Many organizations are trying to create a ‘coaching culture’. In this attempt, managers are being called coaches. It is seen as their new role. Interestingly, the idea is that changing titles is expected to change behaviors – at least, this is how it seems.
Our newly designated ‘coaches’ are sent on training programs, which are more often than not, too theoretical. The contents and process taught are often not adapted to our local needs and cultural norms.
Once these individuals have taken part in such well-publicized and often ill-conceived training initiatives on coaching, their subordinates start expecting their ‘managers’ to start behaving as ‘coaches’! Their list of expectations, while laudable, becomes rather unrealistic. They immediately start looking for attributes such as:
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see our managers and coaches exhibit such qualities overnight? But, the truth is, it all takes time. Behaviors change to the extent the business context and environment supports it.
The ground reality is that such learning cannot be put into practice 100% – all of the time. This creates a heightened expectation gap; which becomes more pronounced over time, if no real change becomes visible. As a result, subordinates often feel dissonance. They hear one thing and see another conduct. This contrast can sometimes lead them to describe their line managers as having a “Bossy” attitude.
The word ‘boss’ has become an unhelpful stereotype. It often carries a negative connotation and understandably so. History is replete with examples of seniors who have behaved in an authoritarian way often acting aggressively. Such managers hardly ever listened to their subordinates, and thrived on giving orders. They used to rule by fear, and held knowledge and information close to their chests. All this stemmed mainly from a sense of insecurity.
What mattered to such ‘bosses’ was getting the job done at any cost, only to get ahead or secure their turf. Feelings and emotions had no place in rational world, where you do what you are paid for.
Thankfully, such behaviors are no longer as widespread as they once were. Here is an analogy that captures how the word ‘boss’ became so ugly. A negative stereotype of a ‘boss’, as described above, is like that of a swimmer on a diving board. He climbs a ladder and gets on to the diving board. He stands there for all to see. His entire support is the diving board. In order for this swimmer to perform, he needs to jump on the diving board a few times, pushing it down each time, in order to be propelled higher, in order to make the dive. The height attained this way, is of course, short-lived. This is generally what such ‘bosses’ have done. They have climbed the proverbial corporate ladder and stood on top of their subordinates, jumped on them, only to shine their own glory, while taking all the credit. But all in vain, as they end up diving head first! Can this unhelpful image of a ‘boss’ ever change? It can. Over time, and through consistent behaviors by managers that demonstrate both compassion and courage – a conduct that values and nurtures human dignity and fairness.
There are a number of movies based on true stories, namely: Coach Carter; Remember the Titans; Men of Honor; Miracle, Antwone Fisher and K-19 to list a few. Such films depict coaching and people development beautifully, albeit in a different context and setting from ours. Interestingly none of them entirely fit the theory of coaching as we see it in Western textbooks and what is usually taught in the class room. These films depict strong individuals who inspire people forcefully, but never lose sight of purpose and caring behind the effort.
To me, Kite flying provides a useful metaphor for coaching. A good coach is a bit like a Patangbaaz (a kite flyer). When you have a kite in your hands and the wind conditions are right, it flies majestically. You let the kite soar to great heights; it rules the skies and competes with many other kites. Spectators can only see the kite, its beauty and flight. However, behind every kite is a person. This individual holds on to the string, gently guiding the kite’s trajectory. This person with the string allows the kite full flight and intervenes only when needed to redirect the kite to its original objective.
Similarly, a coach is someone that gives people space in which to soar to great heights, and encourages widespread recognition of the coachees for their good performance. A coach does all this without ever leaving the ‘string’ i.e., without ever losing the all-important connection with the coachees.
Each one of us needs to maintain this connection with our coachees. It keeps us disciplined and focused. Our subordinates will perform better knowing that their manager is connected to them in some way. Connection shows caring and attention.
Therefore, find a coach for yourself, and be one to your subordinates. In other words, be a corporate ‘patangbaaz’ and celebrate Basant all year round. This is one form of kite flying everyone will welcome and your people will grow to deliver magical results.