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Why Being Coached Is Harder Than Being a Coach


What is the one thing that drives you as a professional? How do you measure your own success?

A few years ago during a trip to India, a former student of my dad, probably in his late fifties came to meet my dad. “Sir, your guidance, teachings and support helped define my career. I consider you my guru and attribute my entire success to what you did for me.” Now, I have seen my parents positively impact lives of many students in their entire lifetime as educators. Yet, this reaction was special. Even though my dad was nonchalant, almost dismissive, I felt really proud of him.

But, I also experienced an intense negative emotion. This feeling was not isolated to this incident. I had experienced similar feelings in the past, whenever any of my parents’ students had expressed similar adulation for them. Even though, I had a decent corporate career, I had often wondered: Career success & financial achievements apart, will anyone ever feel the same way about me as my parent’s students felt about them? Psychologists are notorious for finding disorders in every behavior. Ask them, and they might label this urge to feel valued, a “disorder” as well. Why does it matter to you that someone should value you? Are you truly interested in helping others, or do you just want to feel good about yourself? An alternate view is provided by Viktor Frankl who talks about man’s most basic need in, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He states that most of us want a purpose and meaning in our lives; we want to know that our existence matters and have a deep need to feel that we made a difference. To quote Winston Churchill, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Being happy when praised because you helped someone or feeling unhappy in absence of such praise, may be termed as egoistic. That reaction is all about YOU! Perhaps the ultimate goal is be in the blissful state, where you are not affected by the positive feedback or the absence of it. You do the right things; provide thought leadership as a coach not because of how it makes you feel, but because it’s the right thing.

Therefore, given these conflicting opinions about the need to feel “valued”, the answer to the question asked above, is not trivial. Each person has to be the scriptwriter for his or her own journey. In my case, it involved enhancing my skills by attending workshops in executive coaching, facilitation skills and change management. I also chose to make career course corrections; quit my job & started my own venture. I wanted to spend a lot more of my time on more meaningful and impactful work than I was involved with. Meaningful and impactful work such as coaching, facilitating learning workshops for engineering professionals, project management professionals & leaders. Furthermore, to become a great coach, it’s important to keep your skills relevant & up to date by continued DOING instead of just PREACHING. So, in parallel, I maintained the DOING part - advisory engagements executing talent management and project management projects.

Of course, being a great coach is hard. Yet, even after you become one, it's just one part of the puzzle. I have seen many professionals who are blessed to have access to amazing & passionate coaches. Yet, relatively few professionals and leaders are open-minded enough to seek the input of a coach. Appearing vulnerable, viewing coaching as an indictment of insufficient competence and the fear of being judged that you don’t “have it all together”, are typically the reasons why many professionals resist seeking intervention. Certainly, I too, did not have a mentor or a coach for a large part of my career. Being a great learner, who is open to being coached, is equally hard, if not harder, than being a coach! Such professionals are not common and the ones that are able to overcome their fears and do seek coaching, see an amazing growth in their professional career. In hindsight, while I am still proud of my dad, I am more in awe of his student who was open to being coached, for imbibing knowledge & for being gracious enough to remember & acknowledge the coach. A lesson all of us can learn. Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo shares the following sentiment, "If I hadn't had mentors, I wouldn't be here today. I'm a product of great mentoring, great coaching... Coaches or mentors are very important. They could be anyone--your husband, other family members, or your boss."

My father positively impacted many lives in his 50+ years of teaching. I have ways to go to reach that level. However, feedback from those I have coached, does provide insights into areas of further growth & room for improvement for me. Their feedback also provides amazing stories of their personal and career success; success that they credit to some coaching interaction(s) with me, where both of us were open to co-learning and came out being better; a spark of creativity; some technique; some encouragement; a pathway to become a positive deviant; becoming a lifelong learner. That feedback is rejuvenating. Being a coach; seeking coaches; providing feedback and seeking feedback, all of these working together to act as a perfect source of purpose and meaning.