Coaching for Leadership

Ram Ramanathan  •  Apr 11, 2014  •  3 min read

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Coaching for Leadership

A few months ago in Bangalore, I spoke to a class of graduate management students on corporate leadership. Rather than listing desired qualities in leaders, I asked the class to nominate leaders they respected. The minimum number of sponsors for each nomination was 10 in a class of 60.

A number of names came up. Predictable ones were those of Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and a few Indian political leaders. Then came up a name that was a surprise to me. Hitler. Ten young men and women seriously raised their hands to support the candidature. Mother Theresa’s name too came up.

The list ended at eight. I asked the class whether anyone knew about an individual who used to be called the Father of the Indian Nation. One girl tentatively offered, Gandhi? When I answered yes, the boy who proposed Hitler said dismissively, “Gandhi is no longer relevant.”

I asked him why Hitler was relevant. He said Hitler was decisive and took action. I asked him what else he knew of Hitler. “Nothing else,” he responded.

A month after this experience, I attended a conference comprising over a hundred senior managers, mainly HR professionals, from leading Indian corporations, several of them multinationals. In one of the breakout sessions, the topic explored qualities expected in global and Indian leaders by 2020.
The top five qualities listed in order were: Awareness of self and others; spirituality, meaning placing others before self; holistic and universal meta vision; emotional intelligence comprising self and social management and alignment with the needs of followers.

The first viewpoint shocked me. The second amazed me.

When a younger generation of students remembers a dictator responsible for the genocide of millions as a leader, while dismissing a change agent who brought freedom to his country, I believe that the entire system of parents and teachers is responsible for gross non-performance. The value system the millennials in my class imbibed was not accidental. Their own role models influenced them.

Yet, a mix of generations, some not much older, of Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers came up with a list of leadership qualities, not one of them relating to corporate performance. This list reminded me of the Level 5 leadership qualities outlined by Jim Collins. These were far removed from the prevalent list of leadership qualities dished out by some management gurus.  In terms of managing change, diversity and future, these are qualities I believe every manager ought to have to succeed.

How is a leader then different from a manager? Peter Drucker has touched upon this question, which many have asked. Leaders lead with energy, not merely with the mind. They lead by example, through metaphors and through meta vision that transcends limiting goals. Leaders are spiritual.

Coaching for leadership is not coaching for performance. Models such as 70:20:10 while effective are about performance, not leadership. When we look at leaders in the corporate arena, we seem to accept standards far lower than what we expect leaders in the political space to embody. A celebrated corporate CEO being environmentally insensitive may still be acceptable if the company is delivering better than expected quarterly results. This may not be accepted in a political leader. Why?

A few far-sighted companies are already incorporating sustainability as a corporate objective and leadership competence. This includes ecological and social sustainability, in which the companies accept every human being on this planet as a stakeholder. This requires awareness, spirituality, emotional intelligence, and alignment with followers with a meta vision. We as coaches need to look ahead.

Ram Ramanathan


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.


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