A Story: One Incident Does Not Make a Pattern

Tamara, a senior HR executive was concerned. She had just received a call from an SVP, Alim. Alim was an influential leader. He opened the call with, “the coaching isn’t working. Jennifer behaved badly in a meeting. There have been several complaints.”

The person in question, Jennifer, is a VP and considered a high potential. She had raised her voice to a staff member in a meeting of 20 people. The staff member was devastated to the point of tears. It didn’t look good on Tamara and Alim felt that he was paying a coach who was having no impact.

Further, Tamara was concerned that the entire high potential coaching program that Jennifer was part of was at risk. This wasn’t just one coaching assignment. Tamara had invested a lot of relationship capital getting approval for this program. Alim would certainly make his dissatisfaction known if she wasn’t able to address his concerns. There was a lot at stake.

Tamara took a deep breath and thought about how to answer Alim. She asked him, “is this a pattern? Does Jennifer regularly lose her temper and raise her voice to staff?” Alim responded, “well no. I can’t remember this happening before.” Tamara also knew the coach had done an in-depth set of 360-degree feedback interviews as part of the coaching. She asked, “Alim, I know that Jennifer shared her 360 feedback with you and worked with you on her coaching plan. Did this feedback come up in her 360 feedback?” Alim confirmed that it did not. But still, this was bad. There were lots of witnesses. There were tears. Alim couldn’t ignore this incident.

What to do? Alim and Tamara agreed that he would call Jennifer’s coach to highlight the topic and discuss it with the coach. Alim did that and the coach listened. The coach emphasized that while he had to remain confidential, he thought Jennifer would want to discuss this and that he could help her deal with it effectively. He suggested that Alim speak to Jennifer and encourage her to use her coach to help her address the issue. Alim spoke to Jennifer and then left the issue in the hands of Jennifer and her coach.

Jennifer reached out to talk to her coach about the incident. Jennifer felt badly. And she was under a lot of stress. The department was over budget and projects were behind. The person she raised her voice to was behind on a major project and hadn’t informed Jennifer. And this impacted the whole team. Jennifer was going to have to go to the executive leadership team and tell them that the department was behind. It would look bad on everyone. To top it all off, Jennifer had a lot of things going on personally and she wasn’t getting enough sleep. Jennifer said to the coach, “I am not proud of my behavior. Frankly, I was tired and frustrated. I just lost it. What can I do to fix it?”

Jennifer and her coach discussed options including how she could speak to the person affected and to others who were in the room. Jennifer moved forward with a plan to repair her relationships and reputation, and keep people on track. The department was still behind and while Jennifer needed to apologize, she also needed to keep them focused on turning things around. It would be a delicate balance. Jennifer also shared her plan with Alim. Alim was pleased with her approach.

Alim called Tamara after he spoke to Jennifer and said, “I might have jumped the gun. Jennifer is great. Whatever she is doing with her coach seems to be working. I think she has evolved as a leader and learned from this tough situation.” Tamara was relieved.

What are the key points here? The workplace is full of good people who aren’t perfect. Good people have bad days. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes those mistakes are public. When the mistakes are public, the mistakes seem much worse. Tough situations are an opportunity to learn and coaching can really help facilitate that learning. But coaching is not a cure-all that will fix all behaviours. People are not controlled by their coaches. Like a sports coach, a business coach should help the coachee perform more effectively. The coachee is the one who performs – good or bad.

A key tip — when a serious incident occurs, the first question every leader should ask themselves is, “Is this a pattern?” If it isn’t a pattern, address it but don’t overreact. Every good person has bad days.


Impact-Coaches Inc. is dedicated to protecting client confidentiality and private information. Impact does not share such information with anyone without permission. Accordingly, in any presentations, speeches, blogs, newsletters or other material, any resemblance to real persons or events is purely co-incidental and used for demonstrative and educational purposes only. Either such examples or incidents are fictitious or, if based in reality, are a collection of characteristics and details and not based on any specific situation. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of clients and individuals.

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