It has been over nine years since I started on my journey to make others great. A coaching certification and multiple coaching sessions later, I have realized a number of fundamental truths about coaching. In the spirit of spreading the goodness, I wanted to share my key learnings and insights, and I hope you find this compendium useful:
1.Intent trumps fluency or efficiency
I have learnt that the first fundamental connection between humans is their perception of intent in the other. Therefore, I have found it useful if I fill my heart with the intent of understanding and helping the coachee realize their potential. When this intent is true and unadulterated by judgment, it forms a powerful connection that works wonders in the first “chemistry” meeting with the coachee, and subsequent sessions thereof. The power of your intent will even transcend your fluency, and intent should never be sacrificed at the altar of time – my “chemistry” meetings have ranged between 1 hour to 4 hours and they have always served my coachee well. Remember, you exist as a coach to help your coachee attain their goals – and your intent provides that proactive connection that sustains the coaching momentum.
2.Different speeds at different phases
As a coach, it pays to match the coachee’s speed during the discovery and definition of their goals. Sometimes, it has taken me 4-6 sessions before we got to SMART goals for my coachee. I have often wondered if this reflected poorly on my ability to “push” my coachee towards setting goals, but have increasingly realized that this time and space is important, in the coachee’s reflection and prioritization of their most important focus areas. Executive coachees have so much going on, that they have seldom allowed themselves the benefit of pulling their head out of the “whirlwind” and deeply introspect on their most important priorities. Taking time to discover also allows us to get to the root of their motivations – what is their personal self-interest in achieving this goal? While we allow the time and space for the coachee in the discovery and goal-setting phases, it becomes important to “raise the standards” when it comes to execution. Oftentimes, I have urged my coachees to think of “What does world class mean in relation to what you are seeking to achieve?” and they have almost always surprised themselves by their ability to raise themselves beyond the limits of their own beliefs.
3.Build a powerful repertoire of game-changing questions
Paradoxically, very simple questions often provide the greatest momentum for reflection and insight. In coaching some Fortune 500 CxOs on their career trajectories, I often ask them: “Who wants you?”. After their normal rush to immediately answer instinctively, I often prod them by repeating the question, which is when reality, reflection and insight take over. “Why should anyone be led by you?” is the title of a popular book, but is also an important question to help coachees articulate their personal value proposition. It is the responsibility of every coach to build their own repertoire, and please remember to setup the question well so that the impact of the question does not get diluted on account of its directness.
4.Establish “Conditions of Satisfaction” with your coachee
I am constantly surprised by two elements in executive coaching – the lack of awareness and preparation on the part of the coachee, and the number of executives who have attained seniority through tenure and not capability. Oftentimes, the lack of organizational context setting leads to executives being “pushed” to be coached. This often results in coachees “going through the motions” of goals that are already part of their commitments, and a lack of desire to aspire. In all cases, it becomes important to set mutual expectations in the relationship. Sometimes, it is good to disconnect when there is a radical mismatch between expectations and commitment. When I decide to engage, the first “chemistry” meeting is utilized to setup mutual expectations on satisfaction related to time spent on coaching, email response time, punctuality for calls, commitment to actions etc. With clarity comes commitment, and when the “conditions of satisfaction” are executed well, it becomes a fundamental discipline on which the quality of the coaching conversation can be built.
5.Challenge Lazy thinking and mediocre expectations
“To go where you have never gone before, you have to do what you have never done before”. It is an important responsibility of the coach to help the coachee aspire to greatness. To this end, we need to be fully tuned into the conversation, especially during SMART goal setting. It is important to understand the limits of the coachee’s beliefs, and then gently help them explore beyond their beliefs. Surrounding them with perspectives of excellence within their context helps them understand the art of the possible. Questioning to move beyond the superficial and focus the discussion on excellence is an art form that I would describe as the “dance of aspiration” – smooth, fluid questions mixed with the push/pull of perspectives and pivotal stretch of insights all lead to a powerful rush of aspiration.
6.Anchor on the results to drive acceleration
Building the discipline to continuously focus on the goals/results of the coachee is a joint responsibility. I always end and begin each goal discussion with these questions: “What actions do you commit to next week that will move you closer to achievement of your goals?” and “What progress have you made last week in achieving this goal?”. Utilizing their feelings, learnings and insights around their progress on their goals, we can then raise the bar on actions for the following week. It is often easy to be “rat-holed” into a discussion on activities, excuses and issues and it is the responsibility of the coach to focus and maximize the time during the coaching discussion.
7.Encapsulate the learnings and build an action plan for the future
The final session in any coaching engagement is a fantastic opportunity to reflect and reinforce. I often dedicate my final session to my coachee writing down their key learnings, what they would stop and start doing, and new aspirations that they would now set for themselves for the next 90 days. Simple questions like “How will I know that I am making progress?” will help them transition from the “what” to the “how” of application of their learnings and insights. They will often be thankful for the time and space for them to reflect, record and reiterate their commitment to excellence.
8.Stay in touch and gain a referral
I often call up my former coachees once or twice within 90 days of completion of the engagement to stay in touch. It is amazing how a simple call from our side powerfully brings back their experiences and reinforces their commitment to “stay the path”. It is also a wonderful opportunity to check if they could think of others who could benefit from such a powerful experience, and I have been constantly rewarded by their reciprocation. This “last mile” connection is often forgotten and is a great way to enhance the engagement calendar for coaches.
9.Reiterate your faith and commitment to the power of human potential
While coaching is a profession, it is also a duty towards humankind. This is one profession that transcends the limitations of our self-imposed divisions and celebrates the unity of humanity and potential that exists within all of us. I consider it my duty to maximize this human potential in all my engagements and create a positive resurgence of faith, belief, rigor, aspiration and action.