I was doing my job diligently without bothering about what my image in the company was like or whether I was networking with the ‘right people’. After 25 years, I realize what a mistake this kind of attitude has been,” recounts a Mumbai-based senior executive of a leading pharmaceutical company. He decided to seek help independently from an executive coach, a breed of specialized trainer he had heard about from industry peers.
“In my industry, there is too much pressure—both work- and peer-related. In a big company you need to be strategic and must keep in mind a few other things, like being perceived as a leader rather than just another good worker, and become assertive rather than being a soft and lenient boss,” he says. He did not want to be named because he believes this confession may not go down well with his organization.
He went through at least nine sessions of coaching over three months. Two things have changed since—one, he doesn’t just react adversely to issues, instead listening to the points of view of colleagues and peers; two, he networks with colleagues in general, and in particular with those who head different segments of the business.
Gurgaon-based Rituparna Chakraborty, senior vice-president of staffing and training company, TeamLease Services Pvt. Ltd, took the help of an executive coach nearly a year and a half ago to shift focus from pure functional areas to managerial functions. “For nearly a decade, TeamLease drew its energy from its co-founders to become a Rs.1,000 crore firm. And the challenge now is to take it to the next level. It was a management decision to avail the service of executive coaches,” she says. For three months, these coaches focused on helping her understand the business scenario better and improve her decision-making abilities. “This kind of programme helps you to realize where you stand in a particular business environment, the problem you are facing, and facilitates to help one attain a target one wishes to (reach),” she explains.
Earlier, organizations used to deploy special trainers to promote team-building among the younger lot. But with the economy growing and businesses moving beyond borders, the need is being felt for niche coaching targeting senior executives. Popularly referred to as “executive coaching”, this is a confidential, individually tailored engagement designed to meet the needs of the executive (who is getting coached) and the organization. It’s a sector which has picked up in India over the last two years, though it started growing globally in the late 1990s.
A coach works closely with an executive, and together they craft the goals to be achieved, explains Ashish Arora, managing director and founder of HR Anexi Pvt. Ltd, an executive coaching firm headquartered in Mumbai. In some cases, senior executives avail of the service independent of the company; in other cases, the management provides such service to its leadership team. Senior leaders sometimes seek permission to enrol for such modules but it is not essential.
The interaction is always confined to two people and since a confidentiality agreement is signed, the coach is unlikely to disclose details.
The trend catches on
Like Chakraborty, many top executives, in sectors ranging from IT to consumer goods, and pharmaceuticals to manufacturing, are turning to executive coaching to tackle workplace challenges.
Among senior-level executives seeking executive coaching are expats who are coming to India in managerial positions, says Arora. They take the help of executive coaches to understand how to deal with Indian managers, adjust to a new work environment and culture; some even want to learn how to say “no” in a tough business environment. Keya Rathore, a Gurgaon-based executive coach, says executive coaching is a common feature among multinational companies in India.
“We all know it’s lonely at the top. Highly successful people lead a complex and high-pressure life, and often they have no one they can reach out to. A coach helps them to be more aware of who they are, reduce burnout…helps them manage success effectively,” adds Santhosh Babu, a Delhi-based executive coach who believes there has been double-digit growth in demand for executive coaching in the last couple of years as more and more senior executives are approaching firms or individuals for such programmes or sessions.
“This training tool is exploratory in nature. The coach tries to find an answer from within you,” says Manishi Sanwal, managing director of DFS India, a unit of LVMH Watch and Jewellery, New Delhi. Sanwal took executive coaching last year.
Executive coaching is more of a personal story of growth and leadership, says Mumbai-based Ajay Soni, practice leader, Asia-Pacific, at human resource and consulting firm Aon Hewitt, which also provides executive coaching to companies. “Coaching is perhaps the only leadership intervention suited to navigate all three kinds of challenges faced by a leader—business, people and personal. A coach helps the leader to build strategic focus, trigger behavioural change in the organization, and identifies strengths and development areas (for his team),” says Soni.
Senior executives—general managers, managing directors and chief executives—are taking to executive coaching for a variety of reasons: to understand their colleagues better, to drive more business, to understand a new role, to break away from stagnation or to move to the next level of leadership. “A coach is neither a mentor nor an old world spiritual guru. He is a stranger who looks at you from outside and gives that 360-degree picture. He would not mind asking tough questions but help you find an answer from within you,” adds Arora.
So the coach, most of the time, is not a competitor or a colleague. He or she has no stake or conflict of interest in the organization. As a third-party evaluator, an explorer, his job is to help find the right answers to the questions and concerns plaguing leaders and CEOs. And perhaps this is why such coaches are in demand. “For top executives, an external coach is easier to speak to. A stranger can give you an outside perspective, which is objective,” says Jagat Rathore, a Gurgaon-based executive coach.
The fee ranges from Rs.40,000 to Rs.2 lakh per session. A module comprises 8-12 sessions, each of which could be for 45-90 minutes, generally spread over a six-month period. The engagements are generally one-on-one.
Chandra Mauli Dwivedi, global HR head at IT and knowledge processing outsourcing firm Datamatics Global Services Ltd, Mumbai, says he finds executive coaching beneficial for both top executives and mid-level managers. “We have conducted such coaching sessions for our senior employees in six batches. As the HR head, I feel it helped me in churning the portfolio of executives and finding the right people for the right job,” says Dwivedi. The outcome is visible: Some top managers in the sales team have started giving better results in terms of revenue generation and getting more clients, he adds.
So what are the qualities that a good executive coach must possess? He must have some industry knowledge but need not necessarily be a domain expert. The person needs to be a good listener and have the capability to understand the other’s point of view. He should not give a ready-made answer but should help explore the problem areas and find a solution. And since such coaching involves people in high-stakes jobs, the coach must maintain confidentiality about the identity, the problem areas of the client or the company. A good coach is ideally certified by an agency such as the International Coach Federation, headquartered in Lexington, US.
Of late, some top executives too have shown an interest in becoming coaches. In fact, in a recent video interview to Mint, Manu Anand, chairman, PepsiCo India, said he would like to become an executive coach. If you had only heard about erstwhile gurus or informal mentors, hold on: Here comes the corporate Chanakya!