Coaching Emerging Leaders in a Startup

As an organization grows, emerging leaders step into bigger and more structured roles

CONTEXT

The founder of a tech startup wished to support the development of several of his new managers. Many of these emerging leaders were in their mid-20s, and in their first jobs after college.

Given his plans for growing the company, the founder wanted these young managers to help him scale up his firm, but was as interested in helping his managers grow as people as future leaders of the organization.

These clients, brilliant and accomplished intellectually, were not equally developed in their social/emotional skills; some had more ease building relationships and others less so. In all cases, the direct reports they were expected to manage staff who were the same age.

APPROACH

We initiated coaching processes for emerging leaders on a rolling basis so that over the course of 18 months, the most senior six managers in the company received leadership coaching.

Informed by data from a recent 360 process, we designed coaching goals to be relevant to the development of each of the young leaders—in keeping with our belief that personal and professional growth are highly interconnected. As a result, coaching goals were aimed largely at increased self-awareness, empathy, self-confidence, and relationship building – as well as imparting some basic management/leadership skills.

To this end, coaching also included a didactic approach aimed at helping our clients understand the fundamentals of good management and leadership, including topics such as time management; delegation; giving performance feedback; maintaining healthy boundaries as a manager; navigating the tension between being respected vs. being liked; exhibiting versatility as a leader; and managing/motivating staff.

Coaching processes lasted on average six months and involved biweekly in-person sessions; coaching meetings were punctuated by group meetings involving coach, client, and the founder’s deputy who provided feedback to keep coaching relevant and timely.

RESULTS

Coaching was very well-received by individual clients—they were highly engaged in the coaching process and took their role in their own growth seriously during and between sessions when we assigned them relevant “homework”.

Coaching clients reported a greater sense of self-awareness as a result of coaching and indicated a deeper understanding for their motivations, fears, inner conflicts, and behaviors.

Coaching was also considered successful by the company’s founder and his deputy, both of whom felt that these young managers were poised to support organizational growth even better as a result.

The peers and direct reports of coaching clients also reported higher levels of satisfaction with the managers in 360 reviews, highlighting progress in relationship skills, flexibility, humor, better boundaries, and greater trust and communications.