What are You Teaching You?

By Coaching, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

We consume books, podcasts, articles, workshops. We distill what we learn and try to apply it to our lives. We also share it with others – as parents, partners, leaders, friends. Sometimes we get paid to teach what we learn. 

The efficacy of all of this knowledge consumption is fairly low. For example, Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk has almost 49 million views – plus hundreds of thousands that have read his “Start with Why” book. Yet most businesses still start with WHAT in their marketing, culture, product offerings. This low efficacy applies to all aspects of life and business: health, personal development, psychology, leadership, business growth, finances, spirituality. 

I’m not saying to stop consuming content. Hell, I’m reading 5 different books right now and subscribe to a multitude of daily and weekly emails from thought-leaders. What I am saying is this … what are you teaching you?

Our minds, bodies and souls are tremendous teachers. Yet we often go looking for that outside guru or formula. What if we first turned to ourselves to learn? 

The mind mostly teaches through negative examples. Meaning, we learn what NOT to do from our minds. Things like distraction, habit slippage, obsession, mental noise. When we sit in the seat of the observer, we can see that the mind teaches us something every day. For example, I observed a continuum of my day. I start out contemplative, then creative and/or productive, but by 5p or so, I become quite consumptive. I will eat three tacos instead of two. I will watch multiple episodes of something on Netflix when one will suffice. I increase my screen time in the evening when I should be winding my mind down. Unto themselves, these are not necessarily “bad” things. But every unconscious behavior is teaching us where our mind is controlling us instead of the other way around.

The body is also a terrific teacher, if we listen. It will tell us exactly what it needs – either through positive or negative reinforcement. We westerners tend to treat our bodies as inanimate machinery. This makes our bodies become an abstract. Which then leads to all kinds of cravings. Recent science affirms the intelligence of the body: our hearts and our stomaches contain brain cells, somatic responses are often tied to untreated trauma, allergies and other non-pathological ailments are connected to emotional well-being.  My body is teaching me – the hard way. Since mid-January, I’ve had my third flair up of gout in less than 18 months. This one has been the most severe. It’s forcing me to eat much more clean, focus on improving my sleep patterns and recalibrating my relationship with pain. My left big toe is literally teaching me to be aware, choose what’s best for me and do what I can with what I have to work with.

Then there is the soul – the mightiest, wisest teacher of them all. To understand that the soul is a teacher will require either: a) some level of rational faith or b) at least some suspension of show-me-the-science. If the mind is the seat of consciousness and the body is the seat of matter, then the soul is the seat of Wisdom. Just as the mind and body use instincts to teach us, the soul uses intuition. This inner Knowing teaches us what to prioritize, when to rest, who to connect with, where to go. The soul has no biases, no filters, no need for form. It simply is the truth. This means when it teaches, it does so simply, concisely and directly.  My soul has been teaching me that soul/self-care is my highest priority. This is very difficult for my mind to grasp. I went through a time of great selfishness and hardness towards others. I remember that and mistake putting myself first as a returning to that dark place. My soul teaches me this is not true. That I must put my soul/self first so that I can do the work I’ve been sent to do. 

The best part of learning from ourselves is that each day contains lessons, tests, resources from and for mind, body and soul. We don’t need to wait until that mythical tomorrow or next week. Or the next book, podcast or webinar. We can learn from ourselves right now. We just need to be good students.

The Commoditization of Coaching

By Branding, CoachingNo Comments


20 years ago, “hiring a coach” is something that usually only happened in sports or fitness. Businesses hired consultants. Individuals hired experts depending on need.

Now everyone has a coach. And, increasingly, everyone IS a coach. 

The good news is that the category of “Coaching” has been created. If you say you’re a coach, most people have a general sense of what that means. The bad news is that coaching has become a commodity.

Way back in 2011, I wrote my first book “Oatmeal v Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World”. In it, I described something I coined called the “Commodity Curve”. Similar to Geoffrey Moore’s “Technology Adoption Lifecycle”, innovation follows a curve that starts off as exclusivity (something new, different, unique – like coaching 15-20 years ago). It then naturally shifts into mass commoditization; what I call “oatmeal” in the book. 

Coaching has followed a very similar curve. When there were fewer coaches, there was less understanding of coaching and its ROI. As coaching became more of the accepted norm, it started to be about efficiency, lowest dollar value, distribution models, marketing funnels. It also started to be about being safe and credible. All of which further commoditized coaching. 

One of the main catalysts for the commoditization of coaching is in the distribution model. If you are a coach, you can sign on with a larger coaching firm and stay plenty busy doing corporate coaching. You can make a nice living, but your value is capped by the coaching firm and established by the end-user. If you are a solo coach or part of a small practice, you can increase your reach by offering an online course. I have no real issue with turning your coaching offering into an online course (unless it sucks). But it’s important to realize that doing so requires a very clear audience type and that it doesn’t decrease your value of being in the room for clients that can afford you. 

Funnel marketing is also causal to commoditization. Again, it’s not the tool that’s the problem. It’s the intent. When you create a commodity, you have to amp up the marketing volume. That’s a given. But too often, this means crossing the line into manipulation, saturation and persuasion. You can still use funnel marketing to promote coaching but it follows the rules of branding. One rule is the Golden Rule of Marketing: don’t market unto others the way you wouldn’t want to be marketed to. 

The top of the Commodity Curve is Bacon. These are coaches and coaching brands that can surf the top of the wave between exclusivity and mass appeal. These coaches know how to brand themselves and have invested in their brand. They are original thinkers, consistent creators of useful content, adept at speaking and have well-oiled marketing engines. 

To reach the top of the Commodity Curve and stay there requires innovation. Of truly creating epic shit that no one else is doing. You aren’t likely to offer a new kind of coaching. But you can totally offer a new kind of brand experience. Some examples:

  • Elevate your client profile. Specifically, say who you work with. Not the title, but the psychographic profile of your ideal client. Talk about them from a soul-level, not a role-level. Talk about their unspoken needs, their passions, their beliefs. This invokes the age-old branding maxim:  when you narrow your focus, you broaden your appeal.

  • Elevate your language. This is a complete purging of cliches, industry lingo, social buzzwords, colloquialisms. Any lazy language that commoditized brands use. When you elevate your language, you break pattern recognition. Which is an essential element in branding.

  • Elevate your experience. This one is based on this question: “How can I give my clients a consistently delightful experience?” I recommend mapping out your entire client experience from initial contact to right now and find 5 – 10 ways you can consistently delight them. Remember, this could be different for each client – and that’s ok.  Hint: it will likely be around their Love Language.

Finally, there are some common denominators amongst the coaches at the top of the Commodity Curve:

  1. They rarely provide discounts.
  2. They don’t respond to trends, they set them.
  3. Their #1 source of new business is referrals from their clients.
  4. They have a large, vocal fan base.
  5. They are very involved in their communities.

They are respected and loved by the people they touch. And they are feared and copied by their competitors. 


How Your Inner Work Impacts Your Outer Brand

By Coaching, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

All mystics, philosophers and wise people have arrived at the same conclusion: your outer world is determined by your inner world. This form of contemplativeness is quite rare in Americans but is growing thanks to the sharp increase in mindfulness and meditation. A friend/client had this astute observation: “Everywhere I go, I meet leaders with secret spiritual lives.”

As such, there’s a growing awareness that your inner world affects your happiness, mindset and relationships. But I would venture to say there’s very little awareness of how your inner world impacts your outer brand.

First, a few principles to square with …

  1. What you believe creates your behavior.
  2. Your brand is how other people experience what you believe.
  3. The inner language you use changes how you see things – and how others see you
  4. Inner work is always manifested as outer energy – either positively or negatively.
  5. Your outer energy is your brand – at least according to those experiencing it.

When you do (or don’t do) inner work it manifests in your brand in a number of ways, including:

  • Your brand will have a healthy root system. All leadership behavior comes from either healthy roots or unhealthy roots. When you do inner work, you know what you believe, you know what your mission is, you know who you are. This is a healthy root system. When you don’t do inner work, your root system will be either shallow or have a large taproot of resentment, jealousy or greed.
  • Empathy will become a leadership and cultural standard. Without empathy, everything about your brand will atrophy and struggle. With empathy, you will see souls not roles. Without empathy, humans become abstracts. With empathy, your brand will run on love. Without empathy, your brand will run on fear.
  • You will have confidence without arrogance. If you are confident in your brand, the market will respond with confidence. If you are not confident in your brand, the market will simply ignore you – regardless of how much you spend on marketing. The difference in confidence comes from inner work.
  • You will create grace equity. With inner work, your brand’s emotional bank account will have a much larger reserve for making mistakes, admitting failures. Without inner work, you will rely on marketing to prop up a false image of perfection – and will slowly descend into the madness that comes from creating an illusion.
  • Word of Mouth will create ubiquity. With or without inner work, you will have a reputation. But with inner work, you will build an organic, authentic, vibrant brand that attracts conversations, new people, new ideas. Without inner work, your brand will become stale and forgettable – or will be consumed by negative word of mouth

Final thought:

Doing inner work allows you to show the world who you truly are. It makes others react to your brand. Without inner work, your brand is a construct and a source of insecurity and/or an identity crisis.

Now get to (inner) work!

The Four Practices of the Modern Leader

By Coaching, LeadershipOne Comment

Anything that requires a level of mastery is a practice. It is a living thing fed by inspiration, action and experiences. This concept applies to everything that is artful and also requires discipline. Mastery is finding the seam between creative energy and physical output; the space between the spiritual world and the material world.

Leadership is an art. As such, it follows the above rule of mastery. But what are we mastering? I believe the art of leadership evolves based on trends, social shifts, conditions and timing. For example, a leader in the Old World needed IQ with some empathy. A leader in the New World needs EQ with some intellect. A leader in the Old World knew how to move the numbers, implement systems, create process. A leader in the New World knows how to move the people; to make the systems and processes work for the people. A leader in the Old World served the entity. A leader in the New World serves the people. The Old World leader operates from a top-down org chart where they are the top. The New World operates from an upside down and inside out org chart.

When seen through the lens of the New World, the practices of the modern leader include the following four concepts:

  • Mental Practice: The modern leader has a practice for mastering the mind and feeding the intellect. This could be a combination of meditation or inner mental mastery along with curiosity – reading, taking a class, listening to podcasts, watching a talk. Without a mental practice, the leader’s intellect becomes stagnant and contained. A strong mental practice involves finding the seat of Self and observing. It requires a sense of awareness of the difference between “me” (how the world sees you) and “I” (who you truly are). A strong mental practice may involve some therapeutic approach to go along with a personal contemplative practice.
  • Creative Practice: The modern leader balances between the problem-solving part of the mind (a trait deeply honed in the Old World) and the imagination part of the mind where wonder resides. Thus enters art. Your art is the physical manifestation of accessing the creative part of yourself. Expressing your art balances out the mind and also shows the world your whole person. This art could be leadership by itself, but likely will manifest in some form like writing, speaking, painting, singing, working with your hands, etc. The practical part of you will say these things don’t matter. The spiritual part of you knows they matter very much.
  • Physical Practice: This is the practice of movement; of action. A natural place to start is exercise: walking, hiking, lifting weights, playing a sport, studying a martial art, going to yoga. Or a combo of any of these! A physical practice prevents a sedentary state – which then prevents the lowering of standards, the creep of mediocrity, drifting towards irrelevancy. A physical practice can also involve simple output like breathing, journaling, connecting with a friend or lover. A physical practice allows the soul to experience the material world – which reminds the soul that it is alive.
  • Spiritual Practice: One of my friends/clients said to me, “Wherever I go, I find leaders with a secret spiritual life.” I strongly believe this to be true. This does not necessarily mean religious rituals or traditions. It more means you are doing the contemplative work to connect to your soul. This removes you from ego-state and allows room for you to be a soul-first leader. Then things like faith, inspiration, intuition and other traits of the spiritual realm come to life and become guides and muses. Leaders with a spiritual practice are more resilient, better futuristic thinkers and more decisive. They can take the punch of changed plans while still remaining in the leader’s seat.

Ideally, we would look at these four practices as a four-piece band. Each piece working in harmony to make original music. In my parlance, this “music” is your brand. It is how others experience your beliefs, your gifts, your offerings. If you are a corporate leader, this is your personal brand – and the collective of other leaders make up the culture and external brand of an organization. If you are a small business owner, this is both your personal brand and your business brand. Or as said by Eugen Herrigel, “The man, the art, the work–it is all one.”

This is not a “success formula”. I don’t believe those actually exist. Nor is it a recipe where you follow the steps to make something everyone else has. These four practices are elements, that when mastered, produce something that the world has never seen before. And make you a true contemporary leader.

My 10 Rules for Being a Creator

By Coaching, LifeOne Comment

Charles M Russell creating.

We are all creatives. Brain science reveals this. To create is embedded in the responsive part of our brain. However, most Americans don’t exercise this part of our minds. Since nearly all of us come from immigrant backgrounds, we have a lot of social programming to use logic, rational, problem-solving. These are seen as more important and more valuable than creativity. Creativity is often viewed as a past time or hobby. You work, then if you have the skill, you get creative. It’s seen as risky. Within our culture is also the belief that creativity is endowed … like IQ or height.

I used to believe all of that. My voice joined the millions that said: “I’m not creative.” As stated, I have come to learn that we are all creatives. We all have some gift that can be expressed creatively. But we are not all creators. To become a creator is a conscious choice to move from following to creating. This choice to become a creator doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to quit your corporate gig and go become an artist. But it does mean that you will stop following a plan, following the rules, following the system and start designing the life you want.

To support my evolution from follower to creator, I crafted some rules. These are not necessarily your rules. I am not prescribing them to you. Part of becoming a creator is making your own rules, practices, systems.

  1. There’s an adventure in everything if we look for it. A spirit of adventure, curiosity, wonderment is an absolute essential — lest we get bogged down by tasks, obligations and worries.
  2. Exercise your creative muscles. Just like training for a physical competition, you can’t wait until the day of to begin using your muscles. You’ve got to train. And train hard. Creativity is a muscle that needs tending to. It can be exercised with imagination, small acts of creativity, scheduled creative time.
  3. It’s never done. Creativity is a living, breathing thing; an organism. While we may create something, creativity itself is iterative; in a state of constant evolution. I’m certain this is part of why Michelangelo’s last words were “I still have so much left to learn.”
  4. Don’t confuse striving with effort. Striving is in the mind. Effort is action. We can imagine in our minds, but we must make it real. Louis L’Amour said “One does not decide to become a writer, then start writing. One starts writing and becomes a writer.”
  5. Creativity is not a feeling. It’s energy. It may produce feelings (for me swinging between elation and depletion) but it is not a feeling. This is why we don’t wait to “feel” like creating. If we’ve exercised our creative minds, we will know this.
  6. Don’t force it. Let the muse lead. This is somewhat paradoxical because we do need to push through Resistance but we can’t force creativity. Creativity is embracing positive inertia. It is a living thing backed by cosmic forces of good. These forces want us to make art.
  7. Don’t trust a tired mind. Full credit for this rule goes to my creative/business partner Emily Soccorsy. I use it every time as a baseline for creativity. Sometimes it’s completely acceptable to take a nap, relax, rest — then create.
  8. You always have a choice. It is fairly easy to unconsciously fall back into follower mode — where you are reacting to life. When you are reacting to life, you forget you have the power of choice. We can choose our perspective, our actions, our language. We can choose to create.
  9. Root your creative output in purpose. It is difficult to create for the sake of creating. You may make something but it will feel flat, lifeless. The secret is to root everything you create in your purpose or mission. Make what you create the expression of your soul and it will be bursting with life.
  10. Create something every day. Don’t consider your day done until you’ve created at least one thing. Keep a log of what you’ve created. This is the essence of a creative practice.

Here are some elements of my creative practice:

  • Writing musings (as seen on Instagram @fosterthinking)
  • Writing on a memoir — I write 2000+ words every weekend.
  • Regular writing of Medium or LinkedIn posts.
  • Organizing my musings for future release as a series of books
  • Cooking

I don’t really know what I’m doing. But I am following these rules. And I am getting better every day.

How to Tell if You’re Living Your Mission

By Coaching, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Joan of Arc. Which reminds me to tell you: your mission will often get you killed. At a minimum, it will kill your old life.

I believe that mission is at the center of a purposeful life. I also believe that every human has a specific mission. As we say in our BrandLabs and Root Sessions, “Your mission is the thing you are here to do that only you can do.” When you find it (or it finds you), it becomes an organizing principle of your life — and contributes in some significant way to the advancement of humanity.

“You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.” — Martha Graham

Missions are mysterious things. They aren’t discovered or assigned because of our credentials. As such, our missions are often starkly mis-aligned with our world view, our perceptions of self and our technical/learned skill set. They cause massive disruptions in life. They require a break from the survival-to-comfortable continuum that permeates American society.

My mission came to me at Pacha Coffee on Sunday morning in Austin about 4 years ago.

My mission: to elevate the self-worth of everyone I meet.

In hindsight, this mission began dawning in my earliest memories but didn’t began to rise above the horizon of my life until around 2011. It took me another 3+ years to see that this was not just some insight or philosophy for me — that I had to organize my life around it and share it.

As it is with missions, I’m woefully ill-equipped to be some sort of messenger of self-worth. Which, I’m certain, is exactly why I was chosen to do it.

There is no set way to find your mission. Jesus probably gave the best instructions: seek, ask, knock. A relentless curiosity and the courage to go into the wilderness of the soul are also a requirement. Because missions are most often discovered through suffering and sorrow. They are frequently discovered in darkness and practiced in the light.

So I can’t tell you how to find your mission. I/we can be a guide, a coach, an agitator, a challenger. But you’ve got to want to find it. I will share with you, however, how I can tell if I’m living my mission …

  • See souls, not roles (or title, or status, or appearances).
  • Regular removal of guile, manipulation and objectification from my heart.
  • Genuinely listening; being present for a person.
  • Remind myself and others about our two superpowers: choice and creativity.
  • Keeping my heart and mind open.
  • Sharing musings, wisdom, insight when prompted to.
  • Making deep connections and having real conversations.
  • Re-joining the divine dance every day.
  • Speaking and presenting whenever asked to.
  • Being open, vulnerable about my journey, experiences, faith.

Most of all, I can tell I’m living my mission when I’m working on my own self-worth. Which is a struggle. My programmed state is fear, insecurity, doubt. I have to overcome these daily. And some days, they overcome me. But I keep going. Because that’s what you do when your mission comes to you.

Lessons in the Non-Transferrable

By Coaching, Leadership, Self-WorthNo Comments

Socrates. Asking questions. Not giving advice.

If I have 100,000 hours into anything other than just life, it’s in coaching others. Countless hours of crafting curriculum, learning techniques, expanding my skills. Then countless more hours in coaching sessions — cajoling, encouraging, challenging.

Coaching, like any practice, is accepting a state of continual learning. (I jokingly say that when a coach stops learning is when they become a consultant. I’m only half kidding.) What shifts the most over time is where the learning comes from. For me, about 10% of my learning now comes from formal study, structured programs, etc. The other 90% is what I learn in an actual coaching session. The students (client) have become my teachers. Which, in turn, the next student benefits from and contributes to.

I have learned enough about and from coaching to fill a book. But this is what I’ve learned the most …

Most important things are non-transferrable.

Here are just a few …







I could list a dozen more …

In each case, I can’t transfer these to another person. I can’t make you have belief. I can’t give my faith to you. I can’t motivate you. I can’t make you take any action. I can’t transfer wisdom. I can’t transfer my perspective.

In this, I’ve discovered the hallmark of being a true coach. A true coach does not give advice, nor provide a formula to follow. Advice and formulas are strongly biased towards the assumption that all or some of the above are actually transferable. I think this creates disservice to the client. It encourages co-dependency. It keeps the client a victim of their circumstances rather than a creator of their future. It perpetuates the problem they hired you to help them solve.

So where does that leave me as a coach? What can I do? What is transferrable?

I can ask good questions. Questions that challenge assumptions, challenge the bullshit we all tell ourselves, hold up a mirror of examination. This is an ancient principle that is easily forgotten because we are awash in information, books, podcasts, e-courses, systems, formulas. None of which are more efficient — and more integrous – than asking good questions.

One of our mantras at Root + River is “love ’em where they’re at”. This means extending to a person unconditional love and acceptance in whatever state they come in. This why true coaching requires the coach to see the soul, not the role. The role(s) a person plays is an important part of their identity but they are not the soul of a person. And it’s the soul that needs to be loved where it’s at.

I can distill. I can take an idea, a fear, a hope, a vision and begin to extract and analyze it’s meaning in a collaborative way with the client. I can hold it up, let them examine it and decide whether or not to accept it.

I can give voice to what I am hearing from their soul or observing from the sub-conscious. But I might be wrong. Because I’m human and I have my own biases, assumptions and need to be right. So giving voice is never done without permission from the client.

I can encourage. Or a better word is “edification” (which) is an under-used word these days). My definition of edification is to remind people of the truth they already know. In this reminder, there’s a return to the two main powers that every human has: 1) The power to choose and 2) The power to create.

I can co-create with the client a path forward. Not a formula for them to follow and then judge them against. But a co-created plan that contains milestones, accountability, reward that we mutually agree to.

So I have no answers, no prescriptions, no judgement, no pre-conceived outcomes, no pre-determined solutions. I just have a heart, a mind, ears, intuition, words — and 100,000 hours of learning from you.