Active listening is a key competency for a professional coach. It is equally important for a CEO to actively listen to his team. So, what is meant by active listening? What are the obstacles in developing this competency? What can one do to monitor the progress?
This article will give you the answers in a very simple and lucid way based on personal experience.
Being a CEO myself, before becoming a Coach, I could relate to the benefits very deeply.
Read, reflect and enjoy!
Just a few days before the lockdown, I was sitting in the coffee shop waiting for a client. I had reached early and was reading a book. Someone tapped on my shoulder and said “How are you, Sir? ”I turned around and saw Anuj standing there smiling broadly.
“Prem, meet my Coach, Pramod,” Anuj introduced me to his friend. He further added, “Prem, you know he changed my life?”. I smilingly retorted, “I hope it was for the better” and everyone laughed.
Anuj was my first coachee way back in 2010. I was meeting him after a gap of almost a year and was happy to catch up. With still some time before my client meeting, I asked them to join me for coffee. They happily agreed.
I was keen to listen about his progress. Instead, he was keen to share with his friend the coaching experience he had with me— How he had felt the pressure from his family members to take a back seat; what had stressed him out; the transformation he had witnessed within while going through coaching; and how it had helped him.
As an experienced coach, I actively listened to him and made some mental notes. After about 30 minutes, my client arrived, and we decided to continue our conversation another time.
Later in the evening, as I was recollecting my interaction with Anuj earlier in the day, I ended up reflecting on my own coaching journey. Anuj was my first client after completing my coaching certification from ICF and CFI. Since then, I have coached several executives and family business heads.
What has transformed in me in the journey from my ?rst hour of coaching to about 3,000 hours today —first client to now over 175 clients —from an ACC to an MCC credential with the ICF; from being CEO to now, CEO Coach. The stories are many and I realised that I would love to share my experiences with others.
How to go about it was the major question. I had not written anything in the past nor was I an accomplished storyteller, so how could I proceed?.
Let me begin with some baby steps and start from the beginning, that is, the first day I experienced a transformation within myself.
In 2008, when I told my Super Boss (AGP), who was also my mentor and guide, that I will not be continuing in the corporate role, from the day of my superannuation, he wanted to know why. I told him that I wanted to share my knowledge of almost forty years of corporate life with others who needed help.
His second question was “What will you do”? I told him I would think about it once I moved out of my current role. I had two years left before the move.
His response was “Don’t wait for that date.” He went on to say “I have watched you with people and you should become a coach.”
Back then, I used to associate coaches with sports or tutors who trained students for competitive examinations.
So, my obvious question was “What has coaching to do with this?” He asked me to google ‘executive coaching’ and check it out myself. I did just that, liked what I read and joined a certification course at Hong Kong. It was a new experience!
The first day, the facilitator, Belinda, talked about coaching and the ICF Core Competencies, which all professional coaches should have and use. It all looked quite simple to me. The next day, we were told about active listening. There was also a video to watch.
After that, we were asked to practise active listening. I was paired with a lady from Hong Kong and we were given a total time of 40 minutes (20 minutes each). This was our first coaching assignment. I asked the lady to coach me first thinking I’d gather some tips about what to do. At the end of the first session, the facilitator congratulated her for doing a good job.
Now it was my turn to coach her. I asked her what she would like to work on and she said she had been getting frequent back and neck pains, while working.
I smiled as I knew the solution and gave her a ten-minute ‘gyan’ (lecture) on Yoga, and even made her practise it. She looked happy. As the session concluded, I expectantly looked at the facilitator for a favourable comment. Her comment was “Pramod, you followed the 80:20 principle very well”. Before I could gloat, she added “But you were speaking for 80 per cent of the time and listening for only 20.”
This shook me. I was quite disappointed. She realised that and shared that many people have similar experiences when they start off.
That evening, sitting in my hotel room, reflecting on the episode and my other practice sessions, I realised that whenever I knew the solution of a problem, I became directive. However, in cases where I did not know the solution, I was a participative leader.
It was a big realisation for me and for the remaining six days I worked very diligently on all the competencies.
On the last day of the training, Belinda concluded that I had reached a 70:30 stage, where I listened for 70 per cent of the time. The comment made my day. I also felt that something had changed within me.
After returning from Hong Kong, I did some pro-bono coaching with my colleagues to test my newly- acquired coaching skills.
In my first session itself I was aware about the need to improve my active listening. Earlier, whenever someone spoke, my thoughts would already starting looking for the response I would give to him.
Now, I was paraphrasing, acknowledging, saying ‘OK’, etc. I was also listening from my heart. I was expressing my feeling whenever I saw any specific emotion on the coachee’s face. This helped me connect with the coachee and also showed my coaching presence. I started reflecting and keeping a score of how I was progressing on active listening.
I also realised that active listening in a confidential environment of coaching helps the coachee share his story very freely.
This is how my journey of becoming a CEO Coach and helping leaders to achieve their full potential started.
According to the Building Strong Coaching Cultures for the Future, a 2019 study from the International Coaching Federation and the Human Capital Institute (HCI), developing coaching skills in leaders is an ongoing process in organisations with strong coaching cultures.
If you need support with your organisation’s and leader’s coaching journey, do contact us at ICF and our team of volunteers in India will be happy to help.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching. Visit coachingfederation.org for more information.
In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.
The author, Pramod Gothi is a Master Certified Coach by International Coach Federation, with more than 3,000 coaching hours under his belt. He possesses an unrivaled depth and breadth of coaching experience and has worked with entrepreneurs, CXOs and top teams across a wide range of industries. Gothi has 38 years of corporate experience in leadership positions. His corporate experience and more than 10 years of coaching experience, allow him to have a highly empathetic and pragmatic approach to coaching. He is quick to connect with the client and client situations and has strong skills of active listening, probing, challenging and identifying the blind spots.