This article is adapted from Sunny Stout Rostron’s book, Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2013), which is available from Knowledge Resources (www.knowres.co.za)
There are many ways to define the “rules of the game”, and in business coaching some rules are implied while others are contracted. For example, if you sign a contract with your organisational client, you often contract to improve the performance and potential of that individual within the organisation, which often includes the development of leadership competence so that the executive lives organisation values with integrity. It is usually implied that you will not coach them into another position in a different company. In my column last month I talked about ethics and integrity from the point of view of the practitioner; this month I wish to discuss these issues from the viewpoint of the leader or manager.
Living with integrity
“Integrity” is the uncompromising adherence to a code of values. For a leader to act with integrity, it means intentionally acting from a personal vision that is values-based. This includes understanding what you, as a leader, want out of your life and work. It also means adhering to an agreed set of core organisational values aligned with your own personal values – no matter what challenging situations confront you from day to day.
What are values-based actions? A “value” is a quality or principle considered desirable, meaningful or significant. Values-based leaders create a shared vision with their teams that provides a sense of meaning and purpose and inspires excellence; they remain open and receptive, encourage honest debate, and are sensitive to issues of diversity, culture and fairness. Values-based leaders are committed to telling the truth and to operating with transparency in thought, feeling and deed.
As a leader, it takes courage to act from integrity and to be continually aligned with your core values – even more so in times of stress. Apart from environmental factors such as lack of resources, an important cause of stress is when a leader’s individual and organisational goals are not aligned with their personal and professional values. This can create anxiety, interfere with self-confidence, and prevent a leader from making decisions, managing relationships, or working effectively within the “politics” or implied rules of the system.
Existential themes to consider
A dilemma can potentially develop when the client feels that their underlying value system clashes with that of their organisation. People often have a strong sense of ethical, moral or faith-based values. When they voice their concerns inside a coaching assignment, they are often reflecting on where their value system is in conflict with the values of the organisation. The issues frustrating them may not be clear-cut, and more often than not are complex. The issues raised could be related to performance ratings, recruitment procedures, or even whether the organisation’s actions are in alignment with its public claims.
The “rules of the game” imply that business coaching should be aligned strategically with the overall values and objectives of an organisation. Existential dilemmas can arise during the coaching process if the executive needs to make difficult choices which are incompatible with their own value system – and with whose rules are they then in conflict?
The story of Jim (Stout Rostron, 2009:35–36) illustrates a recognisable scenario. Jim is a senior dispensing pharmacist who manages a major pharmaceutical retail chain in southern California. He grappled with a personal and professional dilemma, having been asked to lay-off highly qualified and experienced staff in order to increase bottom-line profits for shareholders – not an uncommon position for business executives today. His inner turmoil was highlighted by the fact that the families of his pharmacists would be economically affected by the loss of one family member’s income with no guarantee of replacing it, plus the loss of quality service to loyal customers. This was balanced against the short-term profits to be made by shareholders, including himself as the owner of a recently inherited share portfolio.
Jim also faced the problem of having to employ less-qualified, less-experienced and therefore less-expensive dispensers, who would be unable to provide the quality service for which the pharmacy was reputed. One of Jim’s concerns was that, although larger profits would be made for the retail organisation’s shareholders, these would be at the expense of a seriously reduced quality of expertise offered to a trusting public. A second unease was that all of his experienced staff already worked long hours; the enforced cuts to qualified staff would mean even more gruelling working hours for those still gainfully employed, with no seeming concern for the public on the part of shareholders.
“It’s a moral dilemma for me, not only because I am faced with laying-off people who are providing an expert quality service, but the staff who remain will be asked to take even greater strain, working longer hours yet providing an inferior service. My heart absolutely goes out to the people who are being sacrificed for short-term profits, as well as those who will step into their shoes.
On the other hand, a couple of years ago my pharmacist father left me a very solid portfolio of shares, on which I need to make good financial returns as part of my retirement planning. In the end, my decision has been to implement what I know to be a fundamentally unfair, un-businesslike, yet profit-driven decision. It is not business-driven in the long term, because having built up our customer base on loyalty and good service, we will now sacrifice quality of service and expertise for immediate cash returns – but in the end I fear our customers will drift away to our rivals.”
In terms of the ‘Rules of the Game,’ Jim took the corporate line and did as was requested by his line management; however, it was a tough decision for him and one that troubled him personally. This is one of the most common dilemmas faced by executives today all over the world, and is a direct result of intense “bottom-line” pressure. Critically important is that coaching helps the client to think through such issues and dilemmas, with the coach asking questions, making observations and challenging the client’s thinking – helping them to understand the impact of adhering or not to the ‘Rules of the Game’.
References and books to read:
Hargrove, R. (2003). Masterful Coaching: Inspire an “Impossible Future” While Producing Extraordinary Leaders and Extraordinary Results. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Raelin, J.A. (2003). Creating Leaderful Organizations. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (R249).
Kouzes, J.M. and Posner, B.Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass (R272).
Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Randburg: KnowRes.