It is the coach or the mentor who is tasked with performing this critical part of a guru's role - a role that now assumes higher value and worth
Mentoring and coaching processes can effectively enable successful individuals at all levels to unleash their potential
In the present context, it is the coach or the mentor who is tasked with performing the critical part of a guru’s role – a role that now assumes higher value and worth.
Amongst the multi-faceted roles that a “guru” was supposed to perform in the primordial times, probably the most life impacting one was that of an adviser and guide. The fundamental purpose of this role was to “enable” to “empower” – to provide all the building blocks needed by the disciple to take decisions, create strategies, solve problems and display situation-appropriate behavior when faced with challenging situations.
In the present corporate context, it is the coach or the mentor who is tasked with performing this critical part of a guru’s role - a role that now assumes higher value and worth. This has been validated by ongoing global empirical research. According to a study conducted by Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983), unlike the past, leaders of today face constant change, ambiguity and contradictions. Theories talk about shift from managerial competencies to leadership competencies, development of intelligence beyond IQ and balance between contradictory roles such as internal focus versus external focus, flexibility versus control etc. The probability of success in this environment is based on two critical factors; Ability to adapt and change & Openness to learning and development
Coaching and Mentoring
Our formal learning systems do not focus enough on equipping professionals for the challenges that work and life throw up. This coupled with insufficient training and development plans results in increased demands on leaders to develop such skills on their own. In such a scenario, appropriate coaching and mentoring could become the panacea for managers to work through the complexilities of change. Effective coaching, where a coach’s abilities are aligned to the goals of the coached, has helped individuals maximize their potential and navigate their careers in the desired direction. We will analyze two such examples in the case studies below.
Case Study 1
Anshuman a project manager in a multi-national IT organization had built a formidable reputation for himself as the “guy who gets the job done”. When in trouble all heads turned to him – his manager, his peers, his team members. Envious position to be in not quite, since he also was known as the “guy who bull dozed his way through to get the job done”. Not a very popular person with his peers, team members and clients. So much so that the low 360 degree feedback on “interpersonal skills” prevented him from moving to the next level – his due for the last 2 years. All attempts at giving Anshuman feedback, at providing linkage of the feedback to growth had failed. Anshuman’s simplistic view was “if I am getting the job done and achieving all the expected results then why are interpersonal skills critical?”. Moreover he felt that being a hard taskmaster was a necessary evil for someone performing his role – getting the work done despite challenges. So when the organization thought of getting an executive coach into the picture to help leverage and unleash Anshuman’s otherwise high potential, the coach (not surprisingly) came across a very skeptical student in Anshuman.
The initial sessions of the coaching engagement with Anshuman was therefore spent on building trust, understanding his point of view, his drivers and what he thought was critical for his growth. Once the trust was established and Anshuman was ready to explore the impact of building good relationship skills, the coach set about a process of enabling Anshuman with enhanced ammunition. The process adopted was two-pronged – long term strategy coupled with here-and-now tactical measures.
The here-and-now involved preparing for important discussions, meetings, one-on-one sessions. The preparation entailed an understanding of what was to be achieved in these interactions, what were the views Anshuman had, what would be the best way of communicating his views so that he was more inclusive and not authoritative. This was done through questions that the coach placed before Anshuman rather than solutions. The technique of questioning and probing ensured that Anshuman found his own solutions based on his understanding of the situation, the nuances and the existing relations. Since these were his own solutions, there was complete ownership and willingness to work around issues when things did not go as planned.
The long term strategy entailed identifying critical stakeholders and analyzing the state of existing relationships with them vis-a-vis the desired state. After having understood the gaps, Anshuman was able to chart out action plans to bring the existing relationships to the desired levels in a manner that was sustainable.
After a period of three months Anshuman went through the planned 360 degree feedback process – the results of which were startling for all involved, Anshuman included! There was a complete turnaround in his ratings from all stakeholders; from a rating of an average of 2 on a scale of 7 he had moved up to 6 on all parameters related to interpersonal relations and team work.
What had clearly worked was trust in the coach-coachee relationship. The belief of Anshuman that the coach was interested in creating success for Anshuman, his own willingness to make the change after having had successful experiences in the here and now scenario and finally his ability to think through situations and take actions in alignment with the goal of building better relations. The longer term impact and result of course was the cherry on the cake – Anshuman got his thus-far illusive move to the next level. This further reinforced the fact that this area of performance was critical for growth to leadership positions.
Case Study 2
In another case Anil, a successful entrepreneur decided to enter the retail market (at the time it was booming). The niche he identified was a series of one-stop stores for children ranging from new born babies to children up to 5 years of age. Competition in this area was insignificant- and parental income and spending was going up year after year. He picked up his key man – Vineet, a person with proven track record in the garment export business with a good mix of maturity and enthusiasm. At 41 years, Vineet was passionate about the product and had a good understanding of the market and customers. Anil was confident and reassured with his choice. Vineet’s abilities to take independent decisions based on unbiased judgments were perhaps the greatest skill that would help them to set up business and make good plans for the future.
The next step was the planning the flow of funds for the venture. Heavy investments were made both in infrastructure and branding – but six months into the project, the company was still incurring heavy losses. Something was not quite right. The management consultancy working with the company suggested coaching and mentoring of the CEO as one of the steps, to deal with this complex situation.
Ashish, a well recognized professional with over two decades of experience in different capacities and in senior roles was engaged as the executive coach. It was only natural that Vineet was both tentative and defensive since the backdrop for this engagement was setbacks and losses. The biggest challenge again was that of building trust. It was imperative for Vineet to feel that Ashish was on his side to help him succeed and not to fix him. At the first instance, both Vineet and Ashish agreed to give this relationship a try and if it did not succeed, then both had the opportunity to walk away.
With the comfort of this agreement in place, Ashish now tried to build the relationship by listening and gently probing Vineet to understand his perspective.
Ensuring quick successes for Vineet was Ashish’s main focus. All through this period, Ashish ensured constant communication with Vineet, and when required even used his influence with Anil. This was done to ensure that the decisions were critical for Vineet as well as for good governance of the organization, like establishing a board of directors were implemented.. Initially, Ashish would spend time thrice a week – working through issues that Vineet faced, helping him clarify his action plans, get critical processes in place, slowly creating alignment. Vineet also realized that his mentor was facilitating his success at the senior levels, which demonstrated to him that his mentor was truly on his side
Ashish observed some of these behaviors - Vineet’s low risk-taking ability, seeking perfection to avoid decisions sometimes leading to delays, inability to inspire his team and relatively low interpersonal skills. Sending the right signals to the team is the key to inspirational leadership. He convinced him to move out, mingle more with people, communicate and sell his ideas and include them in his vision. This had a huge bearing on his team’s spirit and Vineet’s confidence.
Two years later, the business started soaring to great heights and the relationship still exists. Of course, not defined any longer as coach-coachee, but whenever required, complex issues are discussed and resolved together through trust, faith and competence.
Organizations institute the process of coaching and mentoring in different ways. Usually performance coaching is done by immediate supervisors. Career mentoring is usually done through more senior resources. When outside experts are involved and training programs are rolled out, a coaching culture is initiated. Whatever be the method, most companies do realize that with rapid growth in business, mentoring and coaching processes can most effectively enable successful individuals at all levels to unleash their potential and iron out workplace deficiencies.