As experienced executive coach with a track record of success spanning two decades, Sharon Rossignuolo of Coach Executive Ireland has helped numerous clients navigate the complex challenges of leadership. From layoffs to managing conflicts, making difficult business decisions can take an emotional and mental toll on even the most experienced leaders. This case study examines one client’s experience of dealing with the personal toll of difficult decisions, and how Sharon’s coaching abilities helped them work through it.
Éamon, the director of a SaaS company was left with the responsibility to let go of multiple employees due to a redundancy / re-organisation. Letting people go, although being the last resort, had benefitted the company by helping them regain a healthier financial position, improved efficiency, and created a more sustainable future.
While the director was seen as a successful business leader, on a human level he felt terrible about letting people go. On top of this, the employees who remained were now disengaged and less motivated. It was as if his workplace environment was collapsing around him. This made him feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to fix it.
The client realised he was focused on the process, the company, and sustaining its future that he hadn’t factored in the emotional toll it would have on everyone involved. He realised that he had taken on the stress of the former employees and his current staff. While on a company level, the communication had ticked all the boxes, on a personal level, he had short-changed himself and the staff in terms of what Bruce Springsteen might call “the human touch.”
The solution of coaching
A safe space was created for the client as Sharon asked him to take deep, slow breaths. This enabled them to begin co-actively working through this challenge. When asked about his health, the client explained that he was having trouble sleeping, felt tired, and was surviving on adrenaline. The personal toll of letting staff go was also impacting his family as he found himself bringing his problems and irritability home from work.
He told Sharon he felt “overwhelmed by the guilt of having to let people go” and as though he was creating a negative work environment because of this inner hardship. This overwhelming emotion felt like a heaviness in his head, which was causing prolonged headaches.
As they explored and reflected on the current challenge, Éamon became aware that in order to help others, he needed to put his own oxygen mask on first. Sharon prompted him to identify on past actions he had done to successfully re-centre himself to a place of good health. This is the inflection point at which Éamon started to put together a plan of action. Sharon also strongly recommended making an appointment to see his GP as stress and burnout can be seriously detrimental to our health.
As part of the coaching process, Sharon asked Éamon what he could do to keep himself accountable, so they agreed that Sharon would email him in a few days to see what actions he had taken as part of his ‘Get back on track’ plan. The attention was then turned back to the initial challenge of letting people go and the affect it was having on him. Together Sharon and the client explored the indicators that made him believe people were unhappy, the conversations he had with staff/peers, how they might be feeling about having retained their jobs while others had lost theirs, to what extent he had shown his vulnerability, and what assumptions he was making about those who had been let go. The conversation led to many interesting realisations around how words and actions can be perceived, felt, and experienced.
The coaching session concluded with an exercise where the client drew a circular diagram to show what was in his control, and out of his control. He identified several areas that he could improve upon, such as managing his mental and physical health, having better conversations, being more open, not being so hard on himself, and not carrying other people’s stress. In doing this exercise, Éamon recognised the aspects that were outside his control, such as the responsibilities that come with working at executive level or being responsible for other’s feelings. The simple and clear nature of the exercise was able to focus his intent and energy on the things he could control and let go of those that he couldn’t.