A fascinating Bloomberg Businessweek profile has shed light on a decisive shift in the management style of Evan Spiegel: the 28-year-old CEO of Snapchat parent company, Snap Inc.  The most remarkable aspect of the piece is how it lays bare Spiegel’s longstanding shyness and taste for secrecy, both of which have weighed negatively against his firm.
In one particularly painful anecdote, Bloomberg recounts how Snap Inc’s in-house lawyer sent employees an email threatening legal action if they leaked sensitive company data – but they hadn’t received any in the first place. In a similar incident, staff were informed that they wouldn’t be receiving any bonuses – because they’d failed to meet targets that had never been communicated to them.
At the same time, the company’s various teams were operating in their own silos and not talking to each other.
By his own admission, Spiegel says that he feels “uncomfortable or intimidated speaking to large groups”, but decided to break the various pockets of corporate and personal gridlock by retaining the services of seasoned executive coach Stephen Miles, who – as the article puts it – “told Spiegel, in effect, to grow up”.
Spiegel conducted an anonymous staff survey that revealed employees simply wanted to know what was going on. Duly critiqued, Spiegel held his first-ever meeting with department heads to go over the firm’s priorities, and instituted monthly all-staff meetings.
There were also changes in his personal interactions with colleagues – as he explains: “I had a pretty serious Christian upbringing. I remember growing up I was taught to be small, be a turtle. I remember thinking, Why would I go around the company and just chat with people? Like that would be so awkward. Now I go walk around the office and get a ton of emails like, ‘Oh my God, that was awesome you came by.’”
What does this reveal about the impacts that coaching can have, and why leaders should never be too proud to engage a coach?
Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Often when we talk about coaching, and how likely it is that a coaching intervention will succeed, we talk about coaching readiness. There has to be something that makes the prospective coachee aware of the need for change. That has to be coupled with a belief that the coaching is going to work, and a sense that the time is right. All of those things have come together here with Spiegel.
“Interestingly, in this case the coaching readiness was driven by a business need: the company was being affected by Spiegel’s secretive nature, and – whether it was driven by shyness or modesty – his failure to engage with other people. Coaching is a superb intervention for any leader who has reached a crossroads with their management style – indeed, it can fast-track the coachee’s ability to develop a new path for their approach to leadership.”
Cooper notes: “When you are in the position where you want to change, there’s an awful lot of self-help books out there, loads of advice on websites from the likes of Tony Robbins and Jordan Peterson, and a laundry list of YouTube vloggers who can inspire and motivate you. But what a coach does actually adds a layer of accountability to your journey. Unlike all those off-the-peg sources of advice, a coach is someone who takes a personal interest in your development, and – all being well – the resulting success. So, Spiegel’s decision here is very much a win for coaching.”
However, she adds, “the important point to remember is that it only worked because he recognised the need for change. As with so many of the issues we touch on in these blogs, you have to understand that there’s a problem before you can solve it. What Spiegel has done here is reach his own version of what management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H Waterman called ‘Management by Wandering Around’.  It’s all about being a real, visible presence for the people who work in your organisation, so that they feel they have a connection with you. That’s certainly what has made an impact in this case.
For further thoughts on coaching, check out these learning resources from the Institute
Image of Evan Spiegel courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
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