Category Archives: Coaching

Intro to My Influencers: Clayton Christensen

Photo Credit: Betsy Weber on Flickr

Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!

The late Clayton Christensen taught at Harvard Business School, studied in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and wrote one of the most famous business books of all time, the Innovator’s Dilemma. Beyond these more celebrated accomplishments, though, Professor Christensen’s influenced me through one of his last and less famous books.  

Late in his career, Professor Christensen began sharing some lessons from his life with his Harvard Business School students. He later shared these lessons as a commencement speech for graduating HBS students which evolved into a short book, How Will You Measure Your Life?

What was so fascinating about this book was that I had read “self-help” books and I had read “business” books, but I had never read a “self-help business” book. I was the perfect audience for this book as it took some of the clear, values-based direction you often get in self-help books and applied them in business settings. This addressed one of the key limitations of self-help books for me: they often seem like they don’t necessarily apply to you and your situation.

How Will You Measure Your Life? was different, though. It tackled subjects like leading with your values, investing in the right things, and that 100% compliance was easier to manage than 99%. A clear example that has stuck with me: while I recognized that spending time with your family was a long-term investment compared to finishing up that last email or even an important client presentation, I had never stopped to realize why so many otherwise smart people fell into the trap of prioritizing their careers over their family by working long hours or being distracted by work on the weekend. Professor Christensen highlighted the immediate feedback loops on your progress at work—and rewards to boot—incentivize you to work more. On the other hand, supporting a partner and raising kids have very long feedback loops with big investments of time at the beginning that pay off more slowly (or ever, for some people and some relationships). 

Neither is necessarily right or wrong, but Professor Christensen forced me to confront that choice so that I didn’t unwittingly fall into a common trap of investing in those areas that give you the immediate reinforcement that our ancestral minds crave. And for that, I am grateful.

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Intro to My Influencers: Liz Gilbert

Photo: Wesley Fryer on Flickr

Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!

When a former work colleague recommended Big Magic by Liz Gilbert, I wondered if that was the same woman from Eat, Pray, Love who travels around the world? All I really knew about Eat, Pray, Love at that point was that it had something to do with finding oneself and that the book had had a moment, even making it on Oprah’s Book Club. 

Regardless, this introduction to this wandering guru was critical to my own development. 

The vulnerability and realness that Liz shares both in Big Magic and how she engages with her fans otherwise is so simple, real, and welcoming. I’m a sucker for vulnerability. Just tell me what you really feel and I’m usually in. And Liz does so in a way that feels different, though I can’t quite put my finger on how. It feels more real, less polished, less edited. And that builds a relationship with the reader that is powerful. 

But more than that, I read Big Magic at a critical time for me, when I talked a big game about writing, but studiously avoided ever actually doing it. Even when I had some motivation, other things like fear were keeping me from taking the next steps necessary to achieve that dream. It’s a hard realization that fear is keeping you from achieving your dreams, but it’s the only way to address the reality of my continued lack of investment in something that I told others (and myself!) was so important. I knew the importance of it, but didn’t prioritize it like I needed to. 

What Big Magic included were some very specific tips to help make the transition towards letting my creativity out. Liz ingeniously recommends having your fear write to you about what you are or should be scared of and then having you respond. Instead of avoiding fear or trying to minimize it, Liz recommends inviting it along for the ride, but not letting fear change the radio station and especially don’t let it get behind the wheel, as I unfortunately had.

I knew in my heart that writing was a powerful and important way to clarify thoughts and communicate ideas and values. And I knew I had important ideas and values and thoughts that I wanted to communicate. And yet I would get sucked into less meaningful things on a daily basis. Not altogether bad things, but just indolent things. Why? Because I was scared. I was scared I would write something and no one would read it. Or I would write something and everyone would read it and see that it sucked. Either way, fear had won because my ass was sitting on the sideline, getting an extra hour of sleep or catching up on the latest NBA game. 

Liz inspired me to break through this fear in just the right way. I’m sure it’s not the right tone for everyone, but it was the right tone for me to hear. Calm and knowledgeable, but forceful that the rightful place of your ideas, feelings, and art is out in the world and not stuck in your head. She also helped me appreciate the subtleties of all the ways we can express creativity. It’s not just writing or painting, but also includes cooking or sharing one’s love for another. 

A final key thing that Liz and I share is a firm belief in the superlativeness that each of us share inside us. There is something deep inside us that each of us that is so unique, so powerful, so restorative, so contributing to the world. Most of us never spend the time to discover that or are scared to accept what we learn. Liz directly challenges this limitation. And the world is a better place for it.

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Intro to my Influencers: Jes Averhart


Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!

Jes Averhart is one of those people that everyone knows and everyone raves about. Still, I had never met her until I ran into her at a United Way of the Triangle open house a few years ago that we were both attending. I introduced myself and we scheduled a time to grab coffee a few weeks later.

When she showed up for coffee, she was wearing her workout clothes, having just exercised before our meeting. As a close-to-first impression, that took a lot of confidence as well as a clear understanding of who you are and why you do what you do. It was not what most people would expect at an initial meeting, but perhaps she sensed a kindred spirit with me. 

A few years ago, in arranging my first meeting with a professional contact, I scheduled a similar meeting with someone I had never met before at a hole-in-the-wall taco joint in San Antonio, arriving in my workout clothes after running there to get some exercise. Our family has a commitment to exercise, so exercising might actually be more impressive to me than the traditional signals one sees in a professional meeting.

More recently, on an episode of the Just Podcast that Jes co-hosts with Rob Shields, Jes honored her instincts and asked a follow up question of their guest, her friend and fellow coach David Spickard. Her follow-up question was essentially and vulnerably: I don’t get it. As a fellow podcast host myself, I’ve learned it can be hard to push back on your guests. But Jes leaned into this ambiguity and the audience, Jes, and David all benefited from that decision. 

These interactions gave me a much clearer view into the whirlwind that is Jes Averhart. Authentic to her core, passionate on the issues that matter, and blithely dismissive of the issues that don’t (like what you wear to a meeting). Still, though, Jes doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t claim to. No, she is just a reflection of what can be when you trust yourself, stop trying to meet other people’s definition of yourself, and put in the work to make your dreams a reality. And for an entrepreneur, leader, and author like Jes, that’s about all you can ask. 

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Hopes and Dreams

Photo by Alex Nemo Hanse on Unsplash

One of our family’s coping mechanisms during this pandemic has been our regular ritual of determining each family member’s hope and dream for the weekend. We each choose one thing to add to our often-lengthy chore and to-do list and, then, as a family, we do our best to make that hope and dream come true. These hopes and dreams are simple, but powerful. Things like get donuts, watch a favorite movie, go for a long run, or try a new family board game. 

A couple months ago on Mother’s Day, my wife’s hope and dream was to watch Michelle Obama’s Netflix special Becoming. I had read Michelle’s memoir of the same title last year and loved learning the story behind the half of the Obamas that isn’t as often in the news. Michelle is impressive in her own right and her memoir told the story of how she made her way from the rapidly changing South Side of Chicago to the pinnacle of power and privilege. 

The Netflix special, though, added some additional color to the memoir by sharing vignettes from her book tour. It showed some of the behind-the-scenes interactions with her team, the funny bon mots she shared with her interviewers at public events, and the touching moments with students and young people at private events. 

It was in one of these private events where a young woman asked why she was invited to participate in this small group conversation with the former First Lady, implying that her background and experience were unworthy of such an opportunity. Michelle wasn’t having it. She told the young woman that she deserved to be there and she just needed to accept the story of who she was and build on that. 

This was a powerful moment in its own right, but it crystallized something important for me. We all want to understand our history, tell our stories, and then write the next chapter. That is an innate human need, but it’s hard. Our personal histories have some great things and also things that we want to forget. Our present lives can be hard to accept sometimes because of the busyness of our day-to-day lives, impostors syndrome, or other barriers. And we all want to write that next chapter, but we are scared of failing. 

There is nothing special about these challenges. Everyone faces them. Seeing Michelle wrestle with similar challenges in her life and then seeing the young adults that she engaged with also wrestle with them crystallized this common human condition for me. I’ve been circling it for a while, but never quite getting there. Getting close, but never close enough. I realized that my goal, my mission is to help people understand and accept their stories and then help them write the next chapter for themselves. To reinforce those superpowers that are hard to acknowledge and to be that Michelle Obama in your corner when needed.

Like that girl, this path was before me and I just wouldn’t accept it.  But if you look at some of the people that influenced me, it only makes sense. 

Nilofer Merchant’s work on Onlyness…

Brene Brown’s various works that have focused on vulnerability…

Liz Gilbert’s deep dive into creativity in Big Magic

Sanyin Siang’s exploration of how to launch and acknowledge your superpowers…

And many more.

They are all about finding and accepting your story and then sharing it with the world. You have to listen to your own story and believe it. 

As I’ve gone about the long and winding process to understand my own history, tell my story, and write the next chapter, I’ve learned that my strengths of learning, relating to others, understanding others’s strengths, connecting dots between people and concepts, and turning ideas into action are best applied in helping others take that same journey. 

Is that executive coaching or career coaching? Maybe a little of both, Regardless, I’ve already seen the impact in some of my clients in the ability to know their history, tell their story, and write their next chapter. It is so satisfying to me to see the proverbial lightbulb turn on and these clients make this change.

But there’s more that I’m excited about. Beyond the fact that this is good for individuals and their own utility, it’s also transformative especially for leaders. Why? Because the best leaders are the ones that know themselves the best. Leaders are praised and rewarded for their clear visions of where they want to go, but many have failed in knowing where they came from and taking careful stock of what currently is. 

But those who know not only where they have been but where they are going are better situated to be leaders. Those who have done this foundational work are confident of who they are and where they came from so they are more humble and empathic as leaders. And you can’t get where you want to go or even define where you want to go in the first place without knowing where you came from. 

Similar to my family’s weekly ritual or Michelle Obama’s encouragement of the young woman, helping my clients uncover these recognitions in pursuit of happiness and positive impact is my hope and dream. Let’s go!

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Intro To My Influencers: Sanyin Siang

Photo: LID Publishing

Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!

Sanyin Siang is the most famous anonymous person I know. She has over a million followers on LinkedIn. She’s got the winningest coach in college basketball history on speed dial. She’s written two books and has met and coached some of the world’s best leaders. Still, it’s a fame that is largely hidden so unless you know Sanyin, you could pass her on the street and never see the tremendous impact she has had on others. 

And yet if you ran into her around town as I have on a number of occasions, she will give you a big hug and spend a few minutes with you before she runs off to her next meeting or to pick up her kids. And those few minutes will be magical, with her searching her mental rolodex for people who could help you with whatever challenge you may be facing, which always happens to slip out when you talk with her. 

Despite it seeming like she’s perfect in every way, Sanyin will readily admit that she doesn’t have all the answers and she faces the same doubts, fears, and worries that we all do. In fact, the part of her most recent book (The Launch Book) that resonated with me the strongest was the final chapter where she acknowledges how hard the process of writing was and how she didn’t know how to complete the book. This upfront vulnerability is missing in many of our leaders today and it is so beneficial to see her model that for us.  

As we’ve all struggled during COVID times, Sanyin’s occasional Facebook posts on her engagement with her family–a garden exploration, a cooking experiment–are also complemented with her at-times overwhelming frustration at remote learning or parenting in general. Stars…they’re just like us. 

This leading with vulnerability and humility are the lessons that I’ve pulled from my decade-plus long relationship with Sanyin. The only way to be a truly great leader is to recognize you don’t have all the answers yourself and be willing to share that reality. Another way of looking at it is that Sanyin is a human first and a coach (or mother or wife or teacher or volunteer or…)  second and not vice versa. By putting the weight in the appropriate place first (her authentic self, her true essence), she ensures that whatever else she does will be successful. And that’s something we all can learn from her.


Intro to My Influencers: Ari Weinzweig

Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!

My family introduced me to Zingerman’s Deli a few years ago and I made it a tradition to stop by there and do a pilgrimage each time I made it to Ann Arbor, which admittedly wasn’t that often. Zingerman’s prides itself on high quality of food, unique and local variations of regional and international cuisine, and high standards for customer service. So, when a work trip with a couple colleagues necessitated a visit a few years ago, I made a reservation for the three of us at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. 

Zingerman’s Roadhouse is a sit-down outpost of the Deli. More down-home American classics than traditional deli fare, but perfect for an introduction to the quality of food and service that Zingerman’s was known for. And it didn’t disappoint. 

Our server was attentive and thoughtful, even using her own body to demonstrate what part of the cow the steak I was interested in was from. Our water glasses were refilled with regularity. Our plates cleaned of every last morsel. 

We had a professional development budget to buy the books or attend the conferences that we wanted. Ari Weinzweig, the CEO of Zingerman’s, had written several and I convinced my colleagues that we should each get his books so our server dropped off a stack of 9 thick hardback books on the table as I polished off the remains of the donut ice cream sundae that marked the end of our meal. 

And then, the water guy sidled up to our booth, sat down, opened the first book (Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part I: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business), and started signing them. My colleagues and I all looked incredulously at each other. 

“Are you Ari?” as if that wasn’t already self-evident. 

“Yes, welcome to Zingerman’s! I hope you enjoyed your meal.” 

“We did! But weren’t you just filling our water?” 

“I was. That’s Secret 25: Managing by pouring water.” 

We opened the book to that chapter and indeed, there it was, Secret 25, Managing by pouring water. Turns out that every week, Ari works at the Roadhouse one evening so that he can check in with the team, get an eye on operations, and interact with the customers. So that he doesn’t just sit around making everyone uncomfortable while he observes what’s going on, in the spirit of servant leadership, he identified a job that he could do that would be valuable to the guests and the team, but also could be covered by others should he be out of town. He settled on refilling the water glasses.

I have to admit that this was a pretty good party trick and clearly, we weren’t the first people he had pulled it on. But more than that, I was impressed with his dedication to his craft, to his team, to his customers. 

So began a deep dive into the history of Zingerman’s Deli and it’s growth from a small delicatessen into a community of businesses–all in the Ann Arbor area–that support each other. Beyond the Deli and Roadhouse, they also have a mail order business, coffee shop, coffee roastery, candy manufactory, bakehouse, training company, Korean restaurant, farm, creamery, mail order, event space, and food tours. As I dug into Zingerman’s, I also explored all of the many writings of Ari Weinzweig. There have been so many inspirational parts of his work that have influenced my own personal development as well as my coaching. Here are just a few:

  • “Don’t get furious, get curious” as a reminder to dig into the root causes of what angers you and to dig underneath the immediate emotion.
  • If feeling lousy, find three people to thank. Gratitude changes your perspective pretty quickly.
  • Knowing and accepting what is “enough.” This one deserves an essay all on its own but recognizing what constitutes enough (money, fame, external validation, rest, etc.) will change your life.
  • The art of giving excellent customer service. It’s not enough to simply provide good customer service once, you have to have an underlying philosophy and the processes in place to make it a consistent reality. 
  • The power of visioning. This one also deserves an essay of its own, but I’ve found that creating a compelling vision of a future state that I want has changed my life.

Ari’s influence on me is not limited to the content of his writing. I also appreciate the vulnerability and thoughtfulness that permeates it. He clearly spends a great deal of time thinking and reflecting, also skills that I desire to practice more. The voluminousness of his writing also inspires me. He produces so much great content that I’m amazed he has time for anything else, let alone helping to run a multi-million dollar organization. 

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