To Be or Not To Be

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.


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.


Kibitzing in Kitzbuhel

March 16, 2011


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…

Dear Gary,

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.

Dear Partners,

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. 


From Russia With Love

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

An excerpt from an interview in Fast Company
Randy Komisar on Leadership

How much of leadership is natural versus a discipline that can be learned?

The first thing to realize is how many different styles of leadership can be successful. There isn’t one style of leadership that is innately more successful than others. There are certain skills sets, which are learnable, that are very important. You need to be able to communicate. If you can’t communicate well, you won’t be able to inspire, motivate and attract the resources necessary for success.

… And you need to have effective interpersonal skills. That doesn’t mean you need to be social and it doesn’t mean you need to be outgoing. But it means that when you sit down in your office with somebody who’s relying on you for leadership, you’ve got to be able to emphatically communicate with them around their challenges, figure out how to help them be more successful and resolve their conflicts so they can do their job better than they thought they could.

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