In 2021 leadership coaching helped me steer my spaceship

“Are you in a spaceship?”

Asked my coach observing my Star Wars themed Zoom virtual background.

And that’s how leadership coaching journey started with my coach Asher Rickayzen on a warm Indian afternoon in 2021.

Before I dive into my experience of leadership coaching, a bit of a background on how I got this opportunity. Last year, I was selected for the first pilot cohort of a Leadership Coaching Program that kicked-off in June 2021 for 30 Global Shapers (including alumni like me who were Community Champions, Council members etc) of the Global Shapers community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum. The six-month long program was realized by Global Shapers community with the organization EthicalCoach (the philanthropic arm of WBECS) which connects world-class coaches to leaders in the non-profit sector.

This opportunity came at a time when I was struggling with a personal crisis when a very close family member was diagnosed with cancer. At that point of time, I was feeling burnt out not from work but more from this crisis, to top it all the devastating second wave of the pandemic made this feeling even worse. At first, I thought that I would not have the time/mental space in the coming months for the coaching and wanted to pass it on to someone else. But I am so thankful that Albina and Karen from the Global Shapers team Geneva nudged me to take this opportunity because they felt that coaching is something I would really need at that tough juncture of my life. Albina gave a great piece of advice that I had to learn to pace my life and coaching might just help me to do it. I am so grateful for that advice and after the program got over this month, I felt the need to write about it. So, here I am doing exactly that!

So, what is leadership coaching? Firstly, you should know WHAT IT IS NOT.

Your coach is NOT: Your therapist/counsellor/spiritual guru. They will not give you a ‘workout plan’ for your professional and leadership struggles. A typical session with Asher would start with me sharing a problem I was struggling with. Let me explain it with a real-life situation below:

In my first session, I shared that I wanted to revamp and restart my podcast. Despite my motivation, I was struggling to find time because I was not feeling organised and it seemed things were all over the place. Asher with his years of experience did not give me tips to find time to do what I wanted to do, rather he asked me a series of questions based on what I had shared such as ‘What do you feel when you cannot find the time?’   ‘Why is this important to you?’ ‘What does being in an organised state look to you?’  and so on.

While I was reflecting and answering his questions, Asher was drawing something and then he shared his screen. My 15 minutes of talking were up there represented in three slides.

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What my coach did was he filtered my thoughts, created a visual imagery of my challenge and the questions that I was asking myself: ‘What is stopping me from making the progress I want?’ and ‘What is the smallest step I can take every day to move towards the direction I want?’. In my brain everything seemed complex, but it looked so simple on the visual representation! In another session with Asher, I came up with a resolution: “LinkedIn gives me anxiety. I will turn off notifications. I will log in only when I really have something to share (such as posting an article like this)”. I do realise the irony of posting this on LinkedIn, but now I feel that I have mastery over this platform and that feeling gives me sense of control which I nurtured over the past few months.

To me leadership coaching sometimes felt like peeling an orange but on other times it was like patiently cracking open a walnut but with very gentle knocks.  EthicalCoach describes it as ‘a collaborative, confidential partnership created between a coach and leader focused on unlocking the leader’s potential and maximizing their performance.’ I believe coaching is indeed a collaboration and my involvement was equally important as was my coach’s. I believe I enjoyed this process because I was ready to be vulnerable and share my unfiltered thoughts.

My highlights from the Leadership Coaching

Few days before the second last session, I was struggling with a project with a youth group. We had started discussions on a high note but after a few months I realised that I was missing some meetings or rescheduling our check-ins too often.  I realised the others in the group were also doing the same and I could not feel the previous excitement anymore in our group. I was the team leader, and this was causing me guilt. I felt I should share this situation with Asher and get some coaching support, but I stopped and felt, ‘Okay, let me figure this out myself’. After some reflection I realised I did not feel the excitement because I did not have the fear of the project’s failure. I did not have much skin in the game. I decided that I should step up and be honest with the group about my thoughts about the project. We could then take a call whether to stop/pause or rethink if we needed to change our project goal to something else. After coming to this resolution, the feelings of guilt and distress disappeared. I felt in control. I shared this with Asher and we were quite pleased that I had come up with my own self-coaching process. It had these key steps:

1)    Pay attention to symptoms

2)    Notice what is going on around me

3)    Notice what is going on inside me

4)    Dig into the feelings

5)    What is this telling me?

6)    Choices?

7)    Action

Another highlight from this program would be releasing a revamped Dignity in Disasters podcast by the end of 2021. After my first coaching session, I did find the time and I worked on it bit by bit because I cared and felt that the conversations about disaster management should be accessible enough for my friendly neighbourhood aunt.  I think the coaching from Asher helped me decide to take small steps which led to this result. In one session he told me, “To build a house you need to drive in that first nail.” And I did just that.

The coaching program with EthicalCoach is over, but I feel I have the tools and methods to cut through the noise and set a process for achieving my goals. I have started journaling which has been working well for the past few weeks along with my self-coaching process. I am scared yet excited about how this year shapes up with my podcast and few things which are lined up. Before ending this note, I must thank Asher. I am not sure whether you like titles, but as a Star Wars fan, I must say you are a ‘Yoda for Millennials’. I am once again grateful to the wonderful team at Global Shapers and EthicalCoach for this opportunity, it was one of my key highlights of 2021 and it is helping me steer my spaceship to its intended destination.

Mayuri Bhattacharjee is a development professional based in India with 11 years of experience in diverse projects in the NGO and the corporate sector. In 2019, she launched the widely covered Dignity in Floods campaign (130,000+ signatures) and successfully advocated for period-friendly flood shelters in the state of Assam. She has a Masters in Human Rights along with a Diploma in Mass Communications. She has also completed her Executive Education program (100% scholarship) from the Harvard Kennedy School on Leadership, Organizing and Action: Leading Change.

Now she is podcasting for change at Dignity in Disasters.