Coaching to Lead the Mind

It has been indisputable for quite some time that leaders ought to be coaches. They have to practice a management style which enables people to realize their true potential and optimize their capabilities.

There have been several approaches to coaching and mentoring however the often-encountered impediment is the consistency of the process. This aspect becomes even more pertinent when coaching is to be discussed within the context of the pandemic and the post pandemic world.

So, what can be the way forward when most developmental goals of leaders and individual potential appraisal of the employees have been hijacked by the firefighting situation created by the pandemic.

How can the leaders, coach and get coached in a manner which creates paradigm shifts in not just management styles but the very thought process to make those changes act like inherent and not acquired attributes of personalities.

Cognitive coaching or involving the mind and molding the thought process is a rather self-guided approach which relies on self-reflection and self-direction. This ensures that the process of learning keeps progressing in a continuous loop rather than have a beginning question and an end answer.

The ability to help others is a skill that needs to be learnt systematically because if we rely on that happening organically, the chances are the results might not be that encouraging for both coach and the coachee.

Positive coaching needs to be based on scientific principles and the neurosciences are the stream that can offer valuable insights into human mind and its learnability.

The new age coaching styles are embracing the discoveries of neurosciences to develop methodologies which are effective and can be sustained without the need of periodic external reinforcement. It makes this coaching approach rather effective and relevant for leaders who have to become agents of change and drive those changes within the organization.

It goes without saying that the pandemic has changed the businesses, work settings, leadership and management to an extent that evolution is not a matter of choice but necessity for survival.

Within the contexts of the new world, leaders need to not just direct changes but would have to motivate and inspire people around them to share the enthusiasm and the need for the change. But what if they fail to do so? In the present circumstances the resulting scenario may pose serious questions to sustainability of operations.

Psychology, neurosciences and even industry experts believe that change is difficult. It requires more than just a thought; the willingness cannot be awakened without training the mind to adapt to change.

Let’s explore this from the neuroscience perspective as that will shed better light on this proposition. If we look at the functioning of our brain, the basal ganglia is responsible for performing the routine work without conscious efforts through automatic transmission.

However, the conscious mind which creates working memory based on the prefrontal cortex is responsible for new learnings, has limited resources, gets tired easily and can store only a certain amount of information at any given time. A work that is performed everyday to become routine like is pushed back to the basal ganglia region to free up space for working memory.

Imagine moving to a different continent and learning to drive again. An activity part of one’s basal ganglia becomes a new skill to be picked up by the prefrontal context or the working memory and only after repeated practice will go back to its previous position.

So, how does coaching fit into all this?

Eugene Ionesco, a Romanian French playwright once states that, “It’s not the answer that enlightens but the question.” Cognitive approach to coaching follows a similar approach.

The quality of questions that one poses to the brain determines the quality of connections it makes affects the patterns and timings of the responses. Therefore, new questions means new connections and new learnings.

Attention to something new plays a critical role in even changing the physicality of the brain. Organizational theories like appreciative inquiry and behavioral event interviews or BEIs follow a similar pattern. Cognitive coaching takes it to the next level by arriving at tangible changes and visible results.

Another important aspect that cognitive coaching follows is the science of attention. Only when a coachee finds an information insightful the process of reflection and analysis takes place which ultimately provides a moment of epiphany or illumination which initiates the process of change in the thoughts.

The evidence of stages of this process can be easily documented by studying the facial reactions and body language of the coachee. From perplexed to pensive and finally the smile of catching a relevant thread leading to solution is all too evident to observe and establish the efficiency of the coaching approach.

Cognitive coaching is supposed to be wholistic in its approach, addressing and touching core ideas central to a person’s understanding of self and others. Philosophy, principles, ideas, ethics they all play an integral part in shaping the leadership and management styles and therefore addressing them effectively holds the key to turn leaders into capability builders too.

Former US President Barack Obama in his recent book “A Promised Land” elaborates on the perception and understanding of his idea of what America is. It translated into the manner he approached his leadership.

Apart from charisma and orating abilities what matters is owning up to every aspect of who you are as a person. As a political leader for Obama, it translated into embracing and acknowledging his mixed-race lineage and the racial tension plaguing American social and political life. For a leader in the corporate set up, it means embracing the not so great aspects of his/her own organization or teams, acknowledging the need for change and then working towards solutions.

Only an aware and mindful leader can take decisions which address long term goals while maximizing resources and, in the process, enable people to realize their individual potential and goals and coaching the mind of leaders ensures just that.

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