Leadership for 2012 – Lessons from Shackleton

I’ve got a book coming out in September, 2012.  The working title is “The Complete Executive” and it describes the leadership practices and personal disciplines I have observed in my most successful executive level clients.  As part of my research I’m diving into as much diverse thinking on leadership as possible, and came across a fantastic article in this past weekend’s New York Times by Nancy F.  Koehn

The article described Ernest Shackelton’s journey towards Antarctica in 1914 – 1916 in terms of the leadership challenges he faced over the course of the expedition.  The parallels between what Shackleton encountered and what’s facing today’s business leaders are fascinating. 

He had an audacious goal, and took some chances in hopes of achieving it.  Things went awry, though, and the ship and crew faced unexpected and extraordinary adversities, the first of which was having to wait out the Arctic winter on a ship trapped in pack ice.  Shackleton recognized, however, that the real concern was not the weather conditions.  “He knew that in this environment, without traditional benchmarks and supports, his greatest enemies were high levels of anxiety and disengagement, as well as a slow-burning pessimism.”  He knew that the emotional challenges and resulting issues amongst the crew members were the things he had to combat, and he put numerous initiatives in place to do just that.  How many business leaders attend to the emotional climate of their organizations in the face of  marketplace adversity? 

“….The hardest part of leadership is not just feeding your team with ideas and motivation, but feeding yourself…..”  Leadership is hard.  To maintain “an unshakeable faith in your mission, yourself and your abilities” you must ensure you’re taking care of yourself while you’re leading others.  In Shackleton’s case, he kept journals and wrote regular letters to his wife.  He reflected on what had changed and what was necessary – at first for success, but later for survival.  He adjusted his focus, and then adjusted his approach. 

“……(he had) a deep sense of loyalty and obligation to his fellow crew members.  The men themselves understood this, and most, in turn, offered him their commitment.”  Loyalty is not a one-way street.  To expect extraordinary effort and commitment in the face of adversity, leaders must demonstrate that commitment first.  People know if it’s there – or not.  It can’t assumed, or faked.

“This combination – credible commitment to a larger purpose and flexible, imaginative methods to achieve a goal – is increasingly important in our tumultuous times.”  Flexibility and imagination – how many large organizations can really demonstrate those important qualities?  This is one interpretation of the “what versus how” distinction.  Can your organization stay committed to its purpose and yet nimbly adjust its approach as the environment changes?  Can you, as its leader?

An initiative does not have to achieve its original goals in order to be considered a success.  The containment of turbulence and the growth of organizational resilience, flexibility and creativity are capabilities that will be valuable no matter what the business objective.  Since change and upheaval are apparently the “new normal,” what are you, as a leader, doing to adapt?

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Book Release!

I’m thrilled to announce the publication of “Ready, Aim, Excel!”  It’s a compilation, published by Expert Insights, and featuring leadership experts including Ken Blanchard, Marshall Goldsmith, Relly Nadler, Cathy L. Greenberg and over 40 others.  I’m excited to be part of such an illustrious group with my chapter on Walking your Talk. 

As anyone who’s ever worked with me knows, I believe that leadership starts with leadership of self, and that in order to inspire others a leader must be a role model for the things he or she espouses.  I also know that the pressure on leaders is signficant, and only increasing.  Over the many years I’ve been working with leaders I’ve learned numerous strategies and secrets for performing at the level required of the people who run big organizations, and I’ve developed a program that brings all of those strategies together.  My chapter in “Ready, Aim, Excel!” introduces my upcoming peak performance program for top level leaders, called The Complete Executive (launching January, 2012). 

Please check it out, and I welcome your feedback.

Have an amazing day!

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Business Building Secrets

I’ve built my business completely on the basis of one-on-one coaching services, whether it be me or one of my fantastic associates doing the work, and I’m really proud of the consistent growth and wonderful success we’ve had over the years.   And because of that success, I often get calls from aspiring – or struggling – executive and corporate coaches wanting some insight into how I’ve built and run the business and still managed to have a life. 

So I wanted to find a way to consolidate my experiences, both the things I figured out early and the mistakes I made, into an easy-to-access format that would make the information available to anyone who wants to save themselves some time and some of the pain of learning the hard way. 

Introducing CoacBiz101!  Four 1-hour interviews plus some of the forms and templates I use frequently – and an added bonus, my One Page Marketing Plan guide.  If you’re at all interested in what I believe are some of the keys to executive coaching BUSINESS success, please check it out. 

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Great event – get your all access pass now!

For the past several weeks, the coaching industry has been buzzing about The World Business and Executive Coaching Summit — a groundbreaking online event that is bringing together all the major thought leaders in the business and executive coaching space, including Brian Tracy, Marshall Goldsmith, Michael Gerber, and Michael Port.

Click here for your all access pass!

In preparation for the event, there have been some AMAZING pre-Summit lectures and webinars.  I’ve already learned fantastic new skills and fascinating insights from some top notch practitioners from around the world – and that’s just for starters!   I can only imagine the kind of value that’s in store during the event itself.  And I’m thrilled to be participating as a panellist in what promises to be a spirited debate about Coaching Niches. 

That’s why I urge you to register for the full event this week, before the 50% early bird discount ends on Friday at Midnight EDT.

If you haven’t yet, I *highly* recommend that you secure yourself a seat at the table.  Between sharing best practices, techniques, and strategies, the Summit is going to change the face of the industry.  There will be something for every level of practitioner so whether you’re new or very experienced, you’re sure to learn something new and useful.

You can find out all about it and register at the link below:

WorldWide Executive and Business Coaching Summit
Can’t wait to “see” you there!

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A comment on pricing

I’ve gotten several questions this week about my approach to pricing. Here’s what I sent in response to the last inquiry:

I don’t quote or charge by the hour.  Because I come to coaching from a corporate background, I am extremely mindful of and sensitive to the interest of the corporate customer in accountability and measurement or ROI wherever possible.  I believe that corporately-sponsored executive coaching should have rigour and structure around it in order to ensure that both the organization and the individual are clear about both the intended and actual deliverables or results.  So I contract on the basis of a calendar period and a desired outcome, engaging both the individual and their sponsor in setting goals and creating a communication process such that any key stakeholders are clear on what we’re trying to accomplish and how we’ll measure success.  We work together for an agreed period of time and do whatever needs to be done in support of the engagement goals. So it’s not about time – although of course based on my experience there’s a relatively predictable structure and frequency that forms the foundation of the engagement design based on the areas of focus and the goals.  Important to know, though, that if diverting from that structure will serve the objectives, then we divert.

In my view, as soon as you measure coaching on the basis of time, you reduce the focus on results – and in corporately-sponsored coaching, you are being contracted for a result.

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The Triple Threat — 3 Keys to Becoming an Executive Coach

TargetAspiring coaches often ask me what it takes to succeed as a corporate or executive coach.  I’ve come to understand that there are very often three things that successful coaches share.  And yes, I know that there are lots of exceptions to these rules, and yes there are lots of coaches who do brilliant corporate and executive work without all of this behind them, but if I’m asked what I consider to be some of the keys to success, this is what I say:

1. Experience

The corporate or executive coaching client will connect most easily with a coach who has walked in their shoes.  The coach who has owned a P&L, run a business, had a big staff reporting to them and had to present at the executive level will have an immediate understanding of the client’s world that cannot possibly be shared by a coach who hasn’t been on the front line.

2. Education

The corporate client wants to understand that the coach “gets” their business.  When coaching in the business environment, the discussions between coach and client will always include references to financial metrics, operational issues, talent management strategies, competitive threats and anything else that is core to what the client spends their day doing.  The coach who understands all of the terminology and the essence of the issues has a way of connecting with the client that the client without business education does not.  So that MBA or BComm degree means that the coach shares an academic foundation with the client that ensures they can speak the same language.

3. Expertise

Those who know me know my relentless stand on coach training — get some.  There are distinct skills necessary to do this work well, skills that are hard to learn by osmosis or life experience (although both of those help).  The other reality is that corporate and executive coaches are most often referred into an organization by the HR leader, who is often filtering their search results based on whether the coach is trained and/or credentialed.  So no, you don’t have to have a certification, but having one will give you access to more work — not to mention making you at least a little better at it than you would have been otherwise.

For more on how to start, grow and sustain a corporate coaching practice watch this space for my upcoming ebook, CoachBiz 101.

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Spread the love on Valentine’s Day!

Anyone who either knows me personally or who reads my posts knows that I am passionate about coaching and its potential impact on the world.  Lately I’ve been stepping up into more activities that either require more of me as a role model in this profession, or that have the potential to expand the benefits of coaching in important ways.

One of the latter initiatives is my recent appointment to the Board of The Coach Initiative (TCI) – (www.coachinitiative.org) where I believe I can lend my expertise and knowledge to a cause which truly inspires me.

Since 2006, The Coach Initiative has been dedicated to coaching global leaders of non-profit organizations on a pro bono basis to better carry out their missions, and would benefit from your help and support.

There are 3 ways you can share the love and help expand these services:

1. Coaches – volunteer your time: If you are an experienced coach, please consider making a 3-month commitment to coach a non-profit leader pro bono.  To support TCI as a volunteer, please go to www.coachinitiative.org and click on “For Volunteers” and fill out the application.

2. Nominate Non-profit Candidates: Do you know a non-profit leader that can use our pro bono support services? We are actively pursuing non-profits to apply for our coaching services. To nominate or direct a non-profit, please go to  www.coachinitiative.org and click on “For Non-Profits” and make your recommendation.

3. Gift of Coaching: Will you help give the gift that keeps on giving?  As a 501(c)(3) (U.S.) our primary source of funding comes from individuals like you. To expand our services and reach more non-profits worldwide, we need the financial resources to do so.

To donate by making a charitable contribution please go to www.coachinitiative.org and click on “DONATE.”

Please consider one or all of the options above, which in turn will advance the support of this great coaching mission, and thank you for helping share the coaching love on Valentine’s Day!

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Positivity and success – the importance of attitude

I was asked three times today to identify my “ideal” client – twice by prospective clients and once by a coach trying to figure out how to market their business.

When I think of the clients I most enjoy working with, they have several characteristics in common – they’re leading big organizations or big ideas, they see incredible possibilities in their business and their lives, they are committed to their own ongoing growth and learning, and they stay in excellent physical condition. But the one attribute that shines above the others – that may, in fact, be the foundation of the others, is the vibrantly positive attitude that pervades everything they do. They are optimists.

Make no mistake – these people are not blind to adversity – quite the contrary, they see everything clearly, including obstacles. Rather, they see adversity as an opportunity to learn something new and to solve a problem creatively.

According to Dr. Martin Seligman, a pioneer in the emergence of the field of Positive Psychology, the difference between an optimist and a pessimist boils down to the way they explain events. Optimists see all events, both bad and good, as temporary or situational (“The competition got out ahead of us this time”), specific to an incident or time (“We didn’t get the results we wanted”), and influenced by a combination of their own efforts and efforts of those around them (“Let’s figure out how to avoid that in the future”). Pessimists, on the other hand, see incidents as permanent (“We can’t win”), universal (“They always beat us”) and internal (“I messed up”).

While the above short course doesn’t do the science justice, I do know that as far as coaching is concerned, the optimist is the most coachable, most rewarding, and most open client.  They believe that they are in control of their own success, that they are resourceful and creative and capable and that anything is possible if they commit to their goals.

Identifying optimists as my ideal client doesn’t really help the coach who wants to know where to advertise, but it absolutely helps the potential client know whether or not we’ll be a good fit – we optimists recognize each other pretty easily.

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Gratitude and Good Wishes


2010 has been abundant and joyous for me personally and for Parachute Executive Coaching.  We won big projects, welcomed new clients, enjoyed the continuation of many long term relationships, entered into some possibility-filled partnerships and added some brilliant new members to the team.  To celebrate and share the many blessings that came our way this past year, Parachute has donated to the following organizations in support of their tremendous efforts to effect positive change in the world:

Canadian Feed the Children


Canadian Feed The Children is a registered Canadian charity that reduces the impact of poverty on children, thanks to the kind contributions of individuals and organizations.  In partnership with community-based groups, they help increase the well-being of children and the self-sufficiency of families and communities by improving long-term access to nutrition, education, health care and livelihood.


The Coach Initiative


The Coach Initiative helps to advance the missions of nonprofits through pro bono coaching by matching leaders with experienced volunteer coaches.



Through partnerships with carefully selected local organizations in needy areas around the globe, OneXOne helps improve the wellbeing and vitality of children by focusing on water, hunger, health care, education and play.

We encourage you to share your own abundance with anyone who needs some extra care this time of year, and we wish you and your families a safe, healthy and happy holiday season.

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Proud to be a coach

This week marks the 15th annual conference of the International Coach Federation (ICF). I’m not there, and am finding myself surprisingly nostalgic for the event and the people who are going to be attending.

When I became a coach, just about fifteen years ago, the profession didn’t really exist in Canada.  My ICF membership number is 63, so there weren’t very many of us anywhere, but I was really in on the ground floor here.  I quickly found my tribe as others began to discover this incredibly rewarding work, and about a dozen of us got together to form a chapter here in Toronto.   I joined the global board and participated in the development of what I considered an absolute necessity for this fledgling profession – a credentialing process and set of standards by which coaches could be assessed, and subsequently was able to proudly qualify for the Master Certified Coach designation.

As time has gone on, what has probably been typical “storming and norming” has occurred, both at the chapter and at the global level, and particularly in the last couple of years I’ve found myself disheartened and even cynical about the role this professional association can play in the future of our work as coaches.  I’ve participated in focus groups, joined conversations, commented on discussion threads and blogs and responded to questions about my thoughts on the future, given my role as an “elder” and leader in the profession.  And, I am embarrassed to admit, I have stood firm in my criticism of the efforts of the organization’s leadership.

It’s much easier to be critical in the face of change than it is to step in and help guide the change.  It’s infinitely more comfortable on the sidelines than it is in the trenches.  However, coaching isn’t about taking the easy way nor is it about sitting on the sidelines.  For me, coaching is about stepping up and living fully and truthfully, taking action on the things you believe in, and working to create change where you believe change is necessary.  It’s also hugely about listening, both to the surface conversation and the meaning beneath it.  And it’s about, as put so eloquently by my good friend DJ Mitsch, leadership of self and of others.

The ICF produced a video that appeared this week in time for the 15th conference celebration. Called the History and Future of the ICF, it’s part chronicle and part call to action.  The video features commentary from some of the profession’s greatest leaders, people who I am proud to call friends.  As I watched it I reflected on the joy and fulfillment I experienced when I was deeply involved in the ICF.  I’m not sure where the organization is going, but I do know that I haven’t really contributed in a long while.

I frequently work with corporate clients to help them retain and leverage the wisdom of their “elders” and early thought leaders.  While I resist the idea of being an “elder” on at least a demographic level, I do think there is still value in some of us “old guard” folks staying engaged.  So I’m going to look for ways to contribute, in the spirit of being part of the change.  And I might just check last minute flights to Fort Worth.

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