues.

Nikita: "I have never told anybody about this before. I just could not without breaking down completely. There are some aspects that I have just told you that I have never told anybody else. I feel quite calm about it. Thanks for listening.

Good time for our coach to keep silent for a while and let Nikita do the resolving. Nikita continues.

Nikita: "Just give me a few moments to think about this please . . . Well, I have got a sudden peace come over me.  Maybe I do not need to hide from this horror anymore.  Hmmmmmm, do you know what? I think I shall take two weeks of that outstanding holiday and just take off somewhere. You are right, I need to get some space."

Should our coach make the point that all this came from inside Nikita or just keep quiet? We all know that our coach made no suggestions at all, behaving exactly as a coach should. Probably better to keep quiet in this circumstance.

Coach: "Tell me what that space looks like."

Nikita: "A warm beach; a good book; great food; some good company. Yes, I really like the idea."

Coach: "When you will book this?"

Nikita: "Tomorrow."

Coach: "So how does this leave your workload?"

Nikita: "I have been meaning to delegate the Timeline Project to Anna, I can do that. I can get Maggs to take over the technical support role. This will take the pressure off. I am beginning to see that I have been over protective about all this and I now understand the impact that it is having on me and my life. Maybe I am not too busy.  Thanks coach. Can I have another session with you next week just to make sure that I am doing what I have said that I shall do?"

What a perfect result for a coaching session and remember this was a telephone coaching session – no face to face, so no body language. A single coaching session can have such a major impact on an individual and in Nikita’s case it has.

Our case does demonstrate that there are other ways of coaching that can work in the right circumstances. Try something new yourself.

However, our coach was in a very tricky position at one time with the real possibility that counselling would be needed. In that case, the outcome could have been very different. I would be interested to hear how you would have dealt with it if Nikita had not resolved the dilemma herself.
 

Richard Hawkes is a leading business coach with Unlimited Potential.

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