The essence of executive coaching: The mental side of coaching

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In my last blog I had talked about how great coaches help you move from “Good to great” by at times not helping you and letting you fail. With each failure you learn something about yourself, about how you react in a given situation and then learn to deal with all the issues which caused you to fail. In the last blog I had also introduced the “Inner game of Tennis” as a must read for all coaches and clients.

The inner game of tennis talks about the fact that we are dealing with two opponents at the same time, the one who is against us, and the second our own mind and its limiting beliefs. In a business situation, the same analogy can be used to talk about the business environment and the challenges posed by it as one of the opponents and the second opponent being inside your own head, your imagined constraints and limiting beliefs.

In this blog, I am going to address the mental part of the coaching process in a little more detail. As I mentioned in my last blog, the coach does not coach you in the specific business scenario, he/she coaches you in the art of winning. A great coach will work with you to make you able and willing to win against all odds. So how does the coach do that?

A good coach does that by putting you face to face with your worst fears and apprehensions, and then letting you deal with them while creating a safe environment for you. The coach guides you through the process of making sense of these fears and apprehensions and then letting you discover your own innate strengths to deal with them one by one. With each small victory the coach would subtly reduce the support being provided by him/her so that you are much stronger and able to deal with the next challenge in a more appropriate manner.

Great coaches work extensively on the mental aspect of coaching with the client, constantly challenging the client to imagine a world beyond the self imposed constraints. A great coach would constantly question staying in one’s comfort zone and push the client to take more and more risks to achieve the desired goals. They would then help the client discover support systems and processes which would enable the client to deal with the future challenging situations without the coach.

Another aspect which a coach works on is to understand the client, his/her aspirations and his/her challenges. Most of us excel at what we love to do, and the coach has the job of uncovering what is it that the client is happy doing and how to use that part of the client to excel in the chosen goal.

Since my other two blogs on coaching have used examples from the world of tennis, it is appropriate that in this blog too, I use an example from tennis. Stan Wawrinka, who recently won the US open, was considered the ultimate underachiever, living in the shadow of his countryman, Roger Federer, arguably one of the most gifted tennis players ever. Till the age of 28, he had not been able to reach the semi final of a grand slam tournament in spite of his precocious talent. He then met the Swedish player, Magnus Norman who became his coach and worked on the mental side of Wawrinka’s game.

On his coaching relationship with Stan Wawrinka and Robin Soderling, who he coached earlier, Magnus Norman says

“I think maybe the main thing I changed about both Robin and Stan is the mental aspect. Robin was a guy who was wasting a lot of energy on things that were not about his tennis. It could be spectators or his opponent, could be the sun or the wind. And I think I did a good job with that. I think the same with Stan, who always has been a little bit nervous and a little bit soft when it came to tough matches.”

The results of that coaching relationship are showing great results. Wawrinka won his third grand slam by beating Novak Djokovic in the final of the US open. At 31 years and five months, he also became the oldest winner after Ken Rosewal. But that is not important, what is important that he has become possibly the best big match player in the world today. He has won the last 12 finals he has played in and has also won all the three grand slam finals he has reached. That, is an amazing statistic.

In the US open finals, he kept pointing to his head whenever he played a poor shot or a great shot. When asked about that particular gesture after the match he said that it was his way of clearing his mind, of telling himself that the game is played in the head- his own and his opponents. When we talk of support structures created by coaches, this, to me a great example. With the coach not present on court during the match, Wawrinka found a way of coaching himself at one of the greatest stages in his own business environment. From the coach’s perspective, another support structure possibly created for Wawrinka was of how to make him match ready. Wawrinka shared in the post match interview that he is always ready when he is happy on court and he possibly has another routine which acts as a support structure to make him happy on court.

From a client’s perspective, Wawrinka is possibly worthy of emulation in how we can could go about trying to gain excellence in our chosen field. The tattoo on his left hand is the quote of the famous Irish poet, Samuel Becket and it says

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”

Wawrinka says it helps him stay positive in face of failure and keeps him motivated to continue the struggle to reach his goals. Another possible example of support structure created through the coaching relationship.

Do let me know what you think of this blog and feel free to reach out to me in case you feel you need to know more on the process of executive coaching.

Rajiv is the principal consultant at R Square Consulting. Rajiv can be reached at for any query, discussion or professional requirements.

About R Square consulting: R Square consulting provides end to end services in the field of building leadership and managerial capability to include leadership development interventions based on a holistic blend of exploration, reflection, action learning, executive coaching, assessment centers and various Organizational development interventions.

R square consulting provides customised and holistic HR interventions for developing the human capital of an organization through:

Executive Coaching
Assessment and Development Centers
Organizational Development Interventions
Leadership and managerial development
Flexi HR support for SME

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