Madhu explains why answering the question, "Who am I going to be in 10 years?" is important.
Omega: Before you became a coach, you had a career in human resources. What inspired you to shift careers?
Madhu: It was a combination of strategy and serendipity. I had been thinking about a second act and exploring different options, but not finding the right thing.
Eventually I was laid off from my human resources job. It was right after September 11, 2001, and it was a time of rethinking everything. A friend said, “I know this guy who's struggling in his career. Can you have coffee with him?” I met with him, and he became my first client.
From there I cultivated a flow of clients and quickly learned that my human resources background and natural abilities were not enough to do the kind of work I saw was possible. So, I started to look for a coaching certification program. I wanted something that wasn’t corporate or left-brain but was more heart-centered and holistic, and would give me a chance to grow while I learned.
Coaching for Transformation was the perfect fit. Not only did I learn a powerful set of coaching tools, but I also became part of a vibrant community of like-minded people diving into their own transformation.
Madhu: Coaching is a partnership. It's a cocreated partnership and a shared power, or a power-with, partnership. As the coach, I'm not the expert. I'm not going to be giving answers. I'm not going to be solving the problem. That's what a consultant does.
An ideal client is somebody who wants that shared responsibility and connection and is looking to partner with a coach in a way where they're driving the process and setting the agenda. It's not the coach that's setting the agenda. The coach is working in service of the client’s agenda, helping to clarify what’s most important and to cocreate action that will serve the client’s transformation.
Omega: Can you talk more about the cocreation process? How does that play out in real life?
Madhu: Cocreation is about doing power differently. It’s stepping into a relationship consciously and exploring together how to best work together. It’s about asking the questions that help you understand what's most important in a given situation or relationship.
For example, if I'm trying to influence a peer to spend extra time on my project, it's going to be much more effective if I start by saying, "Can I talk to you about something that I think we could both benefit from? It's a bit of an ask. Are you willing to hear me out?" And if yes, "How much time do you have?" Right from the beginning, to ask that permission is cocreation. Asking all the questions to create a balanced power dynamic is essential so that we are creating together.
Omega: Do you have a favorite question that you ask people when you start a coaching relationship?
Madhu: If I have a prospective client, one of the first things I like to explore with them is this question, "If things keep going the way they've been going in your life, what's the likely outcome?"
That question has a way of making people stop and say, "I don't want this dynamic to keep going." Or, "This part's okay, but that part, no." It has people come to terms with, in a tangible way, the implications of how they're living today. It creates a sense of urgency and commitment.
Another favorite question is, "What's at stake?" The other day I was talking to a client about their adult daughter who was doing something that they didn't like. I asked, "What's at stake for you in this situation?" The question took this person to the heart of the matter. They realized that they were really worried about losing connection with their daughter and feeling like a failure as a parent.
Those kinds of questions are empowering because then we're talking about a core issue in their life. We're not talking about how they need to exercise more. That's important, but asking, "What's at stake?" or "What happens if this continues?" gets us talking about the real issue and we can start to explore where to go from there, what's next.
Omega: How can becoming a coach help people, and especially women, do power differently?
Madhu: The biggest piece is around owning your powerful voice in service of shifting these power dynamics that have been in place for so long.
If we are going to call out our clients' power, we have to start with our own. What does that look like for each of us? It looks different for women of color. It looks different for women across generations. What does it look like for you? Coaching is world-changing work because it works from the inside-out. Coaching changes how people show up in every aspect of their lives.
Omega: You mentioned "calling out your power." What does that mean?
Madhu: It's like turning up the heat. If you're my client and you say, "My boss is a huge challenge. We don't see eye to eye," I might start by asking you, "What’s most challenging in dealing with your boss? What's your ideal situation with your boss? What’s the biggest change you can make? How can you bring something different to the table?" Those questions can lead the client to identify what power they have in the situation and begin to use it in a way that transforms how they show up at work every day.
But, if I notice that you are dejected or that you have given up, I have a choice point of either supporting you in that space or I can say, "Hold up a second. This is nothing new with the boss. This has been going on for a while. It’s time for a change! Who do you want to be in this situation?"
I can call you into a new way of being that may be more risky and edgy. I may offer you a challenge like, "I challenge you right now to say to me exactly what you want to say to your boss." I can allow you the space to voice what you're holding in and create the capacity to express yourself more authentically.
Or I may say, "Let's move our bodies. How does your body want to move to show what's happening for you right now and to amp up the energy?" Or, "Today's the day that you stop participating in this relationship the same way. Here's a line on the floor. When you're ready, step over that line, and it's a new day. We're going to see what's possible over there, but you're going to leave all this behind."
If I keep coaching you from this place of dejection and having lost energy, we're not going to go anywhere. We'll go in circles. Calling out the power is bringing your client back to their true power, their resourcefulness, their ability and agency in the situation because we tend to give that up easily.
Reclaiming power is critical for women and other marginalized groups. As a coach and a woman of color, I have experienced firsthand the transformational impact of reclaiming one’s power and doing it differently every day.
© 2019 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies