I find it hard to believe that I’ve been working with SME’s for over a decade now. It’s gone in a flash. Eleven years ago, I emerged blinking into the Las Vegas sun after eleven days of immersive franchise training; and to be honest, I was a bit pissed off.
Over 25 years, my diverse career had spanned seven FTSE100 companies, a big five consultancy and a $1bn US-funded start-up, working my way up from a Clerical Assistant to a Director of Financial Operations. And it turns out I already knew more than I’d realised when it came to leadership and business. I’d spent a ton of money for what felt like nothing new.
I left the corporate world because I had become bored with endless rounds of redundancy and cost-cutting. My vision was to make a massive dent in the commercial universe by working with just about every small business in the country.
Getting results with no idea how.
I set out to look for businesses to support and built a diverse but remarkable client base across the engineering, retail, construction, and marketing sectors. And I found a sweet spot of businesses between £2–100m turnover.
Most of my clients were getting great results, but of course, that depends on how you view success. The head of the franchise used to say, “Whatever the client says the problem is, money is the solution.” It was an idea that never sat comfortably with me. Most people I was working with were already successful and happy with their company results; they wanted to change how they ran the business.
We’d talk about all sorts of business issues, and I’d get them to identify and implement different strategies, just like I’d been trained. But that wasn’t where the significant breakthroughs came from.
I noticed that my clients began to show up differently in their businesses and would take exciting, positive, and often surprising decisions and actions, none of which had been discussed in coaching sessions. Even weirder, they ascribed their decisions to me!!
I wanted to know what I was doing that was driving this behaviour so that I could bottle it and get it out to more businesses. It felt like it might be a hack that could avoid years of coaching effort.
The problem with Business Coaching.
Inside, I had a deep sense of cynicism about retained relationship business coaching (one of the mantras in my franchise was ‘get client, keep client’). But it didn’t sit well with me.
Then there were the fees; no matter how we justify them, they’re not cheap. Between £1-£2k a month over three years (my average client retention) is a big chunk of change. If you could get what you wanted for a lower investment of effort and money, wouldn’t you take that route?
My performance in getting new clients was also affected by my impostor syndrome, a throwback from my corporate days. I had a nagging belief that I wasn’t good or clever enough to warrant the senior roles I had. I thought that becoming self-employed would put this ghost to sleep for me, but, if anything, it amplified it.
This combination of toxic thinking was resulting in me self-sabotaging my own success. It was stopping me from getting the level of success I knew I was capable of.
Change or die.
My business plateaued and, whilst I was making a living, I wasn’t getting the reach I needed to make the level of difference that excited me, and I became disengaged with the franchise.
I’d become convinced there was a better way to help my clients, affecting how I showed up to sell coaching. It reached a point where I knew that if a breakthrough didn’t come, trouble was coming.
Then, as is so often the case, an idea emerged.
It started, as many of my ideas do, with a thought in the shower one morning. I was slapping on the Radox and thinking about why people needed to engage me as their coach. When it suddenly occurred to me that I was asking the wrong question. The real question was, “Why do these people’ think’ they need a business coach?”
As it turned out, the answer only emerged when I dealt with some of my internal horse shit.
The miracle breakthrough.
Measuring your own potential.
I was attending a training weekend with a New York-based coach, Dr. Joseph Riggio, exploring the role of stories in our life experience. We did an exercise that involved retelling our backstories when something completely mad happened. During the exercise, my whole life reframed itself, pretty much in an instant. It felt like I’d been wearing a concrete suit that someone had just hit with a hammer.
For the first time, I saw the full extent of my experience laid out in front of me and the potential of what I had to offer. Over the next few days, the insights kept coming. I realised that getting business leaders to show up differently was not best served by coaching them.
It lay in a simple transformation of how the owners showed up in their businesses and organised themselves around the results they wanted. This transformation had the power to make them fully self-resilient, bypassing the sense of dependency on their coach for motivation, inspiration and accountability.
And this could be done with just a few simple tools, which I already understood from my audit and coaching experience. The missing link was figuring out what I needed to do to create the level of personal transformation that I had experienced. Or at least to get people an experience of their full potentiality, so they could find their way back to it when they needed it.
I was ready to make my move.
Abandoning the old model.
The first thing I did was quit the franchise and set up my own business to design a program free from constraints. I pulled together tools and capabilities, many of which I had long forgotten.
My goal was to:
1. Get business leaders so aligned with what they want the need for a coach to kick their butt became a thing of the past.
2. Create a simple business planning framework that would work across all business types to create a robust, workable blueprint for the growth and development of companies.
3. Give business leaders a framework for problem-solving, planning and decision-making so they can ‘coach’ themselves.
4. Make them so confident and resilient that they will be able to deal with whatever shows up in their company without panic or procrastination.
I studied the psychology of performance and transformation and was also lucky enough to spend a year on a mentoring program with Dr Riggio, developing the skills I would need.
These ideas became my book, ‘Sleeping Tiger Revolution: Uncommon Business Sense’. After finishing the book, I began running Leadership Development and Business breakthrough programs with managing directors, senior decision-makers, sales professionals, and managers/supervisors. I wanted to make sure the program could guarantee to deliver on its outcomes before I went LARGE.
Breaking the bonds of comfort.
It hasn’t all been smooth running. At first, it was tough to stop providing tips, tactics, and strategies rather than focus on the transformative work with the decision-makers. It felt somewhat comfortable and easy to coach or advise at the level of solutions. There is something deeply satisfying about solving today’s problems. But I quickly realised that it doesn’t serve my clients or their businesses to work at this level. It sets up a dependency that is only good for one bank balance: your coach’s!
It also became apparent that this approach wasn’t for everyone. It only worked for participants who actively engaged in the content and focussed on playing their part, for themselves and the other delegates on their program. I had to learn how to identify the traits of participants that would get the results they wanted from the program.