By Lilian Abrams, Ph.D., MBA, PCC. I’d like to tell you a true story about “Suzanne’s” results from coaching (my client’s name and select details have been changed to protect confidentiality). She is the highest-level female leader in a traditionally male industry — think aerospace engineering. All of her senior leadership and peers are male, as are the majority of her line staff. Yet, after joining initially in a functional role, Suzanne rose up through the company over 20 years’ time to her current leadership role as a regional VP.

Our coaching process began a few months ago. Suzanne is a lovely person: she’s smart, knowledgeable, experienced, strategic, warm, caring, and interested in other people of all levels. According to her feedback, she was also more self-deprecating and personally less confident than she needed be. Suzanne’s coaching goals, therefore, included strengthening her executive presence and empowering/delegating to her team.  

In the past, Suzanne’s boss and five peers would be friendly, but occasionally condescending and/or undercutting. In staff meetings they repeatedly made fun of her (completely normal) hair. A couple of months ago, in her typical spirit of team collaboration, Suzanne reached out to a peer to suggest that, together, they take a joint client out to a sporting event. Her peer responded by saying, “Oh, I did that last week.” And at their high-stakes quarterly regional meeting, after her boss’s assistant had prepped her and her peers to answer a particular question of her boss’s, when her boss actually asked a similar but different question, Suzanne misunderstood and answered the original question. Afterwards, a different peer came up to her and condescendingly asked, “Would you like me to explain the basic financial aspects of our work to you?” She politely declined, while fuming inside.  

After 5 months of coaching, the next regional meeting was coming up, which her boss oversees and other senior leaders attend. Her peers always treat these high-visibility report-outs on their respective regions somewhat competitively. Given its importance for Suzanne as a senior executive, we spent some measure of our coaching time prepping for it, though not excessively.

When Suzanne and I met 2 weeks ago, she told me that in the end, her region’s report-out was a hit — as much because of what she conveyed, without words, about her leadership, as it was for her region’s results. She went first, and historically, the VP does all the talking. However, Suzanne merely got up, introduced the presentation, and then sat down. One by one, her top team members each spoke. She told me they had all rehearsed, she knew that they knew their material, she trusted them to do great, and they did. The presentation culminated in a parody video, starring Suzanne but showing many of her own region’s team members. Her audience loved viewing it as much as the regional team did making it, and all this made Suzanne a hard act to follow.

What happened then was one of the best indicators of Suzanne’s growth and success in her inherent confidence and empowerment of others, via coaching. The next peer to present stood up and announced, “I want you all to know that I was Suzanne’s favorite finance manager” before he went on to give his presentation. Then, the next VP after that began his report-out by saying, “I want you all to know that I was Suzanne’s favorite ops manager.” This continued until the last VP’s presentation. He stood up and said, “I want you all to know that…Suzanne is my favorite VP.”  

Clearly, Suzanne hit it out of the park in terms of confidence, executive presence, and empowerment of her team.  

To learn more about developing executive presence, growing your leadership skills and hitting it out of the park, schedule a consultation with Lilian.