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Executive Coaching: Would woman executives get a career boost with it?

For the past few months I have been conducting research on executive coaching for women and some of the findings till date have been remarkable which I wish to share with you. Apart from the widely obtained mundane observations in coaching, some new insights I got about the functioning of women executives would certainly interest you. Though these findings are very peculiar to women executives, in my humble opinion,they are relevant for all managers irrespective of gender. Before actually coming to the topic, it won’t be out of place to note that while some of these observed phenomena arise out of age-old gender-specific traits, there are equally some other phenomena that arise simply due to the societal behaviour at large.

To start with, the executives of fair gender bring with them certain special and positive capabilities like say multi-tasking, a skill which women seem to have naturally. Ladies would be benefitted in asserting and applying it as their strength to boost their performance by handling several tasks easily. Stretching it a little ahead, occasionally it so happens that arguably owing to the natural tendency to never say no to any familial task, a woman manager gets into a trap of undertaking more and more tasks in the office in an unending spiral. It would be then pertinent to recall what Arundhati Bhattacharya, ex-chairperson of SBI, suggests, “Treating everything as top priority is draining and depleting; You don’t have to accept every assignment and agree with everyone.” After all, being able to prioritize what is important and what is not – either with or without help of an executive coach – is a prime skill for success.

Another inborn feminine characteristic that has probably been permeating down through generations for many females is putting career at a priority lower than that of domestic routines without critically comparing the two. Such a tendency then prompts to shun away new challenges because of more time devotion they demand, take a not-so-proactive stance, and as a result, lose the related opportunity. Why should it be so? Why women managers should not have aspiration to advance? In fact, some of them – take case of DebjaniGhosh, former MD (South Asia), Intel– who stands up straight to state with a conviction that ambition is not a bad word. One of the possible reasons behind this outlook tilting more toward household priorities could be the already daunting and hectic office schedule that has become a second nature for corporates. Yet the fact still remains that it is always possible to build your own coping system with the help of family and friends that would help face the challenge of time management in a better way. It has been vouched for by even extremely busy and exceptionally successful top bosses like Indra Nooyi of Pepsi. In the Indian context too, you will find similar examples, e.g. VijayalakshmiIyer who had been the chairman and managing director of Bank of India gratefully recognizes how her mother-in-law stepped in, guided and helped her for duties towards children. That may, by and by, help women executives to appreciate and acknowledge that sometimes they may be required to let-go on some family matters where some other family member may take lead and the lady may assume the role of a secondary team player, not of the boss. Moving ahead one more step, women are preparing to face another odd situation: Some have experienced a cold reception at home, when they returned from office after having earned extraordinary accolades like an impressive presentation sealing a business deal or coveted promotion. That is why AvaniDhavda, ex-CEO of Tata Starbucks, recalls her mother making it clear that irrespective of the role outside, on return to home she was just her parents’ daughter.

Let us talk about the male bias that is a sort of pain-in-the-neck. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, CMD of Biocon recalls one meeting where she was negotiating business terms with the suppliers who got so uncomfortable dealing with a woman that ultimately they asked if they could have a word with her manager. Not at all justifiable, but there are many such events even today when the male bias crops up and at times even results into male aggression. A woman manager in such cases generally maintains her poise so that she could handle it with resolute stand. An exemplary case in the point was Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook who made this point so cogently convincing during one of the events that a male CEO of a large corporation sharing the dais frankly expressed the regrets for being aggressive and bossy.
Busy in adeptly jugglingthe family and office, a working woman today must find out her own space and time for health, well-being and hobbies. Placing an emphasis on meditation needed for her soul and mind,Preetha Reddy,vice chairperson of Apollo Hospitals therefor says that her day is not over for her till she finds some time to connect with herself. And yes, a woman who works hard for her office must make it a point to celebrate her achievement, may be by purchasing a gift for self, tucking in a chocolate, buying a book or anything that is close to her heart. Why to be apologetic about womanhood? Why not accept the femininity with all glory and grace?With proper coaching, she will admit and accept that once in a while a bit of frustration may descend on her mind as an inevitable female trait, especially when some priorities toward children are missed in the wake of office exigencies. In such situations, a piece of advice from Oprah Winfrey would come handy: Relax; It’s going to be okay!

-Dr. Pramod Damle

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