Lessons from Nature for a Nurturing Manager by Jayashree Kirtane
Nature and people are the two areas I immensely love being in the midst of. They inspire me in incredible ways and on innumerable aspects. One of those is that both nature and people are meant to grow, thrive and blossom. The question that often arises is do we want to just bloom or be the best bloom? Being the best bloom that we could be is a prerogative as well as a responsibility of each one of us. However, we often grapple with what it really means and how one could go about it—for ourselves and for people we care about, we work with.
This is a journey—a journey that can be cherished and often not done all alone. One needs to find a journey partner; and in some cases be the journey partner. One way could be finding a coach as a fellow journeyman and designing a learning alliance with him/her to accelerate this process while also making it more enjoyable. The beauty of coaching is that it is a two-way process. A coach cannot help but become a better individual himself while assisting the other in the same quest. It therefore is imperative for each of us to engage in coaching conversations either as a coachee, or as a coach, or both.
Organizations typically engage executive coaches to foster more blossomed leaders and better business results. While executive coaches are able to cultivate this with the wealth of their expertise, techniques, and experience; I’d like to share a secret with you today. Coaching conversations need not be limited to just coaches. Yes, it is possible to turn almost every conversation between two adults into a coaching conversation. We always encourage our coachees, typically mid to senior managers, to hold coaching conversations with their team members and the common response is, “Oh, but I am a manager and I don’t know the C of coaching. It must be difficult. I have never done it. How will I be able to coach?” and so on.
However, I strongly believe that it is actually quite ‘natural’ for all of us to engage in coaching conversations. We can take some of the best cues from nature for this. Here are my top three picks:
Own unique place:
Each element in nature has its own unique identity, place, and contribution and the same goes with people in an organization too. People are unique, people are different! They differ by their aspirations, abilities, strengths, limitations, challenges and responses.
And, a coach not only recognizes and respects this beauty of humankind manifested in different forms, but also helps the coachee celebrate his own uniqueness and find his own unique place. An innovative mind stuck in a repetitive task, a team member struggling with the agonizing decision of choosing between management and technical tracks, ground-breaking talent development suggestion by an otherwise average performance techie; a coach spots these as opportunities to help the coachee figure out his own way of contributing to the organization.
Just as rain-showers do not distinguish between a sophisticated, dainty daisy flower and a big stout banyan tree; a coach engages with all the coachees with the same enthusiasm, same respect and same love. You can practice the same while playing the role of a coach with your teams.
Marcus Buckingham says it beautifully, “The true genius of a great manager is his or her ability to individualize. A great manager is one who understands how to trip each person’s trigger.”
Progression and Transformation:
If we look around us, we find things changing in nature by the day, by the hour and by the minute. A tiny bud here and a new leaf there; the nest taking a shape twig by twig…
People too change incrementally all the time. A rare smile on the otherwise stressed face, a precious ray of optimism in the anxious conversation about an uncertain future, or one small courageous step towards the daunting goal; there is progression all along. A coach notices these changes, however miniscule, acknowledges them and builds on them. She even brings them to notice of the coachee because he himself may be unaware of those on many occasions.
While this slow yet continuous progress happens all the time, there is also an unfolding of exquisite moments of transformation. A plant bearing its first fruit, the first flight of a fledgling, and the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis are all such spectacles of transformation where the form changes and life changes forever.
Coaches are privileged to be part of and to some extent enablers of such transformational moments. Coach notices the inflection points in growth when a coachee’s beliefs change and usually for better. There is that one golden moment when the belief changes from“ I am not that great. How can I shoulder such a big responsibility!” to “Well. Let me take a shot at it. There is no harm in trying.” Coach helps the coachee build on such moments to make the magical transformation happen.
In the daily interactions with teams, as managers and leaders you are bound to observe many of those, if not all! By being a little mindful of and taking notice of even the small changes that are occurring, you can contribute by acknowledging these and bringing to the notice of team members so that they can build further on those and find their moments of small, continuous progress, inflection points as well as big transformations!
Here and Now:
Have you ever seen the sky lament days of abundant sunshine when it is pouring, or a flower that’s worrying about wilting the next day? Every moment each and everything in the nature is ‘here and now’, living fully in the moment, never burdened by either the past or the future. Each moment is intricately linked to the other on the thread of continuity and yet maintains its independent existence.
Similarly, in each coaching dialogue, a coach is in the current moment exactly this way- going with the coachee’s flow, completely immersed in the conversation without any judgment from the past or anxiety about future. Of course there are mental notes about the overarching goal, history of actions and habits of the mind of the coachee, yet the coach is present in the conversation with a fresh pair of eyes and a pair of brand new ears. Each interaction is delicately inert-connected and yet each response from the coach is in ‘here and now’.
This is nature’s way of ‘being’ and it is possible to replicate this while coaching your team members. Even if you are a seasoned manager and have been on a given project for a while, you still need to be in tune with what is happening in the current moment. Real-time responses are possible only if you are in that time! While there will always be overarching destinations, planned goals and business outcomes, one gets there better with living through many nows.
Like Emily Dickinson says, “Forever is composed of many nows”.
By virtue of your role as a manager, you are focused on tasks that lead to the desired business outcomes and you should be. In maintaining the razor sharp focus on the goal, you might be inclined to keep coaching conversations on the back burner, thinking that this is a lean period activity. On the contrary, practicing these coach qualities right in the middle of heavy-duty action is going to get your team to the goal faster and smoother.
Building stereotypes and devising an auto-response system appears a lot easier than appreciating diverse ideas, spotting those little changes in people and listening without prejudice. And hence, demonstrating a coach-mindset may seem like a lot of work in the beginning. Most successful manager coaches have expanded in their coach roles through coaching skills trainings. You may require initial support from your coach for uncovering the coach-mindset within you and putting it to practice. However, once coaching becomes a habit, rest assured, it will be effortless and so fulfilling, you will not want it any other way.
It may sound oxymoronic, but the evidence that coaching comes naturally to all of us is sprinkled all around. You don’t need to become a coach to be a coach to your team. You already are one!