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Why The World Needs More Coach Like Leaders

A good leader will be able to separate the subtext from what’s said and he will respond with inclusive language, pace, and tone. A great leader is also a great listener.

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“XY is a take charge, get things done right, kind of a person. He tends to take on sole responsibility and does not delegate. He does not invite diverse perspectives. He fears not being “the smartest person in the room”. There is a possibility he feels threatened and insists on setting and driving the agenda solely and considers this, his key leadership trait.

This is a mail I received, as a coaching brief to work with the India CEO of a Global IT Organisation.

Surprised with the Leader’s style? don't be! commiserate instead

We have all been there in similar situations, this is not about passing judgement, instead, it is an acknowledgement of, in a sense, the leadership condition we are wired with.

This is a common malaise with C- Suiters! There is inordinate pressure, now more than ever on these Leaders as they go about creating value for their stakeholders. When there is a leadership “style problem” at the topmost level, it becomes a force multiplier of sorts that snowballs down the organisation. That sets the tone for the way “things are done around here”.

“Great leaders ideally ought to spend 50% of their time on people issues,” says Leena Nair - Chief HRO of Unilever, It is this 50% that interests me. One of my coachees recently asked me what would be an ideal leader composition. My sixpence - “Defining the traits of a great leader has to evolve, pretty much like every aspect of Life and society at large. It is important to march in lockstep with changing mores and continually revisit and reinvent our models of leadership. This does not mean, chasing the shiny new object or the latest fad, it does mean, however, that leaders have to be continuously relevant and consistently reinvent themselves.

My personal mission - I want to positively affect 1000 business leaders and I realise that when I work with them and they become a better version, there is a cascading effect on their stakeholders. I have had some stakeholders of my CXO Coachees call me and ask me about my “secret sauce” as they could clearly see changes in their boss.

The idea for this column came to my mind when I was thinking-  Where does my CXO coachee go from here? Post our sessions, I ensure, I circle back to them with some regularity on how they are faring vis a vis the coaching goals we had set, and that’s that. I was seeking feedback from a coachee about the coaching experience and he was vigorously affirmative saying it had created a positive shift in his behaviour. So, I asked him, what he felt about the process and he had the nicest things to say- the confidentiality, the safe space, the listening without judgement, the thought-provoking questions and expertise etc

So, I asked him “What if you could bottle this up as your special ingredient and actually practice what I did with you? Would your team be motivated, happy, engaged and energised?

He thought for a bit and said “Well, I might not be able to completely transform into a “coach” with my team, but there are so many elements that Coaching has given me and I can definitely transfer that to my leadership development toolkit”.

I will be the first one to say Executive coaching might not be a panacea for all ills. If you find ethical transgressions on the part of your team member - he doesn't need to be coached, he needs to be sacked. If you are trying to coach someone who has a huge gap in functional competence- coaching might not be of help. Executive coaching is not for someone who is close to being fired- It is an excellent resource used to motivate champions and key leaders.

Why is there a need for a new kind of leader? A Leader who is like a coach!

The idea of a “know it all” is being replaced by a “learn it all” approach. There is no overwhelming need or place for the “smartest man in the room”. The CEO as the all-knowing savant is an old trope. Too much power and responsibility vested in the hands of one person (inspite of checks and balances by the board of Directors) leads one down a slippery slope. There have been a slew of examples of global leaders and closer to home, who have lost their true North.

No more Command and Control. Organizational structures are being redesigned and flattened, resulting in changes about the ask from leadership. The structure around decision making and customer-serving aspects have undergone a sea change, thanks to the fact- customers are way more discerning and worthy of a frictionless experience. This aspect has also influenced organisations to seriously rethink the way their employer brand is experienced.

Shared leadership and Accountability. Devolution of power, ensures the leader will have to find newer ways to lead and inspire his stakeholders. Holding each other accountable and ensuring “all voices” are heard instead of only the more strident ones will make the workplace a more inclusive one.

The speed of change will make the war for talent and growth that much harder. Being able to walk and talk the purpose, vision and growth is about a refreshed mindset and being able to self reflect and encourage the same with people around.

Coaching conversations are about engaging conversations that stimulate awareness, growth, possibilities in a thought-provoking manner. The Leader as a Coach will regularly take need to take time off to self reflect as he realises “The deprived cannot provide”. He will no longer be running on fumes. Authenticity, vulnerability, tough love conversations, bias for thinking along with the action. All these aspects pretty much define the times we live in for a harmonious path ahead.

Some of the key aspects, a Leader needs to learn, to be a coach like Leader:

Build Empathy - the ability to connect to a team/ individual with no or little baggage will enable the leader to win the trust of his team, even when he makes an unpopular decision. He will need to invest in building networks of excellence and support and he won’t be able to do that if he does not work on a more empathetic model.

Being curious 

One of the fundamental reasons why we show up to work is to create “our life’s work”. We seek challenges, recognition and growth along the way. A curious Leader will, by nature keep judgement at bay and will encourage knowing and discovering. Leaders, today in the interest of efficiency curb curiosity not only for themselves, but will take the liberty of dousing the same in other people as well. A great coach leader is curious and will shine the spotlight on the other individual and will invest in genuinely “seeing” that person.

Being strengths focussed

It is extremely tempting to start “fixing” people, starting with their weak areas or areas of improvement. It takes effort, intentionality, and investment to dig and find strengths that individuals may themselves be unaware of. Being cognisant of everyone’s unique ability will enable them to help their partners succeed not only at work, but also at life.


Like a great coach, a good leader creates the environment when individuals get heard, experiences are valued and difficult decisions embraced. He will spend a huge amount of personal time and investment to make sure Collaboration is a key index for growth and building organisational agility

Asking the right questions:

Asking open-ended questions taps into the better quadrant of the Ask vs Tell problem-solving matrix. It helps in viewing from a different lens and results in embracing a fresher perspective. Getting teams unstuck with the help of powerful questions will infuse fresh energy and a renewed perspective with insights.

The ability to respond instead of reacting:

Involved detachment awakens the inner stoic that helps in cutting down emotionally charged decision making and behaviour and this, in turn, will create a better org culture. As a Coach leader, he/ she will need to be able to self-monitor and coach other team members in becoming more “emotionally aware”.

A great coach will aim for Personal transformation

When the leader taps into his inner coach, he taps into his reservoir for transformation. Transforming self, team, and organisation. Inspiring conversations with appropriate actions will set up everyone for success. Nothing is as core to the coach Leader as much as transformation, that’s his raison d’être and if a leader dons this hat, he will constantly be working on transformative aspects - either for the employee, the customer or both.

Listen “for” instead of Listen “to”

A good leader will be able to separate the subtext from what’s said and he will respond with inclusive language, pace, and tone. A great leader is also a great listener. When he listens “for” - he is absorbing so much more than what’s being said and this helps in separating the wheat from the chaff and will help in surfacing deep-rooted assumptions, values, and beliefs. 

So, go ahead and coach like a boss!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Jay Kumar Hariharan

The author is an Executive Coach, Speaker and Deep Sea Diver. He is a graduate from International Coach Academy, Sydney. He provides coaching interventions to create transformational Leadership practices. For more read about the author visit

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