Ancient wisdom had us believe that the higher we climb, the harder would be the fall. Down the ages, this metaphor couldn’t curtail the human spirit of reaching out for the skies and beyond. Krishna Kumar,a master trainer and professional coach specialises in transformational leadership. An internationally-certified tennis coach, he’s also the founder of Kinesis Sports, India’s first ISO 9001-2008 certified tennis training institution. Read on to find out why he thinks why the tendency to take the burden of your company, may stop you from achieving your performance peak at work.
Ancient wisdom had us believe that the higher we climb, the harder would be the fall. Down the ages, this metaphor couldn’t curtail the human spirit of reaching out for the skies and beyond. The human race has continued its upward march relentlessly with the spirit of entrepreneurship and adventure often guiding us to dizzying levels, especially when this growth is looked at from down below.
No wonder, the saying now has a different twist. There’s been a modernisation of the metaphor—the higher we climb, the lonelier we get! If you are a first-time entrepreneur building a business, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Certainly, if you’re the CEO of a business, the loneliness would be an incredibly familiar feeling for you. Tell me if I’m wrong. Isn’t it a feeling that seems to overpower you, especially when the going gets tough and the road to nowhere beckons? It’s at times like these when you desperately need a sounding board or a support mechanism that puts you back on the straight path.
The age-old maxim of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” might sound familiar, and is a great motivational tool, but often it doesn’t offer much cheer to those in the thick of action. For example, how does a CEO figure out that decisions he or she recently made are in tune with his or her business goals? Worse still, how can the CEO be sure that he’s read the market right? Who can he turn to for help to decide that his business goals mirror the market requirements correctly?
Mostly, the decisions taken by a company’s top management relate to growing the business. At least, that should be theoretically so. But, what is the reality? In my experience, more CEOs than not tend to micro-manage their businesses. Paradoxically, the pursuit of growth ends up becoming the biggest obstacle to growth. How then can top-level managers ensure they do not end up missing the woods for the trees while taking decisions? As a leadership coach, it’s the biggest coaching conundrum I face. I call it the ‘growth paradox’.
Interestingly, the problem is not restricted to the world of business. I unexpectedly discovered this one evening while talking to a lady golfer who has been professionally participating on the Indian golf circuit for several years. Her regular golf coach, a good friend of mine, suggested a meeting between us to overcome a mental block that was consistently making her perform below potential on the greens. And, the global downturn (the cause of many a good golf game going awry these days) had nothing to do with her fitness or technical expertise, I was told.
When I met the lady golfer, she began the conversation by telling me her problem—her “short game” was falling apart. For those unfamiliar with the sport, this essentially means that she was losing confidence while preparing to putt, essentially getting the ball closer to the hole. I had worked with similar issues in the past, and was fairly certain that this one could be fixed too. But I was keen to do more. I thought she needed to simultaneously focus on the bigger goal of moving up the rankings in Asia. So, I decided to gently steer the conversation in that direction. Almost on cue, I sensed certain discomfiture on her part. She seemed pretty sure that she had it pat down—that fixing her short game was the panacea for all her problems. She was intent on focusing on that short-term goal. She was determined that getting that right would move her up the rankings.
More CEOs than not micro-manage their businesses. And hence, the pursuit of growth becomes the biggest obstacle to growth.
Similarly, I’d worked sometime back with the CEO of a mid-sized pharmaceutical company. Right off the bat, he told me he’d never faced failure in his life. I perceived his to be an extremely positive and optimistic frame of mind. So, I thought about starting him off on a goal-setting exercise that would help him broaden his vision for the company. But that’s not why he needed me. To my surprise, he immediately dismissed my suggestions for the business goals exercise and started talking about a personal goal—to lose 20 kgs of body weight. He told me he’d been obese for the past many years.
It’s not that I don’t believe maintaining decent levels of fitness and good health isn’t a laudable, worth-having objective. But I was perplexed. First, he had claimed to have never failed in life and almost immediately after, he had confessed a personal failure. It got me thinking—why was leadership for him focusing on a relatively simpler personal goal? And what made him think that his business goals were much easier to achieve by comparison?
I began wondering why many hugely successful people get caught up in resolving smaller goals while the bigger picture often eludes them. What’s more, most times these people are ignorant that they’re even doing this, especially in their professional life. At the top, you often don’t have people to tell you such things.
It does not have to be lonely on the top! A supportive coach or a mentor can be really handy here. That being the case, why are senior business executives and CEOs reluctant to seek services of a coach who can help them in their journey towards achieving peak performance in their business? Is it that seeking support from an external source perceived as a sign of weakness in itself, even if such help is sought behind closed doors and out of the glare of the media and peer attention?
Coaching in the world of business is a concept that has been borrowed from the world of sports. Top class sportspersons routinely go back to the drawing board and discuss their career path and progress with coaches whose sole purpose is to help them achieve their highest potential. In other words, coaches help them reach out for higher targets by jointly setting short-to-medium term goals for them.
Can coaches resolve the problems one faces in business too? For starters, one must keep in mind that coaches do not offer solutions to problems. They perform the vital role of supporting the person’s efforts to unlock the answers that lie buried within. They help the person retain focus on some broader goals, thus providing indirect support towards meeting them.
Personally, to say that either the lady golfer or the pharmaceutical CEO benefited from my coaching is wishful thinking. But, at least, in one instance, I was able to get the person to refocus on the big picture. In the other case, I remain optimistic the change will happen sooner, rather than later.
Krishna Kumar is a master trainer and professional coach specialising in transformational leadership. An internationally-certified tennis coach, he’s also the founder of Kinesis Sports, India’s first ISO 9001-2008 certified tennis training institution. You can find him at www.isecindia.in.