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Why Coaching Works

Makarand Khatavkar, MD and HR Head, Deutsche Bank Group

(The article first appeared in The Human Factor and has been reproduced with the permission of the author)

We live in an age of permanent, unrelenting change. The pressure on managers and employees to deal quickly and frequently with paradoxes and complexities of life and work has increased dramatically. To effectively navigate the complex change process, the need for top-class executive coaches has become greater than ever before. Coaches are engaged for a variety of reasons but if the findings of the recent HBR research report are something to go by, the top three reasons why coaches are engaged are: to develop high potentials, as a sounding board, and to address derailing behaviour.

Self-Awareness and Responsibility: Coaching works because it adheres to the key principles of development, that is, self-awareness and responsibility. In coaching situations, these are not mere advocacy measures but a journey of self-discovery that a coachee must undertake. Perhaps one of the first tasks for a coach is to create self-awareness for coachees, that cultivates self-reliance, self-belief and self-dependability. Responsibility is crucial for high performance. When we accept responsibility for our thoughts, actions and consequences, our commitment and performance intensifies.

Stretch Goals: Professional coaches believe that people possess more capability than they currently express. We all have seen people give their best during crisis. The capacity exists and crisis is the catalyst. Coaches derive the best from coachees with carefully designed stretch goals and actions. Coaches see people in terms of their future potential, not their past performance or historical track record no matter how impressive it might be.

Transitional Space: Great coaches create transformational changes by creating transitional space – a place where a coachee can experiment with new behaviours without being afraid of failure or criticism. No other development tool provides such robust safety net to experiment, reflect and learn. New experiences and perspectives push coachees out of their comfort zone and trigger powerful learnings that last.

Spirit of Inquiry: A central skill of a good coach is to ask powerful questions. Questions could take many forms but discovery is the foundation. Powerful questions make coachees think creatively, examine core issues and take actions. Powerful questions open the blind spots and encourage a coachee to discuss “undiscussables”.

Agenda: A coach always works on the coachee’s agenda, which makes the process of coaching powerful than any other. The coach’s role is to influence the agenda, not set it. The learning experience is first and foremost, for and about the coachee. Coaches view coachees as Michelangelo’s marble block – once you remove the excess material, a beautiful statue emerges.

Coaching is not merely a problem fixing technique, but a managerial philosophy and a powerful world view. The INSEAD Global Leadership Centre believes that leadership coaching is more an art of discovery than a technology of delivery. Coaching is not something that you do to people but entails a joint accountability, exploration and partnership.

Makarand Khatavkar is the Managing Director and HR Head for Deutsche Bank Group in India.  

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