Leading by coaching: You have got to step in before they can step out!


A few years ago I was asked to do a transaction for a company. I would get a bonus, a percentage on the final result, balancing the interests of the various stakeholders. They would have a say in the transaction process. The stakes were high. It would be rocky, there was no doubt about that.

I accepted under 1 condition: that I could put an external team together like I wanted. The company had an external business analyst and a notary at my disposal, but I was free to replace them as I saw fit. There was no budget available for another expert but me. Yet I got full credit of the management.

Luckily I learned early in my career that when you claim a 100 % bonus of a 0 result you are left with nothing but your own greed. So I decided to hire another legal brain on my personal account. At first, management was reluctant and surprised – I was a kind of legal google, right? –. After the first meeting with The Other Brain, myself and most stakeholders, they were thrilled. I know my limits, I know how to play and I know my clients best.

When leading the team, the notary appeared to be a liability in disguise. He thought – no, he most probably felt! – that writing deeds could go without thinking. When I asked him to put on his brain and think with us, he thought he was in the position to be smug. He said that he wasn’t paid to do so. Fair enough. When it came to execution, he stated, out of the blue, that the whole process was stupid and the solution far too complicated. When I asked him about his rationale, I just heard doubts from a lazy brain. He was replaced in no time.

An unexpected plus turned out to be the main stakeholders. They put yeast in the numbers, did the math and voluntarily decided to finance the transaction. All right! Some were skilled in voicing the negatives and asking the scary questions. But I do like smart people who disagree with me and I wanted to hear it from them. Sharing information breads confidence. They brought cooperation, solutions and sense of humour to the table, all for the greater benefit of the company, safeguarding their own interests on the long term. Reliable people, combining the fun and functional.

However, there was a fly we wanted to swat away but we couldn’t afford it. A minor stakeholder. An instigator by nature who mistakenly thought we needed his permission. If he would have been of chocolate, he would eat himself. I was warned, the odds were not great. At that point I often felt like babysitting and the kid wasn’t listening to the nanny. That’s the moment you ask daddy to step in. I could not just sit back and let one person hijack the whole project, could I?

So I told the fly at the right time that he wasn’t a splinter in the project and that we would move forward without him if he wouldn’t cooperate. What a momentum was that! I kept on pushing management to take interval decisions because making progress by majority was far more important than keeping everybody happy. That was new for everyone, including me. I learned that “saying sorry after” – for using unorthodox methods – sometimes beats “permission before”.

Did I bring this one home?

I haven’t been born yesterday and there is always room to grow.

Lieve Van den Broeck