I’ve always been a coach. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was the kid that other kids turned to in class for help with homework. I coached my two younger brothers on a variety of things – mostly how to play “good guys vs bad guys” with some level historical accuracy! Even with my initial jobs in high school and after, I was the guy that other employees turned to figure things out.
My journey continued as I began a career in tech sales. I coached my peers – and when promoted to VP of Sales, I still coached them. I viewed myself as a sales coach, not a sales manager. In 2000, I really began to identify as a coach when I began coaching youth football. Something I did for the next 15 years.
In the mid-2000s, I had lost my identity as a coach in my career. I was self-employed as part of a partner team of a small marketing agency. I didn’t do much coaching there because of roles – and frankly – insecurity about my own abilities. It wasn’t until 2006 that I considered monetizing my coaching abilities. That’s when I met Ron Price, a successful executive coach. I found him and his work to be fascinating. He became a mentor and a friend – which he still is to this day.
Then serendipity (or what felt like fate then) happened. Our marketing agency fell apart due to a variety of reasons and I had an opt-in moment. Do I go get a job or finally embrace my coaching skills? I chose to focus on brand coaching. As my career grew as a brand coach through a number of derivatives, I kept pretty much the same coaching methodology that I had carried with me for years. Then I began to evolve.
The evolution (as most of mine are) was slow and messy – with each phase more defined by lessons from failures than new levels of ability. As I began to fully invest in my natural abilities as a coach, I began to understand that my approach was like a grizzly bear opening a box of cereal. I would aggressively tear into clients and friends trying to find the prize inside and triumphantly show it to them.
This approach went on for many years. My skills grew. I began to embrace the power of intuition. I learned to ask better questions. I created repeatable models and methods. But I was still the same kind of coach – not much different than the whistle-wielding football coach. As I began to mature and become more wise as a coach, I realized that my aggressive approach was minimizing my impact. Regardless of how well intentioned my relentlessness was!
In early 2014, I had another inciting incident that propelled my evolution forward. Thanks to an intro from Ron, I had been retained as a brand coach by a behavioral assessment company. I worked closely with their VP of Corporate Communications to craft a proposal and solution for a brand reintroduction. Then I went and did my thing. I ripped open the box of cereal. I aggressively challenged the naysayers in the room. I stridently went after the truth. The next day, after a shorter recap session with her team, the VP of Corporate Communications followed me out to my rental car. I could tell she was agitated and asked what was wrong. “Is this what you do?” she said. “You come in here and blow s**t up and leave?!”.\I was stunned. I said “Yes. That’s what I do.” Her reply, “Nope. You are coming back to help me clean this up.” So I did. Little did I know that a year or so later, Emily Soccorsy, that VP, would become my business partner in Root + River!
Another incident in 2016 lead me to my current evolution as a coach. As I was wont to do, I proactively (and aggressively, of course) began coaching a close friend. I was so relentless to show this friend their potential, what the solution was, what to do, that I almost lost the friendship. It was a huge aha moment to realize that my greatest gift could end relationships. It caused me to reflect on how often I triggered attachment issues, co-dependency and blurred lines with other coaching clients and friends.
I would call this phase of my coaching to be the “Gentle Ben” phase. Rather than rip open the box of cereal. I will show you how to do it for yourself. Rather than crack you open and force myself into your story, I will offer my helping hand as a guide. Rather than proactively project on to you what I think you should do, I ask for permission and provide observations. The aggression is still there. I still wear that virtual whistle around my neck at times. But this approach is what we all strive to reach as coaches: to serve others out of love, not for our own validation.