Coaching: Is It Just Another Fad?

I hope I have got your attention with the headline. More importantly, I hope you have a strong point of view on the theme of coaching and not indifferent like a fence sitter


As the world celebrates ‘International Coaching Week’ (29th April to 5th May), some deep-rooted perceptions continue to be harbored in the minds of most executives. They are:

  1. Coaching is for laggards! (High performers don’t need a crutch, they gallop)
  2. A coach needs to be an expert, otherwise, how can they guide me! 

In India, cricket is not just a religion – it is also a metaphor for life. Surely, it would be apt to look at a cricketing analogy to understand the scope and extent of influence of a good ‘coach’.

Let’s roll back to early 2000s. The hallowed Indian cricket team featured legends of the game – Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Sehwag, Laxman, and Kumble. BCCI decided to hire an international coach for the very first time to maximize the collective talent of the Indian team. The following coaches were short-listed…

It seems like a fairly easy decision to make. In addition, if you consider that Coach A was from an illustrious family of cricketers and a prolific captain of one of the top teams in the world – it seems like a no-brainer. Experience, skills and everything else it takes to win; Coach A has to be the obvious choice!

Coach A is Greg Chappell and Coach B is John Wright. We all know how the story eventually panned out. Under Wright, India became the No. 1 Test side in the world and made it to the finals of the 2003 ICC World Cup. It was truly a ‘dream’ team. Soon after, Chappell took over and the ‘dream’ rapidly turned into a nightmare. The atmosphere in the dressing room was toxic and it reflected on the performance. Who can forget the disastrous first-round exit in the 2007 World Cup!

But take a moment to ponder: Sachin Tendulkar individually has more experience (200 Tests), more runs (15,921) and many more centuries (51) than both the coaches combined. They surely couldn’t add to his technical ‘know-how’ or skills. In fact, the common joke was that a coach could at best give inputs to Sachin on his man-of-the-match acceptance speech!

Yet, Sachin continues to speak highly of John Wright. He built a culture of bonhomie and trust and made the team believe in themselves. 

While Greg Chappell’s ‘divide and rule’ did take a heavy toll on the team, it took another ‘unassuming’ cricketer – Gary Kirsten to coach the Indian team to the pinnacle – ICC World Cup Champions in 2011. The team comprised diverse personalities with differentiated skill sets – natural flair (Sehwag), dogged determination (Gambhir), senior statesman (Tendulkar), young gun (Kohli), supremely gifted (Yuvraj) and the swashbuckler (Dhoni). Binding all of them with a common vision and yet ensuring they retain their individual strengths is what Kirsten achieved. In fact, Dhoni described Kirsten “as the best thing to happen to Indian cricket”.

Well, hopefully, that takes care of shattering the first myth that coaching is for laggards. Everybody needs a coach. It’s like the stretch that adds inches to your height or the performance booster that adds notches to your career.

I have often seen senior leaders reject coaches if they are not from a similar professional background as them. The usual explanation goes – “How can a non-investment-banker fathom what we do?”, “What does the coach know about month-end sales pressure?”, etc 

Consider this, Silicon Valley’s most sought-after coach was Bill Campbell. He was a coach to the maverick Steve Jobs and Google’s co-founder Larry Page. Campbell took pride in being non-technical and yet positively impacted the two most influential technology companies – Apple and Google.

Here is another example from the sporting arena. Can you guess what is common to the 2011 World Cup winning Indian Cricket Squad, 2014 IPL Champions Kolkata Knight Riders and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Winners Germany? 

Heard of Mike Horn?

Mike Horn is a full-time adventure-junkie and a part-time motivational coach. He completed a journey around the equator without any motorized transport and a solo circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle. He uses his understanding of the human brain and the extent of physical endurance of the human body to motivate champion teams into becoming an ‘unbeatable’ force. 

The German side was packed with world-beaters and were firm favorites to win for the last 2 decades. Yet, they could never cross the finish line. Horn took them on a sailing trip as part of his coaching process and the key takeaway for Lahm (German Captain) was “incredible what the human body can achieve”. And Germany did achieve the ultimate football honour!

Whether it is an intense sporting encounter or a tense boardroom battle – the key to winning is how you play the game in the space between your ears! 

A great coach might not have all the answers, but he has the insight to ask powerful questions by focusing on your vision. He listens to you for potential, not to colour your mind with his baggage. He aligns your strengths to your purpose and not to his beliefs. More importantly, he helps you shine as the best version of yourself, not a pale version of himself!

Essentially, a coach is a lighthouse, not a lifeboat!

The good news is that the tide is turning! The winds of change have started blowing, albeit in fits and starts. Organizations are realizing that a trigger-happy cowboy style of leadership doesn’t augur well for performance and culture.  The coaching-style of a solution and strengths-focused conversation is able to provide repeatable success.

Go ahead, try out a session with a coach! It might just be the best investment you can make (not just during the International Coaching Week, but any given day). After all, who doesn’t want to access the shortest and surest path to success, fulfillment, and happiness! 

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


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