Bye-bye Manager. Welcome Leader as Coach!

For more than a decade of my life I worked as a public policy professional at the cross-section of politics and public policy.  At my company, I was in-charge of publishing analytical and data-driven research for the consumption of our legislators so that they were better informed on government policies, budgets and laws.  The work to deliver on was always challenging and hard to keep up with.  No matter how many eventualities I prepared, the vagaries of the political space have a way of catching you off-guard! Depending on the flavour of the moment, our company had to demonstrate deep knowledge and insight on issues ranging from defence procurement, banking regulation, internal and national security issues, education, air pollution, climate change, health care, data privacy, regulation genetics/bio-ethics, and data privacy. 

As a manager – deliver, deliver, deliver

And every day, we delivered on that promise. Of course, it was never a one person show.  It never is.  I learnt early on, that I am only as good, as the team that I lead. To create a company that delivers on its mandate beyond imagination requires a cadre of capable people. So, while I was focused on scaling up and diversifying the research offerings of my company to be relentlessly relevant to clients – my mind always tried to figure out who in my team can be better at doing what I do?  My team was tired of hearing from me – “you have one job – make me dispensable!” While doing the operations and developing technical expertise was fun – I thrived at grooming my colleagues to be more and do more.   Well – isn’t that a required investment in order to take a company from a start up to a renowned one-of-a-kind institution?

How did I think this could be done? Most of my time went in mentoring and up-skilling the team – learn the business, steepen the learning curve on technical expertise, deliver high quality work at short deadlines… Deliver, deliver, deliver. Sooner than later I realised that I was so focused delivering, that I had no time to think of what new areas I need to grow in as a Manager.  How do I inspire the team to be leaders in the daily business of things?  How to encourage them to unleash potential for creativity so that the company does more? To be audacious in their goals for themselves? To bring new ideas, and energy to the workplace? To think differently about the sticky situations they may find themselves in?

Bringing the Coach mindset to work

Stuck for answers on how to be a better manager in order to encourage and energize a team, I always found myself browsing the Harvard Business Review Blog.  It was indeed providence that lead me to Herminia Ibarra’s article “Leader as Coach”.  Her proposition is that in today’s economy and challenging business environment the role of the manager, is becoming that of a Coach.  This essentially means moving away from traditional mindset of relying on instructions and command-and-control practices to lead a team. Instead, as Ibarra puts it, “An effective manager-as-coach asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done.”

Her article, helped me diagnosed why I was plateauing in my abilities as a manager. My leadership approach till then was a mix of mentoring (downloading all my knowledge of how and what to do), laissez – faire (leaving them alone in getting their work done and being productive). I recall the conversations with team members when I not succeeding in bringing out their required performance on the job. The themes that emerged were about challenging self – doubt, attachment to one version of the self, focus on what’s not working, mindset of complaining about what’s not working, inability to see potential.  As I look back, it was truly these insidious ways of being and conditioning of ourselves that was holding a team member back.  The fear of not being good enough, was limiting the ability to take risks.  

The ‘Leader as Coach’ narrative helped in a fundamental shift in my own mindset as as a Manager – focus and foster capabilities, not deficits. Let go of ingrained patterns of thinking on how the business needs to be done, create the space to allow each one to bring their wisdom, insight and creativity towards the company’s mission. I believe this change in approach, allowed for several colleagues to deliver beyond evident potential.  And also, for them to do that one job I held them accountable for – make me so redundant that I could transition of out of the company.

The space for change that coaching creates

Was it easy for me to change? That is where I invested my own time and resources in hiring a Coach. I realised that it is hard to transform thinking on our own and change behaviour.  When I was coached, every two weeks for an hour, I had a sacred space to reflect on what area I wanted to tackle, what beliefs were obstacles on the course, examine what ways of thinking do not serve me and how I could let them go.  This bi-weekly space allowed me to get out other daily humdrum to just focus on where I wanted to be and how I wanted to go there, in a way that is most authentic for me.  Unknown to me, the coaching journey disrupted my somewhat fossilised ways of being and doing things and allowed me to own my uniqueness and be energised by it. It made a difference in how I showed up at work and in other areas of my life. So inspired was I by the impact of being coached, that I decided to train with the ICF accredited Coach for Life Program for Leadership and Life Coaching.

While being a full time Leadership Coach is my calling, to be impactful I had to do it at scale. That is the purpose of co-founding The Core Questin – to make coaching integral to the way companies thrive in their business, attract talent and build their leadership potential.

Look forward to spearheading a mission to broaden the conversation around Coaching, to bring its potential to all leaders, and transform the world’s potential, one leader at a time. 

About Mandira Kala

Mandira is a qualified leadership coach. She is a graduate in Psychology from LSR, New Delhi, MSW from TISS, Mumbai, PhD in Public Policy from University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is passionate about developing leaders who contribute to their workplace by transforming mindsets, creating a culture of cultivating and harnessing people potential, and beating the odds to deliver beyond imagination.

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