Billions, Showtime’s newest series, is already getting great buzz for its portrayal of the shameless world of Wall Street hedge funds. That’s not the only world it illuminates though. One of the leading characters, Wendy Rhoades, played by Maggie Siff, does a stellar job of showcasing the effect performance coaching can have. This is not touchy feely stuff, but bottom-line boosting performance enhancement. Her job as an in-house performance coach is to keep the fiercely brilliant and ambitious young men of the firm functioning at peak power. The boss, Bobby Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis, sees her as one of the most valuable assets of his firm. And because this is television, she is also married to U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti, who is intent on taking the firm down.
Dramatics aside, Siff’s portrayal of a performance coach is surprisingly accurate. In the first episode, Wendy helps one of the fund managers regain his mojo after his fund starts faltering compared to those of his peers. Wendy gets him to pay attention to the voices inside his head: the one that tells him he’s a loser, and the one that tells him he’s the greatest. Using both physical and mental tactics, she focuses him on the second voice and he leaves her office pumped up. The scene is drama, not reality, but the techniques she uses are actually an example of effective coaching. And in the episode, they work — within 24 hours he has made a decision that earns the firm millions.
Cut to episode two, which brings more work for Wendy. First, she encourages one of the women working in this highly macho environment to put herself forward more forcefully. And then we watch as the woman takes charge of a meeting in a powerful and funny manner. Then, after Bobby humiliates and fires one of his best producers, he sends Wendy to win the guy back. It takes all of her psychological knowledge and technique, but she’s able to bring him into the fold once more, saving a valuable relationship.
Only two episodes in, Siff’s Wendy has already brought in millions for the company by supporting its people. Performance coaching is a set of proven tactics that help good performers become great performers and formerly great performers regain their peak skills. Reframing, confrontation, cheerleading, breathing techniques, changing posture — all of these can rapidly accelerate performance when used by a professional. A large part of performance coaching is about managing energy — teaching leaders to utilize their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy for maximum stamina and effectiveness.
Performance coaching is not therapy. It is not about salvaging underperformers. It’s not even always about making people feel good — in fact, often it’s tough medicine. But it is delivered in the context of a relationship where there is high trust and mutual respect. To be successful, it requires a high degree of commitment from both participants. And it has to show results.
Performance coaching is not for amateurs. On Billions, Wendy has an MD as well as extensive business expertise. This combination enables her to understand her clients at a deep level while simultaneously focusing on the business imperatives that drive their behavior. As an MD, she is bound by a code of conduct that puts boundaries around how she works. Performance coaching has the potential to be very powerful, and any powerful tool can be destructive in the wrong hands.
We’ll be able to see if Wendy Rhoades continues to shine a positive — and realistic — light on performance coaches, as Billions has already been picked up for a second season.