President of TCI and the author of original methods for personnel growth through training breakthroughs. He received a Ph. D in management from Moscow State University and has another Ph. D in economics. He worked for many years at the Russian Academy of Sciences, participating in organizational development projects and running training sessions. He has been working exclusively as a coach in Russia and abroad since 1992.
TEI: When and why do your clients choose to work with you?
Vladimir Shubin: Coaching is intended for people that want support in progressing toward their goals, and what makes an ideal situation is when people come to me with exactly this in mind. In other words, the client sets an ambitious goal while remembering that he needs to do some serious work on himself to achieve it. This does not mean that these types of people have achieved little in life. Some of them have been very successful, are prestigious and have billions in wealth, but they can still set more significant goals for themselves. And they always recognize that if they do not achieve their goals, then something needs to change. The first temptation is to change something around you: from personnel to your wife. But then you realize that you need to change yourself, and that is when people look to coaching for help.
«If a client tells me of a situation where he is not able to succeed, then I always ask the same question: How did you create this situation? Where, how, when and at what moment?»
Sometimes I get people in situations where they have been moving forward for a long time in building a business, and now everything has been built and they are rich. Then suddenly, the person's life comes to a halt; the drive, enthusiasm and intensity have been replaced by a feeling of wanting to know what is next. Obviously I can’t assign goals for my client, but I support him as he decides what to do next, as he sets bigger goals again, makes a connection with his future and moves forward.
Considerations of fashion, diversity and curiosity are other reasons. People get recommendations from their acquaintances and come to check out what coaching is and what people are talking about. There is no room for training here. This is like in sport, where the ideal athlete comes and says, “I currently can jump 2.20 meters. The Olympics are next year and I really need to win a gold medal. This means everything to me. In order to win the gold, I need to be able to jump 2.50 meters. Now let’s get to work!” And then you have a different case where a person comes and says, “I can jump pretty far, and people tell me that you are a good coach, so how about you train me?” This is not a normal request for coaching and there is no point in working with this kind of client.
Sometimes we get a request that in no way actually fits the situation at hand, which happens everywhere in the consulting business. One of the goals of a coach is to get a grasp of what is actually going on. One time I was called onto work with a well-known businessman, but it was his HR service that looked for the coach, not himself. They even announced a tender. The goal set was on developing time management: he was being overwhelmed, did not have time to do anything and was complaining that he barely spent time at home, which was destroying everything there. I got together with this guy and he started to talk about time management. After some time we began to trust each other andI said, “You know, I could teach you how to manage your time better, but you need to understand one thing: if it really were important for you to be at home, then you would mold your life in a way that would allow you to come home at seven o’clock, and not at midnight when everyone has already gone to bed and there is no one to talk to. Or even when coming home at midnight, you could still spend enough time with your loved ones and give them enough love and attention that they would wait for you to come home — that they would be happy to have at least a little bit of time with you, something like a holiday of sorts. But if you do not want to go home, then time management is not going to save you.” In the end we put time management off.
TEI: What tools do you use in your job?
Vladimir Shubin: To be honest, I do not really define the genre that I work in. There are times when I call it active, contextual coaching. I, for example, do not work with skills. I work with deep things, with life ideology, with what a person believes in and what he bases his life on, all the while he, possibly, does not realize any of this. I encourage people to take responsibility for everything that happens in their life. Each one of us always has someone else to blame: presidents, deputies, the government, men, women, subordinates, working conditions, etc. Admitting that you yourself are the problem is difficult to do. And if a client tells me about a situation where he is not able to succeed, then I always ask the same question: How did you create this situation? Where, how, when and at what moment?
«That is when I suggested he try not knowing what is impossible, just like I do»
In life you will find a great deal of examples such as when a husband is completely out of it, gets a divorce, and then a half year later he has a different wife, is absolutely blooming and is a total prince. Where did this all come from? It could be that his second wife invested a lot of time in him, inspired him and simply hit the right chord with him. She may have given him a wake-up call, gotten him to realize what he can be in life and just how important it would be for them both. This wife is someone I see as a fantastic coach. And this is exactly the role I play, the role of the “second wife.” As I see it, every manager should play this kind of role: wake people up, be the catalyst, inspire, clear things up and care about the future. No matter how you put it, each of us plays the role of the first or second wife in life — we either cause problems or help find solutions.
As for technology, I will give you an example. The owner of a large business was recommended by his friends to work with me. He asked, “What do you do?” I said, “I believe that I inspire and support people, challenge them, give feedback, and push the right buttons to have people start believing in themselves and show more potential. He says, “Well, every manager should do that, and that is exactly what I do. Where is the magic?” I answered, “There is no magic, for all the magic is within you.” He said, “Well, if there is no magic, see you later.” About a year to a year and a half later, he wanted to speak with me again, saying the conversation would be different. When I asked what had happened during this time, it turned out that seventeen or eighteen of his twenty executives had left the company to either join the competition or found their own business.
TEI: Can you remember a specific case from your work that you are proud of?
Vladimir Shubin: I can tell you about the biggest result that a company that I worked with had ever achieved. This is not, however, included in any kind of statistics and I would not want anyone to use it as a reference. I had a client that was unusually successful and was very result-oriented. When asking him about his goals, he said, “I can not set any production goals because we have already had a miracle, and year after year we work to achieve a miracle. Our company is three years old, and in that time we have made five hundred million dollars and have become the eighth biggest company in the world. In our niche, half a billion dollars is the limit.” It is easy for me to offer people goals, since I do not know what is possible and what is not. So I asked, “And why can’t you reach a billion?” He was even offended by this question. That is when I suggested he try not knowing what is impossible, just like I do. That is when we started to think about why one billion dollars would be needed.
We talked about his future and his life. This is when he made up his mind to set goals that used to be nothing more than a dream. These were unbelievable goals set for ten years down the road. That is when it became clear, that in order to achieve all of this, he needed to make a billion dollars in the coming year. And when he finally came to terms with these goals, he said, “We are going to make a billion. I do not know how, I really do not, but we are going to do it because I need it. It is important to me.” During that year, the company went through some tough and unpredictable scenarios. I flew out to meet with him once a week and constantly reminded him that leadership involves not giving up. His company did things that one would not even think of, and at the end of the year, the company made five and a half billion dollars.
TEI: What kind of barriers to being effective might the coach have?
Vladimir Shubin: Sometimes people think that once a coach has been hired, everything has been done. There is not any understanding that one needs to work as well. Having said that, there is a large gap between understanding and action. To convert that understanding into action, you need courage, valor, the willingness to take risks, and even at times look like an idiot. Oddly, there are difficulties when the goals are small because the people are small in a way as well. Please excuse my tone, but when you start working with “small people,” then the work is difficult because they are afraid to open up. If they open up, they are afraid that everyone will see everything that there is or more importantly not there. More often than not, they get the idea that no more growth can be attained and there is no more new territory to conquer. “Big people,” on the other hand, understand that there is always a next level in life, love, their career, in making money, in realizing one’s own potential, anything at all. And in order to get to the next level, they admit their mistakes, call things as they should be and are not afraid to look foolish. They are able to get through this rather easily. “Big people” who are result-oriented could not really care less what people think about them or how they look.
TEI: What advice would you give executives who plan on using coaching?
Vladimir Shubin: Count on yourself, not on the coach. You need to realize that even the best coach in the world cannot do the work for you, all the responsibility rests on your shoulders. Just like in sport. If you want to become an Olympic champion you will need a coach that trains champions, but whether you will be a champion or not depends on you and you alone. All the training, work and strain depend on you.
The client should sincerely realize that he alone is responsible for the result. In my mind I am responsible for the client's result, but I want him to think that he is fully responsible for the result.
TEI: Can a coach create the confidence to change and get a person to be responsible for the end result?
Vladimir Shubin: This is exactly what has to be worked on in many instances. People usually don't live by any goals. If I were to stop a hundred people on the street and ask what goals they have based their life on over the past three months, I would think that ninety percent of them would not even understand the question and say, “In the morning, the alarm clock goes off and I go to work. What goals are you talking about?” People that each and every day check up on their goals and look at what needs to be changed to reach them are definitely unique.
Many people have fallen out of the habit of wishing for something: some do not believe in their own strength, others think it is impossible, while yet others think they have achieved enough, they are already tired and the valuable things in life are comfort, peace and quiet. Some people do not believe that their efforts have been rightly rewarded. People have various motives in life – one has to look for them, address them, wake them up and catalyze them. This is one of the main capacities of a coach.