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The Power of Having New Conversations

Every spring, I take part in an event called ‘Actionable Conversations Summit.’ It’s a three-day summit that brings our community together of business leaders, coaches, and consultants from around the world together. We share best practices, we learn what each other are going through, and we laugh – a lot. I look forward to it every year.

This year, things were a little different. Because of the pandemic, we had to meet over Zoom. Like many people heading into the online version of a formerly in-person event for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise and delight, I ended up having some absolutely phenomenal one-on-one conversations with people from across the globe. It was a wonderful experience.

Immediately following the summit, I went into a nine-day intensive with Rich Litvin, an incredible business coach whose event sells out every year. Unlike ‘Actionable Conversations’, I had never been to Rich Litvin’s intensive. Each day of the event offered four hours of connection, in which I got to meet 249 other coaches from around the world. Throughout those nine days, I built great bonds with people I might never have met otherwise – all from the comfort of my home office.

All the while, I have continued to host ‘Socials with Shawn’ – a virtual version of my formerly in-person event series. Each month, I bring my all star team of global leaders together over conversation, laughter, and resource sharing.

So, why am I telling you all this?

Here’s the thing: over the last 14 months of this pandemic, I have connected with more new people than I have in the past five years. While being locked up at home, I have benefited from so many meaningful conversations with people I didn’t know a year ago. By becoming an active participant in my own growth during these unprecedented times, and seeking out those amazing opportunities for conversation and connection, I have discovered so many new ways of thinking and doing business that I never would have thought about 14 months ago.

Unfortunately, a lot of organizations have completely wasted this opportunity. They have stayed within their same four walls, having the same conversations with the same people around the same table. The only difference is that they’ve been doing it online instead of in-person. Well, I hate to break it to you, guys, but you know that boring meeting everybody hated when it was in the boardroom? It’s doubly brutal on Zoom.

I think there’s a big gap between companies that are looking to make connections and learn new things, and those that are content to put up their walls and stay in their bubbles – and the gap is expanding.

The organizations that are thriving are the ones that are looking to create new opportunities for growth, the ones that are open and honest and brave. Those that are struggling are the ones that are closed-minded and unwilling to adapt.

So, the real question is: which kind of organization are you?

How Are You Creating Unique Experiences For Your Clients?

Every January – when there isn’t a pandemic going on – I run a two-day event in San Diego called the ‘Strategic Focus Program.’

This is a very special event in which business owners and growth minded leaders, have the opportunity to invest in their future vision by planning for the coming year – both personally and professionally. It’s a chance to get away from the office and benefit from a new environment.

Without fail, that environment is the Lafayette Hotel in San Diego’s bustling North Park neighbourhood.

The Lafayette is a tiny boutique hotel that has been around for generations. It’s got a fantastic retro vibe and some of the most stellar customer service I have ever experienced.

From the moment you check into the Lafayette, you are treated like an old friend. The last time I was there, in January 2020, I was greeted at reception after a five-hour flight with a warm “it’s great to have you back.”

This small gesture alone went a long way, but as is always my experience with the Lafayette, it didn’t end there. Later on, when I needed some photocopies made for the event, I called down to the front desk to inquire about local printing shops. Without skipping a beat, the woman on the other end of line said she would be happy to complete them right then and there. “Are you sure?” I responded. I needed about fifty colour copies made. It seemed like a lot to ask. “We would be happy to do those for you” was her reply. Twenty minutes later, a knock on my hotel room door yielded fifty beautiful, laser-printed photocopies – on the house.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when, a few days after my return to Toronto, I received a beautiful hand-written card from the Lafayette in the mail. It said: “Thank you for staying with us and bringing your smiles. We love having you here every year.”

The Strategic Focus Program is not, by any means, a massive event. At most, we’re a group of 12 people. That is to say, we’re not some corporate event bringing in hundreds of customers. And yet, the Lafayette makes us feel special, year after year; a prime example of Maya Angelou’s words come to life:

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

It goes without saying that I do not consider any other hotel every time I’m in San Diego. Simply put, the Lafayette creates such a unique and unforgettable experience for me and my clients that I don’t need to look elsewhere.

So, my question to business owners is: how can you create a unique, genuine experience that your clients can’t help but share? How can you serve your clients beyond the product that you’re offering? How can you show them that you actually care?

Which brings me to Jay Culbert of Kaloutas, a commercial painting, industrial flooring and fireproofing company in Peabody, Massachusetts. Jay is a man who takes these questions to heart. He’s also one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.

Every two months, Jay hosts a virtual event called ‘Facility Rock Stars with Jay.’ He brings together his clients – facility managers from various industries – and opens up the floor for them to discuss the biggest problems they’re facing. It’s an opportunity for them to connect, problem solve, and build relationships.

There is no infomercial at the end of the event, no flashy plug for Jay’s business. After one of his first events, an attendee reached out to Jay and said: “I was waiting for the Kaloutas commercial and it never came.” Another said: “That was fantastic, and so needed in our industry. We often feel alone. Do you mind if I invite more people next time?”

Jay is a perfect example of how to show your clients that you care. And guess what happens when you show your clients you care? They can’t help but talk about you, just like I can’t help but talk about the Lafayette. We are wired to want to share great experiences, our focus should be on creating more of them for our clients.

So, how are you creating a great experience for your clients?

Why I Live The Life I Do

“Shawn, you have Type 1 diabetes, you will need to take daily insulin injections for the rest of your life, and it will shorten your life expectancy.”

Sitting in my doctor’s office in Ottawa, hearing these words for the first time, I was speechless. I was 30 years old, engaged to be married, and working as the head of business development for a major international company. In short, life was going pretty well. And suddenly, there was this.

The rest of the news came hard and fast. Within a matter of minutes, I knew this diagnosis was going to change my life forever.

What I didn’t know in that moment was that it was also a gift.

As I would soon come to learn, this diagnosis was presenting me with the invaluable opportunity to re-evaluate what I wanted out of my time on this Earth. As I left the doctor’s office that day, the iconic words of Mary Oliver rang in my head: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

My burning desire to answer this question is what steered me to the Life Wheel, a powerful self-coaching tool that divides your life into eight spokes:

·        Health

·        Career

·        Income

·        Friends

·        Family

·        Contribution

·        Recreation/Fun

·        Relationships

The Life Wheel explores each of these spokes in detail, and asks the question: What would a ‘perfect 10’ in each of these areas of your life look like?

One Saturday afternoon I headed to the public library and invested a few hours into creating my future vision.

I spent the next two-and-a-half hours reflecting on each of the eight spokes, and carefully writing out my answers. When I was finished, as I stood back and looked at my work, I thought: I can do this. This is doable. I can create my future on my own terms. I can live by design and not by default.

In the words of Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” And from that moment on, that’s what I decided to do.

I left my successful job in Ottawa, moved back to Toronto to be with my fiancée (now wife), and started creating the life that we wanted to live. Did I know, back then, exactly what the future would look like? Absolutely not! What I did have was a greater vision for my life, and the attitude I needed to make that vision a reality. 

In the years since making that fateful decision, I’ve been asked: “Shawn, isn’t it a risk to be self-employed?” : “Shawn, where does your positive attitude come from?” and “Shawn, you are so lucky to not have to deal with corporate BS”

We live into the stories we tell ourselves.

The truth is, I have more than just my diagnosis to thank for instilling in me the desire to live each day to the fullest. I have been extremely fortunate to know some incredibly inspiring people over the course of my life.

One of those people was my mother – or, as she was affectionately known by family and friends ‘Momsy.’

If she was down to her last $5, my mom was the type of person who would give it to her kids. She was always thinking of others. She loved having fun and putting a smile on other people’s faces.

In the later years of her life, I watched, heartbroken, as my mother slowly slipped away due to Huntington’s disease. The same disease that took the life all of her siblings. The same disease each one of my siblings has a 50-50 chance of developing.

Like so many who are faced with this kind of loss – along with the understanding that they may fall victim to the same fate – I realized I had two options. I could feel sorry for myself, or I could recognize that each day is a gift. I chose the latter – or should I say, I choose the latter, over and over and over again. It isn’t always easy. But whenever I need a little inspiration, I think of Momsy, who passed away in 2007, but is with me every day.

Another person who had a major impact on my life outlook was my friend Tarek.

Every Tuesday, for years, Tarek and I would get together to play pickup hockey with a group of friends. Tarek was the kind of guy who would always find a way to make you laugh – but never at another person’s expense. After each game, he would channel his inner sports reporter and type up a hilarious recap of everything that went down on the ice. He called it “The Chesswood Howler”, named after the arena where we played. It was a highlight of everyone’s week, every week.

There are lots of other things I could tell you about Tarek, but one of my favourites is that he always wore these bright green hockey pants. While everyone else was sporting the default black, Tarek showed up like he was on the Minnesota Wild. 

One day, seemingly out of the blue, Tarek was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. ‘Devastating’ doesn’t quite capture how it felt to hear this news. When he knew the end was coming, Tarek wanted to have one last outing with each of his friends. He and I went out for lunch, where we ate ribs and laughed together one last time. As we sat there, he looked straight into my eyes and said: “Shepheard, don’t ever change who you are and what you do. Promise me that. I learnt this lesson too late in life.”

Tarek passed away three month later. .. I think of him every time I am challenged to stay true to myself in this short and precious life – then, and every time I don my bright green hockey pants, purchased in honour of our dear friend.

There is one more person who comes to mind when I think of major influences on the way I live my life. Her name was Chelsea.

I met Chelsea when I was speaking at some business leadership events across North America. She was involved in the organizing of these events, and we got to know each very well. As our friendship grew, I learned more and more about her amazing story. Chelsea grew up in North Dakota, and her family didn’t have much. In spite of that, she always maintained this wonderful, go-getter attitude, and she started her own company in her mid-twenties. To say that we clicked would be an understatement.

One year, Chelsea invited my wife and me to come visit her and her husband at their home on the beach in Florida. The entire trip, Chelsea went to all lengths to ensure our time together was special. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to put a smile on your face. She was always thinking of others.

About eight months after that magical vacation, Chelsea was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. As she was undergoing chemotherapy, we would text back and forth. One day, she sent me a message saying she was thinking of starting her own foundation. She explained that she wanted to provide goodie bags to people in her same position, containing everything you might want or need during those long stretches at the hospital; things like lip balm for when your lips get dry, or oatmeal for when you get hungry. I knew Chelsea was an incredible person. But here she was, living with Stage 4 cancer and undergoing chemotherapy herself, and all she could do was think about everyone around her.

Chelsea started that foundation in her last couple months of life. Today, The Foye Belle Foundations is still going strong ( Chelsea’s legacy will live on long after her 34 years, not only through the amazing work being done by her foundation, but simply in the way she made the people around her feel. I can’t think of anything more worthy of emulation.

So, these are the three individuals I think of every time someone asks me why live the way I do. Each in their own unique way, they taught me – and continue to teach me – of the importance of living every day as though it was your last. Hey, it’s a cliché for a reason.

In my work, I meet people all the time who are in careers they don’t like; who are living lives that don’t nourish or fulfill them. They have never asked themselves the big questions: What is my vision for the future? What do I really want out of my time on this Earth? What would a ‘perfect 10’ look like in every aspect of my life?

There is a cost to avoiding these questions. Without taking the time to sit down and reflect on what you really want, you risk staying in that same miserable job for years, continuing to buy into the lie that this is ‘just how it is.’ The number of people who believe this lie is, quite frankly, heartbreaking.  

My goal, of course, is not for people to simply up and quit their jobs. My goal is for them to dream a little, to give themselves a chance to live the life they want. If I have learned anything from Momsy, and Tarek, and Chelsea, it’s that life is simply too short and too precious to do anything less.

If I need a daily reminder of how precious life is, I just need to glance down to the insulin pump that is attached to me that I literally can’t live without.

I can’t determine what it is you want from this life. Only you can know that. What I can do is help get you there – once you know what “there” is.

Creating Lasting Change Starts With A Powerful Conversation

“Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time”

Susan Scott author of Fierce Conversations

Often, prospective clients will reach out to me with questions like: ‘Hey, can you do the closing keynote at XYZ conference?’ or ‘Hey, can you work with my sales team? They’re stuck on this one problem.’

Don’t get me wrong: I’m always honoured that they would even think of me, but before I make a decision about whether or not to take on a client; I need to have some questions answered first. So, I schedule a call, and these are a few of the questions I ask:

1)     What would wild success look like – one month, three months, and six months – after this action? 

2)     In the event of wild success, how are you and your team acting differently?

3)     How will you measure everyone’s progress towards that vision?

Usually, after I ask these questions, there’s a bit of an awkward silence, followed by something along the lines of: ‘those are really good questions.’

Sometimes people don’t necessarily want to answer these questions, but the way they answer them plays a key role in my decision to move forward, or not.

The thing is, I don’t want to just take a gig just to get a gig. I want to be as a person who is just as invested in a client’s business results as they are. I don’t just want to be your guest speaker – I want to be your partner. 

Learning Alone Doesn’t Create Change

Ideas Are Only Valuable When Applied

Learning + Behaviour Change = New Business Outcomes

My Three Step Process:

Step 1: I provide context– or what some might call the ‘topic’ or ‘framework’ of the event. For the purposes of this example, let’s say the context is “Innovation in Challenging Times.”

Step 2:  I facilitate expert conversations – I have participants talk to each other (I know, crazy, right?) The bottom line here is that I’m not the expert in the room – at least not when it comes to the inner workings of this particular company. I don’t know what it’s like to work there every day. So, I provide the context, and then I have them talk to one another and exchange ideas.

Step 3: I help develop a 30-day action plan (with follow-up!) – Using the ideas that were generated during the expert conversations, we develop a plan that will work for them and their organization. I use a tool called the ‘Habit Builder’, in which we identify the behaviours that need to be addressed to reach their goals, and then track those behaviours for every person in the room for 30 days.

This process has been a total game-changer. It takes a one-off presentation and turns it into an interactive, 30-day experience with measureable results.

I’ve tried it with groups small and large – most recently, as part of a keynote with more than 300 people in 18 different countries. After the event, I got a call from the executive director of the organization, who said it was the most beneficial keynote they’ve ever had.

So, if you’re interested in creating real, lasting, measurable change within your organization, give me a call. If all you’re looking for is someone to come in and help you check off the “hire a speaker” box, I’m not interested.

The Best Business Decision I Made, Was Also The Most Difficult One.

A few years ago, I decided to change my business model by moving to an invite- and referral-only system. This meant saying goodbye to some of my biggest clients – some world-renowned brands and big businesses – following some difficult conversations on why we weren’t necessarily the best fit for each other. It also meant saying goodbye to a lot of income in the short term, and as someone running their own business, that’s a scary leap. 

At first, the people closest to me thought I had lost my mind. They wondered: ‘You’ve worked so hard to attract international brands and clients, why would you walk away?’

The truth is that it was the most difficult business decision of my life.

It was also the best one. 

Here’s the thing: the way things were going, for many years, I felt more like a substitute teacher more than anything else. Allow me to explain.

As a keynote speaker and corporate trainer, I would travel around North America and I would always hear the same things. People would say to me: ‘Hey, can you come in and solve this problem?’ or ‘Hey, can you come work with my sales team to get them motivated again?’ And so I would come in, and I would do the work, but I never felt like I was having the impact that I wanted to.

Do you remember when you were in high school and you had a substitute teacher for the day? I’m going to take a wild guess here and say you weren’t particularly engaged on those days. That was how I felt doing these corporate training events. I knew what my audiences were thinking, which was probably something along the lines of: ‘Whatever, I have to sit through this thing and this guy will be gone by lunch.’

This bothered me – a lot – because I didn’t want to just be the guy making a living. I wanted to be the guy making a difference – and I wanted the clients to experience measurable results.

When there’s no follow-up, no measurement of success, it’s hard to feel like anything you’re doing is making a difference. I felt like I was swimming upstream, trying to convince these clients that we would work better as long-term partners, and then facing the same obstacles over and over again.

I knew something needed to change. And thanks to one chance encounter at a speaking event in San Francisco several years ago, I discovered what that something was.

I had just finished my speech when a fellow speaker and best-selling author came up to me and said something that I’ve never forgotten.

She said: ‘Shawn, I just saw your speech, and the one thing I would suggest is: don’t change who you are and what you do. Just change your audience.’

Fast forward to today, and I work with a small group of amazing business owners, family-owned companies, and people who act like owners – exclusively. I provide them with clarity, focus, and accountability that lead to new opportunities, income, and time off. How did these incredible individuals show up in my life, you may be wondering? I made the difficult decision of working only with people who are a good fit; people who are open to sharing their vision for the future – personally and professionally, and are committing to taking action.

These are people with whom I can cultivate long-lasting, meaningful relationships – people like Kevin Cassidy of Cassidy Paving and Jim Kaloutas of Kaloutas. These are people who had the courage to start their own businesses, people who value their teams and treat them like family, people who share certain keys to success:

1)     They create their future. These individuals have a clear vision of where they are going personally and professionally and are active in creating the life they want.

2)     They don’t hide from the truth. They have the courage to have tough conversations with themselves and others.

3)     They have a bias for action. They make a habit of getting uncomfortable and quickly moving into action.

4)     They invest in themselves. They invest in the people, programs, and resources that will move them closer to their future vision.

Some people believe that every job involves working with people you don’t like, at least some of the time. I don’t buy that. The thing is, when you actually commit to a model that allows you to work with the kinds of inspiring and energizing people that I do, the benefits are immeasurable.

When you commit to this model, you don’t really need marketing, because your clients do all the marketing for you. Think of your favourite restaurant; you can’t help but tell people about it. When you are able to put your all into the success of a few fabulous clients, they’re going to feel that love and they’re going to want to spread the word. That’s what these clients do for me, and I am forever grateful for that. 

I read an article once that said you need 1,000 true fans to make it as an entrepreneur. I only need about five; five clients in the whole world with whom I’m a perfect fit, and provide with an exceptional experience that they can’t help to share it with other, just like them. That’s what I have now, and it never would have happened had I not made that one difficult decision.

Are You Coachable? Three Questions To Answer.

After years of being a coach, I’ve met with dozens of people who’ve asked to “pick my brain” about a problem or challenge at work or home. They want something. Something inside them wants to change, but they’re not sure what to do or what to commit to it.

Why take these meetings? I love helping people, and I want to see them succeed. I gave them ideas, they left excited, but very few actually took action that led to meaningful change. In fact, I can count them on one hand and still have fingers left. Most went back to their same environment and kept doing the same things, and it was not the outcome either of us wanted.

Today I only want to work with people who are serious about doing the work, and for whom I am a good fit, and vice versa.

Who are my clients? Senior leaders who share their true feelings of frustration and unworthiness about not living the life they wanted. They feel they’ve lost their way and see no way out. They may make good money but they feel stressed out at work and don’t know what to do about it, who to talk to, or what steps to take. This is affecting every area of their life – family, relationships, and health.

I was one of those people as well, and that was the genesis of the work I’m doing now. I was also confused about mixed messages I was getting – the work I was doing felt wrong, but isn’t work supposed to be something you suffer through? Doesn’t every job have its headaches? No one can be happy every day, can they?

I’m not the only coach in the world and I won’t be a good fit for everyone. So now when clients ask who would be a good referral for me, I offer these questions as a self-assessment for prospective clients:

1. Are you coachable? 

Not everyone is. What does it mean to be coachable? Are you being fully honest with yourself and everybody around you? I want to know the truth about how you’re feeling. There are no wrong answers, but being coachable starts with being honest about what’s exciting you, what’s frustrating you, and what you want to be different in your life. Being coachable also means being open to new possibilities, trying new things and being committed to creating real lasting change.

2. Are you willing to lead yourself? 

In my group program The Leadership Advantage, we emphasize that leading yourself involves creating a vision for the future for all areas of your life. Not just the work stuff. Not just the measurable ROI results. Embracing this global perspective is the core and foundation of true leadership. 

Leading yourself also requires a commitment to address the big questions in life rather than avoid them. For example, where do you see yourself in two years, and what would make you feel like you’ve made progress? 

Finally, leading yourself means opening up in this safe environment. When you’re at a senior level of your career you may not feel you have anybody to talk to at work. Remember that being coachable (see #1) means being honest. If you’re unhappy, say you’re unhappy. No hiding behind the BS of saying what you think others need to hear because you’re the leader. 

3. Are you willing to experiment? 

You already have a long track record of success. You’ve done a whole lot of stuff that I can’t take credit for and wouldn’t want to. But to get to the next vision of success means doing things differently. 

Some people are paralzyed with fear of doing anything new, yet it will be difficult for us to work together without that courage to commit, willingness to try, and trust in me that I won’t do anything to harm you. 

As a sports guy I explain it like this: The lessons are always on the field. When you do something new, it’s not about it being a success or failure. It will be a little uncomfortable, but then you can run it through the “review the game zone.” That’s where you ask three simple questions: (1) What worked? (2) What didn’t work? and (3) What are you going to change? 

It’s in between sessions where growth happens; this is when people go out and do the work and make the changes we’ve talked about, and experiment. Instead of, “I’m going to do this from now on,” it’s about, “I’m going to experiment with this and evaluate how it goes.”

It might be uncomfortable to sit in a group of people you’ve just met and talk honestly about your goals and visions, but in my programs I find that people bond quickly and what’s been uncomfortable becomes comfortable. 

Become a Better Leader—The Power of Coaching

I was listening to my favorite sports radio station when I heard: “Up next we will discuss Jon Gruden’s new $100 million contract to coach the Oakland Raiders.” Did I hear that right? Yes indeed, the Raiders are making a 10 year, $100 million commitment to their new head coach. Talk about a ringing endorsement for the coaching profession.

Sports teams are seeing the value in having great coaches lead them: in hockey the Toronto Maple Leafs made a long term investment in Mike Babcock, and Phil Jackson was also well compensated for his work building championship teams.

It’s not uncommon for coaches to be paid more than the players they are coaching. And this makes perfect business sense to me. If you invest a lot in building a strong a group of talented players, why wouldn’t you invest in a coach to lead them to success?

With the Olympics underway, can you imagine any world class athlete not having a coach, or a group of coaches?

The same rings true in the corporate world. Your company invests a tremendous amount of resources in finding, engaging and keeping strong employees. But do we invest in the leaders who will be coaching them? Famous leaders like Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama, and Steve Jobs all had great coaches in their corner.

Take a moment right now to think about someone who made you better. They could be a mentor, boss, friend, teacher, or coach. The truth is that your best chance at becoming the greatest version of yourself is to be supported, and pushed, by someone else.

Think of a great coach as Sherpa or guide, there with you every step of the way. Seeing new possibilities and moving you into action. It’s someone in your corner to be brutally honest with, that listens, and customizes a plan of action to meet your needs.

Now I know what you‘re thinking: “what a surprise, a business coach is telling me why I need a coach.” Fair enough, it’s a bit like a car salesman telling you that you’d look great in a new car.

But the truth is I didn’t always have this belief: there was a time when I was actually resistant to getting real, honest feedback. I often lied to myself and said things like “I’m doing well, I’m good at what I do.” Or the worst lie, “I don’t need any help.” Like asking for help was a sign of weakness.

I was hiding, and that was not only hurting me, but everyone around me—personally and professionally.

Being honest with yourself is not for the faint of heart: it exposes you and makes you vulnerable. But it’s also where all the growth is.

Whether you hire a coach or not, there is tremendous benefit to adopting a coaching mindset. Embracing coaching principles can help you make your future bigger than your past.

Listed below are what I have experienced as the top three benefits on having coach. And if hiring a coach is not an option for you right now, for each point I will offer an alternative to get you started.

1) Asking Questions that Bring You Closer to Your Vision

In a previous post I talked about the Dan Sullivan question. I typically start each client engagement by asking this question::

“If we were meeting here one year from today, and you were to look back over the year, what has to have happened during that period for you to feel happy about your progress?”

Your answer is your vision.

Of course, it’s one thing to answer a question thoughtfully, and another thing to turn that vision into reality. When you’re heads down in your day-to-day, juggling meetings, putting out fires, and responding to a barrage of emails/messages, it can be difficult to align your actions to your vision. A good coach will help guide you toward your goals.

Asking for help is an act of courage and true leadership. A great coach will help you support your vision, move you into action, and hold you accountable. They are in your corner every step of the way.

Three months into working with a new client, she told me: “My team keeps asking what’s different with me. I’m happier, more productive, and smashing our goals. That’s when I knew the value of having a great coach!

If you’d like to be a more effective coach for your team, or just learn more about coaching, two great books to get you started are:

  1. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
  2. The Dan Sullivan Question by Dan Sullivan

2) Real Feedback and Unbiased Opinions

The higher you climb in most organizations, the lonelier it is. Many leaders I work with feel they can’t share what keeps them up at night, or admit that they don’t know the answer to everything.

With a coach they have permission to cut the BS and be honest. The experienced and unbiased perspective of a coach can expose your blind spots, and open you up to new possibilities.

Part of my process involves asking the following questions:

  • What are your goals for the year and quarter?
  • Where are you spending your time daily?
  • What skills are you exceptional at?

Then I work with my client to create a plan to increase the amount of time invested in the areas where they excel.

I was once working with a sales rep, “Joe,” in the field. We were driving to a client meeting when the national boss called. Joe put the boss on speaker and let him know I was in the car.

I knew the boss well and asked him a few questions: “What does success look like for Joe at the end of the month?” He answered with a sales target—to be expected. “What’s the number one thing Joe needs to do to reach that goal?” More one-on-one meetings, the clients love Joe, and love meeting with him. Ok, so: “If that’s the case, why are you making him spend more than half of his day on conference calls, filling out forms and other activities that take him away from the real goal?”

Silence. Followed by the response, “Good point, I hadn’t thought of that.

We hung up and Joe thanked me. He didn’t feel that he could speak to his boss so frankly, which is a big part of the problem. A good coach can ask you the tough questions to help you find the highest value activities for you and your team.

If you’re not ready to hire a coach, schedule time with a co-worker or friend to ask each other about your goals, how you’re spending your time, and what you are exceptional at. Commit to making one small change as a result of your discussion, and follow up with them in a few weeks.

3) Move Out of Your Comfort Zone

It’s hard for most people to admit, but I’ve noticed that many people would rather stay stuck (or even miserable), than make the effort to change their circumstances. I call this phenomenon “comfortable misery.” Let me explain.

A few years back I was asked to speak to a team that worked together. Morale was at an all time low. The manager hoped I could help get them out of their funk.

I started the session by asking two questions:

  1. What’s working well right now?
  2. What’s not working well right now?

When I asked the first question, everyone in the room started studying their shoes. Silence. So I moved quickly to question #2.

27 minutes and 6 flip charts of grievances later, we stopped. No wonder there was low morale! We circled their top 5 concerns, and started to discuss some small changes they could make to improve. They had some really great ideas.

But then one member of the group, visibly concerned, pleaded with me loudly: “Don’t come in here and start changing things!” This was right after 27 minutes of sharing what was making them miserable.

The group, or at least that one person in the group, was choosing to be miserable over making change.

Change is uncomfortable. You have to move out of your comfort zone and be willing to confront the ways that you are contributing to your own circumstances. This principle can apply to any area of your life: work, fitness, relationships, etc. A good coach can help you recognize when you are getting too comfortable in your misery and help you get unstuck, back in motion toward pursuing your true vision.

“There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.”
Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab

Everything is an environment. The people you hang out with, your thoughts, your physical space, the books you read—all affect how you perceive and react to the world. If you don’t have a coach to help push you out of your comfort zone, making a deliberate change to your environment can help you overcome the challenges of of change.

One of the most fun ways to change your environment is to host a dinner party or mastermind group with friends, and have each friend bring someone new to the party. Come with an open mind and ask some great questions, and let the fun and magic happen.

I’ve had a business coach for the last 8 years, and I admit there were times that I couldn’t afford it. But they have made me better, uncovered my blind spots, moved me into action, and played a huge part in helping me create a life I love.

A coach can help you get your life back, become an even more respected leader at work and home, achieve results like never before, and better enjoy free time. All while escaping the hamster wheel of day-to-day activities many of us are stuck on.

If hiring a coach is not in the cards for you right now, there is tremendous benefit in developing a coaching mindset and playing with the exercises above.

The most important investment we can make is in ourselves, and I can’t quite believe I am citing lyrics from Fifth Harmony as life advice, but “Baby, I’m Worth It.”

Relationships that Work — Align Values to Find Perfect Fit

Think about the most enjoyable business relationships you’ve had. I am going to bet that you shared similar values, expectations, and more.

I have been happily married for over 18 years, so I don’t know that much about online dating sites. About ten years ago my goalie in hockey starting dating someone and it quickly became serious (they have since married). Over drinks after a game I asked them where they met. They sheepishly exchanged glances and whispered “online,” like it was some dirty secret. Since then many of my friends have found their life partners online.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. People with similar interests, values, and expectations for the future have a much better chance at long term success. Using the tools available to screen potential partners for common values and interests before investing time in meeting them is more than reasonable.

When we start having honest conversations at the beginning of a relationship (and of course, throughout the partnership), I really believe it serves both parties. Let’s share our beliefs and values upfront and it will save everyone lots of future frustration.

When I started my journey as an entrepreneur, I was just so happy to find anyone that would actually pay me for my services. It was like, they are going to send a cheque? Whoo hoo, awesome. To extend the online dating metaphor, it was the equivalent of accepting a date with anyone who said yes, without reading their profile or thinking about what I hoped to get out of the relationship.

The problem was that I was not a good fit for many of my clients, and they were not a great fit for me. And what happens when you stay in a relationship that isn’t working for either side? Nobody wins.

Think about the instances in business where each side has a tendency to withhold information. In the hiring process, if both sides avoid big discussions like salary expectations or frank conversations about the company culture, it extends the process unnecessarily and nobody wins. Or when you are hiring vendors or consultants, not understanding how they work or how they bill, and having unclear expectations, can lead to disastrous results.

One of the most influential business books that had a major and immediate impact on my business many years ago was Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. It was a real game changer for me. In it, Port talks about developing your “Red Velvet Rope Policy.” Simply put, as a business owner, who are the clients you love working with, and who in turn love working with you? What traits do they have that you absolutely love and make them a great fit to work with? What are the deal breakers that clearly indicate a bad fit?

My goal here is not to waste a potential client’s time or mine, and that starts with getting to know each other a lot better. If we are not a great fit, no problem at all, we can continue our search for a more suitable partner. If we are, fantastic. Let’s start a conversation.

With that in mind here are my business turn ons and turn offs. I use this list to help me evaluate fit for potential clients, but a similar list can help you to determine potential fit for any new (or ongoing) business relationships:

Turn Ons:

Willingness to Try New Things
If you want new results you have to be willing to try new things—which also means that you have to be willing to fail from time to time.

They Love Their Customers and SHOW It
They actually have a meaningful relationship with their customer after the sale and genuinely care about their customer’s success. And they show it through their actions (not just their words).

They Invest in Their Employees
They care about employees and invest in them. That could involve a professional and personal development plan or coaching.

Turn Offs:

Too Many “Experts”
Don’t get me wrong, experience in an industry is great. But relying too heavily on expertise, or being unwilling to bring in fresh eyes can lead to a serious lack of new ideas.

Having too many card carrying members of the CYA Club, or overly rigid decision making processes is an innovation and creativity killer.

Arrogance & Abuse of The Customer
This is one that really gets my blood boiling. Treating customers like a line item in a budget, assuming that you always know what’s best for your partners, or acting as though you’re more important than others is a quick way to send me running for the door.

As you enter into new professional relationships and partnerships, whether it’s hiring a new team member, bringing on a coach or consultant, or working with a new vendor, I urge you to write your own list of must haves and deal breakers. And at the start of a new relationship, ask people to share their own ideas and lists as well. It’s a clarifying exercise that can save a lot of time and energy down the road, and build a foundation for more productive relationships.

What is really boils down to for me is the power of having honest conversations right from the beginning of the relationship. The cost of not being honest upfront is wasted time, energy, and money.

Whether you meet a new partner (in business or in life) the “old fashioned way,” or connect online, the power of laying your cards on the table right from the beginning cannot be overstated. Understanding how your values align (or don’t) right from the start means that you save time and energy down the road, and allows you to build relationships that work.

Change Isn’t Cheap—Why I Stopped Doing “Free Lunch” Coaching

It starts with a text message or email saying: “Can we meet for coffee or lunch? I want to pick your brain on something.”

What this message really means is: “I am stuck and would love to get professional coaching from someone I respect and is really good at solving business problems. I would like this for the price of a coffee or lunch, and after I get your advice I will have no idea how to implement it, and will likely go back to the same thinking as before.

Hmm, let me check my calendar and see if I can fit you in.

Let me be clear, I love going out for lunch, coffee, or drinks—and talking about what challenges friends and colleagues are facing at work. Love it, when the relationship is one of mutual respect.

Encounters like this remind me of the saying: “your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” On the one hand you are saying you value my time and coaching, but your actions show that you don’t really care about creating meaningful change.

Imagine if I called a professional sales rep and said, “Hey can you sell for me, and instead of a salary or commission, I’ll buy you lunch?” I’d be (rightly) laughed off the phone.

The brutal truth is that for many years I allowed this. I take full responsibility for creating this monster. But no more.

I am proud to call myself a business coach, and a pretty damn good one. I love working with my clients and they love the results and experience they get working with me.  

Coaching is a profession I have worked really hard at. I have invested a tremendous amount of money hiring my own coaches, and I would not be where I am today without their amazing guidance, expertise, and support.

Look at any successful athlete or business leader, and you can guess they have had—and continue to have—coaches. Check out any professional team and look at how many coaches they have.

The problem with getting free lunch coaching is: it doesn’t get results.

We want the ideas for free, and for someone to help us out in the moment of crisis, but not to actually follow through. Contacts reach out to me at the moment they have a problem, but without a plan to follow through, they abandon new thinking the moment the problem loses its urgency. When you invest in something, you’re going to be a lot more likely to follow through.

A business leader I deeply respect once ended a presentation with this story:

“Imagine the traditional American breakfast served at a diner, it’s usually bacon and eggs.” He showed a picture on the screen and said, “the chicken is interested but the pig is invested.”

Are you invested in creating lasting change in your organization, or simply kind of of interested? If you want meaningful change, you need to invest a meaningful ways.

Now, before I agree to meet with someone, I ask them to spend some time answering the following questions:

  1. Why did you reach out to me?
  2. Do you have a clearly defined outcome for you and/or your team?
  3. What are you stuck on?
  4. Are you the chicken or the pig (are you interested, or invested)?  
  5. What, if anything, have you tried so far?
  6. Think of a time in your life when you successfully solved a problem. What steps did you take?
  7. Have you invested in reading books, looking for resources, etc. on the topic?
  8. Do you really want change?
  9. How do you define meaningful change?

Getting clear on the answers to these questions reveals how committed a contact is to change. The answer to question five is particularly telling: if the response is “nothing,” or “reaching out to you for advice,” I know that they probably aren’t truly invested.

If you’re serious about making a change, for your organization, your team, or yourself, make an investment of your time and your energy (and yes, of your cash) to make it happen.

Here are three ways to get started:

1) Return to A Beginner’s Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” -Shunryu Suzuki

Very often when people encounter a roadblock, they seek the input of the people closest to them. Have you ever been in a “brainstorming” session at your office? How did it go? Granted there is some value in these sessions, but putting a group of “experts” together rarely brings any breakthrough ideas. The main reason is that everyone is looking through the same lens.

Can you think of a time when you saw a product or service and thought to yourself “It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that?

Dollar Shave Club, Airbnb, Amazon, and Netflix are just a few examples of hugely successful companies that created a new model by returning to a beginner’s mind.

The easy way to get started is to clearly define your challenge, and ask people outside of your industry for advice—make it a game for them.

2) Ask Better Questions

In my spare time I run a program for fourth graders that have never played hockey before (believe it or not 9 out of 10 Canadians do not play hockey). When I work with the children there is never a shortage of great questions. Kids love asking questions and are naturally curious. Adults, on the other hand, unfortunately don’t ask nearly enough questions, and the questions we avoid are the biggest ones.

There is a great book called A More Beautiful Question. I highly suggest reading it.

Some of the great questions listed in the book for businesses to ask are:

  • What if our company didn’t exist?
  • What if we became a cause and not just a company?
  • How might we create a culture of inquiry?
  • Should mission statements be mission questions?
  • Why do smart business people screw up?

Take time with your team to answer these questions. And keep them handy—they’re great networking conversation starters as well.

3) Identify the Gap

Where are you now and where are you stuck? Where do you want to go (or, what is the ideal outcome)? What is the gap between the answers to these two questions? What resources or people can you enlist to assist in bridging the gap? Call them immediately.

I have a coaching client that is a Senior Executive for a company in the US. On a coaching call she said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I will never have you come here and work with my team. They love the new me, full of creativity and new action, and they love the results. Why mess with that?”

I loved that comment, as she had clearly identified the gap between where she was and where she wanted to go—and I felt fortunate to help her bridge that gap.

Free Doesn’t Work

Over the years I have been asked by a number of friends if I can coach them. I said yes to everyone, free of charge of course, that’s what friends are for.

Although they all experienced some progress, it was nowhere near the results that my paid clients achieved.

We value what we invest in.

If you are invested in making serious change, show me, I’m all ears.

Behavior Change That Sticks

I’m a behavior change expert. But I didn’t always know how to describe myself.

I often find myself in new situations, meeting new people. Whether it’s with a new client I am working with, at a conference, or at a cocktail party, I love meeting new people. But for years I have struggled with the first question many people ask, the dreaded “so what do you do for a living?”

I guess it’s a North American thing. I much prefer questions like: “what are you excited about right now?” What do you love doing on the weekends?” “What topic can you talk about endlessly?”

I guess the reason why I didn’t like the first question was I never knew how to answer it. I was always jealous of the people who could clearly answer the question in one word: I’m a banker, lawyer, teacher, nurse.

I usually tried to be witty and say something like “depends on the day.” One day I am a keynote speaker, another day a coach or advocate.

Recently, I was at a retreat for business owners, the 2nd Annual Actionable Partner Summit. In one of the sessions we were asked to define our superpowers, or put another way, to answer the question, why do clients hire you?

Fantastic question that really got me thinking. After writing down a few words like trust, problem solving, getting results—it came to me. The core of everything I do is: changing people’s behavior to get them (and their team) measurable results.

Damn it, I am a behavior change expert and I never even shared that with others.

It really is at the core of everything I do, whether it’s coaching a client and moving them into action, changing the thinking and actions of a corporate team, or working with the children’s hockey program I run.

With that in mind here are three ways to kickstart behavior change for you and your team:

1) Ask Yourself Big Questions to Get Clarity

I strongly believe that the answers we get in life are only as good as the questions we ask. We all want to be heard and understood, yet a cardinal rule that is often broken in sales conversations is “listen more, talk less.” That can be challenging for someone like me that speaks for a living.

I have experimented with asking a variety of questions to clients, and an all time favorite comes from Dan Sullivan. The question is:

“If we were meeting here 3 years from today and you were to look back over that time, what has to have happened during that period, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy about your progress?”

Asking someone this question is a gift to them. Most often the immediate response I get is “that is a great question.” This question provides the person an opportunity to really focus on what they want in the future, and gives them a brief vacation from the now. Immediately they can get a sense of if they are on the right track, or need to recalculate.

Clarity is what we want for ourselves and our organizations, and it is the critical first step in behavior change. Resistance to change is often the result of unclear goals.

2) New Environments = New Results

If you have read my previous posts you have heard me rave about the importance of changing your environments to change your results. No different here.

One of the world’s leading authorities on behavior change and one of the top corporate coaches in the world is Marshall Goldsmith, author of Triggers.

Goldsmith suggests looking at our environment as if it was a person. Can you think of a co-worker, past or present that just seemed to rub you the wrong way? I know I can. If I was going to be in a meeting with this person in the morning, I noticed how I was reacting long before the meeting started. In the car on the way there I was already getting defensive, upset and thinking of what to say to them. This is far from me at my best. The problem was not the person, but my reactions to them. When prompted by a good friend to think about that person through a different lens—the things I respected about them, how they made our team better, etc.—my response immediately changed and so did the relationship.

Remember, everything from our thoughts, beliefs, people we hang out with, and the physical places we inhabit, are environments. Think back to the last time you were travelling to a city for the first time. Did you see things with a fresh pair of eyes? Did you get curious and start asking questions? Or how about the last time you were talking to people outside your industry? I bet you came up with new ideas and perspectives.

Being intentional about changing your environments is key to changing your behavior.

3) Learn Less, Apply More

For many years I have been an avid reader of business books. I love learning new ways to do business from leaders from around the world. I could sound “smart” at a cocktail party, showing off how much I knew.

Problem was for many years I “knew” a lot, but didn’t follow through with behavior change from the lessons I learned. Knowing and doing are two very different things. We don’t have a knowledge problem, we have a taking action problem.

My advice: read less, apply more. When I learn something new of interest, I immediately ask “how can I can apply this?

Two years ago a good friend of mine told me: “I love going to events you host, and meeting such interesting people. I always walk away inspired and with new ideas, I just wish you hosted more events”

Interesting. So I asked her a few more questions and found out that she loved sharing and learning from people in other industries. She liked that she was talking to people who had a relationship with me, as she felt an immediate trust and bond.

So what did I do? I invited 10 cool people to my first ever group leadership program. The first steps were scary as hell—but 18 months later my clients love it and get results.

It’s funny, the clarity I got about answering the question “what do you do for a living?” came as a direct result of these three takeaways (and I didn’t even realize it). The group leader of the superpowers exercise started by asking us great questions like: “why do clients hire you?” “what is the outcome you produce?” “how do they feel about working with you?”

My answers came as a direct result of those questions, not to mention that I was in new environment, at a super cool conference centre meeting new business leaders. And finally, if they gave us a book on defining our superpowers and asked us to read it, I can honestly say I would not have gotten the same result. Learning more was not the issue, the action was where the result was waiting for me.

So next time you see me at a reception, please come over and ask me what I do for a living. I’m ready for you.