Leeds Building Society
Karen Wint: Coaching and Board Effectiveness
Leeds Building Society is the UK’s fifth largest society with assets of £10.8billion and over 700,000 members. The Society’s core business model is based around raising retail deposits from individuals which are then lent via mortgage loan to finance residential property purchase. They also provide a range of ancillary products designed to meet the needs of savers and home buyers.
Warren Partners has built a strong relationship with the Society over a number of years which resulted in us being asked to undertake a six month coaching and personal effectiveness process with Karen Wint, a long-standing employee who has worked her way up the company’s career structure to her present board-level role as Chief Operating Officer.
Some 18 months into the role, Karen was questioning her own performance which was in turn denting her confidence. Our brief was to help her to recognise that she was fully equipped for the role and to help her to feel more comfortable operating at this level.
The key issue for Karen was one of confidence and her perception that she was not as effective as she would like to be. When she discussed this with the Society’s CEO, Peter Hill, he suggested she might benefit from external coaching and recommended Judith Nicol (who heads up Warren Partner’s leadership coaching practice), who he had worked with when took on his current role in 2011.
Judith’s first task was to explore with Karen what lay at the root of her perceptions and whether any of her own behaviours were unconsciously amplifying them.
Through the coaching programme, Karen learned that it would help to approach some things differently. For example, Judith challenged her as to whether the information she was presenting at board meetings would result in the desired outcomes. It’s not uncommon for newcomers to a board to have to learn how to navigate their relationship with its NEDs and to communicate with them effectively.
Additionally, armed with new tools acquired from discussions with Judith meant that she could probe more deeply when asking questions and so gain a better insight into what her colleagues were most concerned about.
The opportunity to put what she had discovered into practice arose with the board’s annual strategy conference, which explores the longer-term issues that might pose a risk or opportunity for the business. As part of that process, the management team aims to draw out its response to these challenges. Based on Judith’s advice, Karen changed the focus and time she put into preparing her presentation realising that repeating things she had shared with the Board previously would help with the context and narrative needed to gain buy-in. The investment paid off. What’s more, she also felt much more able to contribute to other elements of the strategy review rather than just the parts that she was directly responsible for.
A key aspect of effective coaching is showing people how different lenses of perspective impact how we perceive a situation. Karen found it very helpful to work with someone who could show her how to view a situation from somebody else’s point of view – a different lens of perspective - and then learn how to do this for herself.
As Karen re-gained her confidence she was able to optimise her performance and strengthen her relationship with the rest of the board and, in particular, her NED colleagues. Judith helped her to use her personal toolkit in a different, more effective way. This also helped Karen to embrace change better and build up her personal resilience. And sorting out the root cause of her lack of confidence quickly had a positive knock-on effect across all aspects of her role.
“The thing that most surprised me was how just how quickly I was able to apply what I was learning from the coaching.” Karen says. “Judith helped me to start thinking about things differently right away. After one month I had enough of a foundation to start making a difference. Then it was a question of building upon that platform. So I didn’t have to wait until the end to get value out of it. Moreover, I have really enjoyed the process and found it intellectually stimulating.”
The experience has also made Karen an advocate of workplace coaching. “Anybody who wants to be the best they can be at what they do should be able to talk to someone, to ask for support and for it not be seen as a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. And every organisation should invest positively in people’s well-being and how they perform. My experience reminded me of the stories of how top performers in sport are coached. In fact, I feel that the badge ‘coaching’ undersells both what it delivers and how hard-hitting it can be,” concludes Karen.
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