“The culture in the Head Office is completely different. You have to be very presentable, you know. You can’t wear dark clothes and half-sleeve shirts. Woh saab bhool jao (Forget all of that!). You have to be well-groomed; wear full-sleeve shirts and a tie. You also need to talk a little more softly. Since you have been working in the plant, you raise your voice and talk too loudly.”
Hearing these words, 36-year old Vivek Mehta (name has been changed) felt lucky to be taken under the wing of the Vice President of the company he had joined a few years ago. He had worked in several organisations and performed well in every role. But he knew that “performing well” was just one aspect of being groomed for a top leadership position.
Although accurate, this scenario is misleading. Becoming an effective leader calls for much more than changing appearances or even picking up knowledge and skills under the sponsorship of a senior leader. Crucial shifts in deeply held beliefs and perspectives are needed, which demands that the manager reinvent him or herself by connecting with his or her purpose in life. That’s a tall order.
For this, a coach is essential. Upcoming leaders often seek advice and guidance from top leaders who have praiseworthy track-records. But in today’s turbulent and unpredictable world, looking for answers from expert top leaders is not the only or best approach to prepare for a leadership role.
Instead, look for a coach who will ask questions, not provide answers; one who will listen, not talk; who can disagree rather than agree with your assessment of situations and people; and who will demand that you do not just teach others, but learn from them too. Such coaches serve you in several ways. First, they help you understand who you are so that you come to grips with your values, beliefs, strengths and limitations as a manager and person. Second, they challenge you to translate your intentions into action. Finally, they push you to assess whether your actions are having the impact that you want on the people whom you influence — subordinates, peers, bosses, and other internal and external stakeholders.
This highly personal, semi-formal interaction between a leader and a coach can yield results in six to 18 months provided that the leader is motivated to find the time to derive and apply the insights from the coaching process. A coach makes a difference when a leader is provoked to achieve authenticity, an honest and respectful way of relating to one and others. Authenticity is the secret of all great leadership.
No more a luxury reserved for elite executives, today coaching can help managers throughout the organisation to contribute their best.