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The Proteus Leader Show #38: Why Executive Coaching?

Executive coaching has become an increasingly popular developmental tool, and Erika’s colleague, Ken Kesslin, has been using the Proteus approach for over a decade to help clients become extraordinary leaders. Together, they explore what distinguishes this approach, and provide valuable insights for listeners who have or are considering working with an executive coach.

00:00-01:00 - Introduction

01:01-08:00 - What is Most Distinctive About Proteus' Approach to Coaching

08:01-13:29 - Hesitations to Coaching - How to Help Support Them

13:30-16:37 - How to Take Best Advantage of Coaching

16:38-17:34 - Closing

Intro: 00:01 You're listening to the Proteus Leader Show with Erika Andersen, where you'll get practical tools and insights for leading, managing and staying ready for the future. Erika is the founding partner of Proteus, a firm that focuses uniquely on leader readiness. A nationally known executive coach and bestselling author, you may already know her as one of the most popular leadership bloggers on Ready for something you can use today? Here's Erika.

Erika: 00:31 Hello everybody and welcome back to the Proteus Leader Show. My guest today is Ken Kesslin, my colleague here at Proteus. Ken has a fascinating history: he spent the 80s in finance on Wall Street; the 90s as a clinical social worker in New York City; and for the past 20 years he's been coaching senior leaders and their teams. He combines his business experience with his people wisdom to help clients become extraordinary leaders. So welcome to the show, Ken.

Ken: 00:59 Thanks. Erika. It's great to be here.

Erika: 01:01 Yes, I'm excited to have you. You know, I don't have to tell you, you've been working with us at Proteus as a coach for over a decade and I love having this chance to talk with you about your experience on our team using our approaches. And I think your insights will be really valuable for our listeners, especially those who have or are considering working with an executive coach. So as you know better than most people, executive coaching has become a really popular developmental tool over the past 20 years. And I'd love to get your sense of what you believe is most distinctive about our Proteus approach to coaching and why.

Ken: 01:39 Sure. Um, well you mentioned when you introduced me that I come from an interesting background that combines both business background, but also I was a psychotherapist in a past life. And one of the things that I'm very aware of in the coaching field as it's developed over the last two decades is that although coaching really tries to distinguish itself from the other ways that people grow, particularly therapy, they don't like to be seen as therapists. In the way most people do coaching. It's still based on that model of like a regular contact for about an hour at a time with someone to talk. And I think that that's because in many ways that model works and it's useful. And one of the things I've always appreciated about how Proteus we approach coaching is that we do something very different, which I will just say before I mentioned what it is that we do differently I think is very respectful and appropriate for an executive's time - which is different than if you're going for your own personal development, it might make sense to work with someone every week or on a regular basis for a long period of time. What we're trying to do very often is help someone make a dramatic change very quickly.

Erika: 03:02 Yeah.

Ken: 03:03 And so the thing that's most different, I think about our approach is we have this two-day session that begins the coaching, which we call a catalyst session. And, uh, like most people listening, most executives when they first hear that thing, two days, oh my God, you mean you want me to be out of work for two days? You want me to come in for two days with you? First it's like shock. Like you know, I can't be away for two days. But it's also, it's also like what are we going to do for two days? And although I'm not going to go into all of what we do in the two days here, what I think is so distinctive and so appropriate for today's executive is that my, the people I work with these days are so busy and so overwhelmed with everything, information, decisions, emails, meetings.

Ken: 03:57 It's like they barely have time to really think. And what we do is we give them kind of like a two day personal and professional retreat. If anyone's ever been on a team retreat, you know, the value of stepping away from the work for a couple of days and going to really think deeply about something. And I think that's a big missing in a lot of corporate environments is just that time to think without distraction. So we provide that as part of what we do in a two day away from the office time just to focus on yourself, your development, your longterm goals, how what you're doing now fits or doesn't fit that and how we help you realign with your own personal goals for your life as well as the goals of the business.

Erika: 04:51 Wow, that's a wonderful explanation. You know, I've, I've obviously I agree with you because, but when I - I hadn't really thought about that. You know, what you're saying of how little time people have to think. I mean, I've spoken to a lot of coaches who use the more kind of regular, normal approach, the kind of therapeutic approach as you pointed out. And even though it can be helpful, I agree that it is, it has to be somewhat transactional. It's like, here's a thing that's bugging me right now. Can you help me with it? Which is not bad. That's a good thing. But that opportunity to just go really deep into, okay, what are the core things that I really do well, but I have to lean into, I have to learn to lean into more and what are the core things that I'm not, you know, the two or three things that I'm not great at that I really need to mitigate those weaknesses in order to be more effective as a leader, you don't really have time to sink down into that if you're just meeting with a coach for an hour or so.

Erika: 05:53 Yeah, that's absolutely true.

Ken: 05:55 Absolutely. Even something as simple, I mean one of the things that I know we always do during those two days is we, we ask whoever we're working with to tell us their life story, their life history, particularly their alluded leadership journey. And it's so fascinating to me, first of all, I mean some people can do that in 10 minutes and then you have to ask them a lot of questions and some people take a couple of hours, which is fine. But when I say to people, you know, when was the last time you ever told someone your entire life story? It's not surprising that people say never.

Erika: 06:30 Yeah.

Ken: 06:32 I'm just so aware as a coach, just how important it is to recognize what, what is it you've been practicing before your entire life sometimes, that you're not even aware you become an expert at and now you have to change that.

Erika: 06:50 Yes.

Ken: 06:50 When I listen to people's stories, I'm listening for those patterns, but they're listening to and a lot of times at the end they'll say, oh my God, that's where that came from.

Erika: 07:02 Yeah.

Ken: 07:03 You know, I started doing that when I was 12. Yeah, no, I'm 50 or 45 and I'm still doing that same thing. And while it was brilliant when you were 12, it's not so great anymore, uh, in your leadership tool of tricks.

Erika: 07:19 That's brilliant. I think that's exactly right. And the, the opposite is also true. I think I've found that sometimes you, you hear people talk about what I've come to think of is their super power - their way that they approach the world. That still does work and will work for, you know, so it helps them let go of the things they had been doing that had been working all along - that are not no longer going to work for them. But it also sometimes helps them extract those really brilliant ways they have of interacting with the world that are your knee unique and that are going to serve them sort of permanently. So it helps you sort of - it helps you help them sort that out.

Ken: 07:56 Yeah. It's like what, what do you wanna keep in your toolkit and what do you want to toss out and replace?

Erika: 08:01 Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Well so you, you referenced this a little bit when you first started to talk but what do you, so, because this is unusual, I know I haven't, I'm sure you have run into people who are like, what ways - how do you respond to people's hesitations about this different way of approaching coaching?

Ken: 08:21 Yeah, I love, I love when people hear about this because they do people, people have all kinds of interesting reactions. Everything from, Oh my God, that would be great. Which is wonderful to hear. Like you mean I can, I can legitimately get away from the office for two days and have a reason to say no to meetings and emails and I'm like, yeah, use that, you know, use me as an excuse but more, more often I think people are surprised because it's not unexpected and they're either concerned about can I take two days away? Yeah. Will it be worth my time? Because two days is a lot. I'm someone who is busy from before the moment they walk into work literally until they check their email before they go to bed to say, give us two days to, you know, reconfigure you in a way. That's a lot to ask. So that's one thing. And the other thing is they're very concerned because they know it's personal development because they know, well, you know, that can be very, um, people can be afraid of that, you know,

Ken: 09:28 and they're like, oh my God to two days with you. Like I think one of the reasons, one of the reasons people do other kinds of personal development work in short bursts is because it can be intense. So people are like, what are we going to do for two days? So answering both those questions is really interesting and I enjoy that because it really does. Every time I do it, it confirms for me the value. So I'll share with you some of the things that I share with people that has so far worked on that. Everyone I've talked to, they all come, you know they don't say we're not doing this because of that weird two days you do. So one is what I started to say to you is that pretty much everyone I've ever worked with, the busier they are. As soon as you say something like personal retreat or you get to shut down for two days and they really imagine that, they're like, oh my God.

Ken: 10:25 And I say to them sometimes, I said, look, it's not like going on vacation. We're going to focus on your work, but what you're going to get to do in this uninterrupted two days is you're going to get to step away from the work. You're going to get to look at the work from a distance, which is very different than being consumed by the work and we're going to do it in a deep way. You're going to get to think about things that you don't have time to do right now and you can almost hear people take a deep breath when you say that because most people have forgotten how to do that. It's not part of their toolkit to step back and reflect and for us, I know it's not just in our coaching that we help people do this, but in the other work that we do, like vision and strategy is really a, let's step back from the work and really take a very wide view of what we're doing.

Ken: 11:22 And when someone gets the opportunity to do that and they realize what that can lead to, I think they grab it, which is what I stance. After they get over the, Oh my God, two days they're like, okay, when can we schedule this? And what's more interesting I think is after we do the two days, because after we do the two days, often the people who are most hesitant, they're usually the ones that say, oh my God, Kim, can I do this more often? Do you do this outside of coaching? Because, and some people have said, let's get together. I want to do this once a year. I want to take a day away from work and come sit with you and just talk things through. Because so much of value comes out when you have time. So think you have time to reflect with a skilled listener. Yeah. You know, it's different than just going and sitting in your study by yourself, which is incredibly valuable. But having a real sounding board who's going to listen and knows the landscape of your business and can push back and can challenge and can be there in a really thoughtful, strategic way, I think is priceless. We'll do a mastercard commercial here.

Erika: 12:35 Yeah, totally. And, and in addition to all the things you're saying has actual, can literally teach you ways to improve in the ways and, and you have time to learn. Like if you're a terrible delegator or if you're, you have a mindset that gets in the way of really supporting people or what, you know, any one of the 40 things that we can help people with. It's like, okay, you can talk about it, get clear about it. And then I literally, we literally can help you learn to do that thing better before you have it here. That's pat.

Ken: 13:06 And literally that can happen in two days. So people leave the two days. It's not like it takes weeks to figure out what you're going to do. Like in a normal coaching, when you do it in little chunks, like after the two days you got the whole game plan and you're ready to rock and roll the next day back at work, which is yeah, very different than most models that I know of. Professional Development.

Erika: 13:30 Well, so then let's pick up on that. We could literally have this conversation a couple hours and I was promised listeners that this will be, you know, more than sort of 50 minutes. So yeah. So you know, somebody comes out of that two days, well, what's your advice? How do they, how do they then take best advantage of that opportunity to think deeply and learn new skills and then go back to the workplace?

Ken: 13:53 So one of the important things, because we know from all the research and the brain science around habit development, we know that, um, you can learn a lot of things, but, but putting them into action, actually making the behavioral change is a different process that then just knowing that the change should happen. Yes. So one of the key things I think is because those two days can be like a firehose, get a lot of feedback, you get a lot of information, you do some skill development. It's like a custom design today, you know, launch for your own. It's like I sometimes sleep, it's like a leadership makeover. Makeover. Yeah. So one of the things is, and when we do this at the end of the two days, we help people really think about all that they've taken in and come back to. So what are the small steps you're going to take to start this process that's going to take you awhile to fully integrate.

Ken: 14:49 You have the full picture of what you have do. But I usually tell people to pick one or two things that are going to be early in easy wins to start practicing. And what we're looking for is ongoing practice of new behaviors and new skills. So we have to identify out of all the things we talked about in the two days, what are going to be those few things to start. And then we stayed for some support for a few months afterwards, but it's really supportive coaching. We're, we're checking in, we're seeing how things are going, we're seeing what habits have been acquired to then layer on more and more as people are ready rather than either leaving them with all this information and no support or leaving them to their own devices, which I think is what people do like at new years. They got a whole bunch of ideas, they do all these resolutions and then a month later they're totally discouraged and haven't done any of them. And then they give up until the following year when they start again. And we want to avoid that.

Erika: 15:49 So focus - after you would encourage people to focus after the session on building a couple of really key habits that are going to have the biggest impact. Knowing that you as the coach will be there to support the person in making those habits part of their new way of being.

Ken: 16:07 Exactly, and what I look for mostly with people, we're trying to identify what is often called a keystone habit. So what is at the core of the shift they have to make? And what is the thing that if they begin doing it regularly, a lot of the other things we've talked about will either naturally occur as ad-ons or will comment sensibly, follow the change they've already made. So we try and go to for the root of the shift and we help them do small things to make that root change.

Erika: 16:38 That's great. Oh my gosh. Really? We could just talk and talk, but so thank you so much. So this has been so wonderful to hear and it's great for me because even though we obviously both use the same approach, I, I feel like I learned a lot listening to you, which is I think one of the wonderful things of our team as we're all using the same basic approach and have the same basic philosophy about it. But it's like, oh, I never thought about it. So that's wonderful. And listeners, I hope this was really helpful to you. If you, if you want to find out more about our approach to, to coaching, you can go to select what we do and click on strengthening leaders. So thank you all for listening. Thank you so much, Ken, for joining me. You're welcome. And until next time, here's to creating the life you truly want.

Outro: 17:34 We hope you're feeling better equipped to create the career, the business and the life you want. For more insights and tools for leadership and management, join us Have an excellent day and thanks for listening.