10 Dec Clarity Feature Story: Naidu Gautama – The Personal Branding Specialist

Standing at 1.8m and touching 50, the bald and bespectacled Naidu Gautama is a devoted fan of nasi briyani. In fact, the man is well-versed on trivia about this local cuisine; he is able to discern the various types and their respective origins – be it Iranian, Indian, Malaysian or any other source.

Naidu’s showmanship personality landed him in an event-management career at the age of 22, fresh out of national service. Establishing his personal branding over 20-odd years, Naidu became a familiar face at corporate functions, conferences and fund raisers as a master of ceremony. No prizes for guessing but the young man in his prime was also a disc jockey for the NTUC Radio Heart channel during the 1990s.

In 1999, Naidu conceived the idea of setting up Sullivans Bar & Restaurant at Mohd Sultan Road; he became its director for six years. Amid a thriving hotspot, the F&B outlet was especially popular among the yuppies.

2007 was a watershed year for Naidu. He heeded the advice of a close friend to consider a mid-career switch to the role of trainer. Enthusiastic to the idea, he sought to quench his thirst for knowledge about the profession. Lifelong learning had just begun for the man. His reading appetite grew as he pored over books on self-development, leadership and communication; the bookstore Kinokuniya and the National Library were his favourite haunts. Having geared for the change, Naidu decided it was time to move out of his comfort zone.

Naidu jumpstarted his budding career in training by giving motivational talks and conducting enrichment programmes to students in schools as part of their co-curricular activities. He quickly moved on in his career path, grooming himself to qualify as a trainer and conducted communication skills courses for several training vendors and job search training. After eight years as trainer, he assumed his latest role of a career coach with the Centre for Career Excellence (CCE) in 2016.

CCE launched a RACE diploma programme comprising thrice-weekly classes on leadership and people management, individual coaching sessions and community events. Spread over four months, the programme is tailored for matured PMETs to have a supportive community for career growth and development.

Currently, the coachees belong to learners who attend the RACE programme, galvanized by years of working experience in various industries. Most of them are at the crossroads of their career life.

Originally with Asia Gold Bell Education, Naidu is now among the band of coaches who take on individual coaching assignments by the hour via CCE.

CCE: Naidu, you have an interesting background – a facilitator and master of ceremony at corporate events for many years. Why the mid-career switch to coaching?

Naidu: I wouldn’t call it exactly a switch but merely that I have added training and coaching to my repertoire of strengths. I realised that my talent lies in the ability to communicate well and speak confidently before a crowd. And I had planned to move on in my career path after more than 20 years in the entertainment industry. But I also did not want to waste that talent, and so I became a motivational speaker to students. Later, I embarked on the role of trainer, conducting life skill courses for working adults. My current role as career coach is a natural progression of my role as a trainer over the last eight years.

CCE: Are you still active in the events industry?

Naidu: Occasionally, yes. I am still involved as a master of ceremony at certain events. Except that these days, I am engaged by event planners to emcee conferences, award ceremonies, product launches and fund-raising campaigns.

CCE: How has your previous work experience in the events/entertainment industry helped you in your coaching role?

Naidu: As a master of ceremony at events, I gained much experience understanding and applying methods of audience engagement. I also learned to observe and respond positively at the various pre-event briefings. The corporate clients came from a gamut of industries, each with differing perceptions, and getting them to buy in was tricky. To be an effective player in such situations, I had to apply key skills such as clear communication, active listening and the ability to fully address the issues of the day. The clients’ trust grows in you once they see you perform due diligence. These are the transferable skills which I apply to training and coaching.

CCE: In what way would your coaching sessions benefit your coachees?

Naidu: I view coaching sessions as an avenue for sharing ideas, imparting relevant and practical knowledge, and facilitating ideas from the thought processes spun during the interaction. As a coach, I am able to offer relevant advice to coachees who face career issues at the crossroads of their working life. I hope to instil in them the significance of clarity in every thought process as they chart new directions in their career. They need to be clear and focused on each step they take from their point of origin. They need to bounce off their thought processes to someone who is an active listener… the career coach with a listening ear can help.

CCE: Do you deploy any special technique in your approach to coaching?

Naidu: I refrain from using any one particular special technique with every client. Human beings are generally dynamic and techniques are just tools to be applied. There are various techniques within the coaching fraternity. I believe it was Abraham Maslow who said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, then you would treat everything as if it were a nail.

CCE: Can you please elaborate on your approach?

Naidu: I will name the steps to the approach that I consciously embrace in the process of coaching: self awareness, a high level of emotional intelligence, nuanced and accurate communication, a high regard for the coachee, a desire to help, curiosity and active non-judgmental listening and mindfulness. From this state, the decision to apply a technique arises. A coach has to put aside prejudice and preconceived thoughts at coaching sessions.

I am an active listener; I will hear out each coachee after asking a series of strategic questions, and elicit from him straight and frank answers. The output will depend on how the questions are phrased. I believe power questioning, which is a coaching technique, can make an impact to the delivery of answers. Interaction and healthy rapport are also instrumental.

CCE: What challenges have you faced in your coaching profession thus far?

Naidu: Challenges are part and parcel of the coaching profession. Sometimes, coachees come to the table without any clear indication of what they want in their next career phase. As coach, I need to understand their thought processes as much as I can, and to help unravel them one at a time.

Some coachees tend to have broad-based aspirations which resemble several hot-air balloons drifting aimlessly up in the sky. My role, to put it figuratively, is to guide those balloons safely down to ground zero before they wander off into the horizon. The challenge is in the ability to work closely with each coachee to narrow down the options and focus on a few, and subsequently to just one definitive.

CCE: In your opinion, what do you think is a common issue generic among the coachees?

Naidu: In general, the coachees I met have been exposed to years of working environment. However, some of them tend to be ambivalent and perplexed about their career; they are still searching for their pot of gold but are unsure about locating it. The challenge for me as coach is to try to clear the labyrinth of thought processes inside them and guide them towards fulfilling their hopes and dreams.

CCE: What about the personal challenge that a career coach has to grapple with?

Naidu: My take is that absorbing feedback from various coachees and assimilating rounds of individual coaching can be mind-blowing. The coach will realise that his innate energy is being sapped after several coaching sessions; he will be mentally drained from all that sparring. He has to unwind… to ‘detoxify’ so that after the break, he will come out refreshed, and be better equipped for the next round. I see this ‘recharging’ as a necessary measure for coaches. It is akin to the analogy of a heavily soaked sponge that needs to be squeezed dry before it can be made absorbent again.

CCE: Describe your best and/or rewarding moments in this profession.

Naidu: Of course there were instances of tangible results, like when a few of my coachees texted me once they got job offers, and went on to thank me for the guidance. I remember during one of the coaching sessions, a particular coachee suddenly hit upon the solution in the midst of tackling a work issue; he became ecstatic at the outcome. I was proud of his ability to solve it himself with little help from me. Such aha! moments I can still fondly recall.

CCE: Naidu, let’s get personal for the last question. It’s now an open secret that you have an obsession with nasi briyani. But food aside, how do you spend your leisure hours?

Naidu: Since I let the cat out of the bag, allow me to tip you on where to enjoy a satisfying briyani meal. There are two outlets which I usually go to: the Islamic Restaurant opposite the Sultan Mosque and the stall in Tanjong Pagar Food Centre above the wet market, Ali Nachia Briyani Dam. My other pastime is reading and I have shelves of books at home and a Kindle filled with e-books to prove that I am one voracious reader. Lastly, since I use public transport, I do spend time walking everyday… I am happy the regular exercise helps shed off calories. Do you see me carrying a paunch?

Naidu is happily married to a bridal makeup and salon owner and is the proud father to a 10-year old girl.

~ CCE

Written by Harry Tan

Harry began working on his passion for writing with a leisure weekly. He then picked up copyediting and proofreading skills, working on college textbooks, annual reports and travel guides. Currently, he offers freelance editorial services. A Peranakan Singaporean, Harry enjoys small talk and long walks. He loves planning train-bus journeys and has gone on several DIY road trips to Japan, Britain and Germany. Harry is a RACE graduate.

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