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Published on: Feb. 28, 2021, 2:20 p.m.
The secret sauce to leadership
  • Chaudhary: Leadership is a separate skill, beyond individual performance, and coaching is its secret sauce

By Suman Tarafdar

What led you to take up coaching? What have been some of the most significant milestones in your journey?

I must admit coaching was not a profession I had ever explored. In late 2013, I had just exited a large financial services firm where I was in a leadership role, a part of me deeply disillusioned by the toxic work culture. I think by now I had great clarity about the kind of organisations I did not want to work for again.

I was deeply fascinated with coaching, but never considered becoming one myself for it was neither my forte nor work specialization. However, what encouraged me to consider the University of Chicago Booth School of Business executive education programme offer was the fact that my clients and senior colleagues had always valued my advice and reached out to me for counsel.

There have been several significant milestones in this journey. One that comes to mind was my work with a German automotive company. I was asked to coach their local plant managers in China. I walked into this project only to realise that there was a huge cultural barrier – they were completely closed to the idea of coaching. As an outsider and a foreigner, it was not easy to penetrate the system. However, after a couple of sessions, I could feel the barrier shifting away, and later each of the managers reached out to me for individual sessions. Some of the feedback was overwhelming; they told me that this was one of the best and most candid conversations they had at work (and at play)!

What for you are the most crucial aspects of coaching a leader?

I always tell my clients that coaching is a subset of good leadership, not a separate discipline — you cannot hope to be a good leader without being a good coach.  Coaching requires many of the same skills critical to effective management, such as keen powers of observation, sensible judgement and an ability to take appropriate action. The hardest bit about coaching is not to learn something new – that’s actually easy. The hardest part is letting go of your old beliefs as you embark on this journey.

As you point out, many leaders, especially in the corporate space, are not always the best managers. What aspects of their work life can coaching help them with? 

Research shows that senior leaders inside companies spend less than 10 per cent of their time developing other leaders. So, I am often asked why organisations should allocate resources and ask their senior leaders to coach their employees.

As I started building the business case for the leader as coach, I sifted through a range of research and data and interviews with prominent business leaders. For starters, leaders should spend more time coaching others because that is how you leave behind a legacy and make a significant difference in your colleagues’ lives. In a moving speech at Harvard Business School, Sheryl Sandberg emphasised that “leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impacts last in your absence.”

I created the 4C+ Model as a simple framework for my clients to measure their coaching outcomes on four fundamental parameters – Capability, Consciousness, Confidence, and Clarity. Capability is about helping your employees innovate and create a ladder for their professional growth. Confidence is about empowering people to trust their abilities, qualities and judgement. Clarity is about seeing the bigger picture, and consciousness is about instilling self-awareness, and this is perhaps the most critical benefit of coaching.

Why do collaborators make for better leaders?

When organisations pick the best and the brightest, they focus on current performance and assume this will automatically translate into leadership. But the traits that make for successful performers are at odds with a leader who needs to take others along in the journey. Today a leader has to be a coach and not just a successful individual performer.

Today there is increasing acknowledgment that to succeed, organizations and, by extension, leaders need to do the right things for their people and not just achieve financial targets. Today, we are talking about a balanced scorecard, and organizations are beginning to see that real leadership is not just about building an empire or millions in revenue but also focusing on your people.

Leadership is a separate skill, beyond individual performance, and coaching is its secret sauce. It’s what makes leadership effective and what creates the difference between an average leader and a fabulous one. Outstanding collaborators make great leaders and enjoy long careers because bringing out the best in others is how they find the best in themselves.

You mention that the ‘why’ or raison d’etre gets lost in many organisations. What responsibility do organisations bear in ensuring better leadership?

Organisations bear a huge responsibility in ensuring better leadership; otherwise, we will always be in a perpetual state of leadership crisis where we are not building enough leaders for tomorrow. Organisations should select leader coaches (not just leaders) hired for EQ, not just domain expertise - where their ability to work with others counts as much as their technical knowledge or ability to deliver the financials.

I have seen many organisations lose their way because they don’t stop to ask the questions: ‘Why are we in business?’ and ‘What is the role of employees in achieving business goals?’ Organisations need to stress on greater communication and coaching, and articulating clear objectives (for example, to be the most customer-centric company, or most innovative human resource consulting firm, etc) so that employees can think of ways to contribute better. This approach also outlines a fundamental difference between a leader and a leader-coach.

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