Creating a Team of Leaders
Often, Guttman is retained by clients to coach not just individual executives, but an entire team, as it strives to reach high performance. This was the case at Redken USA, where then-SVP Patrick Parenty brought us in to align his team, which was made up of vice presidents, including the national sales managers for each of the company’s three categories—cosmetics, skin, and hair; the heads of sales operations and human resources; and team leaders for two major customers.
The team actually went through the Guttman alignment process several times. Performance spiked after each session and then trailed off. Lightning struck when Parenty finally realized that the team’s problems stemmed from team members not having the leadership skills to play at a higher level. During the alignment sessions, they grasped the concepts intellectually, but afterwards there was no opportunity to internalize them. Parenty, who has since been promoted to president, brands, Professional Products Division of Redken's parent, L'Oreal USA, decided to make the full commitment and retained a Guttman coach to work with the team.
The coach began to work formally and informally with the team and its individual members in real time, on improving their listening, assertion, and conflict-management skills. Before long, lasting breakthroughs occurred. “Until then,” said Parenty, “there had been a lack of true self-awareness on the team. We all had lots of blind spots. He held up the mirror to us, without brutalizing or damaging people, and made us see these clearly.”
“In retrospect,” he added, “there were a lot of indicators that there was a deficiency of leadership skills. We thought we were working extremely well together, that we had a common approach and voice, and that the field sales organization was receiving good direction and consistent leadership direction from us. When we took an honest look at ourselves, it became evident that that was not the case. One of the team members had an aggressive personality; another was passive-aggressive. Between them, a lot of factions had developed. On the surface everything seemed to be fine, but beneath the surface there were conflicts that had to be exposed.”
The coach helped expose these conflicts to Parenty and his two colleagues as a group and also individually. He showed them how they were contributing to the dysfunction, if only by allowing it and not forcing a change. In meetings, the coach remained process focused. When conflicts arose, he inserted himself and provided a running commentary on the dynamic that was being played out. “Once their dysfunctional interactions were pointed out to them,” according to Parenty “everyone wanted to improve. The willingness was there, or it would not have worked.”
Since the coaching intervention, there has been no more backsliding, and the team’s performance has remained consistently strong.