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Interview: Coaching at VI

A conversation with the CEO, Ralf Heller, of Virtual Identity about coaching in the company.

We have learned that the prerequisite for good leadership is a conscious awareness: for yourself, your colleagues, and your teams.

Coaching is a central topic for you. Would you consider yourself a coach?

I try to be helpful, at least for my colleagues: As a sparring partner for their strategic and operational issues and as a coach for their personal development.

How long have you been working like this?

That was and is a development process. I changed that four or five years ago: from being a guide to being a companion.

Was there a trigger?

It was only very late in my career as an entrepreneur that I dealt with the topic of leadership. Our company grew. It got bigger and bigger. And as a result – that was around 2009 – I found myself ineffective as a manager. I had lost contact with my colleagues. I was left alone with my insecurities, worries, and ideas, which didn’t bring much to the streets. With the help of a coach, I then began to practice self-reflection: What is my contribution to the situation? What kind of climate do I want? What do I have to change about myself to get there? How do I want to lead?

What is the consequence of this?

My colleagues and I now have a much more conscious understanding of leadership work. We have learned that the prerequisite for good leadership is a conscious awareness: for yourself, your colleagues, and your teams. Based on this perception, it is then necessary to act according to the situation. Is the team overwhelmed and needs guidance? Is the team unsure and needs advice? Or is the team in flow, and you better stay out of it? That sounds easy, but it’s an art form that requires a lot of intuition. Our aim is that managers see themselves as team coaches who help colleagues and teams achieve their goals. This is not yet successful everywhere, and there are always setbacks, but we are working on it.

I try to be helpful to my colleagues.
Sounds exciting but also exhausting …

Coaching is challenging for everyone involved. For the manager, because they are not in do-it-yourself mode – and for the employee because they have to take responsibility for themselves. As coaches, managers should help employees discover their talents and create spaces for reflection to grow. That sounds a little esoteric now, doesn’t it?

Yes, yes. Also, as if the superiors were always incredibly relaxed, little yogis …

Unfortunately not. Our managers are, of course, stressed. This is the famous Bermuda Triangle of self-abandonment, especially when interacting between employees, companies, and customers. We try to deal with it actively, for example, by offering mindfulness training. I estimated that a third of managers meditate regularly. Maybe we will all become deeply relaxed yogis one day, but that’s not yet the case.

For whom is the coaching approach necessary at VI?

At the latest, when someone wants to take on management responsibility, it becomes more or less an obligation to talk about personal development issues. Then it becomes essential to find out which ego shells limit perception. We have developed a leadership program in which we mainly work on this topic. Regardless, we offer all employees training courses on this, and this is also touched on in the employee appraisals by giving each other feedback. This can then result in learning opportunities on a professional and personal level.