April 23, 2012
To be or not to be…
Gary Lyons, a senior TAI coach
People often ask me what do I do as a coach at TAI.
It’s not an easy question to answer.
It’s like asking a mother or a father what do they do – it’s many things involved with bringing up a child until they reach maturity.
Likewise with coaching a client – it’s many things involved with getting them to be authentic in front of an audience of one or one hundred.
And, like I’ve heard many parents say if they have more than one child, what worked with bringing up Hamlet does not necessarily work with Horatio!
And so with clients it’s the same thing, what worked for one of my CFO clients might not work for another CFO.
So my answer now, when people ask me “What do I do?” is “I coach my clients to ‘be’.”
Having been a theatre director, I find it’s very similar to working with actors on a play inasmuch as actors each work differently and at a different pace. As a director you have to know how to get the best out of each actor without stifling or getting in the way of their creative journey.
It’s also about asking the right questions and that’s what I do a lot of when I’m working with a client.
Most of the coaching sessions with a client are 4 to 5 hours long.
One of the reasons is the need to get them out of their world and in to ‘our’ world.
If you were a fly on the wall you might think that the first hour of the session was just chatting and bemoaning the various ‘issues’ the client is having at work. But in fact a lot of information gathering is going on which is stored in the computer in my head. This is then accessed when working on their sessions dealing with their “Philosophy of Leadership” or the “Declaration of Their Values” or “Personal Vision” for themselves and their company or discovering what are their “Essential Drivers.”
The programs we do with our clients usually start with some basic tools regarding presenting.
Just like actors who have to know stage craft, how to be in relationship with the other actors, the audience, the set, how to produce their voice correctly so they can do 8 performances a week.
But also, just like actors, if the “character” work has not been done and the audience is not convinced that they are “grieving because their father the King has been murdered”, all the stage craft and voice work in the world will not help.
So that’s what I do.
I ask clients the right questions.
I give clients tools.
But most importantly I work with my clients on the ‘character’ work without stifling or getting in the way of their creative journey.
What are their values?
What is their point of view?
What is their philosophy of leadership?
What is their language, their way of expressing themselves?
What makes them get out of bed everyday?
What drives them?
Once they get clear on these, the ‘magic’ starts to happen.
Somehow they seem very natural in front of an audience.
They have presence.
They speak from their authentic voice.
They have relevant, poignant stories to tell.
They have a rapport with the audience.
There is humor.
There is drama.
There is suspense.
We sense we are in the company of someone who is authentic.
We are watching someone ‘being.’
Gary Lyons is a Senior Coach at The TAI Group leading individual engagements and group workshops in Leadership and Communications.
September 22, 2011
Our intrepid road warrior Sandra Carey is currently on a six week journey through Asia and Australia working with TAI clients. She writes about packing for that length of time and bringing a little sense of home on the road. Her itinerary for this trip goes from New York to Singapore to Delhi to Hong Kong to Tokyo to Mumbai to Melbourne to Sydney to Jakarta back to Singapore then home to New York.
As a seasoned road warrior, I’ve learned how to make the preparation process easier for myself when a long trip is coming. I make lists of things to pack. I hate packing and I dread the night before a trip when I try to think about everything I’ll need for 4-6 weeks. You see, each time I settle into a new hotel, and there are nine of them for me this trip, I pull out what I’ll need for the days I’ll be staying there. I like it all to be easily accessible. This helps set my routine and helps me create my feeling of home for the next few days. Yes, I can ask the hotel for anything I might need and I can run out to a store if necessary. But it is so nice to have band aids in my “medicine bag” or stuff for my sinuses which always need special treatment and care against those miles in the air. I completely believe in the preventive approach.
You want to know about the lists? I make them and do the related packing incrementally, over the course of a few days, adding different categories of needs and checking items off my list. My categories are: professional clothing (slacks, tops, closed toe shoes); casual clothing (pants, shirts, tees, sandals); workout clothes; pjs; under-garments; weather related items (umbrella, scarf, sweater) because in one trip I experience extremes of weather; medicine kit; makeup kit; toiletries; electronics( iPod, camera, phone, laptop, recorder, kindle and all the wires); client files and materials and any books I might need; and an envelope with all the currencies and exchange rates.
For this trip, it was wonderful. I didn’t have to do a thing the night before I left. That feels great. And a friend hung out with me that morning before the taxi arrived, so I could be present for that lovely gift – a few hours with a dear friend before leaving NYC behind for a time.
March 16, 2011
KIBITZING IN KITZBUHEL
Gary Lyons – Senior Coach
KIBITZ: To chat, converse – from the Yiddish “kibitsen”- from the German “Kiebitzen”
You never quite know the impact you have on a client…
It was September 2010, I was sitting in my office at home working on my expenses when my phone rang, “Hello Gary! This is Hubi!”
Hubi is one of my favorite clients. He works for a consulting company in their Hamburg office and his star is most certainly on the ascendant! Hubi is an extraordinary young man. He runs the Sahara Marathon. He loves the ballet, art and literature. He plays piano and the cello and is part of a chamber quartet with his wife. They have 4 kids: 2 boys and 2 girls. I finished my 8 session Speaker Development Program with Hubi in May 2009 and the last I heard from him was an e-mail exchange in Oct 2009…
Hope you are fine.
A quick question for help: I have been nominated for the election to a seat on our Executive Global Committee. Very surprising to me…
I am not surprised
…I am one of 10 candidates who have been asked to write a statement saying why they think they should be on the committee and what they will bring to it. I thought I’d send it to you, because I thought a lot about our sessions writing it. I have to file it tonight. Any input from you I will be happy take on.
It was Columbus Day in the US so I had time to read Hubi’s statement. It wasn’t bad. BUT the Hubi I know and love is not there. He has shied away from the work we did on his values to guide and support him. I remind Hubi of his declaration of values and ask him which of those values connects most to what he wants to say.
Almost a month to the day, I get an e-mail from Hubi – in the subject box it says “EC Election – Ballot Results”. He had forwarded me the e-mail that has been sent to all of the 568 partners at Hubi’s company.
This email announces the results of the final election round for the open at-large seat on the Executive Committee. Hubertus (Hubi) Xxxxxxx was the highest vote recipient and therefore will be nominated for formal election at Thursday morning’s meeting of the Board of Directors.
Congratulations to Hubertus and our thanks to all of the other nominated candidates for their participation in the election process.
There is a P.S. from Hubi.
Thanks for your coaching and training and reminding me of my values! Good pay back. I am now on the Executive Global Committee, the only non-senior partner. This stuff really works! See you soon.
That ‘soon’ turned out to be Jan 13th 2011 and me kibitzing in Kitzbuhel, a swanky 5 star Ski Resort in Kitzbuhel in Austria – I do not ski.
That phone call from Hubi was asking me if I would be a part of a 2 day event he was organizing for his company about “Connecting with the Client”. He wanted me to give three 45 minute talks about the work we do. My calendar is says I am free on that date, so I say “Yes.”
I am given the VIP treatment and arrive at Kitzbuhel. And so I kibitz about “Connection not Perfection” to an audience that includes the ex-Defense Minister of Germany, Volker Ruehe. I tell them that no matter if the audience is one or one hundred they want to feel seen and involved; and if you can connect who you are, your stories and your values to your content you will have a unique ownership of it and it is easier to make that connection and have the impact you desire.
At the meal later that night, in a quaint Austrian chalet, Volker Ruehe gives the after dinner speech. He is full of fascinating stories about the people he has met throughout his career. Volker declared his values up front and made them the message of his speech. It was heartening to see such an experienced speaker use what I had been kibitzing about earlier in the day, but I knew this was not new to him. He had been doing this for some time from instinct or experience. But to my surprise, during his speech, he said he had learned from me to really see his audience – so it seems you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Later that night Hubi has his arm around my shoulder, he is very pleased with how the event went, and is disappointed that I won’t be joining him on the piste the next morning. I’m not. Another round of drinks is ordered and we toast Hubi, the new year and then…start kibitzing.
Gary Lyons is a Senior Coach at The TAI Group leading individual engagements and group workshops in Leadership and Communications.
January 11, 2011
I’ve been to Moscow now three times in a year and as I look out the window of the airplane making its way to land at SVO airport, I notice something—something inside me has shifted and I feel excitement and a swell of emotion about the countryside below. Moscow is growing on me. Russia is getting under my skin. It’s cold, 25 degrees or so, windy, and snowing. It’s beautiful.
I will be working with Executive MBA students at a top university for the next few days. I find myself thinking of my students’ faces as we take the two hour journey from the airport to the campus. Everything by car takes at least two hours no matter where you go in Russia. It is really a lesson in patience and being present. You cannot get frustrated, you have to be Zen like, make your way slowly to your destination. No one gets excited, no one beeps; there is not a thing to do about it. The drivers are like monks with their ability to play it cool, spending their entire day in traffic looking at the red tail lights of the car in kilometers and kilometers.
Today we are doing an all day workshop on Storytelling. This is my favorite subject. As a hobby, I collect stories from around the world. It gives me comfort to know that we are all connected by stories. It feels appropriate to be looking at stories, both the craft and the delivery, in the dead of winter in Moscow. This is the time of year we do this best; the cold winter outside, sitting around a fire with food, drink and good stories to get us through the harshest season. I say this to the students and the edges of their mouths turn up; their eyes understand. These students took some time to trust me and at first they tested me, needing proof of the impact the work I was delivering would have on them and their professional careers. But now we are connected and I know I have the relationship I need to push them a little further, open them up, challenge them and guide them toward their unique talents.
First, we spend some time defining and understanding the elements of a good story. I then invite them to embark on something fun—telling fairy tales. I ask them “what are some famous tales you remember as a child? What are the Russian folk tales/fairy tales you still know?” Immediately they begin to shout out and I begin to write. They give me titles I know, or I almost know: The Turnip, Masha and The Three Bears, Axe Soup (a version of Stone Soup in which the soldier has an axe instead), Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs. They argue about the plots, the characters, the versions—they dispute with great enthusiasm and urgency—this stuff matters to them, to us, these timeless stories of our youth. I am amazed to learn we shared so many of the same stories in our childhoods, across the world from each other.
I get them into pairs instructing them to decide on a story, but more importantly to determine what they want to cause in their audience with the story. I have written up on the board potential ideas: to scare, to caution, to teach, to inspire, to entertain, to make the audience curious, to engage. With their minds set and their childlike creativity bubbling up they are becoming actors for a moment, figuring out the best way to tell this tale to accomplish what they want the audience to experience. They get to work and in the end we have all of their stories, complete with narration, characters, place, time, emotions, suspense, beginning, middle and end, creative language, and a great deal of fun and laughter. The students are communicating in ways I’ve never seen in them before, becoming more fully engaged in the message, physically bringing to life the situations, using the space in a new way, finding props from who knows where (someone made a turnip out of building material and a computer mouse and cable) and using their voice, emotions and imaginations to transport us.
We talk about what makes these stories lasting: archetypes, drama, suspense, morals/lessons, easy to repeat, details, repetition, characters, humor, fear, etc. They are recognizing all day long the elements of what makes a good story. More significantly, they are recognizing their innate ability to retain, craft , tell and engage with stories.
Now we are ready to go mining for their stories. To find the wealth of stories they have personally and professionally that they can use as leaders. This is where their transformation shines through. They see how stories are relevant and how immensely critical the ability to use stories effectively is for their own leadership growth and development. The fun continues…
As we take a break and look out on the falling snow outside, I hear their voices talking to each other in their mother tongue, laughter filling the room as they drink coffee and eat fruit and cakes. They are constantly telling each other stories. I watch their faces and I want desperately to help them keep their childlike imaginations going, I want to keep their spirited play wide open for as long as I can. It is fuel, it is energy, it is a blanket of connection between us, it is the best kind of stuff for the harshest season.
Janice O’Rourke – Senior Coach
December 21, 2010
I ended this trip with a repeat visit to Seoul to work with Keith and Jong. Both sessions went extremely well. Keith’s was particularly noteworthy as he is a bit of a challenge. He doesn’t listen well and he tends to be all over the place. Clients get lost. His partners tell him he is hard to follow. We worked on keeping him focused and on point. Practicing in order to develop his communication muscles of clarity and directness; two hours, non-stop, just working in this area. We even did a bit of role playing and I kept telling him every time I was lost and told him how I felt as his audience. When we finished he said this was the best two hours of our work together. He really appreciated hearing his impact so directly. He admitted that others have told him he can be confusing and unclear. Changing behavior takes practice and we will continue to build on it when I see him next.
That’s all for now. Back to New York City.
December 14, 2010
When I get to Sydney, I meet with my client Rick. He and I will focus his remaining sessions on issues relevant to his day-to-day, i.e. working on speeches, presentations, planning meetings, etc. We had an excellent coaching session this time around. We worked on a presentation for a high level government official regarding a project Rick is working on. I have been coaching Rick to bring more of his personality and zest for the work into his communication. He is reserved and modest and as a result can come across a bit stiff. He sits on his humor and warm personality instead of letting it come forth. The first run-thru for the presentation was a standard issue slide show. Afterward, I told him that at one point during the presentation I suddenly realized that if I were the official he was talking to, I would not be happy with this very expensive consulting firm. I wanted him to get to the point; distill the essence of the findings and help me discover the benefits and risks. I wanted him to guide me more, helping me see all of the issues and implications faster and more clearly. I wanted to be able to make a decision with some sense of the ultimate impact the huge investment would have. There needed to be some adjustments. Asking Rick what had surprised him when they began to work on the case, he had a ready answer that was both insightful and thought provoking. I helped him work that into the presentation. After incorporating these changes, he practiced presenting the second version and it was a 100% improvement. This time he provided all the data and necessary information, but it was a conversation—across the table. He never once turned to a slide (huge for Rick). I was able to envision the possibilities and the challenges which, as the official, would require me to recast expectations around the investment. More than anything, Rick was fully in it. He came alive. Afterward, he told me it was amazing the difference he felt doing it this way—it elevated his role in the room. He also realized the impact he could have managing the various officials that would be in the room. They have specific areas of focus and differing accountability. Rick would be able to unite them under the common cause and link them to each other’s accountability which would increase the likelihood of success.
This was one of those sessions where I left feeling as charged and excited as the client. I’m always invested in my client’s growth and success but it’s so rewarding to see such transformation in one session.
Spending tomorrow enjoying the city, then back to Seoul.
December 7, 2010
My last scheduled coaching in Singapore was with Clark. His session was supposed to happen in Auckland, where he recently returned with his family after a ten year stint in Jakarta and Singapore. However, early in this trip I got the bad news that he had scheduling issues. So, with fast work, we discovered an opportunity to meet on Saturday in Singapore before he took off for Jakarta.
If every client were like Clark I would never stop laughing and would always want to be in coaching sessions. He is constantly telling me how he looks forward to the coaching sessions. When I ask him what he thinks we’re going to focus on in the upcoming session, he always answers, “I want to have fun.” From the very first session, he has approached the work with open arms (a little challenge in Session One but we pushed on and he was converted by the end of that session). He embraces the work we do with monologues as if he were rehearsing for a part. Every time, the synergy between work done on monologues and the shift to business makes absolute sense—he gains insights for a speech or business conversation from the monologue exploration.
Back to our coaching session in Singapore—Clark arrived having spent time learning a monologue he requested to play with (an Al Pacino piece from the film “Any Given Sunday”) but without having written his assignment speech about a leader at a critical juncture. At the end, it didn’t matter. First, I was thrilled to play with the monologue. Second, in our opening discussion I learned he is opening a new office. Since his return to Auckland in he has been frustrated with finding ways to build significant business in New Zealand. He says that business leaders there are happy with where they are. They have enough success and money to enable golf three times a week so why would they want to do anything that gets in the way of that. So he set his sights elsewhere. He had been working with a mining client and looked around him, realizing no one was making the most of the opportunities that were there. He has gotten the approval for a base operation and has chosen two young leaders to work with him to launch the operation. The Al Pacino monologue was a football coach talking to his dejected, losing team at half time trying to inspire them to be a team first and individuals second and win by working together. Clark had shared with me some difficult events shaping the road for the two young leaders. Both are high potentials and on the road to moving higher up in the company. Clark wants to eliminate all ego issues and create a team—the three of them—working seamlessly and transparently starting now. He understands that an aligned team will directly impact their success. He crafted the conversation he will have. We worked on it, adjusting and modifying, having Clark practice and then practice some more. Through this crafted conversation he not only revealed his leadership at a critical moment, his values and essential drivers but also highlighted how important it is to Clark to develop future partners and how committed he is to these two young leaders. He will check in with me once he has the conversation and I will continue to support him as he navigates his new challenges.
Sydney up next.
December 1, 2010
I had excellent sessions with Kaname and Tomio. This trip is session 7 of 8 for Speaker Development and the topic is “Leader at a Critical Juncture.” Tomio began the program anxious because his English is weak. It has gotten better as we have progressed and he admits that one benefit of doing the program has been the practice. I believe, however, that as he lets go of the worry, he is naturally better in English. In this session, it was definitely true. We spent a lot of time at the opening of the coaching session talking about his leadership role. The speech he wrote for this session was about making changes within the organization in order to optimize opportunities to bring transformational change to clients at this exact moment. He says clients have begun to set their sights on bigger goals and it is in this downturn that they have realized what is not working at their companies and what it will take to be a global player.
Back to Tomio’s speech—his big ask to the firm is to supply the necessary resources to fuel the transformation focus, as he believes it will create substantial business. He knows the idea he has which will achieve this will not be universally received. He is an optimistic man who is fiercely loyal and devoted to this company and to making the Japanese presence something spectacular. He also is focused on developing leaders in Japan. The conversation was excellent and it led him to ask me how I perceive him. He said he realizes an individual is never certain how he is perceived. I told him what I’ve learned and experienced of him in our time together. He enjoyed hearing it. As he delivered his prepared speech I made notes and afterward remarked on his energy, vocal projection, and his pacing. It was clear he was connected to his passion in this piece. All these things are noteworthy because I’ve struggled to bring his presence more fully to life when on his feet. Even in Japanese he can be bland. Not this time. And as I looked at my notes I realized he had created his speech with awareness. There was a good structure in place, a good build and support for his message. It needed work—but the bones were strong. A significant step change in Tomio. I looked at him and told him so. He was so pleased. This was quite a moment and I expect based on all our work that the changes I noticed in him are lasting ones. His leadership showed up as well as his command of the room, the material, the audience, and his body. Afterward, I wondered if he were driven by some competitive spirit to hit this mark. In our previous session he told me Kaname credited his work in the TAI program with winning a new client. He had to give the presentation in English and he said he did everything he’s learned in our work. He started with a story. I still remember how alien beginning a speech with anything but the agenda felt to these two when we first started doing presentation crafting work. Leaps forward for each of them.
To thank me for the work, Kaname and Tomio took me to a traditional Japanese restaurant. The meal had about 30 courses! Obviously, we’re not talking American sized portions. More than the meal, for me the fun was watching the two of them as they sat across from me. I sensed it was a bit awkward for them but things loosened up as the Japanese beer flowed and wine was poured. Watching how they interact with each other gave me an idea about the final session. Neither of them had previously allowed me to bring in audience, although in this session, Tomio finally acquiesced. He called Kaname to see if he would be audience and I could hear the relief in his voice as Kaname said no. It was in Japanese but I heard it. So for the last coaching session instead of an audience I will bring them together for the entire time. Tomio seemed to like the idea. We shall see…
As a final note, this coaching session with Tomio got me thinking about the cultural divide. I tend to focus on what I don’t know about the cultures and business protocols in the countries where I work, which is important. Acknowledging and learning about other cultures does matter. However, sitting across from Tomio, listening to him handle my questions about his leadership and later during the on-the-feet work when he told me he wanted to find more variety in his delivery, i.e. bring animation to his storytelling, it reinforced how truly applicable our approach and work is in all settings. I have always known this is true, but something about my work with the Tokyo guys brought a new dimension to the idea that TAI is truly about communication between humans. And that can transcend cultural differences.
Off to Singapore…
November 23, 2010
My coaching sessions today were good, but a challenge. Notion of demand and being explicit and direct is a difficult one for some individuals. I’ve noticed this with other clients I’ve coached over the years. With audience in the room (was fun to have some of the younger folks in the office) both of my clients experienced that it is not about imposing will, but rather engaging on a meaningful level and giving the audience a reason to join in the discussion. I will work with both of the clients I had today again at the end of my trip. My sense is that given the mandate to create change in them quickly it would be best to give them two sessions close to each other.
When I return, I also will be working with one of my long-term clients, Scott—giving as he put it a “one point lesson” (golfing terminology). When I was last in Seoul, Scott and I met and had a conversation around his desire to introduce a new way to develop specific financial services expertise in Asia. His idea was dismissed by those above him. And then months later, this idea is now being spearheaded by those that initially dismissed it. Scott got lost in the mix. Scott, while culturally diverse in many ways, adheres to Asian ideas such as “an empty drum makes the most noise” and he can remain calm in the storm. This calmness manifests as quiet and gives others lots of airtime. However, there are moments when Scott needs to match some of the noise around him—or more to the point—find the way to be heard and command the authority of ownership around an idea. That is what we will focus on when we meet in a couple of weeks.
A former Communicating with Power & Presence participant introduced me to a friend of hers whom I met up with. Over a cappuccino after her workday, we talked about what it’s like to work in Korea. She has a mixed background—lived and worked in the US and now has returned to Seoul at her parent’s request. They would like her to get married. She’d rather not! Anyway, she gave me a glimpse of a young professional (she is 29) in Korea—open to an outside world and interested in things that most professionals in their late 20’s seem to care about. She is a Director in the Vice Chairman’s Office at an entertainment company. Sounds like she has opportunities to introduce and execute on her own ideas and I’m convinced she has a bright, long future ahead of her. Enjoy these down times in between coaching where I can sit down and meet with people. I love learning about different cultures and careers and forging new relationships.
…Catching a flight to Tokyo.
November 16, 2010
Arrived in Hong Kong to meet with my client Bill. He had his sixth of seven coaching sessions. In addition to excellent work he did in the coaching, Bill and I talked about: 1. His stepping down as Chairman of Asia; 2. The next successor taking on the role; 3. Bill’s new role as Chairman of China and what that will involve.
As often is the case, we had great conversations throughout the coaching. For example Bill reflected on his early consulting years in Boston. He has been with this firm for 27 years! He grew up here, so to speak, and got his early training in the ‘Wild West’ atmosphere of those days compared to the more systematized firm that exists today. As he reflected, he noted that today the firm is better—the processes in place for training consultants are a step forward. I could hear nostalgia for those other days however. The firm’s DNA is clearly packaged in guys like Bill who have strong roots and a long history. I talked about the new challenges that institutionalization of the brand brings—work you need to do with young consultants to spark that creativity and intuition that may be stymied in the current process. It’s not that big is bad. It’s the challenge of holding onto the pureness of the original DNA as growth happens and addressing developmental needs along the way. I mentioned the story of our coach Janice O’Rourke’s client. It’s the piece she wrote for the “In Session” section on the website.
In his new role as Chairman of China, he has some preparation. First, he will take off a few months to do a full immersion in the language. To build local clients, he has to speak their language. His current competency is basic conversation. He seems embarrassed about this. Who knows? He is a perfectionist. Maybe it’s better than he is saying. Nonetheless, he is poised to grow China. He said they need to develop leaders there. He senses that the partners in China are too junior at this point and wants to raise the bar.
For our next coaching session, we will work on his speech outlining his vision for China in his new role. I suggested we should collaborate now—so that he can begin thinking it out rather than trying to write this vision piece all at once. I will send him assignments via email—a serial development, if you will.
The overall coaching session went well. Bill has always been reluctant to bring in audience to get feedback. As a coach I know that while scary for the client, it is invaluable to catapult their growth and make the changes desired. The thing he wants—more intimacy in his communication—is the thing he is most anxious about. I pushed him to bring in audience by calling him a couple of weeks ahead of the coaching session to talk about my plan for the session. It worked. He handpicked two people who are in the finance department of the company, both Chinese and both old-timers like himself. Even though he orchestrated it and picked the individuals himself, having others in the room made a difference. He is one of those guys who can scan and almost get away with it. The biggest challenge for Bill is to stay with a person as he delivers a thought, to really see his audience. This was an excellent session for pushing him. Plus he wrote a wonderful piece about a person who had a huge impact on his life—his wife. A big surprise to me. It was well written, thoughtful and funny. Great material to work with.
At the close of the coaching I asked Bill if anyone has noticed any changes in him. He said it’s been things like people approaching him and saying they really liked the message—or really got what he was saying. Bingo. I told him I was thrilled to hear this. His speaking style is already very good so it would not be huge shifts or changes people would immediately experience. The changes would be more nuanced and subtle—and linked to creating a deeper, more intimate connection.
Next stop… Seoul.