Jennifer Hall, Ph.D., Coaching Mindset
Jennifer Hall, Ph.D., talks mindsets, the tools she's developed to measure them, and rapid change in executive coaching
On this episode of SPx, Joe welcomes Jennifer Hall, executive coach and licensed psychologist. The woman behind Mindset Coaching, Hall has more than 20 years of experience in executive coaching and has co-developed two assessment tools - the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile® (EMP) and the Coaching Mindset Index™ (CMI). She talks the evolution of her coaching business, what she looks for in a client, and predictive factors for success in an age of rapid change.
- Today's guest is Jennifer Hall, Ph.D.. She is a licensed psychologist and executive coach, as well as co-author of the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile (EMP) and the Coaching Mindset Index (CMI)
- While Hall works as a contractor for numerous leadership organizations, she also maintains her own business, Mindset Coaching.
- The role of coach and how it has changed: "Traditionally, coaches were secured for executives who were in danger of derailing." Now: "More and more, coaching has been used as a development lever for folks who are high potential, or who are transitioning into a new role, or who are being groomed for something in particular."
- The title "coach" is not protected. Anyone can call themselves a coach, which has lead to an abundance of life "coaches." Hall's coaching is different. As a licensed psychologist and coach, she focuses on high level executives and organizations.
- Truths among executives: "One thing that I've come to see over time is that no matter what level someone is at, no matter what they're paid, they have a lot of the same fears, insecurities, hang ups, neuroses that the rest of us do, and they want to be appreciated."
- Necessary characteristics of executives: "You have got to be mentally strong. You have got to have thick skin, because you are going to be criticized all the time."
- "Historically, coaches have been trained to do nothing but ask questions and to maybe share some feedback, but never to give suggestions, never to give advice."
- "So, when I look now at what I do with my coaching clients---I don't believe in being prescriptive and telling them that I know what they should do. I still believe I don't know that as well as they do. But now I see how valuable it is for me to share with them examples of what my other clients have done."
- "I'm going to ask a lot of questions first. I'm going to use inquiry first... I'm going to give you feedback... I'm going to maybe look for patterns that have been outside your awareness...Then I'll ask you if any ideas emerge from that."
- "Now I've come to see that with only inquiry…I'm failing to bring everything I can to the table."
- Characteristics of a good client: growth mindset; someone who truly, genuinely cares about the people around them; globally minded; entrepreneurially minded.
- Coaching Mindset Index®: "There are a million coaching skills, programs, leader coach programs. The reason that we created this assessment is because we saw a need in the market... if you don't know where your starting point is as a leader coach, how do you know where you want to go?"
- Pull strategies: Inquiry, being compassionate when you're giving feedback, focusing on development. Push strategies: Advocacy and being very candid in giving tough feedback, focusing on performance."
- "You want to know where you are in each of those six basic strategies so that you can identify where there are gaps between where you are and where you might want to be."
- "The first product I created was with Mark Davis and Pam Mayer when I was full time at Eckerd College. That's the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile®."
- "From what I've seen the biggest gaps among leader coaches, not professionally trained coaches, but among leader coaches is inquiry and a focus on development."
- "What I want to do next is to create an assessment of multiple mindsets where we're actually able to identify what mindsets characterize your way of being in the world and how that influences your choices and the results you're getting."
- "I think about coaching in many ways as holding up a mirror. Here's what I see. Here's what the data tells you. Oftentimes, we're collecting feedback from the folks who work with them. Here's what they see. Here's the impact you're having. You get to decide do you want to change or not. What is the price of changing? What is the price of not changing? If you want to change I'll help you."
- Hall's shoutout: Leadership St. Pete. "I just can't say enough good things about LSP. Whenever one who's been through LSP talks about LSP, you run the risk of sounding hyperbolic because someone thinks, 'Oh geeze, a leadership program. It lasts for six months. How great can it be?' But it's really amazing."
"If you're not adaptable, if you cannot pivot, if you can't quickly see opportunities and change your style, your market, your product, your services---anything and everything is up for grabs---you're not going to last long."
"I think the key for any good coach and the key for leaders who are coaches is curiosity."
Table of Contents
(5:20–7:40) Gender Dynamics
(7:40–16:13) Offering Suggestions as a Coach
(16:13–18:49) The Coaching Mindset Index and the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile
(18:49–23:00) Leadership and Adapting to Change
(23:00–26:20) Team Connections
(26:20–32:37) Mindset Tests
(32:37–33:34) The Clients’ Impact on the Coach
(33:34–36:48) Working with Difficult Clients
(36:48–38:24) Shout Out and Conclusion
JOE: Joining me on SPX is someone who may have a title, may not have a title.
JOE: We’re having an identity crisis to start things off. So, what business cards do you have? What do they say on them? How many do you have? How many different ones?
JEN: I have several different business cards.
JOE: I knew it.
JEN: I have only one that is for my business, because as a coach, as many coaches do, I have affiliations with a number of different leadership development organizations, and each one likes to represent all the contractors they work with as coaches. And so, they all give me cards. But the one that I love the most is one created by Big Sea, which is my own personal business, which is called Mindset Coaching. And I guess my title on that is principle. So, I do coaching and leadership development and I’m the business, essentially.
JOE: Have you ever said the wrong company on a call when you were representing one and accidentally said a different one, an umbrella organization?
JEN: That’s a great question, but no I have not.
JOE: Well done.
JEN: Thank you.
JOE: So, coaching is awesome. The word coaching to me I’ve always had a weird stigma with. And I think a lot of is you hear about life coaching, right? Then you hear about executive coaches, and I traveled a lot coming up in business I didn’t see a lot of what I would call higher-end executive coaches, which is what you are. So, do you feel like there’s a perception, or a stigma, or any kind of preconceived notions around when you say coaching to people, or are you just past that?
JEN: I think it’s a term that can have a lot of different connotations for different people, so I always like to understand what they think it means when they hear the word. And I think that over time it’s become less stigmatized, and I think it’s about the word. But I also think it’s about the way in which coaching has been used. So, traditionally, coaches were secured for executives who are in danger of derailing. So, it was seen as a remedial kind of activity and everybody knew it. If you said, “Oh, this is my coach,” everyone else goes, “Oh, geez, they needed a coach or else they’re going to lose their job.” More and more coaching has been used as a development lever for folks who are high potential, or who are transitioning into a new role, or who are being groomed for something in particular. So, it’s come to have less stigma over time. At the same time—and I’ve been doing this about 20 years—over those two decades a lot has changed in terms of coach training, coach certification, the availability of coaches. So, right now, as it stands, coach is not a protected term. So, I’m a licensed psychologist. That’s a protected term. You have to take an exam and go through a process and get a license. Anyone in the world can call themselves a coach. Hang up a shingle, call themselves a coach, and a lot of people do, frankly. So, because of that, because there are not currently any laws governing the education or the credentialing of coaches it’s a free market. And so, I can say, well, I was a 911 operator. This is a real experience from a conference I went to. I was a 911 operator, so I’m pretty good with people. So, now I’m a coach. And I hear stories about people getting in Ubers and Lyfts, and they start talking to the driver, and the driver said, “Well, I don’t really do this. I really do coaching. I’m just doing this in the meantime.”
JOE: Confidence level up on that one.
JEN: Yeah, exactly. So, I think a lot of the people who get into the field without necessarily having a background that prepares them for it call themselves life coaches. And I think that executive coaches just tend to specialize more in organizational life. They work, obviously, with higher level folks, and they typically have a different kind of training, or background or credentialing.
JOE: But obviously, as a psychologist, there’s clearly that element as well. How often does the executive leak into the life and an average coaching session? I mean, is it that common?
JEN: It’s very common. So, I could probably count on one hand the number of executives I worked with who never talk about family, who never talk about health, who never talk about well-being, who talk only about work issues. It’s very rare.
JOE: So, having been just inundated with it sitting across the table from loads and loads of C-levels, have you started to be able to categorize them into certain archetypes, certain sort of profiles? I’d love to hear just some of your general thoughts on A. What people think of—let’s just start with—the CEO position? What people think of CEOs from the outside, versus what you see from the inside.
JEN: It’s a great question, because what you see on the outside is often very different than what you see on the inside. And I would say one thing that I’ve come to see over time is that no matter what level someone is at, no matter what they’re paid, they have a lot of the same fears, insecurities, hang ups, neuroses that the rest of us do, and they want to be appreciated. So, it’s very easy for folks looking, you know, from the rank and file, or from middle management, to look up at the CEO and say, “Oh, my gosh. He—” and because it’s typically he, “—is paid so much money.” And they think that that should be fine. But, meanwhile, the CEO is feeling like, “I am killing myself here. I’m working all the time. I’ve got the board breathing down my neck. I’ve got shareholders I’ve got to deliver value to all the time, and no one appreciates me.” So, there are many differences, but that’s one key thing I’ve noticed.
JOE: Well, and then another general impression of CEOs is that they’re sort of, being so business focused, very alpha. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a male talking to males—most of the CEOs, even when they let their guard down, I don’t get a lot of that. How prevalent is that that they’re that sensitive?
JEN: So, most of my male clients let their guard down almost completely with me, I would say. So, I do think there’s a different dynamic with a man talking to a man.
JOE: So, you think for most of them there is that sort of vulnerability on the other side?
JEN: Absolutely. Yeah. And it doesn’t mean they’re not tough and resilient. I see a lot of toughness, and in fact when you asked about CEOs, it was one of the things I thought, is that you have got to be mentally strong. You have got to have thick skin, because you’re gonna be criticized all the time. People are going to think they know how to do your job better than you do. They’re not going to be hesitant to tell you. They’re not gonna be sure if they’re getting valid feedback. They’re not sure if people like them for who they are. So, all of that requires a lot of mental toughness and resilience.
JOE: And one of things I would guess is that because you’ve worked for so many CEOs, they see a lot of value in trying to extract that, see that reflection in you, what you’ve worked with other CEOs, and so they’re they’re hoping that you’ll give them a glimpse into what other CEOs are doing when they’re being vulnerable. That’s got to be pretty valuable information. And what about the gender dynamic? Because I think that most of the executive coaches I know tend to be female. And so, what’s sort of that dynamic when you work with people, being the male/female aspect of it?
JEN: Well, it’s interesting because there are times when I feel like I just love working with women, right? I can identify. They can identify with me. I feel like there are lots of ways in which women have faced obstacles that men haven’t necessarily faced, and so it makes me feel a special affinity for trying to support them and challenged them to be the best they can. I think society requires all of us to be the best leaders we can. And so, I think there’s untapped potential there that makes me feel very passionate about working with women leaders. And then whenever I go down that road I think about like 10 male leaders I’ve worked with who I absolutely admire and just feel so much connection with and want to support and uplift in the same exact way. So, I don’t think, other than like how much I can identify with someone’s life situation and their particular challenges, there’s not that much of a difference for me. And of course, I don’t know what it’s like for any of my clients to work with a man, so I can only begin to speculate on the differences there.
JOE: So, one of the big values that you bring, to me, as we’ve worked together, is that I love to hear or I want to see what other folks are doing. I mean, I know that when I’m a consultative seller of our services I found that when I try to give people a solution, they have to A – trust me and trust that solution. But when I could just sort of become a window to what I know everybody else in the industry is doing, they get great value out of that. And I can sort of say I feel the same way when when we talk, because you just have this invaluable window into what other executives are doing, and that’s rare information. So, how do you leverage that and use that in your work?
JEN: I’m so glad you asked that, Joe, because it’s actually something I’ve been thinking so much about lately. I would say that, historically, coaches have been trained to do nothing but ask questions and to maybe share some feedback, but never to give suggestions, never to give advice. And we call the difference between those two things inquiry and advocacy. One comes from Peter Senge of M.I.T. from the Fifth Discipline. And I’ve recently incorporated those into an assessment that I co-authored called The Coaching Mindset Index with my longtime colleague and friend Mark Davis. And there is a feeling, especially among life coaches and especially among folks who get certified through this one organization, the International Coach Federation, that in order to distinguish themselves as credentialed professionals, coaches must be vastly different than any other kind of consultant. So, they must really bring no ideas of their own. They can’t make suggestions. They can’t give advice. They can’t really brainstorm solutions. It all has to come from the client. And so, for a long time, because coaching was so new, I was kind of drinking that Kool-Aid even though I never went through an ICF program. But I was kind of drinking that Kool-Aid. And I remember, it was about eight years ago, where I am quite sure that I lost a very high-profile client. I was sitting down with her. She’d been promoted into a very high-level leadership role early. It was a family business, but a big national family business. And she was asking me about my coaching style, and I told her I ask a lot of questions. I believe you have all the answers. And she was looking at me a little askance, and she said, “But there’s no substitute for experience and I haven’t had a lot. So, I’m in this position: I lack the experience other people at this level have had and I kind of would like to hear about your experience.” And looking back on it now I was not only too rigid about it, but my thinking about it has fundamentally transformed. So, when I look now at what I do with my coaching clients I can see that I’m not ever—I don’t feel being prescriptive and telling them that I know what they should do. I still believe I don’t know that as well as they do. But now I see how valuable it is for me to share with them examples of what my other clients have done. “Here’s what another CFO I worked with has done about that problem,” or “Here’s how an executive team that I worked with overcame that obstacle,” and my clients really appreciate that. Also, if I storm with them. For example, if you said to me, “Jen, I want to get better at delegating,” I’m not going to immediately give you ten ways you can delegate better. I’m to ask a lot of questions first. I’m going to use inquiry first. I’m going to say, “Joe, what have you already tried? What have you historically done? On what kind of philosophy is that based? What’s your mindset when you do it? How do you select people?” So, I can ask questions for a long time and I still think that’s helpful. And it’s a really important basis for me understanding what your practices are, what your mindset is, what’s worked, what’s not worked. And from there I can offer some other solutions. Not solutions, but ideas. So, first of all, I’m going to give you feedback. “Well, it sounds to me as if you’re delegating very intentionally based on X, Y and Z factor. And have you been aware of that?” So, I’m going to maybe look for patterns that have been outside your awareness that I can highlight for you and put those on the table and let you react to them however you want. Then I’ll ask you if any ideas emerge from that. So, I’m still going to use a lot of inquiry, but then I’m going to also share my ideas with you. “Oh, I was just talking to a client, and he’s done this and it’s worked really well for them.” Or, “Oh, this other client just recommended this book and it was transformative for them.” So, now I’ve come to see that with only inquiry, if it’s pure inquiry, then I’m not necessarily—I’m still offering value, I think, because the time and space is very helpful for professional development. It’s helpful for you to hear me ask questions, for you to hear yourself think, for you to connect some dots. But I think I’m failing to bring everything I can to the table if I feel like I can’t even bring up any ideas.
JOE: And I mean, really, it’s just a change in presentation because a consultant says, “You should do this,” and you say, “Other people have done this,” and you say, “Have you noticed you’ve said this?” And so, in a great way you’re opening the door to to put the information in, whereas the consultants just try to put the information in, right?
JEN: Exactly. It’s a much softer sell. The way I see it is I’m putting ideas out there for them to consider. That’s all. And I don’t have a vested interest in what they do. Now if I’m worried about something they’re doing I will own that and I’ll say my concern, when I hear you telling me your plan to go and confront your boss and share your feedback in this way, my concern is about whether he’s going to actually hear that. So, I’ll share it that way, too.
JOE: And that brings yet another example of the kind of work that you’re doing, and so I’d be curious to see what gives you—because right now I can immediately push out a couple of ways. One, we’re talking about delegating better. I mean, that bores me to tears.
JEN: [laughs] Me too. Yeah, it bores me, too.
JOE: And then there’s operational things and there’s interpersonal things. And then I think there’s gonna be some tranche of people who are—I would say there’s some portion that are people who are below where they need to be and you’re bringing them up to where they need to be.
JOE: But then there’s gonna be that, for me, where it would be the fun area, would be the people who are a little bit above where they need to be and you’re pushing them even higher.
JOE: Right. And so, what’s kind of the breakdown of how do people fall on each of those categories and where do you get the most meaning from?
JEN: I personally—This is more philosophical than anything else. I personally believe that all of us have untapped potential, that even if you’re in a position that has, in some ways, outstripped your current capacity, your skills aren’t quite there in order for you to be really successful, I think not only can you get there but you can get somewhere else if you just tap into the right capacity and have the right support and the right challenge. So, I would say that in that sense everyone’s capable. Now, it might not always be a good fit because you could be capable of being the greatest delegator in the world. But if it bored you to tears you’re not going to stay there long. So, it’s not about ability. It’s about whether how much energy and passion you have for that.
JOE: So, more talking about delegating, though. So, when your work, the work that you’re actually doing, is there a specific tranche that you get the most meaning out of? Or, if you could say I could have this client all the time, this is what I would do.
JEN: Sure. Want me to paint what you’re…?
JEN: Okay. So, first of all is I want someone with a growth mindset, someone who believes that people aren’t just born with a fixed set of abilities and that’s pretty much all they’re capable of. I want people who know that they themselves can develop and that the people around them can develop, because if you have a fixed mindset—This all comes from Carol Dweck’s book from maybe about ten years ago. Not exactly sure. But if you have a fixed mindset you’re not going to grow and you’re not going to develop. You’re not going to challenge yourself. You’re not going to challenge the people around you. You’re not going to be willing to take risks because you see failure as a reflection of who you are, as opposed to an opportunity to learn. So, I love someone with a fixed mindset. I like someone who truly, genuinely cares about the people around them, whether or not they want to be super involved in their coaching or not. Someone who really cares about outcomes for other people. Like working with really bright people. I learn a lot from my clients and when they have different skill sets and different experiences, they teach me. I like people who are globally minded. I like people who are entrepreneurially minded, who can see things that can happen, whether they’re inside or outside an organisation. I like people who bring a lot of energy and passion to their work, because I get excited for them. One of the greatest things about coaching is I can experience joy for all my clients and they’re accomplishing all kinds of things that I’m not interested in but I’m genuinely so happy and excited for them.
JOE: And when you’re around people making opportunity and building these grand things.
JOE: And obviously your skill set, there’s definitely a general business acumen that’s tied to it as well. Is there ever this energy that you might just want to go work with one of these companies? “This is a great opportunity, and I know I could thrive here.” Or is it just “I coach and I’m out”?
JEN: There was one opportunity. I had to go work with one of my organizational clients that tempted me just because I really, really liked the people and the organization. I liked what they did. But at the end of the day, looking at that kind of corporate lifestyle, 8 to 5 or 6 or 7 and no flexibility, it was not as tempting for me as continuing to do what I’m doing because I get to work across all kinds of industries. And I don’t have to go to any meetings I don’t want to go to. And I don’t have to deal with any bureaucracy. So, it’s, for me, this is perfect.
JOE: Great. And you mentioned the index. Can you talk a bit about that, that you developed?
JEN: Sure. So, the Coaching Mindset Index came out on the market about a year ago, I think, and it reflects my current philosophy of coaching, which is that it’s not all inquiry and other strategies that we refer to as pull strategies. Inquiry, being compassionate when you’re giving feedback, focusing on development. Those are all super important, but on the other side you have push strategies. Advocacy and being very candid in giving tough feedback and in focusing on performance. And the idea there is it’s not prescriptive, but for any leader who’s engaged in coaching someone else that is trying to help someone else identify and achieve important goals, you want to know where you are in each of those six basic strategies so that you can identify where there are gaps between where you are and where you might want to be. And in my belief system the very best coaches are those who are most versatile, who have available to them all of those strategies and who can very intentionally use them depending not on what’s comfortable for them, which is what most of us do, but depending on the needs of the person they’re coaching. And when I say coach I mean leader coach too. So, the CMI, the Coaching Mindset Index, is helpful for executive coaches. It’s available in a 360 version, which I took, and it was very helpful to me. But we’re finding that our primary market is among leaders who more and more are tasked with coaching their team members. So, there’s a million coaching skills, programs, leaders coach programs, and the reason that we created this assessment is because we saw a need in the market. There’s no assessment of that. And if you don’t know where your starting point is as a leader coach, how do you know where you want to go? It’s just guesswork.
JOE: Then this is a new venture in that you were with Eckerd for a while and then you have your practice, but now you’ve actually made a product. This is the first product that you’ve put out?
JEN: Second product. So, the first product I created also with Mark Davis and another colleague Pam Mayer when I was full time at Eckerd College. That’s the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile. That’s gotten pretty good traction in St. Pete, so that’s been fun. And that’s probably about five years old. The CMI Mark and I did in conjunction with a little leadership outfit out of Philly called Air Consulting. So, yeah, it’s a second assessment.
JOE: And the one with Eckerd, that was under Eckerd’s umbrella?
JOE: Yeah. And then this one’s just yours?
JEN: No, this one is also owned by Air. So, in both of those cases I’m a co-author, and I’m a subject matter expert, and I’m a passionate advocate for it. But both of them are owned by other organizations, and that’s frankly so that Mark and I, Pam, don’t have to put it online, don’t have to do a marketing, don’t have to do the operations. It allows us just to focus on kind of intellectual property of it.
JOE: Got it. So, having been in the business for 20 years….
JEN: Yeah. I guess I said, too. Not you. So, I can’t hold it against you.
JOE: I would never have said it if you didn’t. Leadership has changed a lot, and we saw a great example. We talked for a bit before we hit record about Elon Musk and how one tweet changed the trajectory of his professional life pretty significantly. So, I’ve seen, I think, beyond just the more obvious stuff of that publicity. Just the rate of change has gone up. Change happens faster.
JEN: It sure does.
JOE: So, what were been some of the major things you’ve seen in the last two to three to five years and changes in leadership?
JEN: Well, I have found that increasingly if you’re not adaptable, if you cannot pivot, if you can’t quickly see opportunities and change your style, your market, your product, your services—anything and everything is up for grabs—you’re not going to last long. You’ve heard the acronym VUCA, right? Volatile, Unpredictable—But in a VUCA world you’ve got to be more adaptable than ever. I have a client. Here’s a good example. He’s the CFO. He’s likely to be tapped to be the CEO of another organization. And he shared with me the other day that he was looking at it as maintaining the status quo: “We’re doing this big, new, risky, uncertain role.” And those were the choices he saw until he realized that no, even if he stayed in the CFO role things were changing so fast that what it looks like for him to be the CFO in this role today is not going to be what it looks like for him to be the CFO in the same role, in the same organization next year. So, either way he’s facing change. And so, I think that leaders, if they don’t embrace that and if they can’t find a way to turn that into something exciting and look at it as an opportunity, they’re not going to last long.
JEN: There’s six strategies, and those roll up into four overall styles. You want to hear about those or no?
JOE: Well, what’s the most common area that coaches tend to need the gaps you called it, I guess?
JEN: Definitely from what I’ve seen the biggest gaps among leader coaches, not professionally trained coaches—whole different thing—but among leader coaches it’s inquiry and it’s a focus on development. So, those are both pull strategies. They do okay with the compassion, which is the third pull strategy. But they don’t ask enough questions and they focus more on performance than on the individual team members’ professional development. There was an article in Harvard Business Review maybe a month ago and the title was something like “Leaders Think They’re Good Coaches but They’re Not.” And so, what these researchers did is they told leaders to sit down and coach someone else. And again, any term has a lot of different meanings depending on who you ask, but they sat down and they coach someone else who had problem and what do you think that looked like?
JOE: They tried solution.
JEN: Right to solution. It was advice. It was solution. It’s “Here’s what I know.” With very, very good intentions, right? They’re trying to be helpful. Just like leaders in the workplace, by solving other people’s problems they’re trying to be helpful. But it’s not how most of us think of coaching.
JOE: I mean, obviously the stereotype with men, the old joke is that they want to solve and women just want to be heard, or whatever. So, does that solution thing track along both genders as far as you’ve seen where they all try to just offer solution?
JEN: Both genders. So, women will listen longer and they might actively reflect a little bit more, but then they’ll also—if they do what comes naturally they’ll go into solutions, too.
JOE: I guess the key there is not that when you ask questions that’s for the purpose not of getting answers but of how you’re interacting with that person. If you’re coaching them, then the goal is not the solution. The goal is the development of the person.
JEN: It could be. See, that’s why, with the push and the pull, it’s not either/and, but it’s both, or either/or it’s both/and. So, instead of saying, “Joe, I’m going to focus only on your performance, and let’s look at some metrics that are related to performance,” I’m also going to say, “But what do you want to develop? Like, what skill set or capacity do you want to develop or where do you want to be next?” And the best coaches I think can focus on both. But questions can be all over the map. So, some questions could be very solutions focused and could be closed ended. So, in leadership programs we tell leaders to ask good questions, open ended questions. It’s almost as if they can’t. So, they say things like, “Well have you tried X?” And I call that a veiled suggestion. That’s not really an open question. So, it’s about the kinds of questions you ask. And I think the key for any good coach and the key for leaders who are coaches is curiosity. If you go into a conversation, as you have to go into every podcast show, with a curious mind you’re going to do good coaching.
JOE: Sure. I believe that those folks have that. I have a pretty large curiosity, I think. And I think that they need to understand that they’re asking the questions, because of the personal development, the interpersonal relationship, versus the answers—
JEN: Yeah, what’s the goal?
JOE: Yeah. Because if the idea is that they actually think they’re going to get solutions that will make their business better out of this process, I think they would do it, actually. Right? Sure, there’s some arrogance in there and whatnot, but I think that many have curiosity and are really, really interested in answers that will make their business better. They just aren’t convinced they’re going to get them from—The person who runs the business wants to know about a call center. And, yeah, they can go down and ask the customer service reps. I think over time they’ve been trained that the customer service reps will come with a certain perspective of that of a customer service. And you could certainly distill out some wisdom from that, but in talking to them and going through this process it’s as much about how the rep comes out of it as a person and as an employee versus the actual information interchange, right. So, that’s what I meant by understand the purpose for the interaction versus that they’re doing it because they want to connect with this person, not because they actually want an answer.
JEN: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s not as if all of those coaching strategies or purposes have to happen in one conversation. If we have a long-term relationship and I’m your boss, there are gonna be times when I’m going to come to you and say, “Joe, I just need this answer.” I’m not going to care how you’re feeling or I’m not to stop and ask about how you’re feeling. I’m not going to ask about how you’re doing on your development goals. I might not even ask a question. I might just say, “I need you to go do that right now.”
JOE: Sure. And with the size of the company, I think that most leaders want to connect with their workforce and then it’s just a matter of the time that they have to do it. And then as they get bigger then certainly it’s harder to reach the layers that are further away, and then they’re kind of trying to reach the people that are in their inner circle and have that trickle out. So, having seen successful organizations, how important is the executives’ connection to the team, typically?
JEN: Yeah, that’s a great question. A book was recommended to me recently called The CEO Next Door. And I haven’t read it but having read about it and heard a very strong support for it from the CEO I recommended it to another client of mine who is interested in becoming a CEO. And the one thing he found most helpful about it was that it addressed that very question that you just bring up, which is when you’re at a high level, how do you connect with people three, four or five levels down? How important is it? And the thing that he found that was very comforting to him was that this research in which the book was based found that you don’t have to make personal connections. You don’t even have to make small talk, but they need to be hearing from you about your vision for the organization. What you see about the business. And so, it’s fine to connect with them on that level and you can’t possibly have a personal connection with everybody. And so, he felt like it gave him permission to not work so hard at making small talk with everybody.
JEN: I guess at the end of day it’s everybody acts out of self-interests. So, it’s what’s in it for them and are you the person to get them that. Do you find that a lot of execs have social anxiety or is that most of them couldn’t have gotten there and still had it?
JEN: That’s a good question. So, as I’m combing my memory banks I would say that most do not have social anxiety, per se. As a psychologist I think about that as kind of debilitating and pervasive. And so, they wouldn’t have that kind of social anxiety, but they can feel very uncomfortable in situations where they’re just supposed to make up something to talk about. So, I would say it’s awkwardness more than anxiety and it’s not the majority of them.
JEN: You use the tests, use the tools to determine mindset. And so, there is a big aha moment when people see their own mindset for the first time, and then have to figure out, if necessary, change it or augment it or—So, let’s talk about those first few minutes when they—did most people say, “That’s not me!” or did they say, “Oh,” when they get the test results back?
JEN: I would say it’s about half and half. So, some people, especially when we think about the entrepreneurial mindset profile, if someone’s been an entrepreneur for a long time and they tend to have very high scores on many of the scales that make up the assessment, they know themselves a little bit better, so they’re not so surprised. With the coaching mindset, although it’s called the coaching mindset, we’re actually measuring strategies and styles, not mindset per se. But what I want to do next is to create an assessment of multiple mindsets where we’re actually able to identify what mindsets characterize your way of being in the world and how does that influence your choices and how does that influence the kinds of results you’re getting. So, what I imagine is an assessment that measures maybe 20 different discrete mindsets, such as a mindset of abundance or mindset of scarcity or mindset of being proactive versus reactive. Those might be more adjectives than mindsets, but we’ll come up with 20 that we think are really relevant and people can identify with, and then we’ll also ask them, in my mind, to what degree are these mindsets serving you? To what degree would you like to be operating with each of these mindsets? And then we’ll be able to give them results that show them here are the mindsets you’re currently operating with. Here’s how it’s similar or different to what you say would benefit you. Here are the gaps and here’s what to do about it. So I want to make it very actionable. So, I’m thinking of just throwing something together before validating it, putting it on my website, making it available to people to take and get back their results for free at the same time that we’re building data and we’ll be able to analyze it and turn it into something.
JOE: What’s the website?
JEN: The website is DrJenHall.com.
JOE: Check the show notes page, it’ll be in there. So, with the mindsets, being an entrepreneur or being an executive forces you into a lot of the same needs and roles and patterns, and so a lot of it is just how people’s base personality reacts to that environment. And so, I guess you have to then unpack what in their base personality—And it’s sort of like—Do the traits that come forth—Is there any kind of arbitrariness to it when you take the personality traits of the people who come forth based on how they came up and how they became an executive, how they grew their businesses, and then is it a matter of trying to identify potentially other best traits that you could top them in to replace the ones that aren’t working as well? Or how do you make those adjustments? Because it seems like it would be hard to do anything that wasn’t already kind of in their base personality.
JEN: Right. So, what you’re calling base personality we would refer to as traits or characteristics. Those are the things that are relatively hardwired, and it’s going to be pretty hard to change those. Not impossible, but difficult. So, for example, if you are someone who dislikes structure—Just a guess, Joe. If you’re someone who dislike structure, we can put you into a government organization where there’s a ton of structure and we’re never going to make that your preference. You could learn to adapt to it if you had to survive. But we could never teach you to love structure. Do you agree?
JOE: I love it when I don’t have to build it.
JEN: Really? You love it when it’s someone else imposing structure on you?
JEN: I didn’t think so.
JOE: No, I don’t like having it imposed on me. I like structure in the organization. I just don’t like it imposed on me.
JEN: Yes. So, in the way I’m using structure, I mean processes and rules that you have to follow. So, we’d never turn that into your preference. You don’t like chaos. You like the structure of the organization, but not when it’s imposed on you, whereas there is another set of dimensions that we could refer to as skills, or capacities, or capabilities. And those were more likely to be able to help you develop. So, for example, if I am really entrepreneurially minded and you put me in charge of an accounting firm, well, depending on what my board is like and how much freedom I have and whether it’s publicly held or privately held and how much accountability I have, that may work just fine. So, you really need to look at the fit between the existing personality and the context and the demands of that situation. Look to see where are the gaps between what they’re doing naturally, and what would be optimal and where you can close those gaps.
JOE: But that would be more relevant if you were able to move in your role. So, if you were in a role that required structure, if you had a board—and even Elon Musk, right, who is a very entrepreneur guy, and a wild, free spirit, or whatever, has a board and a little thing called the S.E.C. and so that’s—You often don’t have a luxury of making those changes.
JEN: No, but what an executive does have the luxury of is hiring a team. So, if you can hire a team that compliments you, if you are humble enough to recognize your deficits or to recognize the downsides, even if some of your strengths overplayed—Like, being a free spirit and being creative has worked great for Elon Musk. But sometimes it can turn into maybe recklessness or failure to recognize risks. So, if he had around him before he sent out that tweet people who could say, “Hey, let’s think about this before you do it, and if there’s another way to impress your girlfriend,” which is one of the rumors about why he did it. “Let’s think about that.” So, that’s a very typical and effective strategy for executives who don’t have the full picture or who have some strengths that are overplayed in a particular context.
JOE: And what happens when you get the folks who are in that half that don’t buy it and continue not to buy it? That must be a tough situation.
JEN: Yeah, they can derail or it also depends on—Again, everything depends on context. If they are the founder of the company they can lack humility. They can be arrogant. They can be bullying. And so, they might lose people or they’ll lose loyalty, so they’re not going to get the best results they can. They might have to rehire people, but as long as they’re running their own show the cost to them of losing loyalty, of losing employees or the cost of hiring new people, that may be lesser to them than of actually changing and looking inside and doing the hard work of changing their behavior.
JOE: And that’s something you just have to feel it as you go when you’re coaching them, whether it’s worth them changing or trying to just build the environment around them as best suits their quirks.
JEN: Exactly. So, I think about coaching in many ways is holding up a mirror. Here’s what I see. Here’s what the data tell you. Oftentimes we’re collecting feedback from the folks who work with them. Here’s what they see. Here’s the impact you’re having. You get to decide do you want to change or not. What is the price of changing? What is the price of not changing? If you want to change I’ll help you. Here’s what I see. It’s ultimately up to that individual.
JOE: Can you talk about the impact it’s had on you personally, working with so many high functioning people and seeing you know both their pluses and minuses? That has to be a pretty meaningful piece of what you do. Can you point to any specific personal revelations you’ve had from it?
JEN: For the most part what I would say is that my clients absolutely inspire me. I see the strengths that they have that I don’t have. I see the things they’re capable of that I’m not capable of. The risks they’re willing to take, the responsibility, and I have tremendous admiration, and I imagine that the impact on me would be just to appreciate that feeling but also to aspire a little bit more myself, to challenge myself in the way they challenge themselves. And coaching will also bring you up against your own biases and cause you to look inside to see what are you reacting to, why you’re reacting to it, what does it say about you. It says as much about you as a client if you’re having a reaction. So, in that way it kind of keeps you honest, I think.
JOE: Yeah, and when you have this kind of reactions, I’m assuming you won’t love every client that you work with. What does it take for you to fire a client? Obviously, I’m sure you have the usual we’re about the job and you can work through a lot of that, but have there been clients that have just pushed beyond that and that you’ve had to say goodbye to?
JEN: I’m a big proponent of firing clients if you feel like you can’t add value or if you think they’re not making progress. I guess I’ve never done that explicitly, because in many of the coaching contracts that I’ve used they run out of time and so we just don’t re-up at the end. And I’d be more likely at the end of that contract not to suggest, “Well, what’s next? And what would that look like? And how can I be of help?” So, I think that process has happened more naturally for me when it happens, and that’s in the vast minority of cases, in any case, when I don’t feel like there’s something about the client I can connect to. In many cases there’s many, many aspects of how they operate in the world and who they are as human beings that I really resonate with and connect with. But in some cases I have to look a little bit harder for it and in some cases where I would say maybe only two, maybe, out of my entire career where I felt like there were just such strong value differences that in both of those cases, in neither case that I fire the client, but how I handled it was I didn’t react in the moment when I was hearing something that either contradicted my values or that struck me as maybe very, very difficult to make any movement there, like a lack of openness to even looking at anything. I just went and did some reflecting on that myself and talked to colleagues, because coaching, if you don’t have a set of colleagues to talk to, it can be a very isolating kind of profession. So, it’s really helpful to have those folks to bounce ideas off of. And in both cases I ended up just looking for the good and connecting with what I could until that work was finished.
JOE: Have you had it in your head, with working with—And you obviously can’t talk about a lot of clients that you work with, but you worked with some clients at some decent companies. And certainly, now more than ever, there’s an influencer culture, there’s Dr. Jen Hall the speaker. Dr. Jen Hall the author, Dr. Jen Hall—So, there’s certainly potential for you to grow into a presence that can earn a decent fee speaking and being on that end of things. Is that something you’ve dabbled in at all or plan to move into in the future?
JEN: I have been very fortunate that I’ve stayed very, very busy without doing a lot of marketing. And so, I often have these ideas that, oh, maybe I should put a little bit more attention into getting speaking gigs, because I like that. That’s fun, and that could be lucrative. And then I just end up being too busy to focus time on it. So, this is an issue I would coach my clients often, but I need some coaching on, is getting more proactive and moving aside the clutter and the busyness and focusing on those things. But I guess the way I’ve chosen to focus my more proactive energy is on these assessments, my assessment work, which is a little bit different than the one on one coaching. But yeah, if you have any speaking opportunities, let me know.
JOE: I mean, SPX is all downhill from here, unfortunately. [laughs]
JOE: And being in business environment, what’s it like to be the one that has to do 80 percent of—you know, you don’t get to ask the questions and sit back. You have to….
JEN: Yeah. I don’t like this one bit, Joe. [laughs] No, it is much more natural for me to ask questions, but as long as you’re asking me questions about things I’m passionate about, like coaching, it’s not so bad. No, honestly, I’ve enjoyed it a great deal. And after we turn off the microphone I’ll have 50 questions for you.
JOE: So, we’d like to end each show with a shout out to somebody in the area that is doing good work that you want to give a little attention to.
JEN: One experience in St. Pete that has been absolutely transformative for me, personally and professionally, has been Leadership St. Pete, run through the Chamber of Commerce. Chris Steinocher being the incredibly competent leader of that organization. And I just can’t say enough good things about LSP. Whenever one who’s been through LSP talks about LSP, you run the risk of sounding hyperbolic because someone thinks, “Oh, jeeze, the leadership program. It lasts for six months. How great can it be?” But it’s really amazing. And so, I applaud the work that they’re doing and I applaud the volunteer leadership that makes it happen every year, with the chair and the planning committee. And if anyone, whether you’re new to St. Pete or not, whether you’ve been here for a long time, if you haven’t gone through Leadership St. Pete, I strongly encourage them to try it out. I’ve not met anyone who’s regretted it.
JOE: Wonderful. Thank you for your time.
JEN: Thank you, Joe. Thanks for having me.
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About the host
Joe Hamilton is the CEO of Big Sea and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Joe brings a strong acumen for strategy and positioning businesses. He serves on several local boards, including TEDx Tampa Bay, which grew his desire to build a platform where the area’s thought leaders could share their valuable insight with the community at large.