A Coaching Power Tool Created by Alok Mehta
(Transformational Coach, INDIA)
Seeds for this Power Tool
Over the decades, there have been many instances that have struck me as stark! Stark as in jarring and loud, and, somehow not in sync. This, ‘not in sync’ sense created some noise in me, and when I sat back to examine what and why this noise, I was not too surprised. This noise was the noise of misalignment, of dissonance and of something that was not true to itself.
Given below are a few of these instances, not in detail, but just in bullet forms; to help sow the seeds for this Power Tool.
A high potential youngster promoted to lead the HR function, much to the disappointment of other internal candidates.
- Battling non co-operation, and jibes from peers.
- Expected same involved and information flow about previous business that she supported and her new role had no linkage with old role.
- She idolized her boss, and thus was aping him.
A high potential functional head, my peer, takes over as Managing Director.
- Previous MD was an extrovert, loved hosting parties, passionate speaker at sales conferences, blunt and abrasive in meetings, control freak.
- New MD, loved his personal time & space, introverted, liked to deal only with direct reports, liked to be labeled ‘asocial’.
The triggering perspectives
As I replayed these two instances, there was a mosaic of perspectives that crossed my mind. Each a potential Power Tool!
- Doubt v/s Conviction
- Holding on v/s letting go and creating
- Inheriting v/s creating
- Taking v/s Making
- Expecting v/s Experiencing (being over prepared based on what I have been told about a new context rather than flowing with what I experience.
- Owing v/s Possessing
I was present in both the instances that I have alluded to previously. I was the coach in the first, and a peer turned direct report in the second. In the first instance, the coach had to deal with a lot of past vestiges/now baggage. This was not easy; as one had to first affirm that the past contributions were noteworthy that’s why the new, bigger and independent role came to her. Then it was around helping build conviction in her convictions and that affirmations may not always come her way. And, that in a volatile environment, reduction in mudslinging means that some valuable work is happening. It finally came down to what choice this person wants to make….live in the past, and not create new realities or find her voice and paint her new reality. One question that changed the course; “how do you want to be remembered after you are gone?”
The Power Tool: Aping V/S Being (yourself)
Being inspired by someone and becoming like that one; are two different things. TO many they mean the same. And thus they feel that since I am inspired by that person, I must become like that person. Aping; “blindly wanting to be someone” (that you are not) is a phenomenon that I have experienced in many walks of life. Be it sports, corporate roles and life in general. In sports what happens as a consequence, may not be as damaging as in corporate roles. A subordinate aping the boss, and acting like the boss when he assumes leadership roles, creates havoc. Havoc for the individual, for the team that he manages, and maybe in the organization where this drama plays out! What happens in Aping is the patterns, habits, mannerisms that are aped, are devoid of the unique characteristics of the original protagonist. The protagonist would have his unique DNA to carry it off; however, the person who apes can’t carry it off because that is just not him! In this process, the consequences are jarring. The individual himself loses his identity, and misses the opportunity to create any significant relationships and meaning. His world view is restricted and the potency of his unique expressions are lost in this process of aping. A sense of deprivation is an imminent consequence. The person deprives himself of opportunity to create his unique universe of feelings, relationships and interface between feelings & relationships that give meaning to our lives. The organization/system is deprived of the possibilities of unique expressions. And thus the system remains monotonous and bereft of spontaneity and uniqueness.
I would like to focus more on the individual who apes. At first the reality that you are in, might appear yours. You will revel in the glory, in your ability to ‘create’ a reality like your boss created. And you feel that ‘I am another him’. Soon, through corridor sniggers you will realize that ‘you are him’, as experienced by people around you. You have lost a chance to create your identity, and have drifted.
Ability to create ones identity is a more painful process. Painful but lasting and uniquely yours! It gives birth to you, and in a sense gives your birth a meaning and purpose.
The process of being who you are in a constant WIP (work in progress), it never seizes. You keep evolving and adding to your identity; your being. You keep adding as you keep experiencing, sensing, feeling and making meaning of what you experience, and also how others experience you. You are receptive to what others say about you, you are alive, you want to explore and add to your self, your being. In Aping, one is just closed, as he is too obsessed by wanting to become the other, and just does not pause and enjoy who he is ‘as is’.
I was the Head of HR and my colleague the head of sales & marketing in a leading Pharma organization. I had just joined, while he was in the system for over 2 years. We reported into the Managing Director.
The Managing Director soon got promoted into a Regional Role, and as per succession plans, my colleague was appointed the MD. Well deserved for sure, as he besides Sales & Marketing competences, possessed good General Management skills as well.
His struggles began soon. Not so much in the functional areas but on other so called “softer” aspect of being the MD. The previous MD was an extrovert, enjoyed addressing public gatherings, sales conferences, parties, was loud, was very blunt and direct in conversations, did not mind bragging about himself etc. The new incumbent, though much sharper and analytical, was shy, liked his personal space and time, happy in introversion, preferred to deal with just his direct reports. After a few weeks in the role, I saw him make a 180 degree shift. Here he was wanting to be a part of every meeting, wanted to drive every function himself, started hosting parties every other week without conversing with anyone except his direct reports, being loud, wanting to be heard and seen by one and all. I could sense some major effort, and that was not sitting well with me.
A few weeks on, post lunch (the best time to grab his undivided attention!), I sat him down and explained to him what I saw as his struggle. I told him how distinctly I saw him not being himself. I asked him, “are you missing your self, in this new role”? And we began talking……
He began delegating, his direct reports felt empowered and he was able to keep his astute sharpness and vision as decisive inputs when matters were escalated to him. He looked much more relaxed. And he left the parties to his new head of sales & marketing to host!
He and I kept this dialogue on as long as we worked together (5 years!!), and we remain best of friends.
I have found this tool very effective in managing transitions. Transitions of many types; in corporate roles wherein client has either got promoted to a new role, or transferred into a new business, function or geography. Or wherein, a client has joined a new organization, and is pressured to be like the previous incumbent. Thus it could be a very valued tool in new leader/manager assimilation programs.
The fundamental method to keep this tool effective is to ask Direct and Challenging questions. The idea is to hit the issue hard and fast, so as to minimize ‘damage’ to the client and his environment. We do not want the misery of ‘aping’ to continue, and it needs to be brought to the awareness levels fast. Post making the client aware of what he is doing (aping), it is important to get him own up his unique quintessence (refer Alouqik model of coaching), and start kindling new behavior (it is not new in essence, as it his unique behavior that you want him to deploy and not the copied behavior)
- What personal experiences did you recall while reading this Power Tool?
- What client experiences did you recall related to struggles of aping and joys of being?
- What feelings are you left with post reading this power tool?
- Describe how you would feel in an environment where you had only aped behaviors being played out, with no room for spontaneity and quintessence?