Coaching a Command and Control Client

– Marcia Hughes

Coaching a Command and Control ClientRachael (not her real name) told me without doubt that she couldn’t give empathy at work to her direct report by acknowledging that he was dealing with many pressures at work and home. She was searching for a way to influence him to be more productive. Rachael told me he had a lot on his plate, but she didn’t want to acknowledge the role those other pressures had in his feeling motivated to get his work done. She insisted strong leaders just didn’t do that, it wasn’t her style anyway, and “it’s his job to work hard no matter what else is happening.” Rachael took the EQ 360 as a part of long-term coaching with me; her goal was to build her emotional intelligence as a part of seeking a promotion. Her EQ360 results were low in empathy while high in assertiveness. This combination often leads to brusque behavior.

The coaching challenge was clear – participating in coaching is for the purpose of making changes and yet Rachael liked her self-described “command and control” process. I asked her if we could just brainstorm about a response to him that included listening to his concerns, responding with a simple reflective phrase such as “That sounds like it was hard for you.” I suggested that after letting him vent, he’d be more ready to respond to her requests. Rachael was adamant that that just wasn’t going to happen. So we worked on other strategies.

Imagine my surprise when she told me the next time we met that she had done everything I suggested and more as she fully listened and worked with him. She said it was making a big difference, and that he was more productive after their talk. Rachael never acknowledged that she used the approach that the last week was “impossible,” and it didn’t matter. She was making progress in improving her leadership skills. The fact that using this strategy gave her prompt positive feedback was of great help in supporting her willingness to continue demonstrating some empathy. She wasn’t going to let go of her command and control style easily, but she was gradually willing to moderate it.

This is progress but there’s still a lot of work to do. Command and control is not a style given up easily and she did like her style. However, she also really wanted a promotion. This motivation supported my ability to work with her.

Coaching tough clients to build emotional intelligence requires:

  1. Perseverance and flexibility as alternatives are considered;
  2. A positive approach focusing on what is working as the client experiments with change;
  3. Focusing on gradual shifts that allow the client to test success and maintain comfort that it isn’t such a big change that he or she will lose “control” too fast; and
  4. Being firm and grounded yourself so you can point out the truth of difficulties and consequences while gradually building on successes.

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