Coaching Chronicles

Coaching Chronicles with Aneeta Madhok

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About Aneeta Madhok, PhD, PCC.

Aneeta has coached for over fifteen years, and professionally for the last seven years. With an emphasis in coaching for women in management boards, Aneeta also coaches CEO’s, senior executives, and professionals who face significant challenges navigating fast changing environments. Aneeta’s practice includes individual clients in several countries and varied professions. She is also a frequent speaker about and teacher of coaching skills around the country as well as a lead instructor for several workshops for the corporate. She partners with organizations in the design of coaching interventions to build internal leadership potential.

Aneeta’s competencies developed over 35 years of professional practice enable her to be a coach who touches and transforms lives and careers, and a trainer who actually transfers learning into the participants through proven methods and practices. A deep insight into people matters has resulted in high repeat demand for her personality profiling, coaching and skill building training services in the areas of emotional intelligence, performance management, and behavioural skills.

Prior to setting up Open Spaces Consulting, Aneeta was Dean – School of Business at NMIMS University and S.P. Jain Centre of Management in Dubai and Singapore. She has also had a long stint in HR with a large diversified group in North India and an FMCG major

She has conducted over 200 workshops and done over 300 hours of coaching with organizational leaders. She is accredited in the usage of The Leadership Circle, MBTI, FIRO-B, Thomas Profiling, Belbin Team Roles, SHRM Master Trainer and is ACC Accredited from International Coach Federation, and a Fellow of Sumedhas Academy for Human Context.

Aneeta is also an expert and insightful Tarot Cards reader with a wide clientele for The Tarot Connection in Dubai and India.

In Conversation with Dr. Aneeta Madhok

First of all, tell me about yourself, your professional journey and how you’re doing now?

Aneeta: Well, I’m an organizational psychologist, I got my graduation degree in psychology and my MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur and my PhD in Psychology researching aspects of Managerial Leadership. After working for seven years in the HR profession, I decided to go in for a short break in my career. And then during that break, I got my PhD in Psychology. So that’s why I consider myself more of a psychologist and an HR professional.

I spent a good 15 years in academics and now it’s about 12 years in independent consulting practice. Being from a psychology background, and always working with the human context, I found that people who are troubled always reach out to me. I offer them a space to talk and express themselves, clarify their own thinking and explore the unexplored. So, I always did many sessions and coaching conversations, some off the record and some professionally in a paid capacity for organizations. At that stage, I was calling them coaching sessions right from the late 1990’s onwards, although they were a mix of coaching, counselling and mentoring. The word “coaching” as we know today has a different meaning, that has emerged early in the new millennium. My journey with coaching began much before this new definition of coaching.

By 2010, I had designed and implemented coaching based organization development and leadership interventions of several client companies. That is the time I decided to make move away from bring a mainstream trainer and HR professional, to coaching on a full-time basis and it became a big part of my life. Looking at the way the profession was evolving, I decided to go for coach training and certification. After exploring the market, I opted for coach training with Erickson because something about the values and vibe of Milton Erickson, resonated with me. It was the first batch of Erickson coach training that I attended, about six or seven years ago. The first thing that struck me was that the evolving definition of the scope of coaching was somewhat different from what I was doing so far. Separating coaching from counselling was an immediate outcome. I started believing and operating completely from a coaching presence point of view, because I was now clear that I believed it was the only way to empower people, not by advising and giving solutions, but by enabling them to see the solutions within themselves.

When I was doing counselling in the past, when a client is emotionally turbulent, disturbed, cathartic, or in a bad place, the need was to empathize with them, to talk to them in a way that brings them back from the edge of the cliff and just takes care of the crisis in the moment. People can be suicidal, people can be having a meltdown, and at that time they don’t want the coach to ask, “What might you wish to do right now?” What is needed is just someone to hold their hand and walk with them compassionately and offer a shoulder to lean on and cry. The immediate need is management of the crisis. Once the crisis is over, I move into the coach position and invite them to explore their frame of mind and empower them to discover for themselves what their choices and options are, and where they are headed, and what they’d like, what kind of a life they’d like to make for themselves.

So, it’s been six or seven years since I’ve coached post qualification from Erickson. It’s been a great transformational journey for those whose lives I’ve touched. And there have been huge successes. And equally, there have been cases where we’ve not had success at all. And I do believe that the real solutions and transformations and insights come only through coaching.

Have you had any conflicts with going in the session and being present without any bias? How do you maintain that?

Aneeta: I think I was born with a special quality: There’s not a single judgmental bone in my body and soul. I find it very difficult to pass a judgment on another person and say what is good and what is bad about them. I just see the person as he is. While this works in coaching, in other spheres, sometimes it’s not a good thing to be non-judgmental. This is because at times, you have to make a decision one way or another and take one side of the story which is the “right” side. In my case, I tend to see things from all sides of the story. Each story has as many sides as there are players are in the story, and perhaps more. I tend to be able to step into the shoes of the other person and see things from that side. If there is another person in the situation, I see things from this side too. I tend to see all points of view as equally relevant. Hence, coaching without a bias comes naturally to me as I can completely empathise and understand the clients and meet them where they are in their journeys.

Yes, that is actually a plus point, because people take a lot of time to break that pattern. This habit of judging is something that is installed from childhood. To break out of that and become a person with a neutral attitude is another subject.

Aneeta: Just as I would not like to be judged, but understood by others, so also, I believe the coach in me would like to understand and not judge. When you judge, you don’t understand.

It must be really hectic. You know, for you back-to-back people coming to you.

Aneeta: I pace myself. I don’t do more than three coaching sessions a day. I have my morning routine – wake up, meditate, workout or exercise, manage the household, I get into the office after all my self-care is done by about 11 am. My first session is at 2: 30 and my second session is at 4:00. Two coaching sessions a day for 20 days a month. If there is a demand, I do one at 12:00 which means I have to rush a little. That way I get in a good number of sessions at an even pace. Eventually you get used to the routine, and on days when I have only one session, it seems like heaven has sent an opportunity to relax and take it easy and do other things

So, it’s like a daily routine now two coaching sessions and some work in between. Sometimes if the work is more then I might work late at night. I have had a maximum of 23-24 coaching clients at any given point in time. I do offer a coaching package for six months to my client with meetings twice a month. So that’s about 40-50 meetings a month, which is about two per working day. I think that is an even and a good pace.

How do you track the progress from the last meeting to the present meeting with clients?

Aneeta: Believe me, intrinsically, I’m not the kind of person who likes to schedule and plan. I like to go with the flow and take things as they come and not rush around stressing about what is to be done next. That is my innate preference. Having said that, that way of life did not work for me too well in today’s busy world. It was actually more stressful especially when deadlines happened, and sometimes I missed an appointment. I found that making a plan for the day and following it reduced the stress and got me on top of things. So, now I put it all in my diary. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I check is my diary. I don’t check my WhatsApp, I don’t check my Facebook, I check my diary so I am better prepared to meet the schedule for the day. By default, my diary gives me 10-minute advance information by way of an alert on my phone, laptop and wearable watch. So that’s how I know where to show up and when. I can’t keep it in my head. I know I’m the scheduler of the meeting. So I make sure it goes into my calendar.

It’s not only about tracking the appointments with clients, it’s also about tracking their coaching journeys. So, I make session notes for each client after each session. It only takes five minutes after the session to jot down a summary of what happened and what my thoughts were. And it takes five minutes before a session to go over the previous session notes, and reconnect to the client’s journey.

How has your PCC certification impacted your coaching practice?

Aneeta: Things changed quite dramatically after I got my PCC. There is an evolution. At the ACC level of coaching, it’s about visualising a solution and making an action plan to getting there. When you do PCC kind of coaching, it’s about how you show up and what is the next level of the client’s development. We move to a higher level of working. That’s is the evolution.

Do you think certification is important for someone to become a coach?

Aneeta: That’s a very tricky question. I think the education of what coaching is, is important. Before I got training from Erickson, what I was doing was a mix of counselling, coaching, mentoring. It is so important to know the difference so you know what you are doing with the client and not just giving advice, instruction, and pushing your meanings into the client. Staying in the coach position, I believe achieves true transformation. Right? I believe coaching is a better way than counselling.

Of course, only counselling works well in some circumstances and is even needed. Just because we have coaches, it does not mean that counselling is not good or should not be done. Counselling is a great way for clients to deal with emotional turbulence, and adjustments to relationships and environments around them. But in the final analysis coaching is a better way to deal with people who are capable of making decisions and choices for themselves and thinking about their own problems. So, I think education on what is coaching is important. And also experiencing the difference between what is a professionally trained coach and what is not a professionally trained coach is important, not just for the coach, but also for organizations.

The certification is, I think, an additional assurance to the client, who’s hiring you that they are getting the right person. Particularly if the coach is unknown to the client. Having a certified coach reduces the risk of coaching going wrong. For those who are early in their careers, certification helps get business because it adds to your credentials. Once you have established your reputation, you know you don’t get clients because of your certification, but because of the value you add and the contribution you make to client’s growth and transformation. As time goes along, you get business because of word-of-mouth publicity. So, certification helps to start your career but does not bring you success by itself.

There are many other benefits of certification, including being a part of a profession, learning and continuous professional development opportunities. Being a part of a larger game and a ripple effect that the profession brings to the world. Being a legitimate change-maker.

How you have transformed as a coach, and that’s all we want to know.

Aneeta: I truly believe there is a synchronicity in life. The universe brings you to situations which you are to learn from. So, the universe conspires to bring you to your own transformation.

How it manifests is like this: Most of clients would come to you with their issues. As a coach, I enable them to work with themselves and stay in coach presence. But there is a part of you that is, looking at them, whatever they are sharing, the powerful high-mileage questions come in your mind more intuitively and evocatively. When that happens, the questions are the ones that are right for your client. Synchronicity happens when you realize that the question you asked was a question that you too are confronting in your life. Because the question doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from inside you. When you finish your session, you realize that this was my question to myself. That’s the synchronicity when you realise, it’s not just my client’s issue, it’s my issue too.

So, the evocative process of asking powerful high-mileage questions, is an insight to you as much as it leads to your client to learn and create insights for themselves. You’re ready to realize certain insights for yourself as well. If you reflect on it, every coaching actually teaches you something you yourself were meant to learn. The coaching techniques, do’s and don’ts, issues and contexts, etc. used by you are only a part of the session. The bigger question is that the journey of yourself as a coach is intricately linked to the journey of your clients and there is a higher purpose in your working as a coach.

So, in the same moment when you are in the coaching conversation, and in the same moment sometimes a thought about your own self strikes you. Does that impact your next question? How can one not get lost in translation of that question?

Aneeta: Technically, as per the ICF competencies, that should not be the case. Because that means you’re losing your coach position. But we are human. We get ideas sometimes, go with the flow and express these sometimes. Your mind is also operating at many levels. And at one level you’re trying to not because they may prevent you from being there fully for your client. The challenge is to recognize it when it happens, and learn to draw your boundaries and then you try to put it to rest. One reason that many coaches meditate is to enable the mind to be still and focused.

Just to make yourself fully available is to just be with them and their journey. That is the intention to set. For some, it comes naturally, for others it has to be learned, but it is an essential quality of all coaches.

My understanding of coaching is very technical, there are techniques, there are certain boundaries and ethics to follow. So, does it prevent exploring the human side of the coach?

Aneeta: Yeah, sometimes it’s like that. About month ago, just as I was starting a session, there was some really good news that came to me in the moments I was logging into the session. That day, if the session was not happening, I would have been celebrating and joyful, but to be true to the session, I moved to being the coach and couldn’t do anything to celebrate that moment for myself.

On the other hand, you could have had a major argument with your spouse at home. And then you got to do that coaching session immediately thereafter. It’s difficult. So, you meditate for a bit and then you try to put that aside, but sometimes the argument that you have is still with you. It’s not often that this happens, but once in a while, it feels like you have to keep the show going. It is the power of commitment to the coaching and the client, that keeps you going in such moments.

One thing I sometimes do, you know, before we start the coaching, just to kind of connect with the client and share a little bit of what’s happening and what’s happening in my life. That helps get into the coaching role a bit easier.

There are short meditations that help you transition into the coaching session. So, when in need, draw upon such resources to help you get into the coaching position. You have to make sure you are taking care of yourself and offering them value. Try not to compel yourself to be in coach position, but to ease yourself and transition into it. It cannot be forced. You can’t say, “I’m going for a coaching session to keep on my coaching face.”

I had some conversations previously with other people who are into coaching and they used to totally talk that they are mindful. If they have to, they take a buffer and then they switch into the coaching mode. It makes me wonder how much is there scope for a coach to show his or her human side?

Aneeta: There is something called a coach position. You try to stay there. If anybody is telling you that they are 100% insulated, and compartmentalized it’s not so watertight. Nobody can claim that there is a perfect buffer zone you can create for yourself to be mindful. You do have methods and techniques to help you. I catch up on the moods of the client, to tune in sometimes. I do have some kind of propensity and this I noticed not just in coaching but otherwise not to carry residues from one situation into another. Let’s face reality. We try and it’s a journey for every coach. But no one is infallible. It’s about progress, not perfection.

So, when you coach, do you also share your experiences with the client?

I don’t normally share my experiences.

Sometimes the clients, you know, don’t understand what coaching ethics are and demand an input. They want some information from you, and they want some advice from you. They might pose a direct question: “What would you do if you were in my position?”

Once this guy was facing some tough negotiating situations at work. I was helping him explore the ways he will approach the negotiation table. “How will you line up your strategy? What kind of strategies?” All those powerful questions were getting him to do his own thinking and he was coming up against his own assumptions and self beliefs. He got pretty frustrated and said, “Madam, you are a management expert. You tell me.”

And then I said to him, “Okay, I will send you some reading references where you can get some ideas for negotiating tactics and skills.” It takes a while, the clients get it eventually and you get better at it.

They don’t understand what a coaching session can do and why. If you are present with them and meet them where they are, without losing the coach position, they appreciate. One client summed it up to me very nicely in her feedback to me after six months of coaching. She said to me, “Thank you for not giving me the answers to my problems, but helping me get to that point myself.” That was a beautiful tribute for me.

So, do you give your clients homework? And if you do, what are the types of homework you give them?

Aneeta: Yes, I call it homework, because I am a teacher. In reality, its inner work that they clients do, which help them embed the insights from the coaching session in real life. Let me share an example:

If a coach is struggling with a relationship with a superior in an organization and is kind of overwhelmed, because she’s been given too much work. To add to her anxiety, there are too many interruptions and perhaps others in the team are not taking their fair share of workload. This is a very common experience. So, some questions I ask them to enable them to explore a solution would be: “When you go and talk to your superiors about this, what would you say? How would you like to resolve this? Given the next occasion that you’re going to interact with your superior about your work, how would you approach this conversation? The client may come up with some approaches that might work in her situation. At that point, we gently advise them to experiment with their own new behaviour patterns on the job? So that’s when they get their “homework”.

Clients actually experiment with some of their newfound directions which came as insights in the coaching session. And then the next time when they come for their session, they debrief on what happened and what they learned and how they want to take it forward.

Suppose the client hasn’t given priority to the “homework”? Its not my experience alone, but the experience of other coaches as well. Clients may or may not give priority to their own intentions and insights

In the world of coaching, there’s a new term that I’m now learning, and that’s accountability coaching. The biggest problem we have is we can’t hold people accountable for change. I can’t hold that person accountable. You can’t say, “You said you would do this, and this was our action plan, and you didn’t do it. Why didn’t you do that?” To help the client with this, early on in the coaching process, we encourage them to identify a friend, colleague, mentor or significant other person who might act as an accountability partner. Someone they can have a weekly check-in call to discuss if they are on track and if not, what they would like to do about it.

A couple of my clients have taken up an accountability partner and it worked really well for both of them. I do believe that accountability coaching itself is going to create a big anchor for the coach and the client, in the journey of their life.

So when the next session comes in, the extent of “homework” definitely has to come up.

Since you asked what types of homework, it could be many different types. They might try a different approach to dealing with their superiors or peers or junior colleagues. They might commit to learning a new knowledge domain. They might commit to a new daily habit they might wish to inculcate. They might even decide to change the course of their professions or careers. They might commit to keeping some kind of a journal to help them observe their own behaviours. Sometimes it is a deeper reflection, kind of inner work. Deconstructing some of the myths that they may be thinking, or some assumptions that they came in confrontation with. “Why did I make this assumption? What was the genesis of this?” So it gets them to figure out for themselves what is in there. That triggers off that anger. So that comes through work or homework.

Please share a client transformation story that is very memorable to you.

Aneeta: Many, but to tell you one, which still sticks, and this was quite some years ago.

This was in a small town in this country, not a big town. She was married and her husband was a businessman and she had grown up children and working at a multinational company. She was so good at a job, she got an offer from the headquarters, which was in America to move and relocate to the US on a major global role. She was nominated by the company. And she didn’t know how to say yes to that, because that meant leaving her family and children. One of the decisions she took for herself was to turn down that offer. But during the coaching sessions she worked on a strategy to negotiate with the American counterparts to bring American business to India. I did that exercise which we do in coaching called values based self-image exercise. It was in that exercise that she envisioned herself doing the same role, but sitting in a different location. She didn’t want to let go of her dreams and ambitions. Then from there on, it was a matter of hammering out a success strategy for herself. So, she had to do it, she had to work out a full communication strategy which influencing strategy. And then internally, building the capabilities, strategies here and then over a period of years. That was one major transformation that happened. But then there’s so many every day.

I’m the last person to coach a person to run away from the realities. People, you know, reject certain realities that they’re facing, and seek an escape into something which was a dream at one point in time. That solution and goal needs to be something very concrete that person really wants to do and it can be realized.

Therapy and coaching are very different. So you belong to the field of psychology. How do you manage to stay in a practice such that they do not overlap?

Aneeta: Initially, it was a struggle to do that. But I saw the value of coaching, being much more in line with my own internal values. Frankly, even my counselling in the past had not been prescriptive. I saw it not working when I got into prescription mode. One person’s solutions don’t work for others. So, in the past, my counselling was more an invitation to a non-judgmental space for others, working with emotions and relationships.

I’m an organizational psychologist, I’m not a clinical psychologist. I’m an organizational psychologist with 40 years of practice. I learned a great deal about human behavior, in the world of psychology as a science. I can assess very well, when a client is suffering from some pathological disorder, anxiety and depression. I can see it in front of me, I can tell what’s happening, I can diagnose the situation. When I realize that a particular client is beyond my scope of practice, I refer them to other specialists. They’ve been umpteen cases where I’ve just recommended people to seek professional help from psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

You must have diverse clients. Do you think the coaching conversation needs to be different based on the age?

Aneeta: I think it’s only in our country, age seems to be a criteria. Once I was called in to coaching of senior executives of an organization, and they said, one of the reasons we’re calling was that you are the one coach, we found who is qualified and slightly older than most of us. In many countries it would amount to discrimination based on age.

Having said that, I would definitely like to point out that there are generational differences, which I can see very clearly. The Millennials, the Gen Z, and now the new youngsters from the Alfa Gen. I can see very clearly distinctive generational differences which necessitates coaching will be different.  Because the nature of the challenges are new with each coming generation.

Personally, for me, every situation is a new situation. Every client is a new client. Every time a client comes, it is a new situation. Each time I coach a new client, I meet them where they are. So that’s how I would prefer to coach people from different generations.

Being a coach, do you have a coaching philosophy that this is your own?

Aneeta: I have encapsulated my coaching philosophy into a model I have called The Coaching Tree. I use it when I’m talking to clients, because it helps them see the bigger picture and they know where we are going and what we are working with.

This model explains the process of coaching with an analogy of three parts of a tree. The Leaves, The Trunk, and the Roots.

  • The Leaves represent the surface level aspects of the issues we are coaching about: example, targets, skills, performance, leadership style.
  • The Trunk represents all the aspects of the client which support these goals: example, health and wellness, spiritual practice, relationships, emotional intelligence.
  • The Roots represent the deepest anchors of a person’s identity: example, self-concept, sense of purpose, values and beliefs, identity

Coaching needs to be undertaken on all these aspects to achieve transformation. You could begin with coaching for a simple competency or skill. The new competency cannot be learned unless we work on the trunk and the roots as well. So, my coaching philosophy is a holistic one.

But before going, would you like to share a message to all the coaching fraternity out there?

Aneeta: All coaches need to ask themselves, “Why I am a coach?” This is because many are in coaching for reasons unknown and they jump on to the coaching bandwagon. So, my message for all people is to find your purpose in life, and if coaching is your purpose in life, then certainly, it’s a very rewarding profession.

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