From Struggles to Triumphs: Nihar Chhaya's Guide to Executive Coaching Success

Ep.15: From Struggles to Triumphs: Nihar Chhaya’s Guide to Executive Coaching Success


Prepare yourself for a deep-dive into the world of executive coaching with Nihar Chhaya, the founder of Nihar is an executive coach to CEOs and senior leaders at global companies, including American Airlines, Coca-Cola, DraftKings, Lockheed Martin and others. He holds the Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential from the International Coach Federation and is a regular contributor on leadership to Harvard Business ReviewFast Company, and Forbes. 

This episode illuminates Nihar’s fascinating journey, from feeling adrift in his own career to establishing his own business, guiding and advising top-tier CEOs, leaders, and other executives. He candidly shares his initial struggles with workplace politics and how this ultimately steered him towards the intriguing world of conversations and interpersonal dynamics at play. He emphasizes the crucial role of self-evaluation and risk-taking, pushing through discomfort to seize opportunities, and how these principles have cemented his success.

As we step further into the conversation, Nihar imparts his unique coaching and consulting approach for thriving in the business arena. He unfolds the importance of questioning and the art of aligning clients mentally, emotionally, and physically to spur remarkable results. Building a reputable presence and maintaining mental engagement during conversations are key tenets of his coaching philosophy.

Nihar also shares some priceless insights on maneuvering through uncertainties and carving out your own path in the coaching realm. Don’t miss the chance to glean from these pearls of wisdom. Join us for this enlightening chat with Nihar Chhaya.

Episode quotes

How Nihar got into the coaching world

I actually landed in this world largely because I was confused a little bit about my own leadership journey. So, I had went to college and graduate school in the nineties and took on a typical financial analyst jobs and strategic consulting and things like that. And then I went to Wharton for business school, and most of my classmates at that point were going to invest in banking or private equity or McKinsey, those kinds of companies.

I really was interested in them, but I also felt it wasn’t really speaking to what my strengths were and what my real passions were, which was around just learning more about people. And so, while I had the business acumen, one thing that always stuck with me was I wonder how this affects people who are working in companies.

And so, I found myself almost following the herd into some of these bigger jobs. And then I found that I was struggling to understand politics at work, moving up the corporate ladder, if you will. So, I hired a coach. 

Nihar’s one thing that get clients’ results

I think really what it comes down to is stepping out of my own comfort zone in the service of the client. Over the many years of learning to be a coach, I found, on one hand, you can get very comfortable thinking that you’re the consultant in the room. You’re the one that has to have all the answers.

And I found that as I do work with senior executives at these bigger companies, a lot of these business leaders don’t really know what they don’t know. They focus on the logical aspects of business.

So, it’s very easy for coaching conversations to, kind of, stay in the realm of, okay, here’s what you need to do to increase revenue. Here’s what you need to do to decrease costs, et cetera. And while you can stay in that area, I found that I wasn’t really serving the client in terms of transformative insight building. I had to evaluate myself what am I doing here in terms of really moving the needle for them?

And so, even moving from questions, like, what do you want to do in the next quarter, to who do you need to be able to achieve those things? How do you need to show up? They’re basic coaching questions, but a lot of times, I found myself unwilling to go there with certain leaders where I felt as if they might think it’s too fluffy or they might think it’s too soft.

The big idea for me was really about saying to myself that if I expect my client to really step out of their comfort zone, I can also be willing to do that as well. And that creates more intimacy and trust for us as well.

Difference between selling coaching and doing actual coaching

A lot of times there’s a dichotomy between selling your coaching and actually doing the coaching, the delivering. As I mentioned, sometimes, my clients don’t really know what coaching involves. And so, if you just jump right into it and start having these, kind of, inquisitive conversations, they’re not really there.

On the other hand, if you actually just talk about coaching as if, Hey, you can get all these kinds of benefits and you’ll get promoted by next year and this and that, that’s not really also anything different than the typical kind of marketing jargon out there.

So, I always find going back to the big idea for me, I have to be constantly on. I don’t have to be talking a lot, I don’t have to be the one dominating, but I have to be mentally on. I can’t be passive in my own kind of complacency as a coach because what I find is that when I actually say to myself, you need to step in a little bit here, then it changes the dynamic a lot with people.

And I found that, in moments, it can be easy to say, maybe I just want him to go down that road ’cause it’s going to be a little bit awkward. But when I do, it generally pays off for both of us.

Knowing how you can be an effective coach

I think it’s so important to be able to know what you can’t do or what you’re not going to be as effective doing. I’ve learned that as well. I realized, for instance, that I am probably better coaching people who are at the VP and up level just because I have more experience in that.

And also I just find the problems that they’re dealing with are things that I have a little bit more, maybe wisdom based on my work. But there’s a lot of work that’s out there with the early career folks, individual contributors, and first-time managers.

And there’s so many great coaches that do that work. So, what I also recognized was, okay, this is where I can actually help — tie align you up with better coaches that can do it. But it does take that wisdom to be, or at least that discipline, to be able to sit back and say, this is my lane, and I’m going to stay in that lane to be effective.

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