At the very outset, we would like to state that coaching is for the leaders, of the leaders, and by the leaders. The world is now on its way to accepting that the modern leader must also be a coach; for board meetings may be held in ‘war rooms’ but the army’s top-down hierarchical attitude is being shown the door amongst professional settings. Gone are the days when people would blindly follow commands because it came down from a superior. If you have a person or a team reporting to you, the responsibility falls upon you to play the role of a coach- listening intently to their words and letting them take the reins in their own hands; interfering only when the situation dictates that you do.

Years ago, executive coaching was stigmatised as “remedial help for underperformers.” More recently, it’s transformed into an elite, high-cost activity, often reserved for the highest-status executives. But in both cases — whether helping the worst or the best performers — executive coaching has been inherently small scale, due to its bespoke, one-on-one nature. Organisations have increasingly embraced the idea of internal leaders providing more coaching to their direct reports.

Technology is now making it possible for far greater numbers of employees to benefit from outside executive coaching at scale. At a basic level, platforms are making it easier to find and select a coach, to do long-distance coaching via video conferencing — or potentially even holoportation (directly beaming a person in 3D to another location) in the future — and to manage the administration involved. Do you get what we are hinting at? Why limit your company to internal coaches? Why not hire coaches from anywhere or hire top-level management executives from other esteemed organisations? Why can’t Mahindra employees be coached by the upper echelons of say, Pepsi management? Granted that the industries are different, but it will be a learning curve all the same!

Coaches are also using tech as a supplement to enable coaching conversations at a lower cost. Bots such as Pocket Confidant and People Squared allow people to ask questions, work on simulation challenges, and practice their skills in competitive games. Technology and AI permit this to happen anytime and anywhere. Some companies are encouraging their adoption to provide large-scale access to coaching because the end goal is to make coaching accessible to all.

But perhaps the biggest impact of technology will come from how it enables individual executive coaches (or leaders who act as coaches) to better connect with and serve their clients. This will help to supplement their powers of recall, observation, interpretation, visualization, and encouragement. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are four key areas where technology can transform the act — and the impact — of coaching. In many cases, the tech solutions have emerged from applications in other contexts, such as sports coaching and customer research.

Track progress against a pre-defined pathway

Technology can help to create a single view of the client’s context, capabilities, and self-awareness by collating the output of psychometric tests (e.g. Big Five personality traits, MBTI, Firo-B) and feedback. It can then help to track progress against goals agreed upon at the beginning of the program and capture notes of the discussions.

Build a complete picture of what is said and unsaid

To do meaningful work as a leader-coach, you will need the collection of data points that encapsulate all that has been said and all that has not been said. Apps can generate recommendations on what an individual or team can do to improve their communication skills. Sometimes an individual doesn’t say what they think or feel, whether as a conscious decision or not. Interpreting facial expressions, eye movements, and physiological changes may give additional insights into a client’s interest, emotional state, or commitment to a course of action. As masterful as a coach might be, every human being is prone to error, and non-verbal communication is a subtle art after all; so everybody could use some help.

Build a path forward

This is more about bringing hypotheses to life, creating scenarios and pinging them off against real-life and real-time variables to develop options for the client. Virtual reality, with gamification, avatars, and holograms, can help the coachee visualize future scenarios using multiple software. This is an approach that is already being used in sports. Quite obviously, the client’s lifetime will never be enough to try out all options and future prospects to judge which might be the best one to take. So, why not let technology do the job for you? While this approach does not guarantee 100 % accuracy, it does raise the bar quite a bit. Thus, it is definitely worth a try.

AI algorithms can also suggest lines of inquiry based on an analysis of previously recorded conversations or those of other coachees, suitably anonymized. This approach has been adopted in other aspects of corporate life, such as customer call centres.

‘Nudges’ and ‘Reminders’

It is safe to imagine that a leader-coach within an organisation will have multiple direct reports that he or she will be coaching simultaneously; be it through one-on-one sessions or team coaching. In such a scenario, it is never feasible for the coach to take ownership for the client. Many clients are forgetful about their own responsibilities towards the coaching setup and end up not completing tasks. Technology can help with nudges and reminders, or even provide additional resources. Many platforms distribute personalised recommendations for articles, podcasts, videos, and events to this effect.

Really, coaches have always sought to help their clients improve. Moving forward, strategically applying technology — alongside their own judgment, warmth, and integrity — will be an increasingly important way for them to do so.