Interview with Pavel Kirukhantsev, Coach, Partner at Ward Howell/Zest Leadership

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Pavel Kirukhantsev graduated with a degree in psychology from St. Petersburg State University. He has held various administrative posts in large companies over eleven years, and is now an independent member of several companies' board of directors. He has more than twenty years of experience working in both coaching and facilitation in Russia and Europe. He works as a coach in conjunction with the INSEAD Global Leadership Center.

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

Pavel Kirukhantsev: Individual clients are usually those who have worked with me in a group, but keep in mind that I work in the executive-coaching sphere, so these groups are virtually always made up of top-management teams.

Another possibility: when beginning to work with a leader, we dive pretty deeply into what is going on in his organization, subordinate businesses and the team that he runs. During this conversation – before we interact with the entire team – the coachee might have some questions arise regarding individual work. Or we may see for ourselves that the coachee has a number of questions that we can work through quickly and efficiently in a way that can help the coachee and his business very promptly.

TEI: If the client takes the initiative to work with you, why do you think this is?

Pavel Kirukhantsev: I think there are many reasons for this. The client may know that coaching is a method for the strong and successful. He may come for coaching (more often than not in Russia) because one of his friends or colleagues that have already had coaching recommended it.

The motives behind seeking coaching are endless: someone gets a hunch that he needs some more personal power; another person believes that he must develop certain specific skills, such as public interaction; one wants to learn how to organize a team to work better, while another understands that his concentration is needed for strategic growth. Yet another person is confident that he has qualities that are taking him to the top, but would like to become even stronger and be more efficient.

Having said that, the idea of effectiveness is the typical reference model in the initial stage. Existential questions and meta-questions like, “How can you be happier? How can you make your life more harmonious and pleasurable?” arise less often in the first stage, but if a coach is able to do his work in a very in-depth manner, then these types of questions are unavoidably going to come about at some point.

TEI: Just how unavoidable are these types of questions for you? Do you always get to existential questions with your clients?

Pavel Kirukhantsev: No, not always. Some failures do happen when everything stays on a conventional, superficial level (but what you are doing is still significantly deeper than just regular conversation). In such cases your job concerns just the technical side of things. Take for example, how to teach a person to have a better influence or stand up to influence; you can help the coachee out, and that is where your work ends. The coachee has gotten a better feel for himself, mastered some technical skills and you have helped the coachee focus his understanding. Your contract with the coachee can come to an end here. If your work is drawn out and more profound, however, the meta-questions are virtually inescapable, because in the end you are focused on the coachee's personality, thus helping him personally. Efficiency within any person is only just a piece of the entire mental pie, while you, the coach, are maneuvering across the entire pie. And wherever your coachee would like your help, you try to give him that help. Of course, only where you know how you can help - you cannot be of help in everything.

TEI: Give us an example of a goal you helped one of your clients achieve.

Pavel Kirukhantsev: There was one case with this one person who was very successful, business-oriented, had thousands of subordinates and ran a large, billion-dollar business, all the while the coachee had a number of faults that he was not very aware of. These faults were mostly with his tendency to be very aggressive in the business environment in a way totally unjustified by the goals before him. The coachee had a tendency to attack people and behave not just assertively, but in a destructive manner. One of my goals was, first, to fix this by making sure his awareness of this problematic behavior increased, and second, to have the coachee reap the benefits from the results.

«The subtlety of being a coach includes helping the coachee become aware of his or her motive and strengthen it»

The basic model for combative behavior is pretty simple. Someone who is inclined to have diverse behavior and not be combative when he does not need to be will work in a colorful, diverse world. Whereas conflict-inclined people see the world completely different, deprived of colors. If you have a conflict mindset, you are always in a heightened battle ready state of mind, where you are ready to attack, shoot and destroy. In the end you see the world as a threat and are constantly awaiting attack. Your own behavior thus unnoticeably transforms your entire world into one of nothing but aggression and conflict. Therefore, you do not just get into difficult situations that you created yourself; you also deprive the world you live in of what makes it rich and colorful.

You need to be very careful to help this kind of client, because his entire life structure could be based on this one personal trait. But when I started working with the person in question, I discovered that his personal characteristics are not at all those of natural aggression, because during some circumstances and types of interaction, he was able to easily become a very welcoming and friendly person. So from there we worked on various goals, including business goals, all the while keeping in mind the conflict problem. Well, at least I always kept it in mind. I believe that we were able to do a lot in decreasing the number of senseless conflicts and shouting matches he was in. These results then naturally began to rectify the business environment. He was much quicker in achieving the successes that he was striving for, and continues to be successful today.

TEI: What kind of barriers to being effective does a coach come across?

Pavel Kirukhantsev: There are some barriers that have to do with the coach, coaching and external circumstances.

We will start with the latter. The coaching style and environment often clash. A manager and owner environment is a very tense, high-strung and discrete one, especially now during the economic crisis. And no matter how we might try to convince ourselves otherwise, this crisis is one of fantastic scale that has struck businesses all over. Everything is being changed extremely quickly, plans are being altered, people are orienting toward different markets and emphasis is being shuffled. Coaching, meanwhile, is a continuous, regular action that requires consistency. Therefore, coaching and the environment it is in can clash with some harsh contradictions that are especially noticeable during an economic crisis.

If we are to look at coaching, then we see that its central element is the motivation emphasis, the maturity of motivation. In other words, the coachee needs to have an attitude of “I want to do something with myself.” The coach needs to uncover this motivation within the coachee. Sometimes, this motivation simply does not exist, as a large number of people live senselessly and without motivation. These types of “amoeba” are everywhere, even among the most successful people around: they simply wandered to the top by chance and, in most respects, do not want anything in life. All too often motivation is hindered by a person’s belief that some people are simply chosen by a higher power - there is a huge number of unmotivated people at the top, and it may not even be worth waking their motivation – it may open their eyes in a way that they will fall from the top. It is better to let these people drift until they run out of luck. All in all, when a person does not have any resources, there is no point in trying to wake up the motivation within him.

The subtlety of being a coach includes helping the coachee become aware of his or her motive and strengthen it. You can, however, strengthen only what has potential energy; you need to latch on to the potential that a person already has.

TEI: What kind of barriers to being effective might a coach have?

Pavel Kirukhantsev: Just like leaders, coaches are very different. At times you may look at a person and it seems that he does not understand himself and can do little if anything, while in reality this person is a very effective advisor to someone...

There are, however, some common requirements as to what a coach should be. The first aspect is having emotional intellect. This is how you know yourself and others, and on which you base your interactions with the rest of the world. A coach starts with being aware of himself. I have, though, come across successful coaches (successful by pure luck, as far as I can tell), that have not discovered themselves in the depths of their own souls...

The second aspect is knowing human nature as it is. And if we keep in mind that another unknown soul is also a dark world, then you have to spend a lot of energy on this, even during your free time.

The third aspect is being successful in communication. A coach needs to be confident when communicating with various people, including when on the verge of risk, when having a conflict with someone, and when, what is called in psychology, resistance and transfer begin.

And most important of all, the fourth aspect, is something I have already talked about – your personality, you. Your coachee should find you to be an intriguing person. You should have a fascinating, comprehensive personality, which is what you sell yourself on. You need to attract each specific person – this person should know that you are a bright personality.

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

Pavel Kirukhantsev: My first piece of advice is to use coaching if you have the option to do so. Coaching is a modern tool second to none in depth and strength, because it allows you to achieve a lot in a short period of time.

My second piece of advice is almost the opposite of the first one: don't expect quick victories, just be attentive to yourself.

And third: with a coach, you need to look for not only what is similar, but also what is different. In other words, when choosing a coach, don't just look for chemistry between the two of you; also try to find something in a coach that is the opposite of who you are.

And my last bit of advice: at the first stage when you and a coach are building your relationship, try to be as serious as possible when determining your goals for the coach, the ones that the two of you write out together. Don't be afraid of having to look over these goals again, maybe even before the contract is up. After all, working with goals is development in and of itself.

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.