A way to help people find and act on solutions which are the most congruent and appropriate to business and to themselves
Executive coaching has become a buzz word and growing phenomenon worldwide. Great business and social leaders and even sports people have had coaches behind them and their success.
Rumour has it that famous names such as Andre Agassi, Tiger Woods, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand and Bill Clinton have all had the services of coaches.
The majority of corporate and public organisations in the United States and the United Kingdom are either employing coaches or training them internally. The rest of Europe and Asia are close followers.
How can such a powerful skill be learnt on such a relatively short training period? Coaching is a process, not a knowledge base. Like a HR practitioner or accountant, the coach can adapt the process to suit any person or an organisation.
The coach is not there to give advice but to facilitate the coachee’s self-learning. Socrates seems to have been a firm believer in this when he said: “I cannot teach anybody anything – I can only make them think.” Coaching is 100 per cent coachee-led. Coaches are trained not to force their own judgment and opinions on the coachee or to decide on a solution and lead their coachees towards it.
Seven principles of coaching
The seven principles of coaching are awareness, responsibility, self-belief, blame-free, solution focus, challenge and action.
Awareness: There is a misconception that coaching is about pushing people or bullying them, or leading them to solutions. The opposite is true and is the case. Yet, the result is that people do move forward, identify their goals and make changes.
Responsibility: The core principle of coaching is self-responsibility, or taking ownership of our decisions: we learn better when we discover things for ourselves than when others tell us. We like to create our own solutions rather than be told what to do.
Try to recall the infancy of your child learning to walk; she takes her first few steps and falls over. Would you explain to the child why she fell, or tell her where to put her feet the next time? Of course not! The child already has all the knowledge she requires; all she needs now is support and encouragement.
I am happy that I am re-living this experience with my first grandchild, Alanya who has just turned 10½ months. She has just started to walk. My wife and I looked at Alanya with awe at her determination. Each time she fell, she raised herself up and walked further until we couldn’t stop her walking.
This is one of the roles that coaches take with their coachees. Coaches have only one agenda: their coaches. Good coaching should be useful to the coachee rather than interesting to the coach.
Self-belief: Confidence that we can do something is the key factor in achieving it. People develop self-belief by being given the space to learn, both through making mistakes and achieving objectives. When employees are learning a new task, what helps them is to be left alone to work things out for themselves, supported by encouragement and support from others.
Returning to the analogy of the child learning to walk, instead of explaining why she went wrong, parents praise the child for every new attempt. Half the incentive for getting up and trying again is to get that right mixture of attention and praise. If you take the fun out of the experience by shouting or scolding, you will slow everything down.
Blame-free: Children cannot learn to walk without falling over. In a coaching culture, mistakes are viewed as learning experiences, not reasons to look for a scapegoat.
Solution focus: When we dwell on a problem it gets bigger. When we focus on the solution, the problem becomes manageable and we find more energy to deal with it. As you think about the solution, the problem shrinks. The result is that you have a smaller problem with more energy to deal with it.
Challenge: Most of us like to be challenged and stretched within a supportive and encouraging environment. If we aim higher than is absolutely necessary, it is easier to hit the ‘mark’ we wanted to. A coach helps the coachee to step back and see the wood for the trees. Coaching is sometimes described as ‘holding up a mirror to the coachee’.
Action: Coaching uncovers new perspectives and awareness. This way, coaches gain new insights, which leads to more options, which in turn lead to desire to take action and change. Coaches ensure that this energy is channelled into action and a change of habits.
Contrast between coaching and related fields
- A simple analogy with driving a car helps to define the differences, as shown below:
- A therapist will explore what is stopping you from driving
- A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about the car
- A mentor will share tips from the experience of driving cars
- A consultant will advice you on how to drive a car
- A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car
Coaching culture at Virgin
At the Virgin Empire, under the leadership of Richard Branson, instead of being told what to do, everyone did exactly as they pleased. What seemed to please them most was to work harder. As an example, the group of 20 or so people at Virgin Labels, with virtually no music business experience and all under 25 years, were stealing the market from under the noses of global corporate giants like EMI and CBS.
The values that made Virgin one of the most successful and fastest-growing companies of its era are:
Self-belief: Richard Branson constantly and sincerely let his staff know how good they were. He started in business as a dyslexic 17 year-old magazine publisher who knew nothing about publishing, progressed into a record company boss who knew nothing about music; probably knows nothing about trains or planes and certainly has zero knowledge about spaceships.
However, he has a gift for empowering those who work for him, is always genuinely impressed by their talent and knows how to show it. Through his encouragement, the staff confidence rocketed and having been told by Richard that people could achieve anything, the staff found that they could.
Responsibility: In the early days of Virgin, there were no MBAs among the staff and quite a few were school or university drop-outs. As there was no one to tell the staff what to do, they had to work out on their own strategies to make their divisions successful. If they succeeded, all the credit would be theirs, but if they failed, they shouldered the responsibility of that too.
Blame-free: At Virgin, staff was encouraged to take risks, and mistakes were welcomed as part of the learning process. Compare this with conventional company cultures where staff goes to any length to hide mistakes from the boss and end up with a situation where whole teams are putting in effort to hide mistakes. Without a blame-free culture an organisation can stagnate.
Of the three values above, the key to creating a coaching culture is self-belief. Praising people when they do something the way you like it encourages them to do it that way again. Complimenting the boss when he or she treats you the way you want to be treated will encourage more of the same in future.
Leadership coaching impact
The most interesting aspect of this was the extent to which challenges were considered to have been largely or completely resolved by using coaching. The topics which show high success rate were:
- Dealing with uncertainty and change
- Career issues
- Performance management
- Building relationships
- Managing upwards,
- Creating strategies
- Resolving business issues
Local coaching assignments
I enjoyed the first three coaching sessions I conducted since I expanded my expertise into this field, for the Managing Directors and Directors of Ceylon Tobacco Company Ltd. and Fonterra Brands Lanka Ltd.
It was quite a challenging role especially in these two cases as the coachees were of a very high professionally developed mindsets and leaders in their own functions. Based upon the success of the outcome, Fonterra Brands required me to cascade the coaching to the next two lower levels, i.e., senior managers and managers.
It is important that the coach maintains the right balance between humility and the display of expertise. This is exactly the path I had to secure and that is exactly what I did. Getting the buy-in (acceptance) of the coachee is of primary importance and the rest is ‘housekeeping’.
In business it is often said, “If you can’t measure something, you can’t manage it.” If we are to succeed we must think ‘WIN’.
W: Where the coaches are currently in relationship to the stage goal for customer service delivery.
I: Investigating the options for change within themselves, their teams and management.
N: Name the actions to be taken
Some encouraging results that keep me going are:
“I have the pleasure of knowing Nalin Jayasuriya since 2005. He ran executive coaching sessions for me when I was in Sri Lanka as Marketing Director. These sessions were invaluable and helped me immensely in my interactions within my team and outside. Overall, they helped me perform better personally as well as to get the most from my team” – Manoj Namboordini, Brand & Category Director, Asia & Middle East – Anchor Full Cream.
“Mr. Jayasuriya has been associated with Fonterra Brands Lanka since 2004. I can personally vouch for Mr. Jayasuriya’s capabilities as an executive coach for senior leaders as I myself have experienced it firsthand. His ability to understand organisation’s needs and tailor make the coaching to ensure high alignment is what makes a big difference. Mr. Jayasuriya thrives on challenges and his contribution has made a tremendous difference to the team” – Achyut Reddy, Managing Director, Fonterra Brands Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.
“Mr. Jayasuriya’s passion in conduction programmes helped the management team to enhance their knowledge and leadership skills, people skills and personal effectiveness. I can personally gurantee for Mr. Jayasuriya’s capability and the strength as an Executive Coach for senior leaders as I myself have experienced it. His ability to understand the organisation’s functions and business needs and tailor-make the coaching programmes to ensure high alignment is alone a big deal” – ILM Hamthoon, Director & General Manager, Ansell Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.
I received similar accolades from Directors, CEOs and Senior Managers of Brandix, North Sails, Phoenix Industries, Union Assurance and Medianusa Singapore Pvt Ltd. for the coaching assignments undertaken.
The secret of effective coaching is to work alongside the coachee, understanding him/her and helping the coachee to reach within and re-discover him/herself in order to unleash his/her potential.
Coaching for performance ROI
This case relates the use of a tool called Coaching for Performance ROI, which measures the return on investment for interventions that affect behaviour change or mindset shift. Coaching for performance ROI is designed to help clients estimate what impact a change in behaviour makes on the bottom line.
It consists of a five-step process that is spread over the course of the intervention and which enables the calculation of an ROI. The tool works in line with coaching principles, so it allows clients to find the answers for themselves, with the coach holding the frame.
The five steps are:
1. Goals and timeframe
3. Keeping records
5. Calculating the ROI
EQ is a broad model underlying everything in coaching. GROW is a very specific model showing the steps that a coach needs to go through in order to be effective. GROW is the original coaching model developed by the pioneer of coaching in the U.K., Sir John Whitmore. GROW stands for ‘Goal’, ‘Reality’, ‘Options’, ‘Will’.
(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)