Coach knows it all

How executive coaching helps accelerate performance of leaders 


Photo: iStochphoto
Photo: iStochphoto

American leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith is on a mission. Starting December, he plans to mentor 100 people from all around the world in fields that are related to coaching. 

Coaching is a confidential, one-on-one intervention where a coach increases awareness and accountability in a client by creating a safe space and asking questions.

As part of the programme, Goldsmith will offer eight days of training. Anyone who feels they can benefit are eligible to apply, including other coaches, senior leaders, human resource (HR) professionals and organizational leaders. Goldsmith intends to do this free of charge—the only stipulation is that these 100 people must pass on what they have learnt to other people.

The 100 Coaches Project has generated plenty of interest, with over 8,000 applications—the window for applying closed on 15 October. “More than 25% of all global applicants were from India,” says Goldsmith in an email conversation. 

Explaining why coaching is popular, Pratap Gopalakrishnan, global HR head at Danish business conglomerate Maersk Global Services, says, “Most people, leaders included, have blind spots. Coaching enables them to become aware of these and gets them to work on that themselves.”

Santhosh Babu, an executive coach and founder of the consulting firm Organization Development Alternatives Consultants Pvt Ltd, adds, “A coach does not give answers, solutions or therapy—a coach does not fix someone, he helps someone who can already perform better.” With organizations constantly changing and transforming, a coach helps leaders deal with changes more readily. 

Additionally, leadership is often a very lonely role, says Pradnya Parasher, an executive coach and founder-chief executive of Mumbai-based ThreeFish Consulting. “All leaders today need a quiet space to reflect with professionals who know what they are doing,” she says. 

A coaching exercise is a long-drawn process lasting at least six months. “We begin with a three-way dialogue between the person who is opting for coaching, and his leader,” explains Babu, adding that often a 360-degree process is initiated where, in addition to his manager, they also talk to the person’s peers and reportees. “We then meet at periodic intervals and take this forward,” he says. “We will only do it if it’s a six-month-long journey for lasting changes to happen, but there are some CEO’s (chief executive officer’s) I coach for years,” Babu adds.

Babu recalls a CEO of an American technology company whom he coached. “When I began, the entire leadership team from the US came and briefed me in front of him on what they wanted from the coaching exercise,” he says. This included enhancing his strategic skills and vision. But during the coaching sessions, the CEO’s discussions veered to his young son. “His son was going through his IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) entrance and the CEO, an IIT alumnus himself, wanted to focus and work on his son. Most of his discussion centred on how he could get more time with his son,” says Babu.

This may be far from what the company envisaged as the trajectory of the coaching session, but Babu says that this is perfectly alright. “People are not broken pieces,” he says, adding, “What affects one part of their life inevitably impacts another and if that is addressed, his overall performance improves.” 

PepsiCo is another organization that believes in coaching, says Suchitra Rajendra, vice-president, human resources (India), at the food and beverages firm. “It is a way for leaders to bounce off dilemmas and challenges in a safe environment,” she says. “So while a coach can prove to be a catalyst of sorts, it is the coachee who must take responsibility for their own outcomes.”

These outcomes can range from accelerating personal development and change management to fostering better relationships or addressing specific behavioural issues. It is especially useful when people transition from one leadership level to another, says Rajendra. “For instance, a functional head may become a general manager. Suddenly he is handling a larger team, ends up shouldering a bigger responsibility. Coaching will help the leader understand his own working style and also the style of the other people in his team,” she says.

Not everyone, however, can be coached, cautions Babu. Unless the person is willing to be coached, putting them through the exercise is pointless. Parasher agrees: “Coaching can be a tremendous failure when it is thrust on a person as he will just go through the motions without accruing its benefits. It is like getting a gym membership, hiring a trainer but not showing up.” 

And it is important that one has a clear objective and time-frame, says Rajendra. “Coaching may look good on paper but it is extremely important for both the coach and the person to have an end-goal in mind,” she says.

A fair enough point, when one factors in the fact that coaching is an expensive investment to make. It costs around Rs3-6 lakh per person for a typical six-nine month engagement, informs Parasher.

Where success lies

Finding the right coach, one who the pupil can open up to and ensure that he can work in tandem with, is essential to determine the success of coaching, says Vivek Subramaniam of Bengaluru-based Above N Beyond, which works with organizations to nurture and engage talent. “What works for one person will not work for another as the issues faced are going to vary considerably from individual to individual,” says Subramaniam.

The 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study commissioned by the International Coach Federation (ICF) and conducted by consultancy firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers shows that 59% of clients who undergo coaching are high-potential individuals who seek to better themselves by hiring an executive coach.

J.P. Singh, president of ICF’s Delhi Chapter, agrees: “Coaching is best utilized as a future-oriented and development process.” Using a coach as a remedial or fixing process is not a good place to start from as the coaches’ commitment may not be there under these circumstances, he adds. 

“Coaching helped me better understand my natural gifts and talents and how to use them,” says Jitin Munjal, former director, marketing and sales at a multinational company, adding that it helped him unlock his potential and transition seamlessly into the senior global leadership role that he held. In fact, it was so transformational that he went on to learn more about coaching and is now a certified executive coach himself.

When it comes to executive coaching, the industry is still a nascent one in India and therein lie some big challenges. “Awareness is low—coaching is still perceived as a remedial action, which is not the case,” says Babu, pointing out it is best employed to enhance performance not as a corrective tool. Also, because it is a new field, it is relatively unregulated. “Every second person says that he is a coach—adherence and expertise is lacking,” he says.

Goldsmith, however, says the future of coaching is bright. “Thirty years ago no major CEO would admit to having a coach,” he says, adding that today 27 major CEOs have noted that he was their coach. And while he agrees that coaching in India is taking a little longer to get traction, the direction of progress is the same. “I believe that coaching is growing in India in a parallel way to the way that coaching is growing in the world,” he says.

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Get coached

Santosh Babu, who also trains people to be coaches, outlines the sort of person who is best suited to be a coach. “A non-judgmental attitude, the ability to listen actively, maturity and a deep passion for making a difference in another human being is essential to be an effective coach,” he says, adding that senior leaders planning to start another career, veteran HR professionals, consultants and trainers can opt to be certified.

Here are some places that offer coaching

OD Alternatives (Odalternatives.com)

Lucid Minds (Sridharlaxman.com)

ThreeFish Consulting (Threefish.in)

Peer Coaching India (Peercoachingindia.com/ for-organizations)

Just Plain and Simple (Justplainandsimple.com)

*The fee and training duration vary as per requirement.

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