I was working with a senior leader in an organisation who had come into an organisation as an external appointment and 10 months in, she was feeling some resistance to her authority and was having difficulty making an impact.
She had an impressive track record, was highly skilled and was used to working at pace across multiple challenges in a sector where she had spent most of her career so everything should have been working just fine, yet it wasn’t…
During one of the initial coaching sessions, I asked her the question, “What do you know about the person who did the role before you?”
As she started to respond I realised she was unknowingly sitting in what Systemic Coach, John Whittingham calls the “Ejector Seat!”
Ejector Seat Syndrome happens when the occupant of a particular role suffers the same or similar difficulties to the previous person in that role. The role seems to be jinxed!
So, what is Ejector Seat Syndrome and how can coaching help?
When people come into a role in an organisation to replace someone who has left an organisation under a cloud, and the contribution and length of service of the predecessor are not fully recognised and acknowledged, it has a long-term effect.
One of the great myths in business and certain kinds of leadership is that you can simply remove people, particularly “difficult” people, from a system and forget about them. However, if this person hasn’t had a good ending, then the impact can be real and lasting.
As human beings, we spend our lives belonging to different systems. When we work for an organisation, we belong in their system. A system is made up of people, invisible dynamics, and unspoken rules that everyone follows yet no one talks about hidden loyalties and allegiances as well as aftershocks from difficult events in the past.
Where you find an ejector seat role, you will often find a culture of secrets, silence, attempts to erase past events or people from the organisational memory, and a desire to override the discomfort and dysfunction that is coming up and press forward. What is needed is the opposite.
In a healthy organisation, everyone who has contributed is acknowledged and the history is spoken about including all the difficulties.
In my client’s case, a combination of coaching for the individual and some team coaching for the leadership team gave people the time to properly acknowledge the past people and events and allowed the system to settle.
These types of coaching sessions feel and look slightly different from those you may have experienced in the past and use a range of coaching techniques that specifically aim to work systemically. The good news is the results can be hugely powerful!
Have you been in a role where attempts have been made to erase difficult past events? What was the impact for you?