Dear Coach Alan,

I would like to have you comment about women and leadership. I had a woman client, CEO of an international company that was bringing a lot of challenges she had to face at work because she was a woman. Do you have something to say to a young executive about how a woman should behave to have a “voice” in team meetings?



Thank you for your question, Dominique. Without specifics, it is difficult to understand what your CEO is dealing with. Let me answer your question based on my coaching experiences with women CEOs.

The role of a CEO is to lead the organization. This leadership incorporates vision, strategy, financial competency, operational competency, communication skills, and managing growth and change. You will need to assess your client on these leadership dimensions and incorporate them into the coaching dialogue. If she is to succeed, she needs to master these competencies.

Being a CEO does not always go hand in hand with the skill of creating change. If I were coaching your client, the first thing I would do is to reframe her challenge into a form that promotes behavior change of her team members. I am assuming she inherited her team and that there may be skepticism over her ability to lead, partly due to her being an “outsider” and partly due to her being a woman. My approach would be to create tension between her desired goal and the current situation she finds herself in. I will further assume her desired goal is to establish credibility with her team and to execute her leadership role as CEO. Based on my coaching experience, the issues she is experiencing are coming from one or more male executives in her company. This is the current reality of the situation. If this is the gap between the desired goal and the current reality, I would begin exploring your client’s behavior during the times that she was unable to voice her position, or was not taken seriously when she did. By reflecting on these situations, your coachee can analyze her approach and the responses of others in the meeting. By reliving the experience, she will better be able to understand the dynamics of the situation and identify alternative behaviors that could lead to a different result.

I am curious whether her attempts to lead contributed to her negative experience. If so, several scenarios might be examined that would bolster her leadership. If members of her team were resistant because of prejudice or stereotyping, she will want to have one-on-one meetings with them to challenge their responses at team meetings. Fighting negative behavior during a meeting is not likely to yield the result she would like. A private meeting with an individual team member is the place for her to work on this problem.

In these one-on-one meetings, your client will need to determine whether the individual team member is supportive of the company vision and goals. If they are onboard, she may challenge them on how they can support efforts to be constructive and a team player. If they are not onboard, she will need to challenge them–but in a different way. She will need to clarify the behaviors she expects from a team player and contrast them with the behaviors she has observed by this individual. This will set up a gap that will need to close in order for this person to be a team player. Here, she must make it clear that there is no alternative. Being a constructive, team player is essential for team membership. This message needs to be clear, unequivocal, and understood by the individual.

If the team member is reflective and acknowledges negative behavior, this could be an opportunity to relive the situation that created the problem behavior. Allowing the team member to do the “heavy lifting” by acknowledging what they did and how they will behave differently is a powerful way of creating change.

Your client may have an advantage being female. Male executives often approach conflict by exerting their authority and resorting to aggressive behavior. This type of behavior only leads to additional problems and resentment. Women often avoid open conflict and are more likely to confront conflict with less aggressive behavior. Conveying assertiveness and clarity of expectations is the preferred method of confronting team members whose behavior needs to change.

A good book to read for your client is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It is a quick read with a good model to develop strong teamwork. The CEO in this book just happens to be female.

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