Ms. Sadhana Somasekhara : In conversation with a Leadership coach

An accredited leadership coach, Sadhana Somasekhar, talks about Executive/Leadership coaching and its evolving relevance to the changing demographics of the corporate/business world and to life ingeneral.

With close to three decades in leadership and Management, Sadhana has 8 years as a practising CXO/Leadership Coach.

Managing Director & CEO of Platinum Infosystems Pvt. Ltd, an Organization that focuses on top management/CXO Coaching, she is also one of the founder directors of Zeus Mentors, where similarly, yet differently, the engagement focus is on the segment of the high potential, mid-career leaders at the level of the organization’s middle management.

Says Sadhana (below is the excerpt of the conversation) …

“I have explored and experimented with various avenues that help people get from good to great or sometimes, just better. Leadership, at the level of the C-suite especially, is most often a lonely place to be. Objective, candid feedback may not be available to those occupying the elevated echelons, even if & when prompted. Vulnerability is taboo!

My approach to coaching is very customised. To use a very common terminology, I have my own IP with regards to “how” I address my individual engagements. It’s not a standard prescription or “templated”! Blending various approaches & techniques has helped me help the leaders I engage with in their unique journey towards change and betterment. Where there is scope for improvement, there is evolution! And, this applies just as much to the coach as to the Coachee. There has to be a continual learning &development, in mindset and formal training to acquiring new techniques & additional knowledge.

Companies have much higher levels of global engagement than ever before, with relationships and teams spread across the world. This means the demographic profile of the organisation as we know it, has changed considerably from what it was, & continues to do so at an extremely rapid pace. Diversity of every category – age, gender, social class, orientation, ethnicity, thought, nationality, culture, etc., translate to more ideas, more possibilities/creativity and enhanced productivity. It also means more differences, friction, and associated challenges. The benefit is accrued only when individuals realise the value in differences, learn to draw on their individual & combined strengths and perform in an environment that allows and encourages expression and leverages diversity to inspire creativity & innovation. With all the automation underway, leveraging innately human capabilities will mean the ultimate difference between relevance and obsolescence, of the leader/individual. And, the business!

Coaching helps people reprogram & realign their core (often limiting) beliefs, thereby positively impacting behaviour & personality/character & finally, one’s destiny itself.

A time has come for us to boldly re-write the leadership paradigm. Businesses need a radical leadership correction – the traditional models of the 20th century (grounded in the western philosophy of leadership) have served their time and purpose. The big question is what we replace the old with?

What we also know, of the various personal development & leadership interventions addressing growth of modern leaders, the dynamic economic context & the moral crisis of the 21st century, executive coaching may be the most effective vehicle to deliver the change we need to see. But the existential question is – “What kind of coaching and what profile of coach could facilitate/enable the level of leadership transformation that the corporate world requires?”

Actions and belief systems stem from the neural language (communication) that’s programmed into the mental make-up of the human being as we go through life, right from birth. All of one’s experiences, positive or negative, are coded into the mind, and influence how we come across in our communication and behaviour. This impacts the outcome, whatever that might be!

Turning our attention to the ’leader’, what has become increasingly evident is the acceptance that there is much more to a great leader than just the title or the metrics of power & performance. Various studies focusing on people in the workplace of today and the future, reiterate how salary and other such “rewards” are less effective in people and performance management than before. High potential employees, especially, are increasingly questioning/seeking relevance or meaning in the work they do, are less willing to compromise the quality of their lives outside of the workplace, much more aware of the importance of being comfortable in their own skin, living their own values, less accepting of the status quo and more strident in negotiating the terms and corporate conditions required to engage, motivate and retain them- A leadership challenge among several others.

Executive coaching helps leaders effectively address challenges and identify new opportunities. The beautiful thing about coaching is that while it is scientific and has structure, it is not limiting and rigid. It’s an art in science form! Constantly evolving in approach & framework.

I blend various techniques for each engagement, customising to the individual and the need. No two leaders even from within the same Organization, are exactly the same or even similar. Some of the tools and techniques employed may not be a part of the orthodox executive coaching suite either. That said, in my experience this has gone a long way in making the entire process and the overall experience far more wholistic, tremendously impactful and sustainable (wrt change & development) than strict adherence to the traditional executive coaching methodology.

In the age of Big Data, AI and Robotics, human behaviour rather than skills, has huge consequences on organisational growth, people management and success, than ever before. To survive and thrive in this continually transforming global landscape, organisations need to harness/leverage new & profoundly different leadership attitude & strategies. Relevant to the environment, the coaching process which is structured for process effectiveness & outcome, it must be innovative, customised, and relevant in attitude, approach and application.

Organisations want great LEADERS and can describe the desired characteristics in finite detail, but do they really want great LEADERSHIP? …A leadership that goes beyond the standard checklist and the conscious and oft, unconscious biases?

More importantly do leaders across the full spectrum of differences have the courage to be their true authentic selves? This is a transformational shift in thought and behaviour and has big implications in discerning the difference between coaching and “leadership” coaching. Some of the more traditional approaches to coaching leaders may no longer work. This is where authentic leadership coaching can be the bridge that connects. If ever there was a time for authentic, fiercely courageous, inclusive leaders, fully grounded and accepting of who they are, of their people and who live their values, it is now!

Sadhana further explains – “there’s a conversation the coach keeps stoking as the coachee delves within, encouraging him or her to invoke the subconscious, the most authentic self, which is much stronger than the conscious.

All too often, the subconscious is pushed far too deep for it to play an obvious role in our “conscious” lives. However, through self-realisation and self-management, when it is evoked, the conscious mind starts responding to the surfacing & more powerful subconscious.

Rather than “show the way”, as a mentor or advisor would do, a coach is a “mirror”, reflecting the individual with such unique clarity, it aids self-realisation & inspires self-correction in the coachee. The realisation(s) are triggered by a series of powerful questions & techniques that bring the coachee to an inflection point of recognising the challenge(s) and realising what must be done to overcome it.

Asked if it’s a risky process, Sadhana says: “As an executive coach, I’m careful in the use of any technique that I may have in my “tool kit”. And even then, only where I think it’s necessary and will benefit. It’s never a case of “one shoe fits all”. A major difference between coaches lies in their individual IP – as in their coaching style, techniques & approach, developed over time & experience.

“Coaching is all about the coachee. It’s 100% Coachee-centric, sponsor expectations notwithstanding. Coaches who inspire their Coachee to bring their full & authentic self to the engagement do so by creating a safe, trusting, respectful environment, devoid of bias and judgement. This is easier said than done. To do this well, we must see our Coachee for who they really are and deeply embrace every aspect of their being, personality, and journey.

Being a coach is about working on the side-lines…in the background; the victories for the coach are subtle & hidden. The lure (for me) is the satisfaction and incomparable sense of fulfilment through the journey! The effectiveness in the engagement has its basis in leveraging empathy for the Coachee, this is critically important – An empathy that stems from “having been there, done that”.

The relevance quotient is imperative.

All said, the engagement is about a human being and results depend on the ability to connect, to feel/comprehend the leader’s belief system, what they really want, their doubts or fears, exactly as he or she is feeling – to be able to connect but still retain objectivity.

One of my objectives as a coach is provide an environment that frees/opens up to the sense of possibility, broadens perspectives, and leverages curiosity in the power of positive change. That’s also when the actual buy-in to the transformation process happens on the part of the Coachee.

The preamble to all my engagements has its basis in the belief that the biggest mistake we make is letting someone else tell us what we want. I think I can decide for myself what I want. This is just the same for the Leader, my Coachee. Our authentic nature can determine for ourselves who we are, who we want to become, and how we inspire others to become their best through the process of our own self-improvement and evolution. Self-validation & transformation requires a leader to develop and leverage a high level of Emotional Intelligence. And, for the coach as well as Coachee, that’s almost always the end goal! “

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