Coaching: The secret of 21st Century Leadership

Rahul Bagwe
7 min readApr 29, 2021

We need leaders who inspire, enable and empower

As a 16-year-old when I entered Junior College like many of you may relate the true industry exposure was through internships. While I was actively looking for work opportunities I was always told by my seniors that I must not have high expectations that I might be asked to get tea and coffee and few professors emphasized the fact that this could be a learning experience if I choose to observe and absorb as much as I can. I didn't bother much I just knew whatever opportunity comes my way I need to make the most of it.

While I had an amazing experience with the first two internships with a lot of learning. However, during my third internship with a reputed corporate, I encountered something that made me question a lot of things. First of all, despite knowing my interest my manager always gave me work that I did not like and did not have any expertise to perform. However, I completed the assigned work and would take up additional creative work and was soon able to craft my own role and add value in that short span of the internship. It was like fighting for what I love doing despite the odds.

During this experience, I saw how interns were always given some random work and never considered their interest. I understand that every work you are assigned is an opportunity to learn but I always wondered that there has to be some thinking to not only get the work done but also to bring the best out of these bright young people.

I recall talking to one of my friend's post-internship when we say that India is the youngest country in the world and how youth empowerment is so important and how the future lies in the hands of our young people. I wondered when will corporates and organizations across India will go beyond their ad campaigns to sell dreams to aspirational India and start by practising what they preach first. My friend that day shut me up by saying get out of this school mindset no one has the time. I thought maybe she is right about who has the time to invest in training and mentoring young people that is best left to teachers and professors.

All these years, I never became comfortable with this reality and wondered how long we will waste our young people's potential because of the lack of leadership talent?

It has often pained my heart in all these years of my internships when I have seen so many young people entering workplaces working so hard despite lack of resources especially people from small towns who came for work exposure here in Mumbai and had to face so many challenges each day. There is no denying that one has to go through hardships to emerge resilient and stronger but, unfortunately, we have made this a culture that continues to see people as mere resources which can be used and exploited or it's all bout getting the work done. But dear miserable managers you know what? your time is up.

The major shift

For the past few years, we have been listening that the 21st century will be defined by change. Along with technological advancement, we have truly tasted the disruptive changes with the unprecedented COVID pandemic that continues to disrupt our lives.

Last year when we went into the lockdown, no one had any clue and we still are clueless about what the future holds for us. A few years ago, a leader was someone who knew everything because of the access to the resources that he or she had and could envision the future and the entire organization would be directed to making that vision a reality in their professional capacities however in a few years with the democratization of information, things changed and information became available to everyone.

Today, a leader doesn't necessarily know everything to engage and solve the multifaceted realities of our times. Therefore, it is very important for a leader to not see people as mere resources which could be directed but as possibilities that could be explored and enhanced to face a volatile future together. This is why collaboration will be the key to leadership in the 21st century where leaders have to empower their people to navigate the future together.

I am a firm believer that leaders have a unique opportunity to serve the people and to truly make a difference in their lives. Unfortunately, a lot of leaders have failed to understand that money may not be always someone’s overriding motivation, it could be money and probably some more autonomy at times and it largely depends on leaders to bring out the best in them by giving people the right opportunities.

Coaching: The secret of Uncommon Leaders

I am super happy and could gather courage and confidence to write about this topic which has been so close to my heart but no leader was specifically talking about the importance of coaching or mentoring and how important it is to be integrated into the organizational culture and finally, I came across this remarkable book - Coaching: The secret of uncommon leadership by Ruchira Chaudhary. Every page of this book gave words to my thoughts that I kept within myself for so long and I am sure many people can relate to this feeling, every one of us has been a victim of miserable leadership. And an antinode for an enabling and empowering leadership could be reading and internalizing the lessons covered by Ruchira in this book combining personal insights, groundbreaking research and her wide experience in leadership development make it a compelling case for why a coach-leader is much needed for the 21st century.

The book covers significant topics that deeply resonated with me such as seeing high-performers as leaders, a high performer cannot necessarily be a good leader as Ruchira shares an excellent example that how in cricket Sachin has been a top player so involved in mastering his skills and MS Dhoni could get his team together and bring out the best in them. We need to celebrate high performers and by all means, try to harness their leadership potential as well as celebrate and encourage people who can get people along and bring the best out in people.

One might argue that there are coaching sessions and workshops and yearly review meetings while these add tremendous value to the individuals, personalized coaching from the leader is much more effective it provides instant feedback and opportunities to improve. Coaching is not to direct but to guide and enhance. I am so glad that Ruchirab covered this point in the book. As I read this I felt blessed that I have had such mentors who provided all the personalized coaching which I truly believe is a rare privilege.

At this point, I do understand it's easy to write that leaders must take up coaching but being a leader is tough especially in times of volatile change which demands great physical and mental resilience. As it is rightly said that heavy is the head that wears the crown but in such times it is time to keep the crown in the centre as the vision for the future, help our people to see the shine of the crown which indicates the promising future and draw strength and inspiration to embrace and share the vision and work towards it together.

Many young people enter college and are left clueless because most of the professors never bother mentoring or guiding them. The transition from school to college is not always easy for all. In one summer vacation after boards, a student does not transform into an adult similarly post-college in one month a college student doesn't transform into a professional instantly. It takes time and we all need a support system. Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed to have such a support system. It’s time leaders weave an ecosystem that enables people to feel that they belong and that they matter and that they have unique capabilities to contribute towards a shared vision and a shared dream.

Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly said: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

A leader has a unique opportunity to enable people to find their purpose in life, help people to find opportunities to express themselves more fully by encouraging and celebrating their individuality and create a culture that enables them to be their best possible selves. I know it is possible because I have been blessed to have been mentored by such rare leader coaches who ignited a revolution within me.

Ruchira writes in the book: “The uncommon leader engages, empowers and elevates (and doing so elevates themselves).”

The leaders of the 21st century will elevate themselves and the entire humanity only if they continue to unlock and nurture the potential of the people to navigate the future together so that we do not wait for the future to unfold before us but to shape it ourselves.