At the beginning of May, I lined up a meeting with a man who would turn out to be what I'm considering my first 'official' executive interview in this series of 50. At the time, as excited as I was to meet him, I hadn't concocted this little plan on mine, and was simply attempting to fulfill my market research assignment through my online MIT course on Entrepreneurship. Now, however, I realize what an auspicious place he holds in the 'line-up' and am eager to share my experience with the first of many.
As I walked into the coffee shop and saw him sitting there in his suit and tie, I felt the familiar overwhelm of emotions and counterproductive thought: Damn. He's well-dressed. Clearly very busy. I need to buy this tea and sit my ass down so as to not waste his time. I was on time. I was dressed well. Yet, my concerns swarmed.
"So, what can I do for you?" he asked, putting down his phone and looking me in the eye. I tried really hard to listen to my prefrontal cortex as I attempted to formulate my desire to mitigate climate change and to coach executives as a way to have big impact. He listened, attentively, and after my awkward attempt to sound professional and put-together, he began to inquire. He wasn't clear on what my role would be, on what I would actually be doing with these executives, and how I would even begin to sell my idea to them. I, too, was feeling around in the dark a bit, trying hard to express the difference between my role as coach and that of a consultant. I so yearned for it to be easier.
Ultimately, we found common ground, and I rejoiced inside that I'd finally been able to communicate my dream. And it was at this point that things finally did get easier. Once I stopped acting from the belief that I needed to prove myself, subconsciously seeking his 'yay or nay', I was able to let go of my fears and really listen. Once I pushed those fears aside, there was room for him to show up completely, without needing to fit into the box I'd created for him to give me the answers I secretly hoped to avoid.
While my focus with him wasn't what I expect it to be with my upcoming interviews (What's it like to be a conscious leader? What challenges confront you?), I did end up gleaning a great deal of insight from him and the story he shared. He spoke of his own development, referring to the many years when he had all sorts of expectations about life, work, and specifically, his employees. They should be happy, he shared with me of his perspective back then, simply because they have a job. He paid them well--why are they continually dissatisfied? He did all sorts of things to attempt to improve their happiness, despite his underlying belief that their feelings should be otherwise. He hired coaches, he paid consultants, he organized trainings. Yet nothing seemed to create the change he was seeking. He was at a loss. He, too, was unhappy, and knew something needed to change.
What this executive shared with me, ultimately, was that it was through his own development that he, and his employees, finally experienced the happiness they were all seeking. And with that, came not only 'the bottom line', but a multitude of other benefits that rippled through his life. His tension lessened, he slept better, his marriage improved, his friendships deepened, and work became less of a pain in the ass. Suddenly, he was able to actually enjoy his time with people with whom he had very little in common, and to overcome internal barriers that previously stopped him. People noticed how much more engaged he was, how much more loyal and motivated he seemed on more of the tasks he took on.
Just the other day, I received another email from him, referring me to an article he'd just read in the New York Times entitled 'Why You Hate Work'. I was ecstatic. Here's this executive, thinking of me as he's reading this article, sending me his thoughts which perfectly align with my intention. "This coaching angle is useful," he shared with me. "If executives are being pulled, they have less chance to focus on leading to solutions addressing the climate. They need help."
Exactly. He nailed it.
And for this reason, I continue to forge into territory that, at times, feels so wild, scary and uncharted...