The Power of Being Radically Honest

Early on in the pandemic, one of my clients came to me with an opportunity to bring some of my material to a larger national group that he was involved in.

He told me the group was made up of top industrial painting companies across the United States, and they met twice a month via Zoom to expand their knowledge on a variety of pertinent topics. He wanted me to come in, provide a bird’s eye view of what I do, and pitch my services. Ten minutes tops, he said.

At the meeting, I talked about the new program I had recently developed, which took my essential teachings and broke them down into an engaging four-week curriculum of classes. Out of the 14 companies in attendance, 13 signed up for the course, which would kick off in the following weeks.

It was through this experience that I met Charlie… Or, rather, Charlie met me.

Charlie was at my first class, though I didn’t know it; he was off screen, while his boss was the one in front of the camera. Charlie emailed me to say he had some questions about the course content; as I’m wont to do, I asked him to give me a call.

In the one-on-one that followed, I learned that Charlie was the right-hand man at his workplace, a $30-million company based in Texas. He told me that, some months ago, his boss had suggested he look into getting some coaching to develop his business muscles. He had since attended a couple of different courses and groups, but nothing had felt quite right. His boss knew the value of coaching, however, and told him that it was a very personal decision. You will know when you’ve found the right coach for you, his boss had said.

At the end of that first class with me, Charlie knew. He had turned to his boss and said: “Shawn is my guy. I want him to be my coach.”

Now, I’ll note here that this was never the intention of this program. My goal was not to recruit new clients, but simply to try and cater my material to a larger audience, which was a unique challenge in itself. I knew I had no chance of inspiring change if my audience was bored out of their minds, and so I had tried my best to keep my sessions engaging, lively, and based on two-way communication.

I had also invited the participants to reach out to me in between classes if they needed help with their homework, which is how I ended up having this conversation with Charlie.

About hallway through our call, however, I noticed that Charlie seemed a bit nervous, and so I asked him what was on his mind. I wanted to know: what exactly was he looking for?

Charlie paused for a moment, and finally asked: “would you ever consider working with a person like me?”

At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that – “a person like me.” Nevertheless, I walked him through my intake process – detailed in Chapter 5 – and we scheduled a follow-up call so I could get a better sense of Charlie’s goals, and determine if we could work well together.

By the end of that second call, it was pretty clear to both of us that we were a great fit. We connected on so many levels. And so, I told him what coaching for Charlie might look like.

It was then that he finally revealed the source of his nerves. After a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Shawn, I have to be honest with you. I’m not an educated man.”

For a moment, I was puzzled. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” replied Charlie. “I know you’re probably used to working with people who have all kinds of degrees. I only have a high school education.”

In that moment, I went from “pretty sure” to “absolutely certain” that Charlie and I would be a good fit.

In my previous life working in corporate North America, I rarely saw that level of radical honesty. I did, however, see a lot of letters after people’s names. These were people with lots of formal education in their back pockets, but who never showed the kind of courage that Charlie had just displayed to me.

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against a college education. But education comes in many forms, and the best lessons in life are often the ones we learn outside a “formal” classroom. I felt compelled to remind Charlie of this.

“You’re the No. 2 man in a 30-million-dollar company,” I said. “Don’t ever use the word ‘uneducated’ again.”

I also told Charlie that about 80 percent of my clients “only have a high school education”, and out of that 80 percent, 100 percent have created businesses from scratch that are successful. One hundred percent of them have created great jobs and opportunities for their teams and their families.

Before they could get to that place, however, they had to be radically honest with themselves – honest about their strengths, and the things (or thoughts) that may be holding them back – just like Charlie had done with me. My all-star client Jim Kaloutas put this beautifully during a recent interview:

“I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs who think they’ve arrived. They’ve achieved a certain level of success and they don’t want to push beyond it, because then they’re going to be confronted by the fact that there’s a limit to their current capabilities.”

For me, this quote from Jim puts into perspective just how much our lives can change depending on the conversations we have – especially the conversations we have with ourselves. When we shine a light on all the doubts and fears in our heads, that’s where all the magic is.

The journey that Charlie and I have been on since that first meeting has been nothing short of amazing. And it all started with being honest.


Takeaway Tip:

Ask yourself: What is the voice in my head telling me? Who do I need to have an honest conversation with? And when am I going to have it?