Companies pay a lot of attention to behaviors. Desired behaviors, often referred to as competencies, are often published as critical for advancement within the organization. Demonstration of these behaviors can directly affect performance ratings. What does not always get attention, however, is the timing of behaviors, particularly behaviors that are not desired – often called derailment factors.
We often assume that executives who exhibit derailing behaviors are likely to do so at any time, thus impairing their overall effectiveness. In fact, weak behaviors are mostly tied to stress and the defensive or inappropriate reactions produced by stress. When an executive understands not just the nature of demonstrated weak behaviors but also what stresses stimulate these behaviors, it becomes much more likely that the behaviors can be modified.
Increasingly, we are being asked to coach executives to smooth rough edges on their path to senior leadership roles. In most cases, we find that the undesirable behaviors are stress related rather than basic personality traits. Frequently this comes up in an initial discussion with a client who says something like “I could do my job more effectively if I were less stressed,” or “to take my work to the next level, I’ll need to manage my stress level better, or “do I really want the next promotion and the stress that comes with it?” These are valid concerns and good subjects for coaching.
To address this issue properly, it’s essential to use the combination of a stress-identifying assessment, such as the Hogan DRS, and 360 interview feedback. The assessment will show the specific stress behaviors and the 360 feedback will confirm them from colleagues. These behaviors will come in two forms: acting out in inappropriate ways and withdrawing rather than engaging.
Once aware of what triggers these stress-related behaviors, the executive can work to mitigate their impact. It will take a solid six months of coaching to make a meaningful difference. During this period, there will be ample examples of stressful situations where change can be learned. In this type of coaching, it is critical to engage a coach who is available 24 x 7 for the executive. Until real change takes place, the coach needs to be the executive’s relief-valve. Otherwise, the derailing behaviors will continue to get the executive in trouble. And the ensuing issues will get increased negative attention because of the coaching assignment’s broad exposure in the 360 interview process.
The coach will need to be careful in engaging the executive in this process. As I’ve stated multiple times: coaching is not therapy. Where the executive can identify triggers, but still exhibits the undesired behaviors after a meaningful amount of coaching, there are likely underlying psychological issues that should be addressed in therapy rather than coaching. Because of this issue and to make sure that progress is measured and validated, it is important that the sponsoring HR partner stay close to the coaching process with periodic check-ins with the coach and the client.