Many executives work with coaches. Or their companies hire coaches to work with them.
Frequently these engagements come about to bolster a specific area of the executive’s persona. For example a 360 degree evaluation may reveal that the executive is poor at communication and does not really understand what others are trying to tell her. So she works with a coach to improve her listening skills.
Or a hard-driving executive may have inadvertently set up his team members to compete fiercely with each other. And he works with a coach to help him learn about team building.
I would like to make a case for a different type of coaching – one where the coach does not even talk about what the client would like to accomplish or what is holding him back.
In fact, I do not even use the term ‘coaching’.
I prefer being a ‘friend, philosopher and guide’ (FPG)
The function of an FPG is to engage with the client in a series of deep conversations on abstruse topics like the meaning of life and what it takes to be happy and where did we come from and where are we going.
The FPG does not prescribe a worldview but he – or she – enables a client to refine his sense of self and become anchored in it.
And, as he gains clarity, he goes on to do great things. Things he would not even have conceived of but for the vistas opened up to him by the FPG.
The best-known historical example of this is Aristotle and Alexander.
When Aristotle, at the request of Philip of Macedonia, began to tutor Alexander, he did not instruct him on the finer points of swordsmanship or how to lay siege to an impregnable fortress.
Instead they talked about botany and geography and philosophy and Aristotle introduced him to the glorious visions of Homeric poetry.
They spent three years together and, at the end of that period, Alexander began his remarkable saga of conquest and achievement.
When I work with leaders, I do not talk about specific skills they need to acquire.
Instead, I lay out my philosophy of leadership and invite them to see how this fits into their world view and what the implications of this are – for them, for their organization and for society.
Here is my philosophy of leadership:
1) It is not the function of a leader to motivate followers. It is the function of a leader to find out what is demotivating followers and systematically get rid of it. This is not semantic hair-splitting. It is a profoundly different discernment and has many ramifications.
2) Much of what is traditionally defined as “motivation” is actually sophisticated manipulation to get workers to do what they are unwilling to.
3) Human beings are inherently motivated. Nobody ever starts a new job intending to be a disgruntled, disengaged employee. That is something that happens to him/her and is a systemic failure. This failure could be in selection, training, supervision, company culture or a host of other factors in combination.
4) Incentives such as money and perks of various kinds and sanctions such as demotion or threats of being fired simply get persons to play the game. They may ensure some behavioral compliance, but they are not “motivators”. They do have their place but most companies tend to overuse them.
5) Nobody ever gets up on Monday morning all fired up at the thought of “maximizing shareholder value” or meeting revenue or profit targets or increasing market share or any similar goal. It is the leader’s job to articulate a vision so powerful that it takes over the employee and makes him/her want to rush to work and do what needs doing.
6) Obviously this cannot be done unless the leader himself/herself is inspired by this vision. This is merely the first step, however. The arduous task of refining and constantly, constantly, constantly communicating that vision in ways big and small lies ahead.
7) This communicating is not a solitary endeavor. That would make it an overwhelming burden. It is the leader’s function to develop many who fully understand it and can do it as well, or better, than he/she can.
8) The best, perhaps the only, way to release the motivation inherent in a person is to work to ensure that each reaches his/her highest potential. Most managers, unfortunately, tend to view persons as instruments by which they can achieve their goals. This is not a mindset that encourages persons to unstintingly give what they are capable of.
9) An employee does not have a “work life” and a “personal life”. He/she has one life and either it is working or it is not. This does not mean that he/she does not have challenges in one or more areas. It does mean that these challenges need to be addressed in a holistic fashion and not a compartmentalized one.
10) A person needs to be comfortable enough to be authentic at work. If he/she has to put on a mask at work – or, even worse, multiple different masks – then he she is burnt out or heading towards burn-out.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, explains leadership succinctly and powerfully: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
It goes without saying that before you can teach anyone to yearn for the vast and endless sea, you have to experience that same yearning yourself.
My role, as a FPG is to kindle that yearning into a blazing fire in the clients I work with.
Interested in working together? Please let me know here.
Srikumar Rao is a best selling author, TED speaker, and Friend, Philosopher and Guide to entrepreneurs and senior executives.