Change by choice Making Executive Coaching Work


Management sciences, derived in the main from principles of engineering, have largely looked at human beings as doers and acquirers. Man has been viewed principally as a utilitarian entity. In some sense the dehumanization was inevitable as the rush to create wealth from machines and capital focused on the efficiency of the means of production. Human beings thus came to be treated mainly as another of the means in the chain. Efforts at rehumanisation probably began in the late sixties and has since then been attracting increasing though cautious attention. In viewing each member principally as a doer and acquirer the “being” component of the human being has largely been left to fend for itself. Over the years it has become patently clear that the orthodoxy of classical management science approaches can turn counterproductive as there is a real danger of creativity and integrity getting eroded on account of perhaps an unintended emphasis on human beings and organisations as instruments.

Organizations are rooted in the principle of synergy. The discourse of most organizations is centered on having the right things and doing the right things. The bucket of having includes for instance, the “right job”, the concomitant status, power, rank, visibility and of course the right standing. The bucket of “doing” is inclusive of actions that are effective and evaluated positively by the recipients of the action. Organizational membership thus continuously stimulates, activates and challenges the doing and the having aspects of ourselves. Yet we continue to call ourselves human beings, not human doings or human havings. The non-inclusion of the “being” is a major source of the stress that is widespread in organization membership.

“In organizations we observe a loss of meaning, purpose, and, ultimately, joy which people derive from their work. At the individual level one simply has to note the lack of enthusiasm with which most people go about their daily activities (The Dalai Lama & Cutler, 2003). Something clearly needs to change, but the pervasiveness and complexity of the transformation that is being called for appears nearly intractable.”

For people in positions of leadership this has serious implications. Here we take into account the fact that in most cases people are appointed as leaders. Leader is defined here as a person in a position where she as a matter of course is expected to influence the actions of a defined set of people. Both the leader as well as the followers are subject to the stress of non-inclusion of the being.

Current literature on leadership continues to focus almost exclusively on the doing and having aspects. As such in spite of a huge wealth of research and literature on the subject the issue of leadership remains a “hot” topic. The greater the focus on action and acquisition the greater is the marginalization of the being. Thus leaders looking to increase their efficacy become recipients of menus for new actions and are subjected to “receiving” prescriptions of qualities they “should” have. Trite sayings have developed such as “it is lonely at the top” and so on. The struggles of managing aspirations, aligning with business imperatives and meeting demands of people create internal conflicts for which leaders in business find no avenue for exploring. Learning continuously remains a solo challenge.

Executive Coaching

The impact of the exclusion of the leader’s being is experienced by herself and adversely impacts the beings of the followers. Thus the leader carries the greater burden. Executive coaching, a one on one process opens up spaces for the individual, the coachee, to explore and look at the present situation she is in and respond to the being. The being is the sole source of energy of individuals. The process of encountering the being without fears of evaluation or punishment helps the coachee develop a new equation with herself and emerge with greater fluency and new responses to the work and life situation she is in. An effective coaching experience is likely to increase the quantity and quality of inner meaning in the role and organization membership. Coaching can pave the way for the Coachee to make changes by choice in her world, be it in the identity, the action or in the arrangements that constitute the life space.

So is it Psychoanalysis, therapy?

Executive coaching differs markedly from the traditional practices of therapy and analysis. They presuppose a fall below certain accepted standards in the mental health of the individual. The aim of these traditional practices is to return to “normal” health and adjustment. As such therapy and analysis, broadly speaking, are a kind of medical practice.They are like 'repair jobs' in a manner of speaking. Coaching as we hold it on the other hand is more akin to a fitness practice in which underused potentials are surfaced and made accessible through a process of dialogue and inquiry.

Or is it training in effective leadership?

My answer to this question is a ‘no’ and a ‘yes’.

Why ‘no’: I say ‘no’ to the traditional practice of evaluating and finding the lacunae in the “leader’s” repertoire of actions/behavior. Traditionally these lacunae form the basis of what has to be investigated and set right. Traditionally the focus has been to shape the individual to fit the role. To that extent the answer is a ‘no’. Executive coaching will not take this route until the issue of the non-inclusion of the being has been brought to a satisfactory plane. A satisfactory plane is reached in the process when the coachee is no longer under pressure to change, but is working to enhance her expression and unfolding, in a sense is then operating from a world of wish/aspiration as opposed to a pressure.

Why ‘yes’: Yes it is an attempt to find a better equation with the power, authority and import of the role with the aspirations, vulnerabilities, limitations and,creativity of the individual. Coaching permits a level of candour which the existing organizational body of norms, codes and expectations finds difficult to accommodate. The coaching process creates an opportunity to explore and examine the impact of the leaders behaviour on others and the business. These can be directly tabled explored and resolved to greater levels of alignment. The challenges of leadership from this point of view begin to progressively acquire a colour of invitation.

What can coaching do for me?

It can open up an avenue for you to openly explore the questions you have about your career, successes and failures and find new answers.

It can increase your emotional intelligence leading to reduced stress and improved relationships.

It can reduce the “fog index” that bedevils the most important questions that you have about acceptance/rejection, management of anger and reactivity.

It can lead to developing authentic responses to issues of self-clarification, life clarification and fashion new responses to the challenges of your leadership roles.

It can significantly upgrade your input to business results.


Please note that in all the above my statements are in the nature of possibilities. Coaching is not “teaching, preaching or sermonizing”. Coaching uses dialogue as a process for you to arrive at new insights, decisions, understanding and perspectives. It is marked by confidentiality, directness and candour where the coach acts as a mirror and source of candid feedback. The central spirit of the dialogue is the co creation/discovery of insights.

It doesn’t come easy. Unlike a visit to a doctor where the visitor gives symptoms and the doctor gives the prescription, in coaching, you as the coachee will get involved in developing the answers and solutions. Coaching will not work without your effort. Authenticity and conviction are hallmarks of good coaching.

How does it benefit the organization?

The coaching exercise is undertaken under the aegis of the organization. The content aims at a higher level of integration between coachee’s and organization’s goals. Organization goals here include the requirements of business as well as greater efficacy in the relationships with people. It helps reduce dysfunctionalities, enhances teamwork and provides the ground for better levels of internal adaptation and culture change. It achieves its best results when the coaching exercise is strategically offered to touch key executives, is supported with properly timed group activities, is subjected to a group review and develops collective action plans.

The coach gathers insights about the organization and its culture that no other diagnostic exercise can match. These insights can be effectively combined and used by the organization if so contracted at the beginning.

It usually lasts several months and gives the best ROI when it is taken as an organizational initiative.

How does it happen?

Strategically planned, a coaching exercise creates a triangle. The coach, coachee and the organization share the same superordinate goal. Better business results, a healthier team and enthusiastic members with a deeper meaning in their roles are the key elements of the goal.

Initiating Executive Coaching

All three parties need to be prepared to embark on a coaching program. At the very outset the client must be able to state the objective of the exercise. This objective ought to have a business link. The program is given a fixed period of operation, say six to eight months; dates are negotiated between the coachees and the coach/es.

Coachees must enter the program voluntarily. Usually the first two sessions are taken up between the coach and coachee to crystallize the objectives and expectations, these are customized at the individual level. Usually the subsequent sessions are used to progress towards and reach the agreed upon goals. The number of sessions can vary from as little as four upto eight in 2 hour spells.

The client as well as the coaches need to check out the proposed coach/es for acceptance as in credibility, reliability and confidence. The proposed coach must have adequate experience with business organizations and additional qualification in the Behavioural Sciences. Qualifications in psychology are usually not enough; the capability of engaging in deep developmental dialogue is a necessary skill.

Evaluation of the exercise

Customized dimensions relevant to the client need to be identified and agreed upon at the beginning. In the case when the number of coachees is one or two an unstructured qualitative evaluation best serves the purpose. When the exercise covers a larger number of users a more structured approach can be developed. It is however very important to make sure that any structuring that is done does not constrain the learning that the organization must gain from such an exercise. Quantification for its own sake will lead to misleading and often unusable feedback. The evaluation and closure of the program must yield learning for the organization.

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