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Will Tomeka pull her chair up to the senior table?

Leadership Coaching Case Study
Will Tomeka pull her chair up to the senior table?

Tomeka was a new Chief Operating Officer at a national nonprofit. She had deep experience, and the chiefs eagerly anticipated her expertise and her input.

But Tomeka, by her own admission, was playing small. She sat quietly in Executive Team meetings, thinking she needed to learn more before she spoke up. She waited for the CEO to set priorities for her team. And she rarely reached out to peers, relying on her team with institutional tenure to just keep doing what they had always done.

Listening and learning are smart. But Tomeka was so busy looking for the answers “out there” that she had lost access to her own leadership intuition.

What Coaching Looked Like for Tomeka

Together with her coach, Tomeka assessed the strengths she brought to the organization, unpacked her 360 feedback and asked targeted questions of the CEO. This data affirmed how much expertise she brought, and that people were truly excited to learn from her.

Tomeka began to leverage her own intuition to articulate the team’s priorities, and where she wanted to set boundaries so that she and her team could work more strategically. We held space for her to articulate her values and identify what things didn’t sit well with her about the “way things were always done.”

But the biggest breakthrough came when Tomeka unearthed the narrative that held her back. “What they don’t realize is that people like me don’t get the grace of making even one mistake.”

Her white peers, with their pedigrees from Harvard and Princeton, would encourage her to just “reach out” “share ideas” and “try new things.” But the collective experience of her siblings and friends taught Tomeka that Black leaders who got it wrong rarely get second chances. Tomeka knew her peers were not without opinions, and it had felt safest to just ask what they wanted done.

Outcomes for Tomeka

In time, Tomeka saw that she didn’t want to lead from a place of fear. The organization wasn’t perfect, and there was a tricky power dynamic between the field-facing and back-office teams, but her peers truly cared about her and there was a genuine desire at the company to ensure her team felt respected.

Tomeka began to take risks, and make bolder moves.

She made key hires which allowed her to get more leverage, spend less time doing and more time leading. She began to set priorities for her team and invested deeply in developing frameworks, skills and relationships for her team to lead collaboratively.

Today, they are at the forefront of some of the most important changes happening at their organization.
Just as importantly, Tomeka came to believe in her own worth and rely on her own wisdom. She speaks her mind, and there is a lightness and freedom in her leadership that she never thought was possible.

Tomeka pulled her seat all the way up to the senior table. She speaks her mind and advocates for the needs of her team and for an organizational culture that sits squarely within her values. And her peers could not be more thrilled to have her there!

*Note: Names have been changed to honor the sacred confidentiality of coaching relationships. Tomeka’s real name also reflects the beauty and creativity of Black culture, so we have attempted to preserve that in the pseudonym selected.

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