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Between coaching and controlling, there is only one winner

The world today is facing a looming crisis in leadership. Ruchira Chaudhary’s book Coaching: The Secret Code to Uncommon Leadership makes the crucial distinction between controlling from a position of power and coaching from one, which often make the all the difference between success and failure. Here is an excerpt:


‘You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal . . . You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.’

A visibly emotional Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist, berated and excoriated world leaders for their inertia over the climate crisis. Her speech at the United Nations summit became symbolic of her generation’s demand for a better world. She has constantly provoked world leadership, demanding ‘how dare’ they not do more for the environment and for the future generations.

Would we—the current leadership of the business world— have to be similarly answerable to our younger colleagues one day for leaving the corporate world bereft of good leadership?

There is a massive leadership shortage in the world today even though there is enough talent, according to leadership gurus James Kouzes and Barry Posner. There are potential leaders out there who have a lot of talent. People who are eager, passionate and keen to succeed. And yet, we find ourselves in the midst of a leadership crisis when looking to steer the organizations (and nations) of tomorrow.

By 2025, 75 per cent of the workforce will comprise of millennials. Yet organizations around the world do not feel they have an ample leadership pipeline for current and future needs. About 86 per cent of the respondents to the latest World Economic Forum Survey (WEF) corroborate the view that we are indeed experiencing a leadership crisis. Companies believe they do not have enough leadership bench strength and the demographic shifts are creating more demand for exemplary leadership than the supply.

They go on to ask that if the need for leaders is so high—why aren’t we developing enough leaders? Why is the pipeline so bare, despite the knowledge that having the right leadership is critical to thriving and surviving in the future?

What holds true with the environment can also hold true for business.

Building sustainable leadership for the future is complex and unfortunately not enough of a priority, yet it is critical to the vitality of future businesses. As with the environment, the choice to act rests with us. We can bridge the leadership gap by nurturing and coaching our teams and our emerging leaders now, creating a much stronger pipeline of future leaders, ready to hold the rudder of the economy, when the time comes.

According to leadership scholar Jack Zenger’s research on the topic—this shortfall is fuelled by inadequate preparation. Potential leaders are simply not ready to lead others and most leaders are not getting adequate training. Not surprising, considering that the average age of a manager who goes through any leadership programme was forty-two!5

Just as you would not seek medical treatment from an untrained physician or allow an untrained mechanic to fix your new car—why would you let untrained, unprepared leaders steer your organization?

Why then aren’t we building enough leaders especially in light of such alarming statistics? Why aren’t organizations, educational establishments and governments spending more time, effort, energy and resources in developing this next line of leaders?

That’s because our approach to building leaders isn’t working!

Organizations (societies and nations) are often run according to ‘the superchicken model’, where the value is placed on star employees who outperform others. The model refers to ‘interactions among chickens’ observed in a study by Purdue University evolutionary biologist, William Muir, and explained later in this section.

As we saw in the case of Dr Big, Sachin and Travis—we are instantly drawn to our best performers, our stars, and there is a natural assumption that these superstars will morph into superstar leaders.

We’ve assumed that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest men, or occasionally women, in the room, and giving them all the resources and all the power. The reality however can be very different says Margaret Heffernan.

The idea that top performers can be selected for desirable characteristics has a long pedigree. Charles Darwin, himself, relied upon animal breeding practices to explain how nature plays the same role as the farmer. During Darwin’s time in the mid-19th century, it was widely assumed that creating a better society was a matter of selecting the most able individuals.

This was the basis of an experiment conducted in the 1990s by Dr William M. Muir, professor of animal sciences at Purdue University. The purpose of the experiment was to increase the egg-laying productivity of hens. The most productive hen from each flock was selected to breed the next generation of hens, and so on and so forth, inevitably resulting in a flock of high-productivity chickens. In this model, scientists at Purdue University set out to build a flock of successful chickens by selectively breeding the best of the flock.

According to a Forbes article, ‘Muir left the chickens alone for six generations, expecting to see the super chicken flock turn into a breed of productivity thoroughbreds. But that’s not exactly what he found. The first group—the average chickens—were the same as before . . .’ These were plump, well feathered, healthy and actually producing more eggs than they were at the start of the experiment. ‘The super chickens, on the other hand, weren’t exactly fat and happy. All but three were dead. The individual superstars had pecked their kin to death.’

What should have amounted to a breed of ‘superchickens’ ended up producing a strain of hyper-aggressive hens that incessantly attacked each other.

Muir’s chicken experiment has become legendary among social scientists because it’s a kind of a parable—window into human behaviour and the way we work, and maybe also a lesson on how we could do better. It is not a surprise that these superflocks seem like an apt comparison to organizations of today. As Margaret Heffernan shares in her TED Talk, ‘Forget the Pecking Order at Work’, superchickens in the workplace can cause super problems.

…The superchicken model tells us many things about teamwork, collaboration and, most importantly, that being a star performer or being naturally gifted at your craft is sometimes not enough. These performers need to be nurtured and their craft honed if we want them to lead with the same panache and excellence.


Coaching: The Secret Code to Uncommon Leadership is a must-read for leaders, aspiring leaders and especially those that wish to transition from being just good leaders to extraordinary ones.

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