How Soumen Chatterjee built a joint venture with the world’s best known and respected neuroscience research and consulting company

SOUMEN CHATTERJEE
Delhi/NCR

Name of Business

Neuroleadership Institute of India and South Asia

Number of employees

20

1. Hello, thank you for being a guest in our interview series where we invite executive coaches, leadership development experts and consultants to share their growth story with peers. Can you begin this interaction by sharing about how you got started in coaching?

Coaching happened to me much by accident than by design! 

After spending 25 years in the industry, working in various business leadership roles in Manufacturing, Telecom and Technology, I transitioned to Talent Development as the Global Head of Learning at HCL Technologies, a $7 BN global IT enterprise. In the years that followed, I worked extensively on building a grassroots innovation culture, an effort that received global recognition. 

My prior experiences included roles with The BOC Group (now Linde GmbH), Reliance Communication, Bharti Airtel, Wipro and IBM. It was only around 2016 that I began to contemplate setting up a support network for leaders. The thought stemmed from my own experiences of seeing good well-meaning managers struggle to unleash their full potential but with no one to turn to for support.

As I nurtured the idea in my mind, I launched a program called ‘SpeedMentor’, wherein I would support managers and business owners build strategies to overcome their top challenges, simply through email with no personal connection whatsoever. The results were profound! I was able to turn around several failing businesses and this success was noticed by organizations and I received the ‘Karma Veer Puraskar’ by iCongo in 2014.

Much later, over a casual coffee chat, one of my business mentees suggested that I look at scaling the ‘SpeedMentor’ initiative.  I knew that scaling up an email-based initiative would be tough. So, I started exploring other techniques. This is when I chanced upon a book by Dr. David Rock called ‘Quiet Leadership’. The book had a profound effect on me – it not only turned my concepts of leadership on its head, but it got me hooked to Neuroscience and Coaching!

2. There are many coach certification and education programs out there today. How did you select the right one for yourself, and do you have an advice for others?

In early 2016, after researching extensively on various coaching methods available at that time, I enrolled onto Neuroleadership Institutes’ world-famous program – Brain-Based Coaching Certification Program. After eight months and many hours of studying and practising, I received the coveted BBC Certificate. I was now certified to coach professionally! 

Before I go further, I wish to impress upon the readers, the importance of core coaching education. Nowadays, there are many coaching schools and it can be difficult to figure out which education will really provide you with the best skills. Here are a few boxes that you must tick before you select your education partner:

  1. Is the coaching method based on authentic research or is it a mish-mash of many techniques brought together? Is it proven and tested over many years? 
  2. Does it provide techniques that are best used in the professional or in a personal context? The challenges in the professional world may be quite different from those that people experience in their personal lives. The methods that you learn must be closely aligned to the domain that you wish to work in. For example, learning about coaching that works on spiritual wisdom or mental wellbeing may sound very exciting but it may be quite different from the coaching support a professional CEO may need to get his/her company back on track, and vice versa.
  3. Does the method provide a powerful coaching structure or does it depend on your individual capability to become a great coach? Are these fully aligned to the ICF core competencies?
  4. Does the education partner provide detailed program manuals for continuous reference? Note that these are long-duration programs and it is almost impossible to remember the various concepts taught. Well-crafted manuals come very handy for quick reference, as you journey into coaching.   
  5. Coaching is altogether a new skill. Consequently, coach certification programs are less training and more skilling in nature. Look for a faculty that has experienced, practising and certified coaches to deliver such programs.

3. What challenges did you face during the early phase of business building?

Post my certification, I decided to follow my dream full-time and set up a boutique coaching studio under the banner Think.Connect (pronounced Think Dot Connect). The initial years turned out to be tougher than I thought. I soon realized that while the need for coaching was evident, past experiences of coaching by clients, left a lot to be desired! 

Initially, I had to face a lot of cynicism about the efficacy of coaching as a tool to grow and develop leaders. I also realized that I was floating in an ocean of coaches (check the number of coaches on LinkedIn and you will know what I mean!). I had to differentiate myself to be able to get opportunities to coach. Some of the key challenges that I faced in my initial years as a coach:

  1. Clients equated work experience and designation with coaching capability – this is a major hurdle in India. CEOs want someone who has been a CEO in the past so that they can relate to the situation. Despite my seniority in the industry, this proved to be a hurdle. No matter how hard I tried to explain that coaching is not about providing solutions from the coach’s experience (which in reality is mentoring) but it is about helping the client to expand their thinking and becoming aware of their own belief systems that may be creating obstacles in their way, client’s usually mistaken mentoring for coaching.
  2. I had no clear USP – there were no clear signals for my clients to select me over other well-known coaches. I was unable to use the power of neuroscience to distinguish this approach over other methods. 
  3. I had no proof of my capability – Coaching is like being a surgeon and no one agrees to go under a surgeon’s scalpel based on the certificates and credentials that adorn his or her chamber walls. Mostly, we select surgeons on word-of-mouth recommendations! I soon realized that unless I had well-documented testimonials from clients, it would be difficult to prove my credentials.

4. How did you overcome those challenges and what were the 2-3 learnings from that experience?

With this learning in mind, I went about building a well-thought-out strategy to enter the market. I cannot over-emphasize the need for a sharp arrowhead to establish one’s credibility as a coach. But more importantly, as we learn in coaching, what worked for you may not work for me. Replicating another successful coach’s strategy does not guarantee success. You have to build your own. Perhaps, being guided by a professional coach during the thinking stage will help you get there faster.

As assignments started to slowly pour in and I tasted my initial successes, I had a great insight – my ability to coach was limited by the depth of my education and practical experiences! Since I had chosen the neuroscience path to coaching, which was a very intriguing subject indeed, I decided to pursue my further education in neuroscience! I would highly recommend continuous learning in various aspects of coaching to get better at your craft. There are several ways to do this:

  1. Enroll for advanced certification programs which take you from an ACC to a PCC or even higher level of coaching knowledge
  2. Regularly register into webinars on coaching or related programs. There are dozens of platforms, providing a variety of speakers to help you go deeper into the subject.
  3. Register yourself under an experienced and credentialed coach to receive supervisory support to sharpen your coaching skills.

There is never enough to learn at whatever stage of life you are in. At this time, I was holding B. Tech from IIT Varanasi, PGDBM from AIMA New Delhi, AMP from Harvard Business School, USA, and PMP from PMI USA. Thereafter, I certified as a Brain-Based Coach (BBCC) and an ICF credentialed PCC with over 1000+ hours of coaching experience and also a ICF Coach Mentor. Recipient of the ‘101 Most fabulous Coaching Leaders’ award by the World Coach Council, in 2020, I also Certified in Foundational Neuroscience (CFN) from Neuroleadership Institute, USA.

5. What factors contributed the most to your success as a founder and business builder?

When you are determined to make a success out of anything, no matter what the hurdles are, you will emerge a winner. It is during this phase of my coaching journey that THINK.CONNECT teamed up with The Neuroleadership Institute, to leads the business in coaching education, executive coaching and neuroscience-based talent solutions. 

Founded by Dr. David Rock, The NeuroLeadership Institute has been a global front runner in neuroscience research for over 30 years! It has united the world’s foremost neuroscientists, leadership researchers, and organizational practitioners with the sole purpose of transforming organizational performance. NLI works with top clients across 25 countries, to provide talent solutions for complex human issues at the workplace. NLI drives its solutions through 3 key practice domains – Organizational Performance, Diversity & Inclusion and Culture. Its unique brain-friendly, process-focused and outcome-driven methods and frameworks have taken the world by storm – 50 of the Fortune 100 are clients!

Over the past decade, scientific advancements in brain studies have grown by leaps and bounds. Neuroscience has found breakthroughs in understanding the human brain and how it impacts all our behaviours and blind spots. And yet many HR practices are still rooted in conventional theories.  The research has provided organizations with unique tools and techniques to impact practically every aspect of leadership behaviour, with measurable results.

6. What advice would you give to your younger self who was about start the journey as a coach?

I have had several Insights and learning during this fairly long journey as a coach. I am sharing a few that may resonate with you:

  • You cannot fake coaching – It is a deep science and either you know what to do or you don’t. Your integrity and honesty as a good human being is a prerequisite to becoming a good coach.
  • You must be ready to fail before you can taste success – it may take several iterations of your strategy to hit the right sweet spots. Clients are looking for real value and not for jargon. Even though sometimes age and inexperience may get in the way, a good coach will be able to build trust and psychological safety in the first conversation! 
  • Go deep into the subject – noting builds trust and confidence than your knowledge as a coach. You can fake knowledge for a while, but it won’t last.
  • Market yourself – you can choose to target your audience or start somewhere and go everywhere. Whatever marketing strategy you choose, it must build your brand – YOU!
  • Never be afraid to ask for fees – in my many years of experience, free is not valued! While Pro-Bono coaching may be a good way to practice and build experience, asking to be remunerated for your service is a super way to gain client commitment.
  • Make coaching a way of life – try to use coaching methods, wherever applicable, in every day life. You cannot become a super coach only when you wear the Coach’s hat! You have to remain in a state of readiness and internalize the competencies of a coach, at all times

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