Workplace coaching to make a leader
The next time that dapper stranger is quietly hanging around your meeting with your boss, don’t panic. He’s not some super boss come to check you out — he’s just your boss’ personal tutor.
As India Inc struggles to fight the great talent war, and overnight create an army of top end managers and CEOs to take on the exponential growth in the industry, it’s not surprising that corporate coaches are now popping up all over the place.
Increasing exam fever has a stream of executives and companies heading for that time-tested strategy of private tuitions, when coaching classes et al are too slow.
After all if every other kind of celebrity needs a personal trainer, stylist, pet counsellor, speech therapist and so on, why should India’s executives be left behind?
Mostly, companies are still using coaches to help high performers achieve that critical edge, think strategy, and develop potential. The idea is to cut short the long that turns a high-performer into a leader of stature.
Sometimes, they’re also called in to help an executive overcome a weakness or skill-gap. Outsiders, professional executive coaches with a history of high performance and experience in management and HR, are fast becoming the preferred choice for companies.
Like sports teams and school-going kids, an outsider, without any vested interest in the organisation is in a better position to be accepted by the student, and more effective in that he can stay neutral, but at the same time ask the tough questions without ruffling egos or internal feathers. The few executive coaches we have in India have their hands full these days.
“Companies want things to happen very fast. Rightly and wrongly,” says RR Nair, an ex Unilever HR director turned executive coach.
Multinational companies like P&G, Unilever, and GE and some Indian companies like Aditya Birla Group, Godrej Industries, L&T and Mahindra and Mahindra, among others now have coaches working with some of their high potential executives.
It’s not mentoring (where a senior coaches) or counselling (where you seek help for emotional issues) but an outside coach is hired by the company to help realise a high performer’s true potential. “Coaching is needed by high performers.
Even the world’s best tennis player has a coach,” says London based Naren Nanda of Enen Consulting, one of the most in-demand executive coaches in India.
So what exactly do these Fairy Godfathers do? Wave their wands and turn their students into Cinderellas? Or is it just another of those corporate training fads that sweep through corporations from time to time. Not exactly. ET coaxed the usually reticent coaches for a view from inside the classroom.
One primary condition has to be met before the learning process starts, the executive must be willing to learn. “Only when the student is ready to learn, I am willing to teach,” says Pavan Chowdhury, CEO of Yvone, and a CEO coach.
The coach works for a set period of time, it could be 6-12 meetings depending on the student’s readiness to change, and each meeting sets some milestones in terms of the changes they hope to achieve. Explains Anil Sachdev of Growtalent:
“The coach first helps to bring about change in awareness (knowledge). Then S/he then encourages the student to apply that knowledge so that S/he becomes skillful.We then encourage the student, through appropriate appreciation & recognition and discouragement, so the skill is converted into an attitude. This is called knowledge-skill-attitude-behavior cycle.”
Some of the common problems that executives need help with these days are: how to manage time? How to have influence and garner support across organisation? How to motivate self and other team members? People issues are emerging as a key problem area, according to coaches.
Many executives need help in managing their emotions, because emotions are like virus and they spread easily across teams and organisations affecting productivity and environment.
Executives also need help in tuning their intuitive antenna, especially their ability to understand what’s said and what is left unsaid. MNC executives often need help in dealing with continuously shifting power equations as organisations go through global reorganisations or acquisitions and power centre changes.
Coaches begin work like doctors and start with a diagnosis. First, a 360 degree feedback process, lengthy interviews with team members and bosses (often many times), and psychometric tests.
“Behaviour under observation” is another technique coaches use, attending meetings, observing their executives at work, all done in a very transparent manner. “I’ve found people around them are very positive because they see the executive making an effort to improve himself, so they give feedback very sincerely,” says Nanda.
Once coaches have analysed the executive’s strengths and weaknesses, they zero in on the top 2/3 issues they will work on. Coaches try and delve into a client’s mind and try and find a link between day to day problems and the big themes.
They loosely work on a principle of Socratic questioning – but instead of discussing logic or philosophy, the student is questioned on his work style and behaviour. “The first set of questions is about exploring an executive’s strengths.
While doing this type of work when were you the best?” says Sachdev. “Executives at that level don’t need skills but change comes from reflection. Who am I? What do I want to be?
A lot of personal change comes from being aware and creating feedback loops for your own self,” adds Nanda. Self awareness for the executive is the first step.
The next round of questions goes deeper. “What are the options where one can use strengths to move towards the goal? How is the executive using his strengths?”
After that, it’s on to obstacles. “As you discover options where can you get stuck? How to deal with the hindrances when they crop up? Next, the executive is probed on the possible counter measures that can be developed.
Coaches say it’s about helping the person identify the solution and helping him develop a framework to find solutions. It’s important that they never prescribe anything, nor do they make the executive dependent on them. They’re just around to guide a journey of self-discovery. Nanda gives his blueprint.
“Most people find it easier to talk through the problem than think through the issue themselves. Then we try and connect with their strengths. Making them tap into their strengths and leverage it better. Our work has to focus on what I need to do to make it work,” says Nanda.
Executives are encouraged to find their way forward, reflect on their actions and the resulting implications.
Sometimes, rarely, this doesn’t work. Chowdhury narrates one such incident. He was brought in the CEO of the company to work with an executive having problems, but when he worked closely with the executive he found out the boss was ill tempered, and foul mouthed.
“He spits when he speaks in anger, and that’s very often. My glasses cloud when he comes near me and shouts,” the executive lamented. Chowdhury met the boss and found him impossible to work with and unwilling to change; his advise to the manager was change the boss.
“It was a case of patient recommending a healthy person to doctor. But such incidents are exceptions rather than the rule,” he says.
The most usual type of problem coaches encounter is the executive’s own ego. In CEO cases, ego is sky-high. And in some cases ego comes dressed as humility, says Chowdhury.
But coaches learn to deal with that, Sachdev worked with one particular pesky CEO of an American company who bombarded him with questions; he seemed unable to digest the fact he was being coached by an Indian, and was acting difficult in first few assignments but later became a friend.
“The person should use you as a mirror. In course of time, he begins to understand how ego is coming in way,” he says. And different layers of his persona have to be peeled like an onion before you get to his real persona. Peeled or not, it seems as if Indian executives have caught on to the great Indian tradition of private tuitions.