Coaching is a new profession in India, and there has been a surge in the recent past. It is largely confined to the work environment, and is gaining some acceptance as a tool in the area of organizational development. As a recent entrant to the work place, coaching remains unfamiliar territory for industry and businesses,quite a few of who still associate the practice, with other support interventions. Unlike in the west, coaching in India is largely male dominated.Being an emerging profession “coaching” is in the process of “proving its credentials”. It is believed that client perceptions and expectations require the coach to make appropriate contextual adjustments to remain relevant in India.
In India, coaching has taken root in the modern work place. Multinational companies with corporate offices in India were the first to introduce the Coach into the work place. These companies had already initiated the process at their head quarters and in their global offices, and felt that India too needed to adopt this practice. This need was more intensely felt from 2008 onwards. More recently, Indian owned and run businesses too with international exposure, are turning to coaching to become more competitive.
Globalization has transformed the work environment world-wide, and the subsequent accelerated change in India in recent times has brought unforeseen changes to the workplace, both in terms of organizational structure and also, in terms of new thought and belief patterns required to replace the old ones. The new roles managers are expected to step into are complex and adjustment time very brief. The requirement for speedy execution is resulting in organizations being confronted with serious leadership challenges. The need for a better equipped leadership in a changing world, and one that can through “continuous course correction” address these challenges is acutely felt, and coaching is being seen as the panacea to these concerns.(Think Talent Roundtable, 2011)
Modern industry has brought in the coach to support with issues ranging from the remedial, the behavioral, short term performance, and self development and provide advice and possible solutions too. At a time when individual development plans are being drawn up and change in roles considered, coaching is provided as a support relationship to ensure performance and smooth transition. In this way, coaching is becoming an integral part of the organizational development process.
Coaching and Indian Businesses
Big Indian businesses too, often family owned, are positioning themselves on the international market, and have turned to coaching primarily from the business imperative. How do they become more competitive? How can coaching smooth the rough edges of their employees, to give them a global mindset? What guidance can coaching bring to the next generation of family businesses, whose style of functioning differs from that of their predecessors? CEOs in Indian businesses get directly involved in recruiting the coach. Media attention on coaching is creating interest among Indian businesses.Two coaches interviewed said that being mandated by the CEO himself gave greater credibility to coaching and made it easier for them to be accepted by the team.
The Client Perspective
Given the sudden growth of coaching in India in the past five years, it would seem that the coaching profession has been well accepted and integrated into the Indian work ethos. Sridhar Rathnam, a senior executive coach, is not of that opinion. He says:there is a mixed view about coaching in the Indian work environment. Some view it as beneficial while others are still skeptical about it. To gain acceptance in India, the coach is called upon to adapt his practice and make it more contextual, so as to meet client perceptions.Recent fast paced growth in Indian industry has resulted in younger managers acceding to new responsibilities much faster. Uncertainty and the need for them to develop and hone their skills is guiding coaching requirements.
Education and family in India have created a mindset of dependency. Guidance from elders and senior persons is expected and respected and there is an understanding that the coach will adhere to this implicit prescription. Rosinskiwrites: “A valid concern about acceptance is that it may lead to surrender, but appreciating another culture (he specifies that corporate and professional cultures too differ) does not imply renouncing your own. Acceptance does not mean agreement (…)You can see that it may be right for another person, even if it is not right for you” (Rosinski, 2003).
Hierarchy and the Coach
Conventional coaching methodologies posit that the coach supports the client, but does not give advice and is only in charge of the process. Through creating awareness and powerful questioning the coach enables the client to find his or her own solutions to problems that he is confronted with. (O’Connor &Lages,2009)The partnership between the coach and the client is perceived as being one between equals and is non-hierarchic. This client centered approach is more individualistic and assumes that the client is in control of his life.
In a collectivist culture (Hofstede, 1984) governed by rules of hierarchy and a mindset of dependency, the coach is also perceived as someone who holds the key to some, if not all of the client’s challenges. Hierarchy is ingrained in India. Giving advice and providing solutions is the prerogative of elders, inside and outside the family, and it falls upon seniors at the workplace to mentor the young. Family elders still play an important role when it comes to the education, professional choices and marriage of their children.Stortiwrites: “Because the extended family system tends to be extremely hierarchical in nature (…) Indians also learn how to adjust their behavior according to the status of the person they are dealing with. They learn early on, for example, to whom they must defer and who must defer to them (…) whose support they depend on and who depends on theirs” (Storti, 2007).
Coaches interviewed were asked (based on client perceptions) where they would situate the coach on a hierarchy scale of 1 to 10. They indicated a figure of 7 to 8.
The position of the coach in India on the hierarchy scale
(low hierarchy) (high hierarchy)
1 7 India 8 10
The Profile of the Coach in India
The 2012 International Coaching Foundation (ICF) Global Coaching Study and data for India shared below, throws up some very interesting findings about the coach in India.
Gender of coach
26 – 35 years
36 – 45 years
46 – 55 years
56 – 65 years
|Education primary level (ie. Completed education before university)|
|Secondary level ( ie. hold a Bachelor’s degree)|
|Third level (ie. hold a more advanced degree such as a Masters /PhD)|
Over 75% of coaches in India are male, unlike in the west and they are mainly in the age group of 36 to 55 years. They are well educated and the study shows that Indian coaches have the highest academic qualifications in terms of numbers. This can be attributed to the small sample number. Will this reduce when coaching becomes a more “popular” profession? In fact the study reveals that there are no coaches without a university degree. Here we see congruence between actual data and client perceptions.
The Different “Avatars” of the Coach
Culture impacts perception and the coach is also perceived in the avatar of the mentor, the business advisor and the manager. These terms are used interchangeably but each denotes the expectation the client has of coaching. “Coaching is seen as an intrinsic part of helping others. It is a helping relationship set in a business context”. Ganesh Chella, co-founder of the executive and business coaching foundation of India.
The mentor is perhaps the role that clients most immediately associate with coaching A simplistic description of a mentor would be that of a middle-aged male with high educational qualifications and industry experience, knowledge and the capacity to communicate this..
THEME 1 – The Mentor-Coach
Clients are familiar with the mentor concept and the coach in India is cognizant of it.The closest approximation to the mentor in the Indian tradition is the guru. He is revered as a person of immense wisdom and is one who traditionally “leads from ignorance to knowledge”. Considered a mentor, the guru imparts his knowledge and experience for the benefit of his protégé. Traditionally the guru or mentor is a male figure, although there are some examples of female gurus in India. The ‘aura’ of the guru continues to influence Indians in both the social and professional spheres. Coaches interviewed have shared that they are expected to don the hat of the mentor from time to time, when coaching. It is expected and appreciated
Can the fact that there are more male coaches in India be linked to the largely male tradition of the guru?
THEME 2 – The Coach as Business Advisor
The executive coach is also frequently viewed in an advisory role and is expected to have domain knowledge which he imparts to his client. His experience is greatly valued, and there is a frank understanding that the coach is also being remunerated for this. Several of the executive coaches interviewed, admit that there is a distinct bias towards experience and domain knowledge when recruiting a coach.
“The expectation from the coach for advice and insight is reinforced by Asian tradition which does not encourage people to think for themselves”. (Nangalia&Nangalia,2010)
“We respect people who know the answers than those who ask questions”. (VivekTripathi, Lava Mobiles, A Think Talent Roundtable, 2011).
THEME 3 – The Manager Coach
Grooming internal talent is being seen as a way to beat budgetary constraints and reinforce leadership skills within the organization. Managers are being trained to adopt a ‘coaching style’ and be more supportive of their teams.
Leadership is also about helping / coaching others. Padma Rajeshwari Nandi, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories (People Matters, 2011)
All managers have a responsibility to coach their direct reports. Dr. SantruptMisra, Aditya Birla Group (People Matters, 2011)
The external coach too is also expected, to be some sort of a “surrogate manager” in the workplace. He becomes the mouthpiece within the organization, for getting certain ‘unpleasant tasks’ like communicating difficult decisions, confronting managers on their behavior… carried out.
The coach in India is required to wear several hats. Coaches interviewed are aware that they need to make coaching congruent with cultural and contextual norms to meet client expectations. It is often said here that the coach enters and gains acceptance as a mentor, but sustains the relationship as a coach. By demonstrating sensitivity to the expectations of his client, the coach actually enriches his practice by being mindful of his limits, and creates an opportunity for building greater self awareness and empowerment, and improved performance for his client.
Hierarchy highlights responsibility and the coach I expected to guide and mentor too. Rosinski writes:
Finally acceptance needs to be instinctual and emotional as well as intellectual (…) You need to become convinced in your heart and in your guts that a different truth or ideal is legitimate (Rosinski, 2003).
This study confirms that coaching is more easily accepted in India because the coach contextualizes his practice. However, this study has not been able to explore the implications of certain variables that clearly emerge in the ICF Global Coaching Study, like the growing number of younger people becoming coaches, and more women entering the profession in India. Will these affect client perceptions and expectations? It is hoped that future research on these emerging trends will improve our understanding of the coaching situation in the country.
For this small-scale exploratory study, semi structured interviews were conducted over the telephone with 8 coaches,of these 7 are male. The interviews were based on 4 questions. These are:
- What challenges have you faced in pitching coaching to organizations?
- What is expected of an executive coach? To what an extent are these expectations socially and culturally defined?
- How does social hierarchy impact coaching?
- How do you see coaching growing in India?
Hofstede, G., (1984). Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, abridged ed. Beverly Hills, CA. Sage.
O’Connor, J., &Lages, A.,(2007). How Coaching Works. London. A & C Black Publishers. Rosinski, P., (2003). Coaching Across Cultures.London. Boston. Nicholas Brealy.
Storti, C., (2007). Speaking of India. Boston. London. Nicholas Brealy Publishing Company, Intercultural Press.
REFERENCES: MAGAZINES / PERIODICALS / STUDY
International Coaching Federation.(2012) Global Coaching Study.Data for India.
Nangalia, A. &Nangalia, L., (2010, February).The Coach in Asian Society: Impact of social hierarchy on the coaching relationship. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. Vol 8, No1, 51 – 66.
People Matters (November 2011). The Industry of Coaching. Gurgaon, India
Think Talent Roundtable. (2011,September). Contextualizing Western Coaching Approaches for Indian Managers. Gurgaon, India.