Going the extra mile with executive coaching

A good executive coach can help you learn faster, save opportunity costs. #JargonJungle

(This article written by me was first published on bloncampus.com here )

“I’ll coach you,” Martin, my senior colleague, told me.

I was in Germany at the time, preparing for an important sales negotiation to win a big project. The customer was a large multinational company, which had a complex decision-making structure.

The project was to be executed in India. The firm mandated that important engineering work must also be done in India so that long-term technical support, including changes and upgrades, could be provided locally.

When Martin said he would coach me, I didn’t pay much attention to the word ‘coaching’. I was hoping that he would help me, in some way, understand about what was expected. But it turned out that Martin would vanish without notice! This forced me to send him e-mails for help because calling him was difficult too. We did have a few meetings or face-time, as it is called these days, but even in those meetings, Martin would talk about his fascination for India and Indian food rather than the work at hand.

He would also say (teasingly) that my visit to Germany had robbed him of a chance to visit India. Martin made sure that he found enough time to take me around to places of interest in the city. But I was becoming impatient and fast losing interest in sight-seeing, dining, and socialising.

Only a rough plan

One day, sensing that I was at the end of my tether, he took me to his office and drew on paper a clean overview of the project and the areas in which the customer had faced problems in similar plants. He also wrote down some names, that might be of help to me. I lapped up all this eagerly.

But before I could ask questions, he was on his feet again, glancing at his wristwatch saying, “Sorry, I must rush or else I will miss my flight”.

The day of my return to India (and meeting the customer) was not too far off. I had worked out a rough plan, gathering more information on the hints he had provided, and set about fixing my appointments. I worked myself into a frenzy.

I prepared a nice dossier on the project that I would use to handle my part of the negotiation. I even forgot to call Martin during this time — I missed his calls.

He arrived a day before my departure. For 30 minutes, I described to him my understanding and plan for the negotiations. “Good job,” he said. I could see that he was very pleased. “See you in Mumbai, soon”, he said.

And that’s when it hit me. Without using a word to define ‘coaching’, Martin showed me what the word actually meant.

The differences

Executive coaching is not the same as teaching. There are differences.

~ A coach allows you figure out what will be of help. A teacher tells or shows.

~ A coach ‘observes’ you at work. In teaching, you ‘observe’ the teacher.

~ A coach asks you questions or provides clues to promote investigation and reflection. A teacher provides answers.

~ A coach suggests. A teacher prescribes.

Athletes and sportspersons depend heavily on coaching to improve their performance. While many leaders of top companies take the help of executive coaches, the use of coaching to improve individual or team performance is not all that common among managers. Attending training programmes still seems to be the favourite method.

Eligibilities

Coaching is not as widespread as training because a learner must be highly motivated to get the best of a coach, and vice-versa. The success of coaching critically depends on the healthy tension between a coach and a learner, who ‘challenge’ each other, drawing out the best.

This requires a learner to remain committed for a long time to achieve improvements. It isn’t just a three-day or a three-week affair — not every executive is willing to go through the rigours that coaching demands.

Talented people who aim for higher performance seek out coaches, but it is difficult to find a capable executive coach — ‘observing’ managerial work presents its own set of challenges.

As the effects of managerial actions are seen only after a while, a coach must cover the many facets of management and leadership focusing on fundamental drivers.

A good executive coach can thus save a lot of your time and wasted opportunities, as long as you trust him or her and are willing to go the distance in changing the way you think, in any operational aspect of your business.

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