Nurturing A Coaching Culture

Nurturing A Coaching Culture

Human Capital spoke to John Mattone, recognised as the top three coaching authorities in the world along with Marshall Goldsmith and Tony Robbins by to understand the intricacies of coaching and the first-hand experience of dealing with the Late Steve Jobs.



The learning and development industry has undergone rapid and significant change. With micro learning in demand off late, do we need to build a coaching culture? How best can a coach collaborate to create a value add?


Regardless of any initiatives in the world of leadership and Human Resource Development, my experience has been that the coaching culture created should be one whose tenets are identical to driving the business. And, this is where a lot of coaches make a mistake. For instance, I was asked as to how I have grown my coaching to be right at the top in the world, and, the reason behind this is the top executives the world over are eager to know as to what I am going to do to drive results, and, literally the tenets are identical to how businesses run and this I believe is non-negotiable. A coaching culture which is implemented and sustained can literally drive a business to the next level in terms of them achieving their mission, executing a strategy, being vigilant and so on. In fact, all the elements of what a business operator does are identical to what coaching does. And, I have experienced this first hand while working with Steve Jobs a few years ago. The very reason he brought me in was I was result-oriented.


When you partner with an executive or an organisation, the partnership should always be around person of value to drive results apart from trust and credibility. If you can co-create a partnership wherein the clients see that you can add value from a result stand-point then it is all good.   


The late Steve Jobs is renowned to be a perfectionist and a compliant leader, so what were the challenges before you while working as a coach to the erstwhile genius? And, how did you overcome these challenges?


Frankly, he was very difficult, pushy and direct. We are speaking of a man with an exceptionally high IQ and I had a very hard time keeping up with him. However, I caught with him since I learnt that you have to be direct with direct people, and, when I did so by way of raising my voice and positioning my statements as a coach, he complied. Some of the big learnings from the experience was that I realized Steve Jobs to be a very courageous man because in spite of him suffering from pancreatic cancer, he carried on with his work. That was very impressive since in spite of being in a lot of pain, he could still persevere. The reason behind him contacting me was because he had read Success Yourself authored by me and published in 1996, and, he reached out to me after going through my assessment written at the back of the book. And, he was also about a year and a half away from death, and was contemplating his legacy. In Steve Jobs, I discovered a man who was vulnerable owing to the prospect of death, and working with him was very deep because I help leaders who go deep into their core to help them identify their gifts. When he said to me “I should have done this work a long time ago I would have been a better leader and a father.”  His biggest regret was he never showed how big his heart was either at Apple or in his personal life. In fact, most leaders do not know how to do it any way which actually indicates a leadership gap. While I believe that I helped him go deep, I would honestly say that I learnt a great deal more from him.


In Quotes “… I realized Steve Jobs to be a very courageous man because in spite of him suffering from pancreatic cancer, he carried on with his work. That was very impressive since in spite of being in a lot of pain, he could still persevere.”


What impact does culture have on the effectiveness of a coaching relationship? Is an internal coach more impactful as compared to an external coach?


I believe that there are a lot of great coaching cultures and my experience says that you can utilise internal cultures with high potentials and emerging leaders. There are multiple examples of companies with a great coaching culture. FedEx and Ford for instance, are large organisations with great coaching cultures. In India, Cognisant has an outstanding coaching culture. There are many internal coaches are best deployed at lower levels. However, when you come to the senior level, a lot of times you are dealing with questions about confidentiality. You will not have a senior executive working with an internal coach owing to the perception that he or she is not going to be as good as hiring someone like me, and, second, is the executive’s feeling that he cannot share his soul with this person. An internal coach can be more effective than an external coach, but a lot depends on the level the person is deployed at. Typically, you want to measure improvements, and, in order to do so, you have to involve stakeholders, and, the limiting factor is that the stakeholders do not wish to work with the coach. However, the issue of objectivity and confidentiality will always hold back internal coaches.


Coaching has often been referred as an art as well as a science. With its growing popularity what according to you are the top three skills required to be a great coach?


Firstly, you have to think like a doctor, and, so, prescription before diagnosis is a malpractice. Most coaches do not do due diligence, do not utilise assessments that calibrate and measure the soul and the outer core by which I mean the behavioural skills. So, we have a lot of coaches who are engaged in malpractice by virtue of the fact that they do not due diligence on measurement. For instance, I have the background of being an Industrial and Organisational (I/O) Psychologist, and I, therefore believe in measurement and calibration. For instance, how are going to make a prescription in partnership with your client that is going to leverage to guess and address their gaps unless you can actually isolate what they are. Secondly, there is a science to the interplay between objective data and subjective data, and, there are a lot of coaches who simply look at subjective data. I practice and teach coaches to study the interplay between the two types of data, and, this helps them in their partnership with the client. And, the better you are able to do this, the better coach you become. Thus, coaching is an art as well as a science. Thirdly, you have to measure your impact, and most coaches actually measure Return on Investment. For instance, Cognisant has hired me multiple times because we have been able to show that we have moved the needle. So, the three aspects that make you if not a great coach, but certainly a better coach are Measurement, Interplay and Return on Investment.


Nature V/s Nurture has always remained as a perennial debate for leadership skills. According to you, can leadership be developed in people, or is it an inborn trait?


I would not be doing what I do if I believed that leadership cannot be developed. However, there are certain children who show a predisposition from a DNA standpoint to lead. For instance, there are some people born with the DNA to be professional athletes. The same thing applies to leadership. But, there are people who have the DNA to be athletes or leaders but do not cultivate it. And, regardless of the DNA, we all can be better people. And, I see leadership as an opportunity to touch hearts, minds and souls. Even at home you do not have to be a leader to touch hearts, minds and souls, you only have to be a good person.


While coaching leaders, do you come across some cognitive biases that they possess and is coaching a powerful tool to get rid of the cognitive biases engrained in our minds?


Yes. There is a continuum of the optimal algorithm which begins to control our emotions, emotions control behaviour, and, behaviour controls results. When this algorithm is operating, and someone says I can, I will, I must that generates good emotions, good behaviour and good results, which is a good behavioral sign. When it comes to bad behaviour, it is something that happens naturally. Bad behaviour is a result of a predictive mechanism possibly due to faulty thinking patterns, faulty emotional makeup etc. So, when I have to approach a decision maker or a strategic thinker and I feel that he is not optimal, I try to find out what mechanisms are causing bad behaviour since you can always trace it back to their mental framework. So, ultimately, if the coaching is not yielding results that they deserve, then all we need to do is tweak and adjust how they think about things, their emotional makeup etc. Basically, anybody who is not optimal, you as a coach hope to ignite a pattern, and the pattern should be one that is seen by the coachee as yielding better results. For instance, when it is seen that coaching is not yielding results, then we say let us talk about a compelling alternative, the patterns that help to create that compelling vision and this basically is what coaching is all about.


Some of the tools used in coaching rely heavily on visualization of success and future or the roadmap, what strategies should a coach use to help such clients?


This is something that I discovered only about two and a half years ago. Coaching is more about creating a prescription in partnership with the executive, conversations that shrinks and addresses the gaps. However, if this prescription is not embraced but is rather seen as an intellectual exercise, then the coaching effort results in a big failure. So, the key is to connect the executive with something bigger. So, it is important to get them to think about the big questions. This is an important strategy because most of the executives have never visited questions as to what their legacy is and on their existence. Such massive questions always invite vulnerability and doubt in the minds of the executive. So, if it is important bring up the cue at the right time because when the executives deal with the corporate business, they look at creating the prescription as an avenue to creating a compelling individual. Therefore, the timing to enable a leader to go very deep to mark the purpose is very critical. If you introduce the process at the wrong time, then you lose your credibility as a coach.


In Quotes “Coaching is more about creating a prescription in partnership with the executive, conversations that shrinks and addresses the gaps. However, if this prescription is not embraced but is rather seen as an intellectual exercise, then the coaching effort results in a big failure.”


Have you had clients who are a visitor or a complainer and how does the coaching strategy change to handle them vis-a vis an engaged coachee?


I came across few instances wherein I realized that the executives I was working with were not coachable, and, it is important for the executive to have the mindset that I want to get better. Nowadays, we do our due diligence before we take on any CEO. For instance, I work with only CEOs or Government leaders and I have to ensure that the person is really passionate to be a visitor since these are people who are highly successful. Complaining is often around not wanting to go to where you wanted to go. Therefore, it is important for a coach to not force vulnerability, and, your process must be one that invites vulnerability gradually.  The key is when they get down to the point where they see the decision to be vulnerable which is not weak but courageous. And, they start learn that their position in being vulnerable is the key to their growth. For instance, children realise that being vulnerable is the ignitor to be open, and that is the key. So, while I have come across executives who were complaining or resisting, it is important to have a process that is truly powerful and gradually exposes them to the power of vulnerability.


In the wake of your vast experience to coaching leading executives in India as well as those in the rest of the globe. What are your observations on the leadership prevalent in the Indian Corporate scenario?


I believe that the people of India are deeply spiritual and I am very moved by the openness to go very deep into the inner core which is the key towards the growth of leadership. I remain very impressed with the executives from India whom I have coached because we have seen the connect spiritually. And, I am very positive with respect to where the leadership is going in this country primarily because the inner core is well understood and this is sufficient potential for a robust future for the businesses in India. I would also add that coaching as an industry is experiencing significant growth in the country.


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