How to become a good coach

Three essential qualities make for a great coach, and leaders can develop all of them through self-training

Among all the leadership development techniques, coaching is an area which many consider vague and ambiguous. While organisations have realised the importance of coaching, the traditional approach of sending leaders to coaching training is proving ineffective. It is true that coaching training enlightens a leader to some key elements of effectiveness, such as listening, building a solution-oriented approach, and feedback mechanisms. But it is difficult to capture the true essence of coaching through coaching sessions.

For a leader, coaching is an integral element of building credibility. It is also true that not all great leaders can be good coaches. Douglas Riddle, Global Director of Coaching Services, at the Centre of Creative Leadership (CCL) recommends a three-point framework for building self-efficacy.

Curiosity– A key and essential element of good coaches is their curiosity and inquisitiveness towards problems. A good coach does not believe in stereotypes and believes that every problem and situation is unique. Consequently, good coaches develop the patience to listen to people’s issues before jumping into solutions.

Presence– A good coach is always present in a conversation. Very often, senior leaders offer solutions to problems because multiple priorities are fighting for their time. Consequently, they lose their ability to really understand perspectives of people who are speaking to them. They also lose their ability to be really present in a conversation, and pay only a fraction of their attention of what is being said. Good coaches, on the other hand, are always present. Many Heads of States and Presidents are regarded as great inspiration as leaders, though they have a multitude of priorities competing for their time. Riddle once had the opportunity of attending a wedding in a park where the President of the United States was passing through. The President generously walked into the wedding to pay his best to the couple. As he was walking out, he spent the next 10 minutes speaking to some of the people at the wedding who were keen. Riddle observed from a distance that despite his priorities as a President of the State, he conducted each small conversation, hearing people out with complete and undivided attention. In other words, in each conversation, no matter how short, the leader was in a state of ‘presence.’

Respect– A common trap that leaders fall into is the belief in the superiority of their own experiences. As a result, they lack the respect to really understand issues. Most of the solutions they offer are a consequence of their need to do something else with their time or purely because the issue does not interest them. An approach where the listener lacks interest in the issue at the first place cannot have fruitful conclusion because it lacks in the basic premise of respect. Respect is one of the most important constituents of a good coach.

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Create a magnum opus- every time

While passion and emotion may seem conflicting, it is only when the two come together that creates a work of genius

“I want to build a car for the multitude” Henry Ford proclaimed, “that is so low in price that every man will be able to afford one.” Hailed as the man who taught America how to drive, Ford’s vision was one driven by an emotion, sparking a new modern industrial revolution.  At a time when an automobile was an expensive toy available only to the super rich, Ford wanted one for the common man. For him, there was no reason why every man cannot have a car. With this vision in mind, he founded the Ford Motor company at the beginning of the 20th century. The rest is history.  Ford is fondly remembered for several legendary statements he made during his life time. Among them, one sticks out― “A car looks good in any colour,” Ford said, “so long as it is black.” People who worked directly with Ford remembered him as a man whose love for automobiles was so great, that it superseded every other desire he had. While Ford wanted to build a car for the common man, he was not prepared to compromise on its quality in any department, including the way it looked.  Ford’s statements exemplify two central ingredients of perfection-emotion and passion.

Emotion + passion equals perfection

Emotion drives a behavioural change. It is a conscious reaction to act on the strong desire to serve a customer in the best possible way. Passion, on the other hand, is singlehanded devotion toward perfecting a product, even independent of convention and market demand. Oftentimes, products or ideas driven by emotion have the best functionality, but end up looking unimpressive. On the other hand, products built only with passion become prohibitively expensive or miss the mark completely. It is when emotion and passion merge that we truly see a product so remarkable that it alters paradigms.

Apple is an interesting case in point. Apple’s legacy of product perfection was not an outcome of a fleeting idea by a genius inventor. Very little is spoken about Steve Jobs’ skill as a qualified calligraphist. His biography reveals his love for fonts so great that he dedicated a considerable part of his life to the study and practice of the subject. As a result, Apple’s legacy of innovative design, sleek form factor, and simple interfaces have continued to set new industry standards. Not only do Apple products signify Job’s passion for design, they scream of the man’s emotional vision to provide customers with a product which is easy to experience.

Don’t let passion override emotion, or vice versa

Reebok released a print advertisement in 2012 that said, “Cheat on your girlfriend, not your workout.” Such brand disasters are qualified by Twiteratti as an #Epicfail. While it raised indignant eyebrows, the advertisement made it to Huffington Post’s list of “top 10 advertising disasters for women” in no time. One can sit back and wonder what level of arrogance the creative team must have possessed to conceive and execute such a derisive idea. The execution was flawless. It did not lack wit. And yet, the creator was so possessed with his passion for the product that s/he failed to consider the basic question, “will the consumer like it?” Clearly on this occasion, it did not. After it was widely condoned by social media globally, Reebok had to make a scamper for face-saving tactics. The ads were pulled down and every trace of them vaporised in a jiffy.

The automobile world is rife with several examples of highly functional cars with hideous designs. The creators of these cars were driven by the myopic emotional drive for customer comfort, while grossly overlooking the basic need for making a good looking car. Porsche or Cadillac, Chrysler or Buick, every car brand has made it to lists of ugly-looking cars. Where was the passion for creating a magnum opus when Porsche built the Panamera in 2010 or when Austin built the Allegro in 1973?

What drives us to work every day? Is it the passion to create a work of genius? Or is it the drive to make a customer happy? It may not be necessary to view emotion and passion as an everyday conflict. Maybe a good thought to ponder before the start of every day could be, “Is genius of any use without utility?”

Women can’t have it all, so can’t men

Your-way-of-success
Photo source: http://www.imigion.com

Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi’s famous quote at the Aspen Ideas Festival has caused a lot of stir. Mostly among feminists and journalists. Nooyi says that women pretend that they have it all but it’s not the truth. “Every day,” she says, “a woman needs to make a choice between whether she wants to be a wife or a mother at least once.” On the other hand, Kim Kardashian who many term as the poster girl of first world frivolity “begs to differ.” Kardashian says that her mother taught her that women can have it all if they prioritise right. Feminists and social mercenaries were quick to jump and dismiss Kardashian’s point of view. After all, “how could a world famous celebrity with a legion of staff to take care of childcare, career, and husband’s untameable ego know about the truth in the ground?”

As much as one may hate to admit it, Kardashian does have a point. A deep one too!

The world’s cruel, yes

Women undergo the biological event of child-birth and subsequent motherhood which causes them to take a break from their corporate careers. Women start out with peers from business schools in a corporate career, the top percentile get ahead of the race while the others are still at par with their male peers. There is, of course, the 25-40 age window where most women take a break from their corporate careers mostly because of motherhood obligations. Irrespective of what stage a woman is with her corporate career, the feminist lobby argues that she comes in with the disadvantage of starting behind her peers and loses the motivation to carry on. Even if the woman gathers enough motivation to join another corporate job, she finds out that her male peers have moved ahead and she has to catch up.

At work, the woman is worried about her child/children and the health of the family. She faces prejudice from her bosses because of the perceptions that a woman cannot stay back for late hours, and there is always the risk of another career break with a new pregnancy. Many corporate women complain that they were unfairly overlooked by their bosses for a well-deserved promotion because of gender bias. As a result of all that, a woman’s CV looks less prolific than a man’s. There are fewer women in leadership positions in the corporate world than men. All of the above is true. And all relevant. But is that how we really measure success?

Corporate success does not equate absolute success

All the issues listed above are true for the modern corporate woman. The truth is, corporate success and success in absolute terms are two different things. Would you call the “douchebag CTO of the global service firm who cannot tell a scone from a macaroon and talks like a jerk” a successful person? Does the word “CTO” negate the words “douchebag” and “jerk”? I guess not! In absolute terms, this guy has been unsuccessful in becoming an all-rounder. He is highly unsuccessful. In fact, in absolute terms chances are, more people will end up calling him a “loser with a capital L.”

Measure success on absolute value, not bell-curve placement

Why does no one talk about absolute value? Giving birth and nurturing a child in absolute terms is progressively more valuable than growing older and less valuable as a social and economic entity. After an individual is past her/his prime, the capacity of the individual to generate value diminishes. True, the individual may continue to earn more based on his experience. But s/he will progressively have lesser and lesser energy for family and friends, and lesser capability to remain “an interesting person.” Not to mention, beauty and pleasing looks will fade away too. The absolute value of the individual goes down. The only way to continue being valuable is to nurture a progressively valuable entity. A child is a great bet!

One’s placement in your organisation’s bell curve may not be in the lead area, but that’s really not a measure of somebody’s worth, right?

Men can’t have it all either

Once someone’s measurement standards are truly elevated to absolute terms, it is possible to acknowledge that men can’t have it all either. For a man, not succeeding is not an option. A man is born with the expectations to lead, to be faster, better, swifter than the rest.

While a man is busy attending to the world’s expectations, he fails to invest in overall well-being. He stops developing a personality, stops doing things that interested him once, and invests as much time as he can to vegetate and regain lost mind space. Being taught all life to have things under absolute and unequivocal control, to be on top is of the game now and always, men cannot afford to just float if they have to lead “a worthy life.”
Read about hikikomori in Japan. It’s the growing trend among men in Japan unable to cope with the society’s expectations around them to ultimately withdraw to a vegetative state. It’s a miserable life to lead. It’s not just a phenomenon in Japan. Men all around the world face the same burden and will continue to. We don’t need WHO statistics to tell us that significantly more men die of stress-related disease than women. Simply put, men have it tough too!

Kardashian may just be right

Prioritisation is an unfailing answer to the question, “What is success and how do you measure it?” I hope there will come a time when the world becomes more rational and measures people in absolute terms than their economic worth. Until then, there is one thing someone can always do. Just find out what one enjoys doing, prioritise that over everything else, and invest in overall welfare. As my 20 year old cousin puts it, “YOLO.” (If you didn’t get that, it’s possible that you’re past your prime)

Stop abusing the word ‘Impact’ in performance discussions

Photo courtesy: Christian Faith

Photo courtesy: Christian Faith

How often have we heard a manager say, “You do good work, but I din’t see you bring impact?” A lot of performance management conversations ride on the back of ‘impact.’ While the smart (read crafty) employee uses it to steer the conversation for her/his benefit, it is the ultimate weapon that a manager uses to justify a promotion, increment, or an average rank to the guy s/he doesn’t like. Most of the ‘average blokes’ find it hard to defeat the impact argument during the performance review conversation. Most come out of the room grumbling without knowing why, while a few others even come out convinced though defeated. We grumble, we burn our blood, and we have endless conversations about why we deserved more but couldn’t get our fair share. We even grumble that the ‘smart-ass’ manipulator in the team, who has the IQ of a pocket calculator, has inched his way ahead by justifying his ‘impact.’

So what should the average bloke keep in mind the next time s/he hears about impact?

1. Too many impacts may bring the structure down. Physics has the answer to why any structure should not suffer too many impacts, big or small. Period. Running a business is not always about impact.

2. Nothing in this world is really an invention, but merely an improvement on somebody else’s work. The next time, when the pocket-calculator colleague boasts about her/his ‘life-altering idea’ it should not be too hard to prove that idea was merely borrowed.

3. Respect every individual’s uniqueness. There is no point for a manager to expect someone to share the same beliefs as himself. Employees who prove that they are perfectly in alignment with their manager’s beliefs have sold their souls and are now mere puppets. They seem to act and talk straight out of a script. The only fair thing to do is to make sure that every employee is respected and celebrated for her/his uniqueness.

4. I have the right to know where I really lag. Instead of hiding behind the shield of ‘impact’, it is alright to be forthcoming and make someone aware of her/his true weakness. A manager has a moral responsibility toward her/his team members, though it might even mean losing the employee in the near future. That’s what makes us different from army ants.

There may be others to this list, but these are my top ones.

How to ensure that you retain a worthy job

Changing academic and professional preferences are changing the way organisations will create job roles and employ talent in the coming times

The Hindustan Times reported today that a U.S. student, Ugbaad Kenyan, has been awarded a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Urdu in Lucknow.  Kenyan, who has keen interest to study the political history between India and Pakistan hopes that the eight week programme will enrich his knowledge and insight about the region. It will not be too far-fetched to argue that Kenyan’s academic choice was rather unconventional for a time when the global job market continues to shrink and the talent pool seeks to learn market-ready skills to get a job and stay employed.

What will define employability in the coming times?

It is no secret that the most demanded skills or “hot skills” in the employment market are cyclical and employment trends determine skilling preferences of present and future talent. Before the IT revolution transformed the employment market with high-paying salaries and swanky offices, core engineering disciplines featured in the list of hot skills. Lately, this has caused a shortage of core discipline skills across all economies and the supply gap is swaying the balance back toward “hard” skills in the market.

USA Today, a leading daily publication, conducted a country-wide analysis to understand the state of skill demand in the US market in 2013. The analysis reveals that hard skills are in short supply in the US market especially in the discipline of machines and core engineering.  A Forbes article states that some of the most trending skills of today, such as social media marketing, may cease to be in demand in the near future.  In many ways, this holds true for many of the economies in the developed and emerging markets, including India.

Some market experts argue that two critical aspects of professional capabilities will likely shape employment potential of talent in the coming times.

Employers will seek adaptability, not specialisation

A few months back, People Matters published an article titled, “Skilled or adaptable: what does your resume say?” arguing that progressive employers look for diversity of experience rather than specialisation.  It is important that existing and prospective talent of the future gain exposure to varied experiences so that the resume becomes diversified and interesting. For example, a resume that highlights that the candidate is an “IT administrator and an avid photographer” will attract more interest than one that says, “10 years of PMP experience.”

In the Indian market, workforce reports suggest that experienced IT professionals are likely to face mid-career crisis in the next 2-3 years with opportunities drying up owing their super specialised professional experience.

Niche skills will be in demand

As the demand for conventional skills drop, organisations are witnessing a number of unconventional applications for job positions. The IIJI-Teamlease Employment Outlook report for Jan-March 2013 reveals that there is a large demand for niche skills in the employment market. Employers are looking to employ talented communicators, social-media natives, and creative thinkers to devise business and marketing strategies despite them not having any relevant experience.

As adaptable and niche capabilities will drive employment potential in the future, it is equally important for existing talent to work toward gaining new and diverse experiences to be able to hold on to meaningful jobs.

How likely are you to overrate or underrate yourself while appraising yourself?

1. How do you tend to base your opinions while rating yourself?

A. I lay greater emphasis in conforming to my personal expectations
B. I lay greater emphasis in understanding what my boss and peers expect out of me
C. I aim to identify the gaps between my personal expectations and other’s expectations from me

2. What successes do you usually refer while rating yourself?

A. Recent successes, or big wins in the past 1-2 months
B. Successes across the span of my professional career
C. Successes across the last 12 months

3. Which setbacks do you usually refer while rating yourself?

A. Setbacks across the span of my professional career
B. Recent setbacks, or failures in the last 1-2 months
C. Setbacks across the last 12 months

4. How would you rate your skills and competencies?

A. I have skills and competencies that are niche and difficult to acquire commonly
B. I have skills and competencies that others can easily acquire
C. I have skills and competencies that others can acquire with effort and experience

5. How would you rate skills and competencies of your peers and superiors?

A. I can easily acquire the skills and competencies of my peers and superiors
B. My peers and managers have skills and competencies that are extremely difficult to acquire
C. With effort and experience, I can acquire some of the skills and competencies of my peers and superiors

6. How would you rate your cognitive intelligence (grammatical skills, logical reasoning, and humor)?

A. I possess greater cognitive intelligence than my peers and superiors
B. My peers and superiors have greater cognitive intelligence compared to mine
C. My cognitive intelligence is dependent on my experience and exposure to key areas of my occupation

7. How would rate the quality of your education and past experience?

A. My education and past experience is superior to my peers and managers
B. My peers and superiors have worked and studied in larger and more renowned establishments
C. I work for an organization where most others have similar education and past experience

8. How would you rate the social stature of your family?

A. My family is more prosperous and educationally accomplished compared to my peers and superiors
B. My family is less prosperous and educationally accomplished compared to my peers and superiors
C. I work for an organization where most others come from a families with a social stature similar to mine

9. How do you feel about the development gaps in your last review?

A. I strongly feel that I have bridged all development gaps that reflected in my last review
B. I feel that some development gaps still remain
C. My manager and peers are on the same page as I am about my development gaps

10. How do you feel about the work that your team and your organization does?

A. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, are rather mediocre
B. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, have always been the best-in-class
C. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, are at par with the rest of the market

More As indicate the likelihood of over-rating yourself
More Bs indicate the likelihood of under-rating yourself
More Cs indicate the likelihood of a balanced review

Boston Bombings: Do you really care? Or are you merely paying lip service?

Organisational events can provide great insights to managers about how team members are engaged or disengaged

“Friends in Boston, be safe” read a status message on my Facebook newsfeed this morning. There was a downpour of status messages, twitter hash tags, and official statements released on social media in the last 24 hours expressing solidarity, and condemning the terrorist attacks in Boston. What strikes most to social media lurkers like me is the demographic distribution of people and entities who have posted solidarity messages on social media. A closer analysis of my newsfeeds after the Boston bombings reveals three distinct sets of social media citizens— the deeply concerned, the pretentious opportunist, and the openly unconcerned.

In many ways, this is how organisational employees behave whenever an organisational event occurs. Many react favourably or disprove of an organisational event such as a merger announcement, compensation changes, or senior leadership movements.  Needless to say, the perceptions about an individual are greatly driven by the reactions and behaviours that s/he projects to the world either intentionally or unintentionally. Here are the characteristics of the three organisational stereotypes and the consequent perceptions that the individual portrays. While not definitive measure, these behaviours may provide some predictive indicators about an employee’s commitment and engagement within an organisation.

Behavioural scientists recommend that managers should look out for some suggestive indicators in an employee’s behaviours whenever any disruptive organisational event happens.

The deeply concerned

The deeply concerned are the people who are truly and deeply affected by an organisational event either because it directly affects their everyday existence or out of genuine empathy toward the development.  On social media, some of the most emphatic messages on social media post the Boston bombings were from people who had friends or relatives, or who were emotionally affected by the loss of life.

While an individual may raise a vocal objection or word out eloquent praises about an organisational event, it would be wrong for a manager to brand an individual disengaged or engaged based on that.  The deeply concerned is one who understands and recognises the impact of the event in his everyday life and is prepared to take charge of how to deal with it. Rather than brand the deeply concerned as engaged or disengaged, it is important for the manager to identify if there are any concern areas and solicit the individual’s inputs to address them. The deeply concerned are perhaps the best resources to see an organisational change through to its logical and successful completion.

The pretentious opportunist

The pretentious opportunist is one who does not get affected by an event, but tries to portray an image of grave concern to friends and colleagues.  More often than not, it is likely that the pretentious opportunist is deeply disengaged but is trying to mask it with an external image that s/he is trying to portray.  The pretentious opportunist may also show concerned optimism/pessimism to portray an image of being “cool, likeable, and popular.”  A manager has to watch out for the pretentious opportunist as it is difficult to understand how the individual affects the morale of others in the team.

The unconcerned

A manager might easily misunderstand the unconcerned as the disengaged. The unconcerned simply can be an individual who has not been affected directly or indirectly by an event, and hence has chosen to maintain honest silence over insincere expression.  In an attempt to avoid portrayal as an unconcerned citizen, a few unconcerned ones might even have the tendency to migrate to the territory of the pretentious opportunist.  It is, therefore, important for the manager to avoid subconsciously labelling the unconcerned as disengaged.

While they may trigger varied reactions, a disruptive organisational event presents managers with the opportunity to truly understand the level of engagement in their teams.