The increasing number of organizations opting for executive coaching for their leadership is a positive indicator for the nascent industry in India
Executive coaching is still more of an art, and needs extensive practice and periodic supervision from master coaches
India’s dynamic and high growth business landscape has led to shortened business cycles and a new set of challenges; CEOs and executives are required to face increasing business uncertainties and are often looking for a sounding board to dream, achieve, risk and excel. The increasing role of executive coaching is evident from the 50% industry growth seen in recent years resulting in a new entrepreneurial opportunity – the industry of executive coaching. But, the fragmented and nascent stage of this industry makes it difficult to define its size and structure. A rough estimate suggests that the industry size in India is USD 60 million as against USD 5 billion in the US. This story, which captures the views of 20 coaches in India, is an attempt to bring to the forefront the essence, scope and challenges facing this industry.
Dr. Prakash V. Bhide, President, Corporate HR, JK Organization (EZ), presents a perspective on ‘executive coaching in India’ and opens questions to readers to unravel what lies ahead.
Increasing instability in the business scenario is raising complex challenges that CEOs and top executives today must be prepared to tackle. This necessitates organizational leaders to strategize, think and act in entirely new ways for growth and sustenance in the Indian as well as in the global market. Executives are under enormous stress and pressure from shareholders, banks and stakeholders to get results and most organizations today agree that the biggest barrier to growth is the absence of the right talent who they can trust to deliver agreed results at the required speed, and at the required magnitude. Amidst such complexity and shortened business cycles, executives are looking for a sounding board – an external confidant, who is a trusted friend, philosopher and guide.
This backdrop is seeing an increasing advent of executive coaches entering the CEO’s schedule. The story is an attempt to bring forth the findings from a study which is a result of interactions with 20 leading ‘Executive Coaches’ in India to understand the inherent industry dynamics.
Executive Coaching – The industry perspective
Perry Zeus and Dr. Skiffington (of the Behavioral Coaching Institute) define executive coaching as, “a time bound dialogue between coach and coachee within a productive and result oriented context. It is about change and transformation that the coachee aspires, which emanates from asking the right questions rather than providing the right answers. It is about creating new identities and new futures.”
Coaching is viewed as a process where a professional coach helps the coachee to become aware of his/her strength, possible areas of development, values etc. to help him/her build expertise towards contributing to individual growth, and aligning that with the organization’s vision and priorities. While on one hand it helps the coachee DARE (dream, achieve, risk & excel) on the other hand it also helps them reflect & reinvent themselves. As Shalini Verma, Founder & Director, The Sky Scrapers Academy says “The role of a coach is to bring coherence between the efforts of the individual and the company.”
The changing perception
Traditionally coaching in India was perceived as a stigma and often clubbed with counseling which was primarily meant for corrective actions. Executives were reluctant to be coached as it was viewed by peers and subordinates as something negative against the coachee. Bosses and organizations sometimes considered it a last resort for correction of negative behaviors or performance before an exit, stagnation or sidelining of executive.
This perception is now changing as executive coaching is being seen in positive light and is being sponsored by the CEOs and organizations to develop and motivate high potential employees for accelerated growth. In fact, executive coaching is today viewed as a special leadership developmental initiative for ‘high potential leaders’ who are on accelerated career path. Today, executive coaching is seen as for ’successful leaders to become more successful’.
The Indian context
Many CEOs and top leaders feel lonely and isolated. They have their fears, doubts and at times feel their inadequacies. In spite of these, they have to display that they are in total control as their own personal stakes in terms of reputation are high. The business consultants have given their expert recommendations, now CEOs and executives have to take the final call. They are looking for a sounding board - an external confidential trusted friend, philosopher and guide.
CEOs also realize that ‘What got them here, won’t get them there’ (Ref. Marshall Goldsmith*). The top executives realize that they need to have a global mindset, entirely new skills and must overcome certain derailers.
The increasing number of organizations opting for executive coaching for its leadership and potential leadership team is a positive indicator for the nascent industry in India. Five years ago it was only the Indian arms of large global organizations that were open to the concept of executive coaching but today Indian organizations along with many VC/PE funded first generation entrepreneurial organizations are equally opting for it. Pradipta K. Mohapatra, Chairman, Executive & Business Coaching Foundation India adds, “Many VC/PE funded entrepreneurial organizations also engage coaches to manage growth in a variety of aspects. These entrepreneurs are typically young individuals who started a venture with a great business idea, grew very fast, and then felt the need to work with a coach to manage this accelerated growth.”
Today, 95 percent of executive coaching in India is reported to be company sponsored while 5 percent is self-sponsored mainly by CEO/owners of small and medium size companies (SMEs) which are growing rapidly, changing their business models, or facing succession issues with next generation family members.
The supply side has a large number of senior HR professionals, psychologists, retired CEOs and senior executives who are jumping into the lucrative and growing arena of executive coaching. Some of them consider their long and successful industry experience as enough qualification and designate themselves as an ‘executive coach’. There are also several self made coaches and fly by night experts who consider themselves as executive coaches, having attended 2 to 3 days workshops. Experts interviewed agree that these can at best can provide only an introduction to executive coaching. However in India a coach must have both skills and the contextual understanding of the business in question to be effective. Ganesh Chella, Co-founder & Vice Chairman, Coaching Federation of India explains, “A CEO with experience in an execution role is a critical requirement because he understands the business context of the coachee”.
Coaches must get certified from renowned global coaching experts and coaching associations which conduct 8 to 10 days Executive Coaching Certifications courses in India (or through distance education), followed by 60 to 100 hours of supervised executive coaching practice before finally certifying them. Marshall Goldsmith, the world’s most renowned CEO Coach, has visited India several times since 2007 and conducted certification courses at ISB Hyderabad. Some coaches also opt for certifications from International Coaching Federation (ICF), Coaching Federation of India (CFI), ICC, Franklin Covey, etc.
This is slowly gaining acceptance on the demand side, that is, more and more Indian organizations prefer certified coaches from reputed global coaching associations to ensure a minimum quality standards. However, while certification is a necessity, it is not a sufficient condition to be successful and effective coach, and organizations must be wary of this reality.
Coaching Models & Methodologies
Most ‘Global Coaching Certifications’ teach western coaching models and methodologies which are based on proven theories in psychotherapy, psychology and behavioral sciences. Many certifications also focus on coaching practices, ethics, codes, qualities of coaches and coaching models. Some of the popular coaching models are the GROW Model of Coaching, NLP Coaching, Positive Psychology Coaching, Behavioral Coaching (Marshall Goldsmith Methodology & other Methodologies), and Ontological Coaching, Integral Coaching, among others.
The study shows as a matter of concern that many coaches are becoming slaves to and obsessed with coaching model steps, techniques and toolkits. This makes coaches more ‘Coach Centered’ than ‘Coachee Centered’. An effective coach aims at focusing on how to effectively help the coachee in the transition, transformation and change. Executive coaching is still more an art, and needs extensive practice and periodic supervision from master coaches. Further, expert coaches develop their own unique personal style of executive coaching which is effective from coachees’ point of view.
While executive coaching as a concept is catching rage in India, there is a need for equal impetus in propelling research to identify what practices would be more effective from Indian coachees’ point of view and document the same.
Coaching the India way
One shoe does not fit all. What works best for the west need not work in the Indian context. The western coaching methodologies which resort to asking questions and expecting the coachee to find answers or solutions, is not appreciated by coachees in India. This is because the Indian cultural ethos is built on the ‘Guru Shishya Parampara’ with the greatest role model being Krishna the coach in the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata and Arjuna the coachee. The rishis in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and even the Vedas and Upanishads, mentored and coached the ‘Shishyas’ (coachees) to insightful learning, self awareness and self realization leading to unite with Brahma and attain ‘moksha’ (salvation).
Geert Hofstede’s research on cross cultural dimensions too suggest that unlike the western culture Indians are comfortable holding duality and all shades of grey without looking for black or white (Either/Or) answers and alternatives analog rather than digital view (0 or 1) of the world is acceptable in India. The Indian Kings, Shri Ram (Ramayna) and the Pandavas (Mahabharat) also needed Rajgurus, Rishis and Krishna as advisors and sought their help in crisis and critical situations (Dharamsankat). In the Indian context, it is the ‘Nurturant Task Leadership’ which is more successful.
The recent Centre of Creative Leadership Research (2010) ‘Developing Tomorrows Leaders Today’ shows that 46 percent of the leaders in India agree they learnt the most from their bosses and superiors which is unlikely in the USA and Europe. The Indian coachees expects the coach to be a learned, experienced, nurturant and much elder (say 50 years and above with grey hair) who can mentor, coach and share relevant experiences and stories while at the same time ask insightful questions to help the coachee reflect on deeper personal insights to act on their own convictions and alternatives.
Trust, faith and respect for coaches with long-term relationships are unique aspects of the Indian culture and ethos. Coachees in India expect empathy in the relationship. Cold contractual relationships based on logical questioning like in the west does not create the trusting bond required in the Indian backdrop. While a coach must listen actively on the one hand, he/she should also be mindful and be a non-judgmental observer with ‘Sakshibhav’ of what is happening to the coachee and himself as a coach during the coaching session. The coach hence has to delicately balance and play the role of coach, mentor and guru at various points during executive coaching, especially with middle level emerging leaders and high potentials.
The present challenges
The fragmented nature of the executive coaching industry in India poses many challenges both on the supply as well as the demand side.
On the supply side, there is absence of experienced coaches. Organizations often report shortage of CEO/CXO level coaches who have similar level of industry experience, who understand and appreciate business ambiguity and have finer business wisdom as compared to what theoretical coaching model based methodologies provide. CEOs are also looking for help in terms of new ideas, new leads, new friends and fresh networking for business growth.
There is also a need for executive coaches to clearly understand the sponsor’s expectations. Poorly stated assignment briefs lead to ineffective coaching outcomes. Coaches need to focus on improvement, change, and outcomes rather than merely stating the issues. As Shalini Verma opines, “It is essential to ensure that the outcome expected by all three parties – coach, coachee and the organization, is the same.”
On the demand side, there is a need to sensitize CEOs and CXOs on executive coaching and on what executive coaching can and cannot achieve. The HR function in many organizations tend to treat executive coaching as any other training intervention or a best practice in HR. There is a need to educate them on the critical role that executive coaching can play in strengthening the leadership pipeline. However, all situations cannot be handled by executive coaching.
There is also a challenge in sustaining the coaching journey as Pradipta Mohapatra explains, “Some coachees begin to lose motivation during the course of the coaching exercise. So the challenge is to keep the coachee focused.” Further, it is critical to gauge the coachee’s level of willingness to learn, change and grow, which will eventually define the success of a coaching exercise.
For executive coaching to be successful, confidentiality of information is essential however there is often a challenge in the extent of information that will be shared with the sponsor (client organization).
Executive coaches also need to quickly gauge if the coachee (in rare cases) is a patient having mental health issues needing therapy and medical attention rather than coaching and refer the coachee to such experts for help when there are deep psychological issues.
The way forward
Executive coaching will play an active role as CEOs and leaders prepare for growth, change and transformation. Presented here are a few trends that have emerged from the study which bring out the increasing relevance of executive coaching in India, and the subsequent measures that organizations will have to take to reap its benefits.
As executive coaching gains momentum in India, organizations need to identify specific domains that can benefit the most by seeking help of external expertise through executive coaching. At the same time they should take necessary steps to create a culture of coaching by nurturing internal leaders and managers to become coaches.
Coaching can effectively help in improving team performance and leadership competencies for high potentials. With increasing business complexities, organizations will also engage coaches to support ‘Action Learning Teams’ in solving critical organization problems. Further, on boarding of senior executives at the CEO/CXO levels will become critical along with transition coaching for supporting job rotations, promotions and movements to the next level in the leadership pipeline.
Going forward, executive coaching will also include function specific coaching such as sales coaching, supply chain coaching, etc. to enable effective and timely decision making. A pertinent trend will also be seen in executive coaching becoming a part of post training programs to ensure effective implementation of new learning for future business interests.
While the industry is still in its infancy, there is an increasing trend seen in executive coaching playing a critical role in organizations today. This necessitates thorough research in the area in the Indian context, as well as development of an Indian/Asian model of executive coaching that is relevant to the culture. There is also an urgent need to bring in more structure into this emerging industry to help define the engagement models and professional approach that this function requires.
Keeping pace with the changing economic dynamics there has to be a systemic consolidation of best practices supported by research as the industry evolves with time.
*"What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful", Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter
Dr. Prakash V. Bhide is President - Corporate HR at JK Organization (EZ). The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org