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For six months last year, Harish Natarajan, MD for India & Thailand, Bausch & Lomb Eyecare, stayed connected to his US-based coach Felicity McRobb. He was learning to cultivate the professional aggression that would allow him to take tough decisions.

At the end of several sessions, a confident Natarajan was making a power-point presentation on emerging markets before a senior Bausch & Lomb team in Hong Kong. The coaching had a huge impact on my thinking and decision-making, he says.

Natarajans stint with a coach wasnt a random occurence.

He was selected from among 24 candidates worldwide to undergo a Breakthrough Leadership programme conducted by American coaching firm Insigniam, designed to help senior leaders create and execute breakthrough ideas, develop strategic pathways and set milestones. Companies across the board are similarly opting for coaching to help their high-potential executives perform in larger, rapidly-changing roles in a globalised world.

From the Tata Group, Mahindra & Mahindra and Hindustan Unilever to HCL, companies are increasingly using executive coaching as an organisational development and retention tool, and senior executives are turning to coaching full-time.

Business leaders in India are increasingly realising the importance of having a coach who can guide them and their organisations to greater heights of excellence, says Santhosh Babu, Delhi-based professional coach and change specialist.

Worldwide, executive coaching is a over $1-billion industry, according to the Harvard Business Review. In India, it is part of the larger business performance enablement market, which is growing exponentially as companies demand accountability, productivity and results from their employees.

The market could be valued between Rs 650 crore and Rs 2,000 crore on an estimate of the number of practitioners and their earnings, says Rajan Kaicker, chairman & MD (India & South Asia), Result Coaching Systems, a human performance and coaching organisation.

And the results are showing. Coaching resulted in a return on investment (RoI) of almost six times the programme cost as well as a 77% improvement in relationships, 67% improvement in teamwork, 61% improvement in job satisfaction and 48% improvement in quality, according to a Manchester Consulting Group study of Fortune 100 executives.

Similarly, a study of Fortune 500 telecommunications company, MatrixGlobal, found executive coaching resulted in a 529% RoI. As the understanding of executive coaching grows and people begin to see it as an healthy investment, it will move to a high-growth trajectory.

I believe coaching is going to grow hugely over the next five to eight years, driven by most international and then national companies, who will bring in coaching for their senior executives and teams, says Gerard O Donovan, CEO, Noble Manhattan Coaching, a UK-based coach certification and training firm.

Coaches essentially lead individuals on a path of self-discovery which in turn, helps them resolve professional and even personal crises.

Sometimes, CEOs and senior executives come under tremendous pressure during a crisis such as the economic downturn. A coach can help leaders find solutions by widening their perspective, maintain the desired leadership style and managing morale during a crisis, says Babu of OD Alternatives.

At most senior levels, coaches act as objective sounding boards. Former SBI chief OP Bhatt says he did feel the need for someone with whom he could vet his ideas.

No CEO in a large organisation knows everything about the organisation he leads, and yet, decisions have to be taken. He believes one of the CEOs key tasks is to learn, engage and influence the external environment to the firms advantage. Thats where an outsider can help, says Bhatt.

In most organisations it is rare to disagree, or repeatedly disagree with the CEO, even if one is fully convinced. Depending upon the issue, a wrong decision could be fatal.

An outsider can speak his mind more easily. Bausch & Lombs Natarajan agrees. Indians are very mindful of hierarchy and shy away from directly stating expectations from seniors in the organisation, especially when there are conflicting points of view. My coach, McRobb worked on this with me and it has been a big help, he says.

The exercise began with building a trust equation with the coach. We spent time learning to read each other.

After trust was established, I found it easy to bounce off ideas and approaches to her, and with her help, worked out ways to resolve even the most difficult conflicts.

Encouraged by growing importance of coaching, senior executives are increasingly considering coaching as an alternative career.

Daljit Singh, 58, president, Fortis Healthcare and former MD, ICI took to coaching to keep himself busy, post-retirement. He has already coached around 20 executives at Fortis.

A breed of younger professionals is also finding the space fascinating. Rahul Rai, 39, a mid-career high-performing professional in an IT MNC, quit his company to pursue his calling in coaching when his career was on an upswing, shocking friends and relatives.

He is currently taking up individual assignments and is on the panel of coaches in a Delhibased coaching firm. Id seen the transformation in people undergoing coaching.

Similarly, Australian coaching firm, Coach U, has been doing the rounds of India before it can set a full time operation.

These schools offer accredited coach training apart from coaching. While the numbers are hard to come by, certified coaching firms put the number of certified coaches in India at close to 1,500.

In the past few years, it seems that its not slowing down any time soon.

The coming years will see coaching become a part of the transformational exercise through the rank and file of an organisation till at least the mid-management level, says Kaicker of RCS.?

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