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Case Study: A Coach Or A Manager

“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option” — Mark Twain

Malhar Gokhale was hassled. He had been looking to change his place of work due to an unpleasant episode with his super boss, but when the HR at new organisations confronted him with ‘reasons for leaving’, Malhar came a cropper. He could not bring himself to say that he did not like the language culture at Photogen where he was training. What if they thought that he was weak-kneed with a need for politeness? After all, the corporate world, he was being told, was rough, and rudeness was par for the course. Would they think him unfit, therefore?

In fact, that was exactly what happened when he approached his cousin, Shrikanth, for help with finding him a break. “Bhau, if you can help me meet some folk in industry then…”

Shrikant: Don’t be a baby. This is life. Bad language is not really bad language, it is just expression. People get stressed out, they say words; how can you want to quit over that?

Malhar: Bhau, stress I understand. But those words they use also have meaning and they are not nice. Why should man resort to cuss words when there are many legitimate angry words in the dictionary?

Shrikant: You will get used to it. Haven’t you heard Uncle Shashi, Tanmay foul up on busy streets? Hota hai! They don’t become bad people!

Malhar: It is just that I have a viewpoint and that viewpoint says we need to be respectful.

While the super boss, Taarika Sen had forgotten all about it, Malhar had not been able to. He discussed it several times with Redwing, his online buddy and alongside he had been working on the exploratory study, that Fr Bonaventure had suggested, to examine what caused people to drop their goodness and resort to rude talk; under what circumstances did the intellect fail to be the guide and allowed the ego to take charge? Fr Bon was of the view that this exercise in thought-exploration would be a great lesson for the growing Malhar.

Malhar was surprised that the chic corporate folk he saw, looking smart, intelligent, efficient, the folk he was pointed out and told, that is our banker, that neighbour who drives the Honda City, he makes toothpastes, etc., that these were not happy people. He had told Fr Bon, his basketball coach at his school (who he preferred sitting and talking with), “If they were happy they would not be angry and using bad language….”

Fr Bon: Sometimes it is even style… attitude, posturing…

This was beyond Malhar’s comprehension. But style brought to mind the ongoing controversy he was reading about in the papers, that Anil Kumble had resigned as coach of the Indian cricket team, also because Captain Kohli had “reservations” with his style. One newspaper had said that “Anil Kumble treated players like school kids” . This had surprised Malhar. News reports were often difficult to pierce and probe. They talked about ‘sharp differences’ and especially the idea that the team was admonished when they lost the ICC Champions trophy.

Malhar: Father, they are professionals, they know when they have lost. Why admonish? Isn’t there a polite way to have a dialogue? When a coach talks down or is seen as talking down, what does it assume? That the coach does not trust the team’s basic intelligence, skill, training, knowledge?
Fr Bon: I have been reading that news too. Kohli, they say, as captain is very possessive about his team and apparently did not like the manner in which the team were admonished. Yet as a teacher I have seen that students obey teachers as authority, but could well disobey their parents. The respect quotient is seen to play out differently for teachers and parents.

Malhar: But on the court, Father, we have all been dressed down by you, ha ha ha! I think a game is a different emotion…

Malhar had also read that, some decisions Kohli had made as the game began, was not acceptable to the coach. He asked now, “Tell me, Father, school teams are younger students. So, we all look up to you, obey you. But when you take professional teams like the ICT, who owns responsibility for team performance? I thought it was always the captain, that is why so much goes into choosing who the captain should be. Then, what is the role of a coach? Isn’t there a conflict?

Fr Bon: These are mostly grey areas. For this, we need to examine how closely the captain works with his team, bonds with them, deals with them. There is even an emotional coming together… Yet when we see a parent-child-teacher relationship, often teachers are logical with a student when he fares poorly in an exam, there is a distancing, a suggestion for better performance. Whereas a parent can blow a fuse.

Malhar:  So, what does the relationship assume?

Fr Bon: Both captain and coach want victory, but somewhere coach feels responsible; whereas the captain watches all elements of the game and believes in game dynamics…

Malhar: What is your feeling, Father?

Fr Bon:  You want to know? I have only one point to make. The best school teacher wasn’t necessarily the one who taught more or well. It is usually one who engages well with the students, who the students like going to, who the students respect. This ‘respect’ is a huge one.

I don’t know about Kumble, but a coach needs to understand what coaching means, there is a lot to it. Does coaching entail only skilling the player? I think not. They are already skilled that is why they are in the team. Skill is not just where leather meets the willow. It verily begins at the mind level. Does he know how to deal with the human mind, with personality, with behaviour? Use that to win victories? Performances?

Fr Bon was contemplative. The coach had failed to be accepted by the team. It is not the team’s responsibility to accept the coach, he thought. Taarika’s role was verily that of a coach and she had failed to get herself accepted. She had failed Malhar. And the larger organisation? He could not tell, for he knew not how Photogen worked. Did they watch out for drawn faces? For crushed spirits? A manager was a coach too. Now wasn’t she? A teacher knew her subject matter, but if she did not guide the student to see the teaching, the lesson would not take place. Did that not go for a manager too?

Fr Bon: Coaching, Malhar, is a fine role. You respect the player, the person being coached and you feel a certain love as a result, which drives you to coach with a view to power that player. If you don’t like the player, coaching cannot take place. Reciprocally, the player /coachee has to feel respect for the coach. If you don’t like anything about the coach, you are not going to be able to receive his coaching. You will forever be gritting teeth. If you reject a coach, you are actually rejecting the person. The rest does not matter.

then, looking at Malhar, he said, “Now, run along, or you will be late for work. And I have assembly in 15 minutes!” And they went their ways.

But Fr Bon replayed the thoughts in his mind. Does not the coach exact performance? Yet, who has a greater ownership for outcome? The one who takes the greater ownership is typically the captain... he leads, now, does he not? Did he, Fr Bon, as a coach experience failure when a team failed?

Fr Bon was struck, for the first time. Malhar had raised a serious issue… But Fr Bon was a teacher and a coach and his students went out into the world to work and earn. If, like Malhar, they were to encounter unpleasantness, was there something he was missing? His role as teacher, coach and school counsellor needed review…

That day, Fr Bon wrote to three of his ex-students Raghav Nayyar (an HR head), Samarth Guha (a business leader) and Aaftab Naqvi, a trainer. “Please make it possible to meet me together, your thoughts will inspire the teacher in me,” he e-mailed.

Aaftab and Samarth had been in school the same year but Raghav was older by four years. But they were all basketball players and they had played in the school team.

Fr Bon told them the story of Malhar and said, “It was his first experience of the world outside. He was taken aback. I told him to explore the lady boss’ manner, to understand for himself what ticks off people. I understand that life in the world outside is full of stresses and people are unable to restrain themselves from anger and annoyance. But I did think leadership was called so, because it knows how to gather all this in. Hence, I am talking about leadership and the art of communication. Or communication and the art of leadership.

“I recall being a young entrant at work and making so many mistakes and my boss would be upset no doubt but he did not demean me. He would say, “Please sit with your work and examine it with the intention of finding out how the mistake happened”. For me, with small beginnings, small school and neighbourhood, where you got rapped badly on your knuckles for errors, it was gripping to hear my boss talk with respect.

“Leaders have a way of engaging and enabling and moving people forward. We read about it so much and surely this does not happen overnight. It is a slow build-up of good conduct, good treatment, good words, good icons, good examples….and then one day you see you have built good people around you.

“Uniquely, the young boy I mention, let’s call him M, brought up the Kohli-Kumble face-off and asked me: “Who takes ownership for performance: captain or coach?” And he asked me another question which made me think of my own role as a coach: “If Kohli wants to be free to ‘play the game’ then, why have a captain at all? What does a captain do for the team?” And “if the role of the coach is to only help players focus on the game and not on the team then, who is taking ownership for the team and performance?”

Raghav: That is amazing perception!

Fr Bon: So, I ask you, gentlemen, in an organisation, who takes ownership for performance, CEO or individual managers? I mean to know, not ask. I want to understand whose duties these are. Yet you may like to look at the Indian Cricket Team’s dilemma today and tell me, is this a decision that falls in the turf of the CEO of the team, or the advisor? Is the coach also an advisor or a physical fitness enabling coach? A coach who ensures the game is played better and better…? In the context of the workplace, does the CEO monitor smaller manager behaviours in the total play of corporate success, or does he just take them along and leave it to their individual skillsets to deliver results according to a plan? Which means, the individual behaviours are left to 360-degree evaluations to filter but the CEO will focus on corporate goals? If yes, then who worries about how people behave?

But there is this whole issue that emerges: Why are people not civil to each other in the workplace? Especially to the newcomers? Why not? Have you seen how we handle newcomer at school even if he is entering Class XI? We believe that humans learn by observation a lot more and we advise families likewise. Do organisations practise restraint, respect...? Do they believe that they play a key role in building employees into great stakeholders for tomorrow?
Samarth: Let me take that, Father.

There is an unwritten code of conduct of being civilised and gentle to colleagues – senior, peer or juniors, be it in a family-owned firm, MNC, Indian businesses, etc. The code of conduct is especially strong in dealing with women employees due to sexual harassment cases.

Ever since you briefed me three days ago, I spoke to some of my clients, preparatory to this meeting – and they all said, across the board, that there could be individuals who are very rough in their behaviour. That they are aware, they do notice, but sometimes they ignore. But the rare occasions when they do pull up the errant manager, they do so without making it ‘official’ and without using strong words, lest the fellow leave!

Fr Bon: Oh? So, the organisation tolerates them?

Samarth: They are tolerated for two reasons: These errant managers have very tough interfaces with external business partners or internal teams. Cases in point: delivery teams in logistics companies; service franchisees; field sales team in very competitive markets, security organisations. This is a very x-type command and control, all stick no carrot style of management. And the belief is that this is what keeps the fires burning.

The second: They deliver results. I have personally known of a team leader who insulted a team player in words so strong, so harsh, in the context of the a manager's bad health, that it left the manager in tears. But the MNC did not take the team leader to task for fear of losing results! The language, tone and manner all manifest due to the beliefs and attitude. What also happens is that when such a leader is callous and without a learned leadership style or has inherited a leadership style owing to family wealth, then he comes to believe that it is his style that makes the business robust. As a result, his cronies practice the same callous, abrasive, insensitive style in dealing with others, for they come to see themselves as a part of that errant leader.

The truth is, there is a wide spectrum of organisation culture from genteel, suave, civilised and democratic to boorish and totally uncharitable. Sad to say that many traditional owner-driven companies fall into the second category.

Aaftab: Correct. I have had some experience with owner-managed companies and they have manifested startling behaviours that are worthy of severe censorship. A particular one I worked with used terribly uncivil language in their meetings with senior managers. Their demeanour and behaviour also lacked any civility. Of course, they all wore the best suits the world has to offer, but that did not help for there has been large scale departures from all their companies. Those who stayed back, mimicked the culture and made the rest suffer. Exactly as Samarth describes.

Samarth: The funny thing is, when people quit, leaders don’t stop to think if that reflects on them, hence the management practices. Both owner led and management led companies alike. Probably because of their false belief in rude behaviours, where the faith in owned-funds clouds the need for softer practices.

Professionally-managed companies may remain in denial for a while unwilling to let the errant manager go, but soon the system ejects him as loss of people also reflects on performance, which financial institutions and shareholders watch keenly and question.

fr bon was now really disturbed as he looked at Raghav who was nodding slowly.

Raghav: Many CEOs and CEO-run companies, both in professionally-managed and owner-managed companies, operate with the belief that ‘winning’ is everything. All else is secondary.

In many of these organisations the pressure of succeeding, delivering on financials and enhancing wealth quickly, creates enormous stress. Particularly startups that are scaling up in astronomical proportions. The fact of a very young Mark Zuckerberg making his millions has set the pace for everyone to only spotlight MZ’s millions but sadly his enterprise, his intelligence, his hardwork, is not apparent to these money gazers.

The financial rewards of success are enormous no doubt, and the focus is on deliverables. But look closely and what do you see? Many of the founders do not have any formal training in leadership, managing human capital and resources,  or dealing with conflicts and disappointments; managing relationships is not even a known element for they do not think of relationships. Driven by hedonistic pleasures of personal lifestyle and conspicuous consumption these cultures despise any sign of nicety and decency.

Aaftab: Absolutely! Uber’s recently fallen CEO, Travis Kalanick, is barely 40 and worth $6.3 billion. Travis, in a way, defines the perception of success. Given the intense competition, perform-or-perish culture that exist in many industry verticals, the organisation culture more often than not, reflects that reality. So, in fact, they blame Travis for Uber’s toxic corporate culture and now efforts are afoot to rehash how the company defines itself and its conduct!

Fr Bon: But is there not a thought about management versus leadership versus guide and coach? Do organisations think all training happens within the HR conference rooms? Do they not believe that every manager is a trainer himself? The lady boss, for instance, may be good with her functional management space and even achieves what her goals are. But is there not added to her role that of leading others along with whom she collaborates for achieving her results? If she is seen as merely achiever, then ruthlessness will be the way of managing, if you can call it that! So, she will instruct, throw out orders, dictate, breathe over shoulders – why, she just glanced at the clock when M reached work late. This is so matronly, authoritative body language. Whatever happened to good old cheerfulness and respect?

Patricia Williams who had just joined in on request, said, “So the kind of boorish behaviour that our young student-intern faced, is the way of life in these organisations, I see!

Samarth: That is so; all symptoms point to that. Sadly in the chase for success, we have forgotten that most successes of the past, and enduring successes at that, like Infosys, Unilever, ITC, Wipro, Marico, etc., were born on the foundation of genteel folk like T. Thomas, Murthy, Nilekani, Premji…. These men led by example and it was evident that brilliance was born when good breeding met integrity and hardwork.

Fr Bon: Well said! Bravo!

Also read case analysis: Preeti Sawhney | Subhabrata Ghosh

To be continued...


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