Amid the gloom around the lockdown prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Priya Ramesh and Sreedharan Ramesh had something to rejoice about. On March 20, Ramesh received the news that he has become a Master Certified Coach (MCC), following in the footsteps of Priya, who had qualified as an MCC in 2018, the 11th from India to be certified. Now a master coach couple, Ramesh is the 40th MCC from India, among an exclusive set of 700 such coaches around the world. And, they are the second MCC couple in India to boot.

What’s unique about becoming a master certified coach? For one, the rigour involved in getting that certification from the US-headquartered International Coaching Federation (ICF), which is now into its 25th year. Globally, various organisations recognise and certify coaches. While ICF is the largest (with over 30,000 members globally), the European Mentoring and Coaching Council is the other well-known entity. In India, the Coaching Foundation of India is an established entity.

The ICF has three levels of credentials - Associate Certified Coach (ACC); Professional Certified Coach (PCC, of whom there are 168 in India) and the pinnacle is the MCC. Each of these levels require a coach to be able to demonstrate experience and competency that varies as per the level of credential. ICF has 47 competencies ranging from active listening, powerful questioning to direct communication, evoking awareness, among others. “Hence,” explains Ramesh, “to become an MCC coach you first have to be trained on these competencies for 200 hours, mentored by a competent coach (normally an MCC); complete 2,500 hours of coaching with at least 35 clients evidencing at least 80 per cent of the competencies.”One is assessed on two counts — for performance and for knowledge as a two-step evaluation process before an official credentialing is granted.

ICF defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.”

Coaching for a positive change

As Priya says, “Coaching is about facilitating people to make positive changes. It usually entails a behaviour change. Thoughts, emotions, beliefs and fears are unconscious drivers of behaviour, and often some of them come in the way of a person being able to perform to their full potential. Coaching creates awareness about these unconscious drivers and supports the coached while they risk attempting new ways of doing things.”

Coaches can choose their own niche area or domain to coach, depending on their comfort, she explains. The niche can be anything from leadership coaching, students, fitness, business, career transition or strategy. “Whatever your niche is, the competencies required are the same. What you are really doing is working with the individual (or a group of individuals) and getting them to understand themselves better and make positive changes based on that awareness,” elaborates Priya.

The credentialing journey is very rigorous and requires investment in terms of time, energy and emotional commitment to the process. It changes you in many ways. For an MCC, getting the 2,500 hours of experience is the first challenge. The bigger challenge, however, is to evolve as a person. “This might mean unlearning, relearning a few things that worked well for you in the past. Coaching is about being able to be in the moment, connecting at an emotional level with your client and being able to ‘observe’ the client without any judgement or analysis/inferences,” says Ramesh. For him, also a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, where analysis and logical conclusions played a big part in business decisions, it was a matter of unlearning all that, to connect with emotions and to work from the heart, in his journey to be an MCC.

While Priya took around four years, Ramesh took six years to earn his certification. While credentialing involves embedding competencies, it is also a journey inwards, where you confront, accept and embrace your own challenges to unleash your potential. “When a leader can talk about their fears, meet their limiting beliefs and become aware of their inherent power they evolve to their higher self,” explains Priya.

Both Priya and Ramesh have worked with over 200 individuals each so far; primarily from the industry as well as with organisations and individuals working in the social sector. While they have worked with individuals at various levels, mid- to senior management, Priya says they love to work with mid-level leadership. “They are generally the most challenged in the corporate structure; it’s almost like a pressure cooker with fire at the bottom and pressure from the top. And, they are also the most confused group with their priorities and family pressure,” says Priya.

How does one measure the efficacy of a coaching stint? Every coaching engagement has a definite goal. So, the measure of success is whether the client was able to reach that goal or whether he/she gets clarity on how to get there (specific actions/plans). It’s not about skills, not problem solving but about the coached becoming problem solvers themselves, dipping into their own strengths to find creative and resourceful ways to navigate their problems. “Since you are working on behavioural changes, it is generally not possible to define a quantitative measurement of outcome. However, behaviour changes are normally visible to others and hence can be identified. The goal defines the duration and frequency of a coaching engagement. Most engagements normally require six to eight sessions that span from four months to a year,” explains Ramesh.

Through the lockdown, the coaching continues, as the sessions are mostly virtual or on the phone. Organisations offer coaching support as part of the development plan for a leader. The other triggers are when someone is taking on a new role or getting ready for a broader responsibility. “Sometimes a challenge in the current situation may act as a trigger to take on coaching,” adds Ramesh.

In addition to the coaching engagements working with individuals and also entire systems (Ramesh specialises in systemic coaching). they also train and mentor coaches towards ICF credentials. “We facilitate group sessions in the area of emotional intelligence. There is a lot of data to show that this is the primary driver for success in leadership,” says Priya.