Vikram Kapoor is a leadership coach, speaker, and facilitator who weaves together cutting-edge science and practical wisdom around aims of goal-setting, leadership, team-building, and collaboration. His book, First Serve Yourself (Amazon, Bookshop) was released earlier this year.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Vikram about happiness, habits, and coaching.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Vikram: I like Marshall Goldsmith’s Daily Questions. I ask myself some questions every day and score myself on a 1-10 scale based on how well I did to “try my best to do X.” This comes from Ben Franklin’s earlier daily reflection on virtues. My questions are about relationships, meaning, joy, health, and anything in particular on my mind that I want to focus on. The questions might vary from month to month. To help me with this, my personal assistant and confidant Philip calls me every night for 3 minutes to ask me these questions. I spoke to Marshall about these questions and his approach, and I’ve found after doing it for over a year that there has been marked improvement in many important priorities in my life. If you’re an Upholder you probably don’t need a personal assistant, and there are apps out there that can help.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?
What always surprises me is the ease and elegance of some of the most effective—I call them interventions but I mean activities – from positive psychology and organizational behavior. For example, catch people doing something right and you improve productivity in astounding ways. Focus on values and treat people like people, and you build a rabid organizational culture. Select managers for their ability to conduct themselves, not just their performance, and you build a new kind of organizational and individual resilience. Help each other figure out our biases and map out a way forward. Some people and organizations just have this right, and it shows.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Oh I’m a Rebel. It struck me how easy it was to assess that and to have others assess it as well. The trouble now is to figure out how to really maximize (and optimize) that tendency.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
Everything will always threaten to get in the way, but with daily “Rocks”—daily priorities, and with a sense of structure, you can do it. The key for me is self-compassion. As a Rebel, I am never going to get everything done as expected. There will be an ebb and flow, and a dance that I must take solace in.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.
When I was doing conflict resolution work at FEMA, I was set to go help in Texas, but during a meditation retreat I had a sudden urge—an inner pull—to go to Puerto Rico. I just got angry at myself that I was taking the easy road, and that anger consumed me and I decided I had to stop being scared and just go to Puerto Rico. Luckily my boss let me switch deployments and I spent a month in San Juan, supporting the disasters there, which led to a big realization, further study at Harvard, and later my job at the United Nations where I built and ran a peer coaching program in over 40 countries during the pandemic. I can trace all of that back to one moment on the mat.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?
I just love Rotary International and their motto “Service Above Self” always sticks with me. My first book is called First Serve Yourself, and I hope to keep this theme going in the future. I was a former club president of Rotary and I believe very much in their mission and values. We have to take care of ourselves, and beyond that I’m all about getting out into the world and serving others.
In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?
A common misconception is that coaching is actually just mentoring or consulting. Many people are horribly confused about what is coaching and what is self-coaching. There’s a real nuance to coaching and to taking on a coach approach, and I hope that through my book, readers will get a better feel for what coaching engagements do and how they can be helpful. Frankly speaking, coaching is a competitive advantage in today’s world and it’s really my mission to help young leaders and underprivileged change makers to gain access to these kinds of resources.