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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

Leadership Development – Forbidden thoughts

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

– Because he doesn’t deserve it!

The moment my client uttered these taboo words the problem was basically solved. The course of events that had led me to this point caused me to reflect on how I view leadership development and coaching. For the most part I consider my role is not to tell the client anything new. Instead my contribution is more often than not to identify restraining forces. And that’s because when the client understands what is holding them back they can start doing something about it. Let's dive a little deeper into this real-life case study to gain an insight into what I mean. If you are inspired by this story I’ll give you a tool at the end of it that you can try out for yourself.

The story concerns a client who needed to ensure an important deadline was met by an employee with whom he had previously had some communication issues. The client contacted me for a quick coaching session in order to make certain the conversation with the employee went well. I agreed to the meeting, all the while thinking about what the problem could be. I had, after all, worked closely with the client in the past and knew him as a warm and empathetic person who was also a clear communicator. On paper he was well equipped to manage the conversation.

We connected via Teams and I asked him to describe the background to the problem. What emerged was a textbook example of how thoughts rattling around in someone’s head can really put a spanner in the works. I was shown an email conversation that started politely but ended in harsh words from both sides. There were two clear problems with the conversation. The first was that it contained examples of mind-reading, the phenomenon in which we believe we know what someone else is thinking and feeling. The mind-readings the two parties attributed to each other were of a pretty unflattering nature.

The second problem was that the conversation was riddled with old truths. It contained a historical narrative in which my client expressed his opinion that the employee was uncooperative, while the employee spoke about an oppressive management.

I asked my client if we could role-play how he wanted the conversation to go so I could get a clearer idea of where potential challenges might arise. The role-play call started off well, but soon I detected irritation in his voice. I suggested we switch roles so I played the client and he could be the employee. We made a few attempts, switched roles and tested different variants but we kept treading water. Yes there were clues in the mind-reading comments and old truths, but I couldn’t really get to the heart of what was restraining my client in finding a suitable approach. So I suggested:

– I know that you know how to do this. Yet still I can hear the annoyance in your voice. Now that it's just you and me, pause your internal censorship for a moment and tell me exactly what is going on inside of you. Why can’t you find an inviting tone?

– Because he doesn’t deserve it! was his forcible reply.

As I wrote at the start of this story, the moment the client realised what he was thinking the problem was basically solved. We could now go forward and experiment with how the conversation sounded after he reconnected to his feelings of care and concern. The difference was noticeable, and later he reported that the conversation with the employee had gone smoothly.

The concept to identify restraining forces is one of the most powerful tools available and can be used in everything from individual coaching to complex change management processes. Find out more here.


If you are curious about how we all run the risk of being kidnapped by our minds, I recommend my free guide What they don't tell you about change management.


The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.

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