Where Are They Now?: Checking in with Guests from Season 1
We check in with three guests from Season 1 to see what they took with them from their coaching meetings and where they are now.
First, we hear from a leader who had been struggling to communicate effectively, especially in high-level management meetings. Then we get an update from a leader who had been on the brink of burnout. Finally, we catch up with a leader who had been managing racial tensions between her team and her boss.
Season 1 episodes referenced in this episode:
Finding My Leadership Voice
On the Brink of Burnout
Caught in the Middle
MURIEL WILKINS: I’m Muriel Wilkins. And this is Coaching Real Leaders. Part of the HBR Presents Network. I’m a longtime executive coach who works with highly successful leaders who’ve hit a bump in the road. My job is to help them get over that bump by clarifying their goals and figuring out a way to reach them. I typically work with clients over the course of several months, but on this show, we have a one-time coaching meeting focusing on a specific leadership challenge they’re facing. So I never quite know what happens once our coaching conversation ends. And like many of you, I’m curious. So today we’re checking in with a few guests from season one of Coaching Real Leaders, to see what they did after our coaching meeting and to see where they are today. Let’s start with “Daniella,” who was my guest on season one’s episode, “Finding My Leadership Voice.” I heard from many of you that this episode really resonated with you. If you recall, “Danielle” was having a hard time feeling like her presence wasn’t enough to show that she was a strong leader. Here’s some of what she shared back then.
DANIELLA (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 10): It’s got to do with imposter syndrome, some confidence issues, and also the way I’m very aware these days of my communication shortfalls, the way I come across and sometimes not always, but sometimes I fail to influence others the way that I wish I could influence them. It’s something that might be holding me back. The reason why I want to overcome that is because I want to continue to be taken seriously by my peers and superiors to a point where if an opportunity opens up for a higher level, I want to be considered a real contender for it. I guess there’s some things in my communication style that don’t accurately reflect the strong leader that I am on the inside.
MURIEL WILKINS: So I wondered where was “Daniella” now? Had she worked on her communication style? Did she feel more confident? When we recently checked in with her here’s what she had to say in terms of what she had picked up from the coaching meeting and what actions she’d taken since then.
DANIELLA: Before I go into every meeting, it was calm, confident, and credible. And I actually have it on a little Post-it Note right in front of my laptop so that I can remind myself, yep, let me do a little bit of mental conditioning so that I can appear calm, confident, and credible. And it has helped quite a bit. And not only with my meetings with clients where I do a little bit of mental conditioning, I make sure that my body’s relaxed. I make sure that I’m being set up for success before the meeting and then the confidence and the calm kind of carries in my voice as I’m speaking. And I’ve been able to improve my relationship with my clients. And I feel like I’m in a really good spot right now where my client really trusts me. So I come across as like somebody that knows her stuff and can kind of point you in the right direction. And that has happened in a couple of different forums.
MURIEL WILKINS: What’s great is that coming out of the coaching session, “Daniella” remembered small, actionable steps she could implement to help improve her leadership presence. And she started to think differently about herself and values she brings to the table.
DANIELLA: I think before I talked to Muriel, I wasn’t as self-aware about my body and my mental state. I was just kind of floating from meeting to meeting, not really thinking about how do I want to come across? How am I feeling? What can I do to make myself more successful? And then Muriel lit up that idea in my head that wait, there is something I can do before I go into a meeting to prepare myself better, to set myself up for success. So just taking literally like 20 seconds before the meeting. And then I take some deep breaths. Actually have a little mantra for myself. It’s like, you’ve got this. I have to remind myself of that when I go into these interactions. That I’m there for a reason, I have value and that people are inviting me to these meetings because they know I’m going to contribute. They know I’m going to come to the table with something that adds value. So that’s all different than what I used to think about myself. It’s been an improvement for sure. And I feel the difference in how people react to me. And I feel the difference in myself as well. As a leader, I feel like I’m more unapologetic about myself and the way I come across. I’m more accepting of how I am and more genuine. It’s not that I wasn’t genuine before. I’ve always been pretty genuine. I’m just more true to my core. And I’m a bigger believer in myself and my leadership capabilities.
MURIEL WILKINS: Next up, we checked in with “Ellie.” You might remember her from the season one episode on the brink of burnout. She was struggling a bit in a tech startup world that was demanding a lot of her energy, both physically and emotionally. She was feeling burnt out. But as we dug deeper, “Ellie” realized that her feelings of not being good enough was significantly contributing to her burnout. Here’s a bit of our exchange from that episode.
MURIEL WILKINS (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 4): Now, I don’t want you to tell me what you would expect. I really want you for five minutes, just humor me. Right. Make believe I’m that friend. What are you going to tell me? I messed up. I feel like I messed up. I’m supposed to do this project. It’s highly valued for the company. And my boss basically said, he’s not happy with the way it’s going. Now he tried to like, make me feel okay about it and make it feel like it’s not about me, but I know he’s annoyed. And I feel terrible about it. Like I just, I don’t know if this is for me anymore.
ELLIE (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 4): I am everyone’s biggest champion. So I would, and I might get emotional because I realize how stupid that sounds, but.
MURIEL WILKINS (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 4): It’s okay. It’s not stupid. It’s real.
ELLIE (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 4): It’s yeah, I would say that get out of your head. I think you just need to pivot a little bit to understand what they’re asking for. It sounds like you’re on the right track, but you’re just getting distracted, I think. And he’s giving you the opportunity to get back on track.
MURIEL WILKINS (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 4): Yeah.
ELLIE (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 4): So don’t take it so personally.
MURIEL WILKINS (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 4): I mean, I can’t even say it to you any better, to be honest. I can’t.
ELLIE (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 4): I think a big part of problem is that in my personal life, that those seeds of doubt actually do come from my parents. Oh, this is going to be like a counseling session. So it doesn’t matter if the whole world tells me I’m good enough or that I’m great at what I do. I always have that voice in the back of my head that says, yeah, but you didn’t do this that I wanted you to do.
MURIEL WILKINS: That was definitely an aha moment of self-awareness for “Ellie.” And I wondered where she went from there. When we caught up with “Ellie,” she shared the many moves she has taken coming out of that conversation. All of which ultimately led her to join a different company, more aligned with what she wanted. Here’s what she did after the coaching.
ELLIE: One of the biggest areas we talked about was needing to extend empathy to myself. And I did get emotional in the podcast. So I did come to a realization that I need some help in that area. Muriel did kind of say like, I’m not a therapist. So I’m like, okay, I think I do essentially need that. So that’s been good. Next, she talked a lot about how there was some areas in leadership that I was okay with, but the real challenge for me was scaling leadership up and creating boundaries. So I did put quite significant effort into those areas, which is actually like how a lot of the issues of why this wasn’t good fit got fleshed out. There was this talk of having to talk about what do I actually want and facing the reality of that, which keyed into those earlier points as I started to realize, okay, I actually just don’t think this role is for me.
ELLIE: I think I’m doing it because it’s an opportunity for me to grow. And while it was a good opportunity, I think I learned enough. I think I learned enough about leadership to know that, yeah, this is still something I want, but not in this situation. So I started to realize that things that were important to me were actually not as important to this company, as I thought it was. So I started to realize like, okay, this is where the friction is coming from where I want to prioritize certain things that they probably don’t want me to prioritize on.
ELLIE: Next thing I learned is that I don’t need to rush into leadership. This needing to like, okay, I need to step back and just like, not chase this carrot. And then lastly, I want to go back to doing stuff I enjoy, which is more technical work, which I did talk to Muriel about as well in the podcast, is that I was losing the technical and I was not feeling good about it. I had said to Muriel that like, oh, I think I’m a great leader because I get things done. And while that’s true, I didn’t feel good about it. I needed there to be a lot of emphasis on morale and treating the team equally and giving them work life balance. I have a lot more confidence now in the type of leader that I am. And it’s very clear to me I need to work for an organization that will support that instead.
MURIEL WILKINS: “Ellie” clearly did the work by seeking professional support to explore the roots of her internal saboteur, by creating boundaries, and by joining a company that is more aligned with what she wants. In effect, “Ellie” took control of her situation rather than letting the situation control her as she had done in the past. And in the process, she became much clearer about the kind of leader she is rather than the kind of leader she thought she was supposed to be. And finally, we heard from “Diane,” who I spoke to early last season with the issue of running a nonprofit team and there being tension between the people she managed and the leader of the organization. It was the episode called caught in the middle. Here’s what she shared on that episode about the challenge she was facing.
DIANE (TAPE FROM SEASON 1 EPISODE 2): Where I’m incredibly challenged right now is that because I have built an organization where everybody’s voice counts and everybody needs to sort of speak their mind and is encouraged to share how they’re feeling and what they’re experiencing. We’re currently in this very uncomfortable position where my team is having issues with the founder who is a very, very wealthy white man. It’s very challenging. And as somebody who’s always considered herself very, very good at navigating this particular challenge, I am struggling right now with how to get them to all feel safe talking to one another so that we can move our organization forward. Because this right now feels like we’re just, we’re weighing ourselves down. We have to build a healthier team and we have to have a team that is communicating with one another and not through me as the middle person.
MURIEL WILKINS: I was eager to hear how “Diane” was doing and whether there had been much improvement with her team since we spoke about this issue. And I wanted to know what she focused on after our coaching meeting.
DIANE: I think that what I most remember was this notion of being a catalyst, not being a responsible party for everything. And I think that I’ve really had a lot of growth in that area. It was a little rocky at first because it was tough for my team to shift with me as I was trying to do the shift. And I certainly had to sort of learn and grow into that. But once we figured that out, I would say we’re in the best place we’ve ever been. And so much of that is because I’ve changed how I see myself as the leader in our organization. I think about myself differently now as a leader who wants to bring her team along with her and who is comfortable placing responsibility with other team members and playing more of a supporting role.
DIANE: So I think in that sense, I’m a more confident leader because in the past I would’ve had to have everything sort of sit with me in order for me to feel like it was being dealt with and in control, but my team and I have developed this level of trust right now that’s really wonderful in that I can truly trust that they’re doing things with the outcome in mind that I hope that they will, and it doesn’t have to be the way that I would have done it. And I think Muriel and I talked a lot about the race component of my team and the interracial dynamics in those relationships. And we’ve had so much improvement in that area, just with people being able to talk to one another and for me to step out of the way so I’m not sandwiched between all the part and I can help people help themselves and help people have the conversations themselves, which is really empowering for everyone.
DIANE: It was not easy to implement this stuff right away. I very clearly remember this one conversation I had in a supervision with one of my employees where I was trying to implement it. And I just, I honestly like, there’s no better way of saying that I fell flat on my face trying to do this. I mean, it was a disaster trying to implement this, but that was an awesome learning experience because I had to end that conversation and just sort of say like, wow, where did that go wrong? Like that clearly went really wrong. Where did that go wrong? And how can I learn from this and do better next time? And I did. And thankfully, she was forgiving enough to give me the grace to fix it, but it was not a quick and easy fix by any means. I’m in a good place, but there’s always things that I want to work on.
MURIEL WILKINS: “Diane” was able to turn her team environment around, starting with how she thought of her role as a leader. I can appreciate her sharing that the road has not been easy. It never is. But as long as you seek to learn at every twist and turn, you’ll continue to grow as a leader just like Diane.
MURIEL WILKINS: That’s it for this episode of Coaching Real Leaders. I hope you’ve enjoyed catching up with some of our past guests as much as I have. You can hear all of season one and season two on hbr.org or in your favorite podcast app. Thanks to my producer, Mary Dooe, music composer, Brian Campbell, and the entire team at HBR. Much gratitude to the leaders who join me in these coaching conversations and to you, our listeners who share in their journeys. If you’re dealing with a leadership challenge, I’d love to hear from you and possibly have you on the show. Apply at coachingrealleaders.com. And of course, if you love the show and learn from it, pay it forward, share it with your friends, subscribe, leave a review. From HBR Presents, this is Muriel Wilkins.