When Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google, was advised to leverage a coach, he resented it, “After all, I was a CEO. I was pretty experienced. Why would I need a coach? Am I doing something wrong? My argument was how could a coach advise me if I’m the best person in the world at this?” … “(I realised later that) a coach doesn’t have to play the sport as well as you do. They have to watch you and get you to be your best,” he added.
“Engaging with a coach has helped me gain fresh perspective and has rendered my transition from a multinational to a promoter-led organisation a lot smoother and easier,” says Rajashree Nambiar, chief executive officer, India Infoline Finance Ltd.
“Coaching has generated a high degree of self awareness and self direction. It has pushed me to think differently and acquire greater resilience to handle tough situations,” says Bhagirath Shanbhag, head, Human Resources, L&T Realty Ltd.
A coaching engagement typically starts with identifying a few clear, articulate and inspiring goals. A series of conversations steer the coachee (pupil or trainee) into introspecting, contemplating and delving into areas of life that are either marked by a problem or an impasse that the coachee wishes to overcome, or an area where the coachee wishes to achieve far more. For instance:
Coach: “What are the headlines of your life at the moment?”
Pupil: “Relations, health, career, hobbies.”
Coach: “How about breaking these down further? Let’s evaluate each element to see if it represents an area that you would consider significant and worthwhile for coaching. Let’s start by putting a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ or a ‘may be’ against each.”
Pupil: “I would like to focus on career.”
Coach: “Okay. What aspect of your career would you like to consider?”
Pupil: “I feel low on confidence at work and I think this is impacting my career adversely. I would like to improve my confidence level.”
Coach: “Okay. Where would you peg yourself currently on confidence on a 10-point scale and where would you like to be?”
Pupil: “I am currently on 4 and would like to be on 8.”
The goal is enunciated and polished in a way that renders it measurable, inspiring and exciting for the coachee to achieve.
Reflecting and exploring
Having established the goals, the coach steers the conversation towards exploring the current reality of the situation. What is going on in the area? What is working? What is not? This introspection, discussion and brainstorming helps the coachee gain a higher degree of awareness in those areas bringing about insights and realisations, leading to possible actions for achieving the goal. To take the previous example forward:
Coach: “Think through some contexts when you think your confidence ebbs. How important is it for you to overcome this?”
Pupil: “It is extremely important to me. When I go to department meetings, I feel like I am at a loss. I can’t think of anything smart and impactful to say. I feel the heat of all eyes on me, and when I sense my manager’s disapproving glare, I start stuttering.”
Coach: “What do you think triggers your manager’s disapproval?”
Pupil: “He probably thinks that my subject knowledge is not great. I have no views or don’t have the confidence of sharing my views at meetings.”
Coach: “Okay. So what could you do to enhance your subject knowledge?”
Pupil: “I could take some e-lessons that are available online … or I could read some journals … or I could spend some time with subject matter experts in office.”
Coach: “Okay. Which of the three actions would you like to experiment with?”
Pupil: “The first and third.”
Coach: “Great. Would you like to take this as an action point? What timelines would you like to put around this?”
Pupil: “I need to be better prepared.”
Coach: “How could you prepare better?”
Pupil: “I could review the agenda items carefully and gather my thoughts better.”
Coach: “What else?”
Pupil: “Perhaps practise the way I would verbalise my point at the meeting.”
Coach: “That sounds great!”
The following dimensions of coaching emerge from the above dialogue:
Offers new perspectives: Coaching helps a person think differently. We often slip into auto-pilot thinking as we draw upon patterns related to objects, people and situations that our brain is relentlessly etching and hardwiring within. Coaching helps the coachee think more consciously by side stepping these routine thinking patterns, thus opening up several different pathways for approaching a problem. “I have benefited from the introspection and soul searching that coaching entailed. It opened up my mind to consider and experiment with things that I had not thought about before, and surprising this helped me find solutions to issues I was grappling with,” says Akshaya Kashyap, general manager, Human Resources at Future Generali.
Advice-free zone: Coaching works on the premise that there resides an immeasurable trove of energy, ability and wisdom within the coachee waiting to be tapped and set in motion. The role of a coach, therefore, is to support the coachee in leveraging this strength to find answers and solutions that lie within. Rather than offering advice, a coach facilitates the process for setting the coachee to get to his own answers.
Solution-focused & action-oriented: The coach constantly steers the conversation forward by asking questions that help the coachee introspect, explore, gain insights and figure out possible actions. The coach consciously guides the coachee forward from the past to the present, from a problem to a solution mindset by asking more of ‘what’ rather than ‘why’ questions.
Trust: The success of coaching hinges on the degree of mutual trust and respect between the coach and the coachee. It is imperative for the coach to create the right neurochemistry for the brain to work at its best by upholding confidentiality, standing by the coachee’s agenda, being non-judgemental and having confidence in the coachee’s inherent ability, resources and skills.
Accountability: Effecting a change in any area of life is contingent upon taking an action. For coaching to be successful, the coachee needs to take responsibility and be accountable for implementing the actions committed to during the conversations.
Charu Sabnavis is a coach, learning and organisational development facilitator, and founder director of Delta Learning