A coaching conversation can change your life; it can change the way you perceive life. Even one coaching conversation can begin a significant energy shift that can sustain you, life long. ‘Tram’ Venkataraman, a well-known leadership coach and mentor, brings us two precious nuggets from his coaching diary that reveal the power of masterful coaching conversations.
Are you a leader looking at executive coaching? Then Tram’s case vignettes are a must-read, for they showcase the transformative potential of the executive coaching process.
Are you an aspiring or practicing executive coach? Don’t miss Tram’s thoughtful, in-depth description of his coaching experience that brings out the skilled ease with which he navigates ICF coaching competencies.
Winning the Inner Battle
Due to the focus on creating diversity and inclusivity in board rooms and leadership roles, we have seen many women leaders moving into very senior roles with a lot of responsibility and deliverables.
We had the great fortune of coaching a senior woman leader working with a reputed IT company. Madhu (name changed) played a global role and held a key position which was a critical bridge between her company’s overseas colleagues and clients.
Madhu was nominated by the General Manager of her company for an executive coaching program with us. I was the executive coach who worked with her.
One of the topics which came up for her to discuss, explore and get some insights on was what she needed to do to break a pattern of disappointment, negativity, and resentment that was forming in her persona. There was serious internal turmoil, and she needed a very friendly and trustworthy coach to open up with, discuss and get clarity on how she would manage a situation, a point of inflection in her career and life.
Madhu was looking for pointers on how she could manage herself as she fought a battle in her mind – she was at a stage where giving up her current role to attend to her growing daughter, a special needs child, was the only way out. She was emotionally disturbed and on a low because she was giving up an excellent role.
It was a good one hour of deep conversation just being with her, present and listening to every word, emotion, and experience she described as she grappled with her dilemma. I also listened to what she was not saying.
The exploration was as per the trusted ICF process. As Madhu spoke it dawned on her that deciding on this, making peace with the turn of events, and getting comfortable with it was the single most important thing in her life at that moment. It did not matter what her past successes, experience across roles were and how rapidly she had climbed up the ladder.
Madhu’s torment then was how she would manage the consequence of moving out of such a powerful role into a lesser one, for she realized that was her best way out at that point in time. As she explored, she went through myriad emotions and thoughts as she discussed her options, thoughts around each of them, and possible outcomes. There was a lot of disappointment that she had to sacrifice such a great role, even if briefly.
From there the conversation moved to Madhu’s personal life. When she dug into what it meant to be a mother to her child at that hour, the realization hit her. She began to understand that being a mother for her growing daughter, a special needs child, was a much more important need. She went silent for a few moments. Emotions of grief and relief collided as she made peace and came out with what was the clear thought at that point.
She recognized that her being a mother stood above everything else. She acknowledged that her role or position did not matter at all. There were no other options to consider or discuss. She stated clearly, “it is my baby, and I need to be there.” Period. No other thoughts, emotions, or options.
It was a very emotional session for her, but her trust in us enabled her to open up. As I gently listened, I played back key moments, expressions, emotions, and the choice of words she used. I also observed the way her energy moved.
The final emotion was clarity and relief. Quickly, Madhu outlined what she would do from the moment our conversation ended. She was ready to take a career break with the new insights she got.
As an executive coach, this was a powerful session for me. I learned a lot that day about work-life conflicts for women leaders and the way they thought through and went about their roles and positions to duly balance their familial and professional lives.
The Secret to Mastering a New Role
Another coaching assignment that springs to mind is the one where I worked with a very senior IT industry professional, RK.
RK was a talented IT architect. He had vast experience across the globe as a consultant delivering high-impact technology solutions for the banking and financial services sector. Clients just loved him and enjoyed working with him. RK was knowledgeable and with an excellent track record. Designing and delivering solutions was his forte. He just loved it.
As always happens, RK’s organization switched gears to keep ahead of the competition. They were already very solution focused for maximum customer impact and stayed away from staff augmentation projects as much as possible.
Now they wanted to zoom ahead post-pandemic. In line with the organization’s vision to accelerate growth, RK was to set up a $ 100 million business unit in his area of expertise in the BFS sector. He was responsible for revenues and profitability as well. From a solution architect, RK suddenly became a mini-CEO of a business module within a large domain.
RK hated his new role. He was uncomfortable. He was unfamiliar. He wanted to quit. He decided to take up executive coaching and thus came to us. I became his executive coach.
RK placed his predicament before me and said he wanted to share his thoughts. He said the company meant a lot to him. He was deeply connected to them and was disappointed that they had given him a role in which he had no prior experience. RK was pretty negative about the whole prospect.
He loved to sit in front of clients, listen to their business problems, and design high-impact technology solutions. Now here he was, staring at the prospect of doing something different, larger, end-to-end, and high-pressure.
As we settled into the coaching conversation, I posed questions from a space of being present, in flow with RK’s thoughts and utterances. And he answered them. Slowly, he expanded on the various experiences he had had globally, in different languages and cultures. He recounted how clients always enjoyed his analytical abilities. RK revealed short- and long-term visions across his life span, including the financial perspectives. As RK spoke, he gradually realized that the present organization where he worked would help him afford all his wants and enable him to realize his vision.
RK then went on to the professional side of the exploration, focusing on the new role. He dissected his new role, breaking it into various parts. He then expressed which specific parts were to his dislike and discomfort. Once I got him to analyze the new role in-depth, RK could see that very few parts were outside his knowledge and comfort zone.
Then we started discussing his options. Through a set of questions, I helped him figure out how to handle the parts of the role that made him unhappy. It turned out that there were three zones – 1) administrative and thoroughly boring(though nothing he did not know), 2) his sweet spot wherein the solutions and revenues would flow from, and 3) client acquisition – the toughest part. It was challenging yet worth trying out because it was a derivative of his sweet spot.
Now it dawned on RK that he could get someone else to do Part 1, enjoy and excel in Part 2 himself and acquire special skills for Part 3 to leverage the large client base his organization already had to achieve organic growth. He also discovered that he would be better off in a geography where there were more prospective clients compared to India.
RK was relieved. He was excited. His energy had shifted from quitting the role to taking it on.
To help matters, RK had a supportive boss.
This whole process happened over four sessions because RK came from a negative space and had to do a lot of analysis around where his life was going, his financial needs, lifestyle, and so on.
Last I heard from RK, he is in London heading up that small BU(small because his organization is multi-billion).