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A Manager’s Transformational Journey from Expert to Coach

“You need to do it this way!” “You should really think about taking this approach!”

During my 20 years in management, these were phrases that typified my approach to helping my team. When presented with a problem by team members, my reaction was to FIX IT rather than helping them discover their own best solution. I thought “telling” team members what they needed to do or what “they should think about doing” would solve their issues quickly and efficiently. When I was in my MR. FIX IT mindset, I took on all of the responsibility for the solution even though the team members were capable of coming up with an equal or better path, one that took into consideration their unique experiences.

A couple of years ago I was introduced to a coach training program. Over this 18 month journey, I began to transform my ways of thinking. I began to see a new way of engaging my team as coach rather than fixer. There were times when I questioned everything about these emerging changes because a new way of thinking can be disturbing, especially when there are decades of ingrained behaviors that are being changed. Behaviors and beliefs become part of our DNA through a lifetime of experiences, and to think of breaking out of these patterns brings pain and discomfort. We become distracted, bored, tired or overwhelmed, keeping us in our comfortable place. In Janet Harvey’s article “Are You Willing to be Disturbed?” she states: “Being comfortable in the discomfort is what initiates breakdown for breakthrough from the inside out.” Allowing external forces to dictate and control our behavior keeps us from living holistically or from our essence. Change does not come easily and we each have different ways of motivating ourselves into change. I realized that I needed to get comfortable with the discomfort to achieve my personal breakthrough to redirect my thinking from within.

A primary responsibility in my management role is recruiting experienced Financial Advisors to join our firm. Explaining the reasons why we would be a good fit for the right kind of Financial Advisor comes naturally to me. One particular recruit seemed very interested in our offering but could not find a way to make the move. Per my usual method, I found myself “selling” the features and benefits to him over the course of two years. We would meet regularly, having what felt like the same conversation with no forward movement on his part. I could hear the interest in his voice and at the same time, I was frustrated that I couldn’t figure out what would help him make the next step. My approach had worked before, why wasn’t it working now?

Fortunately, the timeframe of this experience happened to coincide with my coach training and a slow, deliberate shift was growing inside my brain. The coach in me finally surfaced and I realized that I was imposing my beliefs on him instead of helping him discover his own values and unearth what was most important to him. I turned off the sales pitch and shifted to coach mode to help deepen his awareness. My focus was simply on being present with the recruit and concentrating on active listening to hear what he was really saying. With that information I was able to ask questions such as “what do you love about what you do?” and “What don’t you love” prompting deeper thinking on his part. These and other questions helped raise an awareness that had not shown itself before, uncovering the root of his desire; to be a business owner not just an employee. AH-HA! A visible change in body language came over him as he brought this forward. He finally had the space to discover his true passion that my sales pitch would never have allowed him to discover. We both learned something important to him. This would never have happened if MR. FIX IT was still in the room.

Fast forward to a few months later, our meetings were progressing in the right direction; however, uncertainty and fear of the unknown held him back from making the move to our office. A tool on which a coach often relies is the use of metaphors to help paint a powerful picture for clients. I knew he was an avid fisherman. I thought about what metaphor would resonate specifically with him. I asked him to think of his last fishing trip and to explain in detail how he prepared for the excursion. He described how he began his planning several days in advance and the process he would go through. The preparation of gear, bait, weather observations and other aspects of the trip were vivid memories. The detailed planning for a fishing trip led to a fun and successful day. I explained that his move to our firm would involve the same level of detail as his fishing trip. It’s as if he will be preparing for a fishing trip that he has never gone on before, but we have all the gear, bait and weather observations in place waiting for him. This helped him move his thinking from his gut brain, which was causing the anxiety, to his head brain giving him clear thinking about his plan to join our team.

With MR. FIX IT no longer in the room, I was able to help him deepen his understanding about himself which led to choose some new actions. The recruit did join our team and he happens to be the largest producing Financial Advisor ever hired into our complex. This experience was a significant achievement for my business, but it goes deeper for me. A personal breakthrough occurred in that I no longer “sell” or “fix” in my daily interactions. Finding the strength to embrace and adopt a major shift in behavior takes time and patience. Motivation is the inner drive that compels us to get up in the morning, study new things, complete tasks and try again when we fail. Motivating ourselves to embrace change requires us to call on our full mental and physical strengths and accept that “being comfortable in the discomfort” will lead us to our goal. Permanent change comes from within while blocking out the external forces that confine us to the past. Becoming present with others and active listening have helped me become a more effective manager, husband, father, and friend. These are not just coaching techniques, rather life-altering behaviors that improve our relationships with the world. The end of this story is really a new beginning; and I am forever changed for the better. Ask yourself this question. Is my Mr. FIX IT still in the building?

Big thanks to Rick Schomo, graduate of inviteCHANGE for submitting this article!

Rick Schomo

Rick has been in the financial services industry for over 30 years and a Senior Leader of a leading National Financial Services firm the last 20 years. Before entering the industry, he graduated from The University of Richmond with a BA degree in Journalism. Rick is a dedicated professional who has built a successful career through relationship development and by always doing the right thing for clients. His passion for coaching surfaced several years ago which ultimately led him to enroll in the inviteCHANGE Certified Professional Coach program. He completed the training and has held the ACC designation since November of 2018. Rick has been an active member of the Wilmington, North Carolina community for nearly 14 years and is currently involved with Habitat for Humanity and local food bank organizations. Away from the office, he enjoys golfing, the local beach, his wife, two children and two granddaughters.