Interview with Ivan Maurakh, Coach and Trainer, Business Relations

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Ivan Maurakh graduated with a degree in mechanics and mathematics from Moscow State University, completed his graduate studies at the university's aviation mechanics department and has worked as a professor. He received his coaching education in San Francisco in 1991-1992. He began training at the International Ericson University (Vancouver - Moscow). He earned his professional coach certificate in 2006. Mr. Maurakh is one of the inspirational leaders of Business Relations, a trainer and coach.

TEI: When and why do your clients choose to work with you?

Ivan Maurakh: Some clients finished our corporate training sessions, in which we set a context of efficiency. Context is something that does not stay around for long, so you need to keep recreating it. Until employees learn how to do this on their own, we offer our clients coaching support for a year or two after training has finished to help make it a habit for them to self-support a context of efficiency when tackling certain issues and attaining concrete results.

Clients also just show up and find out about our company, Business Relations, and that we offer coaching. We both make our aims clear, and if it turns out that we have something we can take on, then we get right to work. We now have more of these types of clients, because a lot of people are talking about coaching and people have a better grasp of what this is all about. At the same time, we steer clear of advertising ourselves as coaches, because it is a limited resource. Our company's strategy stresses corporate programs and open training sessions..

TEI: You mentioned that coaching should be used only in certain cases. Could you tell us more about this?

Ivan Maurakh: Coaching is meant to get results. If you recognize a goal, then our work can be effective, meaning the client and coach clarify this goal, its importance, ways to achieve it and take the steps needed to do so, and in the end they achieve what they set out to do. This is usually the way coaching is carried out.

Coaching should not be seen as an option for dealing with empty complaints that lack any goal to change something. This could probably be addressed, but it is not something I deal in.

The range of goals had can be rather large within your overall idea for increasing personnel efficiency. Some see these as being working goals, such as creating mutual understanding within a company group or solving various organizational problems. Some may need to deal with a family conflict that has been going on for quite sometime in order to increase their efficiency and be able to keep their mind on their work.

TEI: So the main factor in coaching is having a goal?

Ivan Maurakh: Sometimes people are able to very accurately identify their goals, while at other times they identify their problems, but not their goals. This does not mean that there is something wrong with this person. Having a problem is an indirect indicator of having a goal. You can not face a hurdle unless you want to go for something, take a risk. When dealing with the problems at hand, we are able to find the coachee 's goals and abilities to achieve them.

Having a problem alone is not enough. One also has to have the intention to work it out. A lot of people come to me with problems such as: “I do my job great, but the problem is my big jerk boss and there is nothing I can do about it.” Trying to coach someone with this type of approach is impossible. Why in the world would you hire an outside resource just to confirm one more time that you are right? You can do that for free.

TEI: Why do people choose coaching to reach their goals or solve their problems?

Ivan Maurakh: Coaching is, to a certain extent, an external resource. A person has determined a goal for himself and/or has identified a problem or hurdle in their way. Then, accounting for all the stereotypes, beliefs, views and experiences he has accumulated over time, this person begins to search out ways to achieve his goals. If his goal is reached, then coaching is not needed. However, take a person who has a goal or a situation he would like to change, but is unable to find the means, or if the means are available, they come along at a snail’s pace: this is the type of person that should seek an external source. Having said that, coaching is not expert consulting. Everything a person needs to achieve their goals is in their head, they just don’t realize it because it is knowledge that he or she has not used before. A coach's work is to pose the coachee questions that lead him to his or her own answers. And, in the end, through one's own decisions, answers and methods, goals can be achieved.

TEI: Tell us about a goal you helped one of your clients reach.

Ivan Maurakh: Just yesterday I was working with a person who wanted to find the ability to motivate himself again when his company's policy changes almost literally 180 degrees every two to three months. This person wants to work and has become used to doing a good job, but every time it turns out that whatever he put a lot of work into was for nothing. When this happens, he starts to doubt whether it is worth investing so much of himself in his work. I believe that my client's ability to overcome his own idea of not being able to get the most out of his work under a constantly changing company policy was his main break through during the coaching process. To do this, he used his own metaphor: if a tailor's goal is not to adjust a certain dress or pair of pants, but to do what he can to make his client look sharp, then he will always be in demand. This person had the power to determine his goals in a way that had motivated him, no matter what policy his company may have.

«The art of coaching involves asking the right question at the right time and focusing the coachee's attention on the different sides and facts of the goal he came to achieve»

He probably knew even before that he is a top-manager, not a general director or shareholder, and his goal is not to determine company policy, but rather to work as effectively as possible. When he uncovered this approach, making changes for him turned from a concept into a reality. You should have just seen his face. After talking with him, his eyes lit up and his motivation to do the work he had been doing for many years already was fully renewed.

TEI: How are these types of discoveries made?

Ivan Maurakh: I see there being two components here. First, the coachee's intention, which is different from his or her desire: there needs to be a willingness to reexamine one's position, to overcome confidence in one's being right, to be prepared to be wrong about something you thought you were right about over the past several years or your entire life. The second component is my experience and expertise in running a session: what questions need to be asked and what does the person's attention need to be focused on. The art of coaching involves asking the right question at the right time and focusing the coachee's attention on the different sides and facts of the goal he came to achieve.

So when these components, a coachee's intention and the art of coaching, converge, the coachee makes a discovery: “I never thought about that.” If the coachee does think about this now, then where did this come from? His head, of course. It is just that previously he did not have a conscious need for it.

TEI: How many sessions do you usually have with a client?

Ivan Maurakh: I have had cases where a coachee comes in, we work for an hour, and then meet again around a year to a year and a half later. The coachee tells me that he is still using what he learned during that hour-long session we had together. There have been instances when a coachee came to work with me once every two weeks over a three month period, and progressed one to two steps during each session. When I notice that our sessions do not bring the coachee any benefit, then I advise him to stop working with me.

TEI: Tell us what barriers to efficiency might a coach run in to?

Ivan Maurakh: Taking a position such as “my life does not depend on me” can serve as a serious hindrance. If a person deep down inside is convinced that he cannot change anything and is unwilling to listen to another person’s opinion — not even just a coach’s, but any of his own opinions — any work done will be fruitless.

Another possible barrier is the popular belief that a strong person can attain the desired results by himself, a stereotype that gains even more justification when talking about company executives and presidents. I think this happens because people think that going to a coaching session is admitting their own faults, even in the eyes of their subordinates. But this is not so! If a person is bent on attaining results and being responsible for them, then he is also responsible for finding the external resources that can help him.

«People think that going to a coaching session is admitting their own faults, even in the eyes of their subordinates. But this is not so! If a person is bent on attain results and being responsible for them, then he is also responsible for finding the external resources that can help him»

Take seven-time Tour-de-France champion Lance Armstrong. He, of course, knows how to ride a bicycle, ut he hires several trainers with various specialties. Lance sees these trainers as people who help him, and not as indicators of his weakness. Where as in the Russian business community, many people believe that top executives should not seek help.

I also see a gender hurdle as well: a client can subconsciously compete with a male coach, or in other words think that that if he is working with a coach then he is somehow losing to this coach. I try with all my might to neutralize any sense of competition by explaining that there can not be any in the first place: I am not knowledgeable of his business. All I am doing is asking questions so that the coachee can find his own answers. As far as I know, women coaches usually work more effectively with top managers.

TEI: What advice would you give to executives who plan to use coaching?

Ivan Maurakh: The simplest piece of advice I could give is to find your own coach. One's own coach should have a wide range of styles, but even at that there might be some differences between him and the coachee. Therefore I have yet one more piece of advice for aclient: do not stick with just one coach, try out several of them.

Second, I have a pretty obvious recommendation: be open in your work, for trusting a coach is absolutely necessary. There is a saying that was used in my day that goes something like this: “bullshit in, bullshit out.” Therefore to have real, valuable and useful results from coaching sessions, it makes sense to be open, sincere and involved in your work from the very start.

This article was published as part of the third issue of Talent Equity Newsletter "Coaching as a Management Development Tool".

To read all other journal issues, please follow the link to TE Newsletters page.