A Coach Indeed

This article appreared in Outlook Business – April 2, 2011 issue. Written by Shruti Yadav, it carries my views on the field of coaching in India along with those of some of my peers in the industry.

Indians have a knack of building support systems

Extended families, a large circle of friends, friends of friends, etc., are there all the time to lend a sympathetic ear or to give advice. For business problems, there are consultants and for serious behavioural and emotional issues, there is a battery of psychologists and psychiatrists. But what do you do when you want help to introspect? It may seem a contradiction of sorts, but a life coach performs a similar function. He will listen to you, ask you questions and make you find the answers within yourself.

Life coaching and executive coaching are Western concepts, but they are fast gaining currency in India. As Shalini Verma, Founder of The Skyscrapers Academy, a leadership and executive coaching organisation, puts it, “Coaching is about unlocking potential—driving change inside out.” Executive coach Sunil Unny Guptan adds that a coach can point you in directions you haven’t explored before, so you can add value to yourself—in terms of acquiring new skills, new ideas, new perspectives, a new way of life, new thinking and even experimenting with things

Many people are now hiring coaches to achieve various life objectives, and the trend is especially strong among corporates, who want to help their employees make the maximum use of their capabilities.


So what exactly do coaches do? They listen, says Verma. According to her, there should be an 80:20 ratio between how much a client speaks and how much the coach speaks. And listening implies not just hearing the words, but the tone of voice, patterns and repetitions in the conversation. Quite Freudian, some would say. But the coach does not perform the passive role of putting you on a couch and letting you ramble. Nor is he a buddy or a confidant.

A good coach, in fact, says Simerjeet Singh, life coach and Co-founder, Cutting Edge Learning Systems, pushes the client out of his or her comfort zone. The job of a coach is to ask questions. Several questions, even uncomfortable ones. As a coach is supposed to refrain, as far as possible, from giving direct advice, questioning is the most potent tool with which he can help the client create a plan of action to enhance his life quality.

Like psychologists and counsellors, coaches also maintain absolute confidentiality, since trust is the most important factor in this relationship. And they have to remain neutral and non-judgemental at all times. At the same time, once a desired objective has been stated, the coach helps the client break a bigger goal into smaller, more easily achievable targets.

Yet human nature being what it is, don’t the clients play truant and make excuses? Of course they do, and that is why they need a coach to push them all the time. Singh says one of the most important aspects of a coach’s job is to hold the client accountable. It is important to define each target in terms of how often, by when, and how much, i.e., how often must a task be performed to achieve a certain part of the bigger goal, and to set a deadline for it.

Verma feels that when a client is unable to make progress it is up to the coach to assess whether the obstacle is real or imagined, and to help the client work his way around it.


It may sound like a dream scenario, but trusting someone with your life is not a joke. Specially since this is a nascent field with no regulation. While there are organisations, like the International Coach Federation, which offer certification for coaches, in India there is no legal requirement for a coach to be certified or even formally trained.

And like any sensitive relationship, this one, too, is open to abuse. Emotional dependence is one of the pitfalls. Unny Guptan says this happens because “some coaches tend to become too directive, which does not allow the coachee to develop his own personality to solve his own problems over a period of time”. Other pitfalls may be transference of ambition to the client and possessiveness or another agenda on part of the coach, like seeking a relationship other than that of the coach-coachee.

Another problem, says Verma, is that some clients want to be spoon-fed. Or, organisations hire coaches to “fix” employee problems. “As coaching is not a quick fix solution, one does not hire a coach when a problem arises,” Verma says. Sometimes, people with deep-seated behavioural problems, like aggression, hostile relationships with employees or relationship issues may approach coaches for solutions too. But this not the domain of a coach. Dr Pavan Sonar, a psychiatric consultant and psychotherapist, says, “Coaching is not for people with behavioural or psychological problems. If the coach is unable to understand the pathology underlying certain behaviours, he could do a lot of harm.”

As coaching becomes more popular in India, an understanding of its applications and potential is growing, too. The International Coach Federation has an India Chapter now, and many have experienced the life-changing results of coaching.

Link to the article: http://business.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?271216