This article wants to be a plea for considering psychotherapy whenever we want to implement coaching programs within companies. There are situations in which the coach does not have the necessary training to understand and act for the real benefit of his client. Those who think they can handle it, even if they are not trained, are more dangerous for the client than the situation itself.
The story of Cristian
It’s almost midnight, but Cristian, Division Director, does not hesitate to call his boss, the Vice President of Operations, and tells her that the next day he wants to call in his office the manager of an important project.
“Why don’t you call him directly?”
“Something unacceptable happened, says Cristian. Missing today from the office, we thought he was on the field until a colleague came up with an envelope from him with a 3-day medical excuse for chronic fatigue. And I do not believe this chronic fatigue is something serious.”
“I beg your pardon? Have you just called me to let me know that you do not believe one of our best people has a medical problem and you want to see him in the office, tomorrow morning, just to convince that it is for real?”
“Exactly, says Cristian, happy that he was so clear in presentation. With you, of course.”
“First of all, you called me close to midnight to ask for something that goes beyond my role and violates the company’s values. I do not think that is the best way to deal with such situations. Please, reconsider it and let’s have a chat – you and me – tomorrow morning within your office.”
Cristian is one of those ambitious directors who, through hard work, has been promoted to the actual level, and people have seen him as a future promising Vice President of Operations. To be more precise, those who have observed this potential are his superiors, as the subordinates often let them know that something is wrong: he practices a lot the micro-management.
The story of Daniela
The meeting between former employees of a company and the current management team takes place at one of the major restaurants in the city. People are here to feel good and to share memories or to talk about the future. Typically, the purpose of such meetings is to re-establish relationships with former employees for business development opportunities.
One of these conversations refers to Daniela, the current Deputy General Manager and her way of being very decisive when evaluating a project. Decisive means yelling, swearing and „motivational conversations”.
The current project managers do not feel very comfortable:
“Well, it’s not like that anymore.”
“Maybe it is not, but it helped me a lot, says one of the former managers. I felt like in the trenches, but not fighting with the competition. (Laughter) And after all, she was right: what not kill me, strengthens me. Look where I am now.”
Daniela was promoted because she manages to keep things under control and her works are at the highest quality. It is true that repeated overruns are observed, but this is the price of very good quality, consider the shareholders.
What is the matter in fact?
By looking at things more closely, in both of these situations, the toxic cocktail (the one that is affecting the business) has been noticed:
- Large fluctuation of staff
- High degree of dissatisfaction at employees level
- Low degree of trust in the future of the firm
Both Cristian and Daniela have been involved in management development programs and received support from their direct supervisors. Unfortunately, many managerial development programs are built so that the manager is taught how to make decisions and how to act as a manager. But these are not accompanied by education of understanding the impact on others. Because we need to achieve results and we do not have time to do psychology, isn’t it?. In fact, there is no time for listening and maybe for empathy. When the intent of the managerial action does not overlap with the impact, the frustration is great for both sides.
In other words, some managerial development programs are trying to help build an effective management style by missing the point: what managerial style really is. In fact, management style refers to what the subordinates perceive, the impact on them, and not what managers think they are doing.
It’s good that not all programs are built like this. One of my favorites is the Situational Leadership which, consistently applied, generates a very good impact, which automatically leads to a person’s accomplishment as a manager. However, this model misses some points, too. For example: recognizing the existing of self-confidence requires the clarity of one’s own situation. In addition, identifying other person motivating factors need a clear distinction between their own motivating factors.
About the trauma and the Franz Ruppert model
I have perceived these challenges not only from the toxic cocktail observed within the companies but also from the follow up of coaching programs. There are situations where the manager (coachee) has set-backs, returning to their previous habits, either due to the failure to comply with his own plan or due to over-endeavor. Somehow, things might become worst than before the program. It seems that it is something over there, something not said, something that does not turn out only focusing on identifying success mechanisms. Despite the increase of self-confidence and the chances for success, something is broken. What is then?
My search brought to my attention the Franz Ruppert approach fo psychological trauma. I am aware of the fact that might be shocking to talk about coaching from a psychotherapy perspective. Many might consider this as blasphemy. However, I keep the line., despite all of these.
Franz Ruppert talks about psychological trauma as something that happens to us inside the psyche after an event or after a series of events, and that is an interpretation of the event, most of the times a pain accompanying these experiences. Trauma is most often linked to mother’s abandon (first of all), by others, by denying the child’s needs. Ruppert calls this part of the psyche – the traumatized part.
Because it can not bear the pain associated with the traumatized part, the person builds mechanisms that can (apparently) keep her far from the pain:
- I have to be strong
- I want to prove I’m the best
- Nothing can get me down
- I’ll show them they need me
- There is no „I can not”, there is just „I don’t want”
- My mom told me that if I want something to be done, I better do it by myself, etc.
This is the surviving part. Apparently, it helps to overcome difficult moments. But, over time, it ends up becoming an obstacle. And this we feel somewhere at the age at which we are considered to be managers or to be further promoted. And those who are negatively affected are first and foremost people around.
The third part is the healthy one, which has not been affected by the trauma and which can manifest itself simultaneously with the other parts. Therefore, you may have a sense of normality in certain interactions with the person.
The explanation of Cristian’s trauma
Cristian’s mother has been intimated by the authoritarian husband and has chosen to merely be an isolated person with no word in front of him. Cristian’s father decided how the child to be grown: he constantly said to Cristian that he is no good at all and use his belt to beat him until high school time. Afterward, he gave instruction to Cristian by phone. Nowadays, Cristian loves his father very much because he considers that his treatment motivated him to work and to prove that he is good. However, Cristian is very insecure, needs all the time confirmations from the others and his focus to work very hard is the right surviving mechanism to make things happen.
Within such an approach you are not allowed to be weak, you may not get ill. Moreover, Cristian love to control everything very thorough as the mistake is not at all acceptable. Not even a small mistake. If someone tries to oppose to his style, Cristian becomes very tough. Apparently, he does not like people to have a different perspective than his own, nor freedom to think by themselves. Actually, Cristian treats people in such a way that he keeps them at distance, in order not to get close to him and observe something that is a big pain: he is not good at all. Other people try to support Cristian to take a coaching program are useless, as his endeavor is to work even harder, without accepting and treating his trauma.
The explanation for Daniela’s trauma
In the case of Daniela, the mother was the one who has always promoted the idea of a secure and very well paid job. Every time Daniela tried to do something well, her other found other children to compare with. That is why Daniel could not initiate other actions but those proposed by her mother. Daniela loves poetry and she has even secretly written some. When she discovered this, her mother punished her and throw the poetry notebooks. Daniela has had to drop the stupid activities and to go to a very serious college. Therefore she applied for Accounting.
Daniela loves her mother because she believes that only her mother’s persistence in doing something serious has brought her the needed success. She does not feel fulfillment, but she seeks reasons elsewhere. For example, she hates the figures because she fails, in her belief, to be as good as the others. She got to be afraid of them, and in addition to the low confidence in her ability to handle the figures, she shows mistrust in others that they can do the right thing. Hence the oppressive behavior in the relationship with her subordinates. The fear of not being good has become a belief in the traumatized part.
Wrapping it all together
These to people have built up surviving mechanisms that, in time, transformed in the ambition to be promoted, to be recognized by the others. The illusion that things are going well and that it deserves to repeat this kind of surviving behavior actually diminishes any chance to coach the manager. The first step is recognizing trauma and seeking a suitable therapeutic process. Then, if there is still the case, Cristian and Daniela can enroll in a coaching program.