The Power of Self-Awareness: The Most Important Lesson My Coach Taught Me

I’m your typical Type A personality. Driven, focused and setting deadlines to yesterday. Very reactive, I would often shoot first and then realise I had just shot the messenger.

If something had to be done, it had to be done now! Everything had to get done now!!!

In my mind I was high energy, passionate, driven….. a doer. But then in a chance meeting in 2014 I was introduced to, Pratap Nambiar, an Executive Coach, who within one meeting told me,  ‘Shailja you’re like Arjun (from the Mahabharata), you’re talented but deeply conflicted and you need to find your Krishna, someone to steer the chariot of your ambition’.

My first reaction was, ‘Seriously! Who does this guy think he is?’ The know- it- all, successful entrepreneur in me didn’t want to acknowledge that I was anything but perfect.

Three months and a few setbacks later I was sitting in front of Pratap, a willing student, wanting to know if he would coach me. It was funny how through the process of “recruiting” a coach, I actually found myself, found my purpose in life.

“The purpose of your life is to live a life of purpose”

Within the first few months of coaching me, Pratap made me see the other side of the coin, the woman in the mirror. Yes I was driven, energetic and ambitious, but I was also reactive, impatient and too transactional.

I’m in the Executive Search business, which in the last few years has seen a fair share of candidates dropping out at the last minute, creating terrible stress within the clients’ organizations and understandably at our firm. In these situations I was like a loose cannon. Shoot the messenger, and his best friend, and the guy who sits next to him and just anyone who would be in my line of fire. Blame, Aim and Shoot!

When I would discuss these situations with Pratap, instead of empathizing with my plight, he would ask me, “Shailja, what do you want?” The first time he asked me this, I said I want to throttle the candidate and the consultant who worked on the mandate.  He asked me “What would that achieve?” and I would promptly respond “it’s the right thing to do, and it would make all the parties left holding the short end of the stick, happy”. I remember Pratap asking me again and again “what do you really want out of this situation?” After a lot of prompting, goading I was finally able to tell him, I want a client who is happy with our work, to close the mandate!” And then he explained, why it’s important to focus on the outcome and not on the situation. Simple advice, I had heard it in programs, read it in Steven Covey’s book, but it changed my outlook to my work, and yes two years later and an enviable NPS score of 4.5 later, a brilliant appraisal by my team later, I know it’s the greatest lesson I have learnt from him.

“Focus on what you want and not on how you feel”

He explained how focusing on the outcome requires stillness of the mind, clarity of thought, of vision. He explained how the energy within my ”ocean of thoughts” needed to be calmed. No more waxing and waning in an emotional tide. I remember him saying “you need to be calm, like still waters, think deep”.

It is the wisdom of saints, philosophers, the Gita …. It really is so simple.

“Don’t be situation driven. Be outcome driven.”

I’ll draw another analogy and every Indian who drives would really relate to this. You need to keep your eyes on the road and keep driving, you have an important meeting to get to. If you start fretting about every red light or pothole or every poor driver with no sense of space or direction and…but you will immediately digress. Point is, you say I can’t afford to forget my destination because the immediate traffic situation is bad. I have to get to my meeting. And all too often, you get so caught up with the unpleasantness of what is happening; you lose focus and more often than not, your temper. You arrive to the meeting unsettled and upset. Its hard to calm down. What if you realise you’re getting late, accept that the traffic situation is beyond your control, message your host a warm and heartfelt apology and focus on rehearsing your winning strategy in the meeting. I can guarantee a better outcome, because of a better frame of mind.

And thus as an outcome of my Coach’s brilliant direction, I changed myself. Not surprisingly the change reflected in my organisation’s top line, significantly. It’s very important to realise that the CEO’s belief system translates into behaviours and  thus outcomes that replicate themselves in an organisation. They determine the company’s culture. By constantly reacting to current situations, everyone’s stuck, putting out fires. By working towards the final outcome (profits, quality, customer satisfaction) the situations inevitably end up taking care of themselves. Ask anyone at Stellar Search and they will swear by this.

So this one’s for you, Pratap! Thank you for the brilliant outcome!


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