With the right motivation, guidance, and skill set, anyone can become an effective leader in the entrepreneurship scene. In this episode, we hear from Adrian Koehler who shares how he discovered and started on his leadership coaching journey. He talks about his time in prison outreach programs, the best way to deal with the destructive victim mindset, and how to create workplace cultures where everyone can freely embrace failures without fear. Adrian also discusses how to keep a team strong and connected, as well as maintaining alignment between your personal and professional interests.
Get ready to embark on a journey of transformation in leadership brilliance. Our guest is an embodiment of change. He’s a Senior Partner of Take New Ground, where he navigates the terrain and of leadership with a remarkable blend of science and artistry. With a background that reads more like an adventured novel, he’s a philanthropist and he has a background in nursing, medicine, and so forth.
Our guest thrives in the realm of extreme environments and ensures that he’s driving change through those tough conversations. He’s a true musician of human performance and he’s instrumental in crafting those cultures of excellence. He worked with Nike and the Oprah Winfrey Network. You have a strong pedigree in helping organizations. I’m excited to learn from you, and also, to mention, you are a true pro in podcasting. You are one of the co-hosts of the Naked Leadership Podcast. I’m fortunate to have you on the show.
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Before we dive into things, I’d love to hear a little bit about your journey and a little bit of the backstory of how you started being a coach and helping leaders bring out their best. Where did this all begin?
Once again, thanks for having me on. Hello, readers, anybody that’s there reading, Adrian Koehler from Take New Ground. How did it all begin? The coaching work began with this notion. It began early for me in the sense that I was a troubled kid. Not necessarily troubled with the law and all that, just troubled internally. Pretty angsty, pretty driven, and looking for my spot in the world. I grew up in a small town middle of nowhere in Illinois. My parents are both school teachers, wonderful people, and community servants. The youngest of two brothers and a family that did athletics.
From early on, I was always wanting to find my place in the world. I realized in those early teenage years that nobody is going to tell you. People have opinions, but nobody is going to make you feel comfortable. That’s your job. Nobody is going to give you your purpose. That’s your job. I realized early that I was interested in leadership because it steadied the boat for me.
I remember wondering a lot about how life worked, how team dynamics worked, how the classroom worked, how the huddle worked, and how all those things worked and I realized everybody was waiting for somebody to make the call, and you got to pick yourself. Early on in life, I realized the picture at recess in fifth grade. It’s like we got twenty minutes to play basketball. What are we going to do?
Everybody is looking around each other. I’m like, “I will be a captain. Tom, you are a captain. I will split everybody up and let’s go.” Life felt better when I was running my ship. Leadership was a gift to me. It helped. I became a leader. Both my parents are stellar leaders and all that stuff, so it was modeled a lot too. We have always been very involved people. That’s how that leadership was involved.
I was doing the whole thing. I played a lot of sports. I’m a quarterback of the football team and all that stuff. I got into college. There was not a clear sense of what I wanted to do with my world. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher. That’s for sure. Every dinner table discussion was about kids, parents, board members, and all this stuff. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher.
My brother followed that route, but I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I liked science. My brain works in memorizing a bunch of stuff pretty easily. I was very interested in life science. I took every science class I could take. I was pre-med, following the aim of my grandmother. Everybody might do what their mom or their mom’s mom thinks they should do, and I did that.
I was pre-med for a while and realized I didn’t want to do this. I don’t want to be in school for another seven years to do this thing. I’m nerdy, but I like being involved. I like hand-to-hand combat. I’m not as much like a strategist from behind. The medical field is data-driven, which is great. We need that and we better have it. I’m a more get-in-the-fight or get-on-the-field type of guy. The answer to the question of what you want to be when you grow up is a pretty unfair question to any seventeen-year-old. We ought to be asking, “Who do you want to become when you grow up?” That’s a whole other episode.
I got a Nursing degree in college and I was this oxymoron. I was a Nursing major and a starter on the football team. I’m an odd and weird guy. I’m weird in other ways now. I got out of school. I went to Chicago. I was dating a girl and moved to Chicago. I ended up getting a job at a children’s hospital. I interviewed four different places, and I love the vibe of the children’s hospital. Mostly because the healthcare world is heroic, anybody who’s working in that environment, you are doing essential and crucial things with big honor and a big responsibility. Probably the most of which was working with kids because kids never earn any of it.
Dealing with a whole family system was very interesting to me and quite the puzzle. The one that’s sick, you have to distract them and give them all the treatment, then you have to talk to the parents. They are a wild parent. Moms are usually frantic and loud. This is stereotypically speaking. Men are usually quiet and angry. Those were the easy defaults.
We are helping set up an environment for a twelve-hour period where you are bringing in these people with all their feelings. On the worst days, they could never imagine their kids sick or maybe on the brink. I worked in intensive care on the brink of death, which is a nightmare for any parent. What do you do to bring these folks together? It was a meld of practicing presence, which is bringing folks together.
Let’s get coordinated around reality. What’s happening? What do we know? What do we not know? There’s some education needed there, and then also some vision there. “Here’s what to expect over the next couple of days. Let me tell you what to expect over the next four hours. Here’s what I need from you. What questions do you have? Let’s get that doctor back in here because he was dumb. Let me get him in here to fully explain things.”
It was a teaching hospital too. I was working with young doctors, which was great because we were like peers. I love that. That’s not what I wanted to do as a career. I’m a naturally bored and ambitious guy. If you work your way up the nursing ladder, you are going to plan policies and vacation schedules. That’s not me. I’m not that administrative.
I have zero interest in being that guy. God bless those who are. I got out of that pretty quickly. I did a full-time for a little while. In the meantime, I have always been a spiritually driven guy. Partially, that’s heritage. My parents are both active in their faith. That had become real for me in my way over those years. When I say spiritual, I mean the notion that I’m called to do something in the world. For me, it’s part of the restorative work of God in the world in my language or whatever.
I liked that. I’d caught wind of this guy named Erwin McManus, who was a pretty rebellious guy in that evangelical subculture, which is a weird group of people. Mostly and most of them I don’t prefer, but this guy was weird. He had the music. He was talking about the intersection of faith, risk, and human endeavor, and it was very entrepreneurial.
It was a huge church. Three thousand people in LA. In big cities, there are never big churches. You can go to the suburbs and collect a whole bunch of homogenous people. That’s easy. Build a gymnasium, put up a soccer field, and people will come. In the city, this is rare. Erwin was distinct. I remember thinking, “I want to be next to this guy.” I was with a group in India doing a service project, and I heard his message. It’s called The Barbarian Way Out of Civilization. I thought, “This is great,” so I moved out to LA to be a part of this whole community. I loved it and I became a people mover.
I was building volunteer teams and mobilizing people into the city to do service projects, and I loved it. Mobilizing people towards altruistic outcomes became a theme of mine. We built teams. As Erwin was very famous in that little subculture, he didn’t want to go speak everywhere. He’d send punks like me to go around the world and speak. I got big opportunities beyond anything that I earned. I’m grateful for all that, and we taught leadership.
We were early connected to Gallup when Gallup was putting out the StrengthsFinder. One of the board members of Gallup was a member of our church. We were a test case because we are very diverse as a church and more diverse than most churches. Young and old, and all across the board, and the demographics. It was cool.
We tested out the StrengthsFinder. We used to do these leadership seminars where we take Myers-Briggs, teach StrengthsFinder, and teach this thing we call the Character Matrix because if you are going to equip people, hopefully, they have a moral compass. Otherwise, you ought not to equip people without a moral compass. That’s bad news.
Out of that, I met a guy whose father was a billionaire and I have been his friend during his spiritual journey and happened to be the guy that met him and helped him take some big leaps and he wanted to give his money away. That got us the opportunity to start a foundation. He said, “Would you leave this work and help me figure out what to do and where to give my money away?” I thought, “That sounds great. It sounds like a raise too.”
I ended up spending three years setting up that foundation. I traveled the world. I took him everywhere because I’d traveled a whole bunch by then bringing teams. Pakistan is underwater, me and a couple of doctors. Haiti, the earthquake happened. We brought a group of ten and all that people mobilization, which was great. I liked your intro, by the way. I was like, “That’s a cool intro. I should write that down.”
It was a lot of adventure back then. When the earthquake happened in Haiti, they called me and said, “Did you see it?” I’m standing there watching the TV. I said, “Yes.” They are like, “What are we going to do?” We, meaning the 3,000 people in the church. I said, “Give me 24 hours.” My life was like Jack Bauer back then. It was fun.
It’s fun now in a different way, but thrilling in that way. It’s like Mission Impossible, and with amazing people doing amazing things. I did that for a while. We ended up working. I took him everywhere. He decided he wanted to give people a second chance who have blown it. We wanted to find the hardest and the farthest. Invest in them and believe in them.
That led us into prison. I followed a couple of nuns into prison. Catholics do a lot of great restorative justice work, they call it. I met this group of lifers up in Soledad State Prison, which is a maximum security prison here in California. They were desperate for someone to see them, and most people that come in with any faith message come in and proselytize, and it’s very gross.
We came in believing in them. We picked them because they are the shot callers. They have been there for a long time. They are the grandfathers of the organization and it’s a whole civilization in there. We knew that if we made a difference with them, we’d make a ripple effect throughout the entire 2,000 inmates. It’s like a whole town, and it worked.
We came in. We trained 30 lifers in this 3-day deep dive personal leadership training and then trained them how to be trainers. The core of that training is this exercise called victim responsibility, which is most people or most humans live in a victimized view of the world. Whatever bad happened because of something else.
Something outside themselves. Family of origin stuff. Even their old self. They are eight years into their life and their younger self or their grandfather or the color of their skin, anyway, all of that. The crux of this training is as long as you didn’t choose it, then you are going to be in prison. Either in your imagination or for these guys in real, you are going to still be in prison. You didn’t choose this, whatever is bad that’s happening. Therefore you can’t unchoose it and you can’t choose anything else. You are stuck.
You can own it. You can get too responsible. Like, “I chose to be here.” That was always the crux for them. We’d always ask the question, “Who wants to be in prison?” Nobody raises their hand. You are here. Let’s take another look at that. You got to go back in time. A quick on it. We have them sit in dyads like pairs, and we’d say, “Tell your story about the three stories that up until now created a life the way you have it. Tell those stories and you tell that for two minutes.” Then you say, “What’s a victim?” We talk about what it means to be a victim.
Some people are victimized. That’s true. You get taken advantage of, lied to, betrayed, and all that. That can happen. Different than playing the victim, what does it mean to play the victim? We talk about that. You have to tell the same story, but your job as the committed speaker is to convince the committed listener that you are the victim of the story.
You get it all nice and dramatic. You have to convince them that you are the victim. You lay it on thick. It’s easy for them. It’s hilarious. People die laughing. You do that and then you clock it. How does it feel to be the victim? Usually, it feels small, angry, shut down, and all these negative feelings naturally when you are playing the role.
Then we’d say, “Tell the same story. Three stories and now you have to convince the other person that you are responsible.” Your job is now the same stories but convince with different motives. Convince the other person that you are responsible. You got to go back in time a little bit like, “When did I decide to enter the gang?” When did I decide to not live with my grandmother in that safe community? I stayed in this war zone. When did I decide that?
Now, how was that? Remarkably, people have this odd experience where they are like, “I feel light. I feel free. I’m not mad at my girlfriend who brought me into that club that night. I’m not mad at this guy.” You get them to try to be responsible for what’s happening. If you can do that, then you are free. Then you can forgive, then you can release, and then you can have a vision for the future.When you start to take responsibility for what is happening in your life, you will be free. Click To Tweet
I did that for a while. I loved that work. I wanted to take it across the world. The guy who gave all the money wanted to focus on that prison, which was wonderful. Which meant I was out of here. I’d gone through a bunch of every leadership training I could go to because I’m a junkie for this stuff. One of the things I did was go through the coaches’ academy. I got into coaching right after that. That was about several years ago. I started coaching anybody with a little bit of money and a pulse, anybody that paid me, and I started coaching.
It worked rather quickly. I got a lot of clients even in the first month. It’s been a whirlwind since then of moving. When I started, I was 30 or 28, something like that. I was coaching mostly people my age. Over time, I got my first big corporate client, which was an international architecture firm called CallisonRTKL. They gave me fourteen of their vice presidents, all of which a lot older than me. Most of them were international and gave me a batch of their rising stars and ran all these two-day trainings.
I was way in over my head, which was awesome. My partner now and his name is Dan Tocchini. Dan is if you picture Mother Teresa and Yoda. If they all had a baby, picture that for a second. You got the visual. If they had a baby, they would make Dan Tocchini. The wisest dude I know. Sweet and loving. He will take a baseball bat to your knee if he has to.
He’s one of these rare one-of-a-kinds, and I saw him do the training and I thought, “This guy got the music.” He was in there. You will see a theme. I found a mentor somebody I wanted to be like. Somebody I knew if I hitched my wagon to them, I’d be able to provide value but get a lot of value. Batman and Robin thing. I loved it.
Dan and I did the work together in prison, and then now we have this firm together. That’s been several years, and we got to work with high-class and world-class organizations. Now we focus mostly on the founder class. We found that I like entrepreneurial people. They are crazy, lopsided, and maniacs. I love them. Now we work with those founder-driven organizations, which are a species of their own, and we got good at helping them navigate the very predictable waters of the growth patterns of founder-driven organizations. That’s what I love doing. That’s how I got into it. That’s how I have stayed. I can’t imagine doing anything else but some version of this in the future.
Your unique background points out. I’m sure it brings up a unique approach with your new clients. A lot of the coaches and so forth that are helping entrepreneurial people are cut from the same cloth. You are different. A lot of this has to do with your background and working with it. Those difficult people that you have worked with, and are very challenging. You mentioned the people you were training in these prisons, they were lifers.
All murderers and rapists.
They were there to help their fellow person and to improve that and to have a chance of doing something different. Can you tell us what were the main learnings that you had out of that environment that inspired your approach to leadership in founders of organizations?
All of those guys were very entrepreneurial even in of themselves, because they were very scrappy. I remember this book that came out in the mid or late ’90s called the Gang Leader for a Day. Do you guys ever remember this book? Anyway, it was a great book. It’s interesting. It’s a documentary in book form. A journalist in the south side of Chicago followed around a gang leader for three months or something and documented the complexity of his world.
The organization he ran is a multimillion-dollar organization. He was a drug dealer. Multimillion-dollar drug dealing organization. All cash, tons of power struggles, and very similar to an entrepreneur’s life. Hmm. Not a lot different. Different environment probably, but the same challenges, same tension, same kabuki theater, same strategic, chess moves, lots of danger, and always up. It was phenomenal.
These guys are very slick. All my clients are slick. They are smarter than most. My clients are usually the smartest person in whatever room they have come in. It’s the same as these guys. These guys are a step above most of that population. If you are talented, you have always got a secret. I say this to most of my clients before they become clients on a first call, I will whisper to them, “I know your secret.” They get all very nervous. I said, “I probably have several that you have not told other people, which is fine. You might want to find somebody to tell because secrets grow in the dark. You might want to figure that out.”
Here’s the secret I know that you are so talented, you get away with crap. If you are world-class at anything, your 6 out of 10 looks is as good as most people’s 10 out of 10. If you are driven and if you are operating out of 6 out of 10, you know it. Other people might not know it, but you are also haunted by it. Even though you have tons of stories that justify it, and it has to, and the economy, the team, and the hiring market, all the stories about it, you are still bothered because you have talked yourself into a level of mediocrity that only you know. Probably the 6 out of 10, what you call a 6 out of 10 is a 4 out of 10.
I always ask him, “Is that good news or bad news?” Most of them are smart enough to get that. “That’s good news,” because then the gap or the space between how they operate daily and their capacity is massive. It’s not little. If you are into a growth mindset if you are into how good could it get, how much of an impact could make, how much of a splash the market could generate, how much money could make for generations in my family and other families, now we got to an enticing ball game.
I got to get out of this criminal mindset of underperforming secretly, and then spending a lot of time justifying it. That part is very, similar. All those guys in prisons are wonderful at the political game because it’s in a gang-induced situation where the guards are also as dirty as any of the gangs. They got to generate their economy by trading cell phones, food, cigarettes, and all this stuff you do.
They got to get scrappy. Very similar and scrappy on this side. They either become great at persuading or manipulating people, or they get tough because they fight most of the time. Same with my clients. They are either savvy relationally, which most of them are not. Only in the sense that the thing that baffles them is that other people don’t do what they do, which is the number one human bias.
We know that from all the neuroscience that the number one human bias is we think other people think the way we think because it’s like, “This is the way life is. This is the way work is.” It’s that way, and then we judge the crap out of everybody else that’s not doing it that way or we are baffled by it. Instead of educating people and calling people up to something, they settle for being frustrated.The number one human bias is judging other people just because they are doing or thinking differently than you do. Click To Tweet
They will wait for a while and then fire the person and say it was the wrong person instead of realizing, “No. I am twice as driven as most people in my organization. I’m twice as committed as most people because it’s mine and it’s my baby, and I built it.” It’s always going to be that way. I got to get off of finding the unicorns that are going to think the way I think. If they think the way I think, they would have started their organization probably.
I got to get off of that and say, “Where’s this person?” That takes some guts to jump into a real forensic-based investigatory conversation with a person like, “What is the current reality for you? Like in a sober sense without judgment, what is it? What do I need from you?” Laying out expectations. I would say most of us do this. We lead other people the way we want to be led.
That’s a challenge for most of my founders because they are entrepreneurs and they want to be left alone. “Give me the goal and get out of my way.” That’s the way they want to be led, but most people aren’t like that. They want some clear instructions. They want to know the big vision and the strategy. They want to know how to connect what’s happening on a Friday morning to the outcomes and how are they going to be gauged to get it.
Gauged against it in quantifiable terms. Mostly entrepreneurs are much more intuitively driven, and they are so unconsciously competent. They are good at things and they don’t even know how and why they are good at it. It’s hard for them to scale their expertise in the organization. It’s a big conversation. Most of my clients are, “You are naturally good at this. The fact that you are good at it and can’t teach it is intimidating. You probably need some help studying what you do naturally, so you can teach it to other people.”
I want to come back to manager communication, but I want to dip our toe back into the past of helping out some of those, criminals who were looking at changing their lives. The other piece that I want to bring up there is that being a gang leader, for instance, you have to inspire people to want to join you. There are parallels that you find between why people join gangs and why people join a company. Are there parallels there? What are they?
Gangs meet a core human need, which is to be accepted. Most gangs exist in also a pretty unsafe environment. While gang life itself isn’t safe, it’s a predictable level of violence versus the street, which is an unpredictable level of violence. It promises brotherhood beyond what most humans are going to experience. Maybe if you are in the Navy SEALS or something, you will experience that type of brotherhood and back-to-back.
We are up against a massive challenge and we need each other in that way. Same in the gang life. With some of our fast-moving companies that are high stakes, for example, a client of ours called Impulse Space, they are building rockets. They attach their rockets to SpaceX, for example, and they are creating the first rocket in space that can move around freely.
For example, it gets it outer space and now let’s go check out that Chinese satellite over there. Let’s go disassemble that thing. There’s nobody else’s doing that. It’s very high stakes. If they nail it, then they are going to be worth $500 million immediately. If they don’t, they are going to be worth nothing immediately. It’s high stakes.
In some ways, gang life and similarities also gang life and founder-driven organizations are very personality-driven, at least at the beginning. You follow a leader and the leader has the vision. There’s no separation early on I would say between, “Am I working for this thing or am I working for this person?” It’s a meld of both. If not, I’m going there because Josh runs it or I’m going there because Callie runs it. I’m going there because I want to work with this person. It’s very personality-driven at least at the beginning.
It’s rapid, high-stakes, and personality-driven. It’s highly political in that way as well, and just like anywhere else, it’s scrappy. You are worth what you did last quarter. It’s not like people get to last for the sake, “Tom has been here twelve years and he’s a pretty good guy. He is not that good at this. We will put him out to pasture a little bit.” You can’t afford that in gang life. You can’t afford that entrepreneurial life either. Spotlights on you. There are very similarities. It’s high-stakes.
Is it difficult to have those founders realize they need to let go of things? They have been so used to that. How do you get them to realize that they can’t be everything to everyone?
You got to play the tape. This means they have a certain amount of complaints that are here and a certain amount of their behavior that not only is present but also generates their complaints. You have to connect the dots between here’s what they are complaining about, and then how are they generating what they are complaining about?
That’s the first counterintuitive question, which they don’t want to answer because they think it’s about blame. I’m never in a blame conversation, but let’s examine contribution. Then you got to play the tape into the future. Like if you don’t do anything new example if I’m coaching Susie. Susie, if you don’t shift yourself, tell me how bad it’s going to get over the next 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years. Let’s play that out.
The business would end. It would go down in shambles. The death of their reputation and all this stuff. If they can’t become a leader versus a high-end performer, most of them are high-end performers at other companies. They go out, have their idea, and then kick-off. They are used to being individual contributors who are generating results themselves.
In this game, as soon as they got 2, 3, or 10 people, it’s a whole different mode of leadership. Now it’s getting results through other people, which is much more complex than grinding until 4:00 AM and getting up at 7:00 and doing it again, which they are used to doing, which got them the money and got them the expertise. Now they have to do the riskier business, which is trusting people and training people.
To your question, how do you get them to do it? You got to help them see the horizon that’s coming. If they keep up their previously acceptable behavior, but will not generate the incomes they are dying for now, and then take small steps. You bestow trust. People can’t earn trust. You have to bestow it. It takes faith. You have to believe it and give yourself to it, and then pay attention and have these corrective conversations, and trust can be built over time.People cannot earn trust. It is bestowed and requires faith. Click To Tweet
It can be cured, manufactured, or generated. They have to find something else to do with all their energy because they are used to being upset, challenged, or frustrated. Living like that generates a whole culture of people walking around on eggshells because the boss is upset. You don’t keep great people. People got to like to be there.
You get crazy people, but you won’t get well-balanced healthy people because they can go work anywhere. If you are talented and a good person and can communicate well, you are a gift to any room. You can be looking around for the right team that fits you. That’s what I’m always talking with anybody about. They are thinking about jumping. It’s like, “Go find a team that’s worthy of you. Not they interviewing you. No. You are interviewing them to see if that’s the right environment.”
It’s the Holy Grail for culture if people come to do a job, they come and work, but the meta-conversation is I become who I’m destined to become who I want to become by working here with these people. It’s an environment of ever-evolving healthy ways of being and becoming. That’s like if they can get that in their bones that we are playing this bigger game called life and yes. We are doing specific things that look like work, but it’s all self-expression. It’s all about looking for belonging and becoming. We get that conversation on the table quickly and it helps prioritize what types of conversations, therefore putting the interpersonal dynamics on display rather quickly.
The one thing that I believe is that there seems to be a lot of fear in leadership. We are talking about people who follow a leader. If that leader screws up like we all screw up, it’s a matter of time that you can lose faith in your people. What does a leader need to do to ensure that they are taking the right steps to rebuild and stay strong?
It’s all back in origins. Meaning if a leader is authentic like real or transparent, when I say authentic, I mean like saying what’s there for them. Let’s get real about what life’s like essentially, and that’s being authentic. Like I am both exceptional and I’m horrible. I’m both honest and I’m dishonest. I’m both committed and I’m lazy. We are all a mixed bag of all these things. If you can generate an environment that creates space for all that, then you won’t do what most people like to do, which is to put on a show.
If I have set up an environment where we are both clear on what we are committed to, and we are committed to current reality as well. That’s the paradox. How committed can I be to the future? How committed am I to looking at new reality soberly? I’m not sugarcoating it. How bad is it? How good and bad is it? We always ask those three questions. What’s working? What’s not working? What’s wanted or needed?
If we are committed to both, then you naturally create an environment where we are aspirational and we are very grounded at the same time. That will give permission. It generates a necessity to get mistakes on the table quickly and also generates a necessity to not hold those mistakes as significant. Some mistakes you make might be significant outcomes, but not like we are living in this moral thing like you can’t ever make a mistake.
No, I need to see the mistakes and then I need to deal with them rather quickly and get up, account, reconcile, and whatever I need to do, seek forgiveness, and then get up and go again because we are in this fast-paced environment. If a leader can set that up for people and enroll other people into that type of environment, then they have to lead the way in that.
Anytime a leader I’m talking to, it’s like the more honest you get, that’s leadership in the future. We are not doing this namby-pamby tons of conversations and culture that are all about, I don’t know. I start to vomit around the psychological safety stuff. You need to never step on somebody’s toes. Fine. That’s a small world you live in and it puts the power into the hands of the most defendable person.
I don’t like that. Nobody does either except for this political game people are playing now. If you generate this environment that treats people with honesty and respect and keeps the bar very high once again, another paradox. How warm and empathetic are you? How committed are you to getting something done? That’s a paradox.
It’s like we are going after the what, but we are supporting the who in every conversation. Harden the problem and soften the person we say in my firm. If I live that, and if I model that and do that, it’s going to generate a whole world in which people can quickly put their hands up and say, “I missed it.” That’s it. You don’t even have to explain things and justify things and go around and around and cover your ass. You don’t need to. No. I put my ass on the line all the time. I just blew it. I wasn’t paying attention. My bad. How do I account for that?
That will draw people close. I say everybody wants that like, “I want to be fully seen and fully accepted as a human.” Everybody does at a core level. If you model that as a leader, other people are going to be attracted to that. High performers are attracted to that because most high performers that I know in organizations are most upset about the placating and about the pandering we do to low performers. We don’t hold the bar high. The more apt you are as a leader to do that, the more you keep high performers because the bar stays high despite challenges and despite all the interpersonal issues and what humans do when they get together in a group.
That’s a very long answer to that question of like if I created the right environment and I model it, it’s going to be this reciprocal relationship between me and my team. I have a guy on my team who does it all the time, Chad Brown, who hosts our podcast. He’s the most committed team person I have ever worked with. He’s the most honest, straight-up, the bar is high and loving. He’s the thing and I get pushed by him. I coached him back when I was a coach guy. He was running a different company and now he’s in my organization and I’m his leader, but he’s leading me all the time because of the way he leads himself with care and severity at the same time.
I know we are running out of time here, but I want to make sure that our leaders who are reading out there are going away with the top things that they need to think about in this new environment. What are those?
The top thing always in my view is asking any leader what are their challenges. I don’t mean what are the challenges in the organization. I mean for them. A big aspect of our work is what we call self-mastery like self-leadership. If I do that well then solves a lot of issues, but most leaders think that leading is leading other people, and it is, but it’s a much lower percentage. That is a much lower percentage of leading myself.
If anybody is leading now and they are not in a very direct conversation with themselves around what’s working and what’s not working and what’s wanted or needed in their leadership. If you are not doing that, then I would start there. Avoid the shame conversations because that’s not helpful for anybody, but get real about where are you now. How are you leading?
If you don’t know the answer to that, that’s your first leadership challenge as you are disconnected. If you don’t know and you aren’t that self-aware, that’s okay. Go get some feedback from other people. If you ask three people in your organization, “Can you give me some honest feedback?” No repercussions here. I want to know what’s working and what’s not working and what’s wanted or needed from me for the organization.
If you have the guts to ask that question, you are going to get a lot of feedback. If you can not be defensive, if you can be wanting it, seek feedback. We give people stars for being open to feedback. That’s the rookie stuff. High level, I crave feedback. Alexander, this philosopher said, “People’s view of themselves fluctuates between flattery and pure fantasy.”
We all think well of ourselves and looking good is a real big survival need for our ego. If we go get data contrary to our own, self-flattering view, then there’s going to be a gap. If you don’t have a space in which this is why working with probably the right coach or however you or the reader would define that. I’m a coach so I have committed the way I do it, which is my commitment is always to be a fierce advocate for people. I’m an advocate for you, but I’m fierce.
If you want a wine spritzer, go somewhere else. I’m a shot of whiskey. We are not going to mess around. For your sake, your future, your legacy, your family, your team, and all the things you care about, I care about you 30 years from now if you are going to be proud of the decisions you made now. That’s severe. Some people don’t want to look at life with those stakes, which is fine.
There are lots of people that will give you pats on the back, which is great, but also, it’s a both-end thing. If you don’t have a space to do that, the next step, I’d go find a space. Go talk to somebody. We have got great people on my team. You can reach out to us or we have this four-day personal leadership accelerant process called The Revenant Process. I don’t know when this is going to come out, but ours comes out.
This one is going to be at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Four-day deep dive, no holds barred. All around becoming, all around legacy, how to make an impact on the people, and generate some awareness and then dominion over the ideas and the beliefs that are governing your life. For most of us, we are cruising through life and we are not directing ourselves in an intentional way with grace and challenge.
That’s the first thing is get clear about your self-leadership. What else I would do is I would spend more time than I think you have to sit down with key leaders in your organization. I’d start there and do a deep check-in with them. Stop taking them for granted. See where they are. People will naturally, always be looking for ways in which to align personal interests with corporate interests.
Foolish leaders do not get clear with their people about their interests. Why are they here? Especially since they have been there for five years, there’s going to be an evolved answer to that question. Why are they still here? What are they looking forward to? How do they see the alignment between what they want in their own life and what the organizations want from them?
If there’s a gap between those two things and they are misaligned, over time, they will leave. They will go somewhere else. It’s your job to illuminate that relationship between their interests and the things that you are asking to do from a corporate perspective. I’d go and have those conversations. Once again, great opportunity to get great feedback, but a great opportunity to see and advocate for your people so that where they are is where they are going to get what they want to get out of their life and their work. Don’t sit down and get a big strategic plan. Go sit down and have some killer deep conversations. Surprise yourself by the possibility of trust that happens in the context of vulnerability.
I know that there are a lot of leaders out there who are reading this and they are going, “This sounds great. This sounds exactly like what I need.” What is the trigger? When should somebody reach out to you? When should they reach out to you and what type of person is that?
When should you reach out? You should reach out now. Just now. I don’t coach anybody that needs coaching. I coach everybody who wants to be coached. We all need coaching. I’m a pretty high performer. You guys are high performers. How good could it get? How effective could you be? How clear could you be? How grounded could you be? That’s an infinite game.
If you are in a conversation about personal capacity, there’s no ceiling on that. There’s no ceiling on the amount of meaning and impact you can have on other people. As soon as you want it or as soon as you have any tinge of conviction, it’s worth it to at least explore and reach out and have a conversation. If you are cruising right now, that’s fine, but whenever you want, you can generate a gap between what you have and what you want. If there’s not much of a gap, that usually means you are either not being that honest about reality like things are worse than you are talking about or you don’t have a very big vision. My conviction is we have one trip around this thing called life, and you might as well make it count. Just reach out and go explore.You only get one trip around this thing called life. You might as well make it count. Click To Tweet
If you want to reach out to us at Take New Ground, we are honest with people if we are a good fit for them. We are connected to a bunch of people who coach in different ways and have different focuses. We will always honor and I’m always honored to anybody having an exploratory conversation with them. Usually, we have a well-rounded organization. No matter where an organization is, we have somebody who could help them take some great leaps.
What’s the easiest way for people to contact you?
I have been following your Instagram. It’s a good show. Thanks for your work there.
It’s a passion project. It’s all this stuff. Anytime I get to do an opportunity like this, I want people to be alive. I want to be alive. That’s a core thing. There’s a big difference between breathing and vitality. I want to be vital and I want my life to count. I’m known for being intense and people are going to have to get over it or hang out with somebody else. I’m just going to be me and I want people to be themselves. Go all in instead of doing what human beings in general, but also a modern-day person like this very comparative-based lifestyle. What should I be doing? All this work-life balance.
All this stuff. Instead of people deciding who they are, what they are committed to, and what’s worth their life, they throw themselves at it. We like live people. It’s not that the world’s that corrupt. It’s just dead. Anybody that’s alive or wants to be alive, trust me, if anybody comes to The Revenant Process, you are going to get a dose of life and it’s awesome. If you want to reach out to us at any point, The Revenant Process itself is at WeAreRevenant.com. We do those 2 to 3 times a year. We surveyed 2,000 grads, and 97% of them said it’s in the top 3 experiences of their life.
It’s world-shaking. I went through it and now I get to co-train it and it’s a blast. I’m always nervous because it’s not this scripted thing where it’s like me and a whiteboard teaching crap all day long. We don’t do it that way. We are hyper-conversational. As a trainer, I know I’m going to be on the edge of my seat as much, or probably more than they are because it’s an intimate thing. We cap it at 40. It stays close and it’s not a big room. Nobody is anonymous in the back of the room. Everybody is engaged and it’s risky, which is growth. Transformation happens in the context of tension and risk. We give you the gift of tension and risk.
I know that’s the best place for leaders to get to network with others who are going through the same situation that they are. The amount of value you create is incredible. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom here on the show. I’m a big fan, so thank you so much.
You are so kind. Thank you for having me on. For anybody who’s reading, we would love to have an exploratory conversation with you and see if there are ways we can serve you or people we can connect you within our network. Especially if you are a founder, we love working with folks who are on the edge like that. We love it. There’s more that I could talk about, but for the sake of time, just feel free to reach out. I love to give you an hour of my time and let’s explore what’s possible for you.
Thank you, everyone, and we will see you in the next episode. Take care.
Adrian Koehler is a leadership engagement expert and senior partner at the executive coaching firm, Take New Ground. He coaches executives and entrepreneurs in the art and science of leadership for themselves, their teams, and clients to create new, unprecedented results and experience fulfillment in their work. He is the Founder and Senior Partner at Take New Ground, a leadership coaching, training and consulting firm based in Los Angeles. TNG partners with select executives and organizations to get the results they want by creating the culture they need.
He is the co-host of an engaging podcast The Naked Leadership Podcast with TNG Sr Partner Dan Tocchini. Drawing on his background in philanthropy, ministry, activism, and medicine, Adrian thrives in the extreme environments and finds comfort in difficult conversations—in fact, his passion for human performance has taken him around the globe, serving people in times of crisis, transformation, and stalemates. Over the last decade, Adrian has trained and developed leaders at NIKE, Virgin Hyperloop One, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Herschel Supply Co., Oprah Winfrey Network, Gavin DeBecker & Associates, Siegel & Gale, UCLA and elsewhere.
Prior to his work as an executive coach, Adrian was the founding executive director of The Cornerstone Project, a grant-giving foundation that supports positive life transformation and spiritual reconciliation for the incarcerated and those with criminal histories. Before moving to Los Angeles in 2005, Adrian worked as a pediatric intensive care specialist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He has also served as a pastor and community organizer at Mosaic LA and founded serveLA, Mosaic’s community dedicated to holistic development for the marginalized and vulnerable in Los Angeles. He received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing while playing football at Millikin University. Adrian resides in the heart of Hollywood, Los Angeles with his two children, Scout and Charli.