What kinds of perspectives have yielded the maximum results or insights for your coachees?
Number one is stressing the importance of prioritizing. This was one point that all the coachees I worked with had to work on. Second is organized follow through. And the third one is to be patient and improve your listening skills. We should not be in a hurry to complete the other person’s sentence. You must listen, pause, and create a big gap between stimulus and response. I think these three have been the most important aspects of coaching for me.
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I think the most important thing is sustainability of the coaching inputs and giving them a timely reminder or nudges for the next one year. Beyond one year, if it becomes a habit, we don’t have to bother about it.
When you get into an engagement with a senior leader or a high potential, are there any frameworks or approaches that have worked well for you?
Senior people are at a level where they don’t need basic input. You have to coach them on how to deal with the team at large and carry the team with them all the time. They should not crush anybody’s point of view and must be collaborative. That is one thing I tell senior leaders. Going back to my previous point, I tell them to listen with an open mind and not have a closed mind. Not only is it important to listen, but it is also important to let others know that you’re really listening. That is something which I stress upon.
How should we avoid the advice trap in coaching?
The ideal method for coaching is to allow the person to explore and find solutions. You can do this 80% of the time, but I am also a strong believer that the person is coming to you for some advice at the end of the day. So, it is alright to provide some advice as long as you’re not overly prescriptive. When I was the CEO and MD of a company, I used to see situations where people would come to me for solutions. One standard thing I always used to tell them, which they eventually got used to, was that when they come to me with their problems, they must come to me with two relevant solutions. That way, we will jointly find out which one is the best of the two. So that led them to think things through. They also feel happy that the boss is listening to their ideas and solutions. And then when one of the two solutions is chosen, the individual is extremely happy.
Can you share some anecdotes where a coachable moment resulted in the coachee getting insights that reframed or altered their thinking?
I was coaching a senior manager in a large public sector organization. This individual was intelligent, successful, and growing pretty fast. But what got revealed during the 360 discussions and the feedback was that he was emotionless. In other words, whether good or bad, right, or wrong, happy, or sad – he maintained a stony face and that’s how he was. But when he was talking to me, he was pretty nice and jovial. So, I wanted to get to the bottom of this dual personality. In all my coaching sessions, I first do a session to understand the past. The three parts in the session include talking about their childhood, education, and professional life. When I did the childhood part, I found that when he was about 10 years old, he lost his brother in a very cruel accident. His entire family was grieving, and he was the only one consoling them and keeping his emotions tight, and not letting it out. It was his only brother, and it was extremely sad. So, he had carried this through his entire life. So, when we started tracing back, I told him that this happened a long time ago. Thirty years had passed since that incident, and he did not have to control his emotions anymore. I told him to start talking to people and expressing his emotions. Normally he always goes straight to his desk in the office, but I told him to go meet other people, sit with them, have a chat, and start moving around more. And when the final 360 feedback was done, even his wife said that she did not know what was happening to him. That made a huge impact on him, and he changed.
There is another story where there was an individual in a large private sector company. He was very popular in the office, but he would always miss deadlines. He even missed deadlines for our coaching assignments. So, when we got talking, he said he had FOMO (fear of missing out). Secondly, he could never say no to anybody. He was popular and influential and if anybody wanted to secure a school admission for their child, they would contact him, and he would run to do it for them. So as a result, he was now living his life for others and not caring for his own. When we started looking at this, I told him he did not have to stop what he was doing but to consider what this was doing to him. That really opened his eyes and he said that one great learning for him was he must learn to say no.
The chemistry session in coaching is very important because it really opens your eyes and opens the coachee’s eyes as to how many of our actions today has a linkage to the past. Helping them identify that will help overcome many situations.
How do you coach across different layers of the organization?
One size does not fit all when it comes to coaching. Normally in my coaching sessions, once the chemistry session is done, I ask them what their expectation is from life? I do not ask what the expectation is from coaching, because that is close ended. I open it up and ask them about their expectation from themselves. And these expectations change for all three levels whether it is a junior, mid-level or senior person because people change layers and look at things differently.
So, there are 24 standard strengths, and I ask them to choose the top 10 that they desire to possess. But when we do the psychometric test, the top 10 they picked may not be the top 10 of the psychometric. And I have seen this across levels where what you are and what you want are different. As a coach, if you are able to do this across all levels, it makes a huge difference. You can focus on the right areas of coaching. Obviously, the coaching for a junior level person will be different to a MD or CEO because the MD or CEO want help with things that are more strategic or direction oriented.
But the youngster will have smaller priorities. When I ask budding executives in my company who join the marketing division what they would like to become, they will say they want to be a Brand Manager. They will not say that they want to become the CEO or MD. There is no point for a 27- or 28-year-old to think about what will happen at the age of 58. So, the aspirations have to be within the individual’s eyesight. Something which is very long term may or may not happen. So, according to the levels, we should look at what is reachable in the near future.
There are a number of organizations that have internal coaching engagements and there are external coaches as well. What are your thoughts on this?
I have worked in a large company for over 30 years, and I’ve seen things like train the trainer, and other situations like mentoring. These work to a point but beyond that you need an external catalyst to trigger the coaching mechanism. You can get someone trained as a coach, but they’ve got other priorities like chasing turnovers, production targets and financial numbers. On top of that, you superimpose something where they have to implement behavioral coaching for their team or colleagues, it becomes a part time activity for them. And it is a force fit. This is from my personal experience. I’m sure others may have found success. So, I think internal coaching is something which I would not recommend strongly. It is better to take the help of an external coach.
What will be your contribution to the future of coaching?
As coaches we do a lot of work in six months, over 10 sessions to help people. We give them a lot of inputs, help them, and elevate them to the next level. But what happens after six months? How much do they remember of what we taught them? I think the most important thing is sustainability of the coaching inputs and giving them a timely reminder or nudges for the next one year. Beyond one year, if it becomes a habit, we don’t have to bother about it.
After the coaching gets over, for a period of one year, we can have electronically triggered reminders. Also, once in a while, we can have a 30-minute conversation, which should be built as part of the coaching program. Because otherwise the light goes off after the assignment is over. This is something which I’ve started working on with many of the organizations where I have done coaching. We have started something called a sustainability tracker. The coachee has to provide answers as to what percentage of their three goals they have worked on this week. I think that is what I would like to contribute and share with anybody who wants it.
RAJASEKHARAN V M
Leadership Coach and Chief Consultant at BusinessClinique
Rajasekharan or Raj as he likes being called is the Founder and Chief Consultant of BusinessClinique, an organisation that helps solves business problems with the help of renowned experts. He is also a certified coach for senior management and business leaders and a mentor for entrepreneurs at the IIT Incubation Centre. Raj worked with ITC Ltd. for 32 years before retiring as the CEO of the Matches & Agarbatti Division in 2018. Additionally, he was also the Chief Executive of the Safety Matches Business since 2010. He modelled and ran both businesses on the principles of lean management and aggressive market expansion. Raj was also the Chairman of the CSR committee of Madras Chambers of Commerce for two years from 2016. He was instrumental in promoting sustainable development projects in collaboration with several State Governments.