Even if you think you know, you will want to listen to this episode, because you may think twice. In this week’s episode of CEO Sales Strategies, Doug C. Brown speaks with Sara Sheehan, founder of Sara Sheehan Consulting, about the hows and whys of hiring a coach – and why coaching may not actually mean what you think it does. Doug and Sara also discuss advisory teams, their importance, and what they are, navigating stressors and changes, the differences between types of advisors, and much more.
Sara Sheehan, PCC, is a consultant and Executive Coach who works with C-Level executive leaders in designing organizations, developing business strategies, managing change, optimizing talent, leadership development, and solving complex human performance problems. Through executive coaching, Sara helps leaders sprint their way up the corporate ladder and increase their performance. During Sara’s 25+ years in business, she has worked with leaders, teams, and organizations in Fortune 100 companies.
Visit her website: www.sarawsheehan.com
We’ve got a great guest. Her name is Sara Sheehan. She owns a company called Sara Sheehan Consulting. I brought her on because she has a specialty in dealing with change and how to use coaching and advisory teams and be an executive coach. I wanted to bring her on because there are a few things here that we talked about that are some of the things that people don’t understand. They think they understand, but they don’t.
For example, coaching. How are you supposed to use coaching? A lot of people think coaching is like giving advice. No, that’s advising. Not to be a purist about this, but as she’ll explain, coaching is about asking open-ended questions to get an insight to get people to think in a new way. How do you use coaching? When should you? When should you not? When should you use training? What is the difference between these categories of things that people say coaching, training, advising and consulting?
The second subject matter we’re going to talk about is how to use advisory teams. Not paid advisory teams, per se. You can pay people to do that, but how do you use advisory teams to your advantage in an unpaid fashion or in a fashion that is a win-win? That might include compensation or might not, but we talk about the dos and don’ts of using an advisory team. Everyone, no matter what size your business is, I implore you to use an advisory team because advisory teams cut your learning curve and bring expertise to the table that you may not even ever have.
Those two things, plus we’re going to talk about how you work within the ever-changing environment of the business for people in your company if you have employees and people who are solo entrepreneurs as well? In other words, how do you deal with change in the ever-changing environment on the personal level that affects the business? Those are our three subject matters. Without further ado, let’s go to our interview with Sara Sheehan.
Sara, welcome. I appreciate you being here on the show.
Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here.
One of the reasons I’m so excited for you to come here is because you do coaching. You’re working within organizations. I wanted people to understand what coaching was versus training because people get it all mixed up. They don’t know if it’s coaching, consulting, advising or training. You bring clarity to that point. What would you say to people that are like, “What is coaching? Why should I have it?”
Coaching is a process where open-ended questions are asked of a coachee. It helps them come to insight. What this does is it improves someone’s thinking. When you improve your thinking, you can improve employee engagement, the well-being of the company and the quality of the leadership. Those are some huge benefits of executive coaching. What’s different between coaching and training is that coaching is about asking and training is more about telling, sharing or imparting content that an audience needs to learn or improve on.
Let’s talk about asking because it is an important thing. You want to ask open questions to get some insight and get them thinking. A lot of people try to do internal coaching. Why is asking a question, especially an open-ended question, so important in the coaching process itself?
It will create new neural pathways in the brain. If you use a brain-based coaching approach, which is science-based, it will create space in the brain for new connections. You are asking questions to get people to reflect, provide space for guidance and provide an opportunity for creative thinking that may not have existed for that individual. It’s a creative process in that people can walk away with tremendous insights that they never knew that they could have.
Let’s say I’m a CEO and I want to coach some of my team leaders or I’m a sales manager and I want to coach my people. What would be 1 or 2 things you would say that this is standard. I got the asking open-ended questions. Are there any others?
The first thing that I think of is I want to make sure I’m clarifying the difference, even with your statement. There are a lot of times people will say, “I need to coach my team.” When they’re saying that, they’re saying coaching in a different meaning like, “I need to share some things with my team, which is more on the telling side.”
If they want to coach their team, they need to make sure that they are in the asking mode and coming at it from an objective perspective, but there are some ways that you can use coaching in your organizations that make a difference. For instance, you could use one-on-one executive coaching as a part of a high-potential program. Maybe you have those one-on-one sessions occur at strategic intervals in that program. For instance, the beginning, middle and end are a tried and true thing to do.
You could also use executive coaching at senior levels in an organization. For instance, at the VP or C-level. When someone gets promoted to that level for the first time, maybe you offer a one-on-one executive coaching engagement or a series of sessions to create even more leadership capability as a standard practice in your organization. Those are some very reasonable ways. It’s also a part of a lot of executive development programs and promotion expectations.
People who are regularly coaching within the organization, what should they expect? Coaching is one thing, but everybody wants them to return something like their time and investment in coaching. What should they expect from their people as an outcome of coaching?
First of all, it depends on the actual structure and the topics. The key objectives for the coaching engagement that they’re doing will drive the results. Let’s say it’s a basic one-on-one executive coaching setup where you are working with a coachee to develop goals and create a plan of action to achieve them. That is tried and true.
Let’s say it’s a twelve-week engagement. It could be 6 months, but 12 weeks is an opportunity for someone to create a plan, begin executing it and see results. The results are going to be directly related to the goals that they set in the session. As an example, one of my previous clients set a goal to save her company $1 million. She was able to achieve that within our twelve-week coaching engagement. It’s a phenomenal goal and something that she achieved without much trouble at all.
No matter what the size of a company, saving $1 million is certainly a high profit. I don’t think there’s anybody reading this show that wouldn’t go, “I’d like that.” We’re speaking with Sara Sheehan. She has Sara Sheehan Consulting. If you want to go check it out, type that into your browser and she’s right there.
Sara, you bring up so many things. From being a coach myself for a long time, some of the things you’re saying are brilliant, like your key objectives. A lot of people don’t think about that basic tenant of, “What do I want to accomplish at the end of this thing?” I love that fact. You’ve also brought up something important.
People don’t understand coaching duration. Some people I talk to will say, “Coaching is a short-term thing. It’s a subset of consulting, for example. It improves the human condition within X amount of time.” Other people will say, “No. It should be annually or recurring.” What’s your philosophy on this? What do you think should happen for people? Is there any set time or is it just whatever the key objective is?
It needs to be fit for the purpose. Let me explain that more. Yes, some people want to sharpen the saw at all times and have an executive coach available at all times that they can contact. That’s true, but for instance, you might have a need where you want to have an intervention with someone so that you could create a little bit more self-awareness or leadership acumen. With that situation, you might be able to do a much shorter duration. Eight weeks might be perfect for something like that. It needs to fit the purpose of the actual business need.
You had mentioned the word team before. You and I in the past have talked about advisory teams. I’d like to transition a little bit. Why should people use advisory teams? I get pinged all the time like, “Doug, you could be on this or that board. You could be part of this advisory team,” but I haven’t found anybody who gave me a reason why I’m supposed to be there. It is interesting to me when they’re marketing to me. The reality is I believe you should always have an advisory team. If I’m correct, you also believe that they should have an advisory team no matter what size the company they’re at.
I am a huge supporter of advisory teams. They are a critical success factor for anyone who wants to succeed and grow. Many management consulting firms support the creation of advisory teams, at the manager level through the partner level. As you’re going through the promotion process, it’s wonderful to have a group of advisors that you can trust and rely on. You can share what you’re up to and navigate a dilemma with them.
Some of the people that you might want to consider having on an advisory team would include people like a very specialized industry expert that could help you lead with information more in your role, a former boss or manager that knows you and you have a good relationship with, a peer that you are a great partner in collaboration with, people that are truly on your side and have your back.
There are many different types of people that you could add, but it needs to fit the individual and their role. In terms of the actual number of people that I’d recommend, I’d recommend having 5 to 7 people that you can count on to contact. In terms of structure, I recommend that you have one-on-one meetings with those people.
If there are times when, for instance, you’re going up for promotion or might be interviewing for a new role, you might want to bring those people together in a group meeting, but it’s not required. This has got to fit the person and what they’re dealing with, but I’m a huge proponent of advisory teams. In terms of the types of things that I discuss with my advisors, I’m very open about what I’m working on. Any special projects that I might be part of, areas where I’m currently leading or I would like to lead where I don’t currently have the opportunity, any thought leadership that I might be working on, professional give back and mentoring that I’m doing and getting advice on navigating test situations because everybody has them.
I have never seen any business ever not have a tough situation.
Everybody has tough situations.
I’ve been involved in 35 businesses. Not one of them has gone smooth all the time. Those times that it goes smooth, you’re like, “This is great.” All of a sudden, there’s a problem and you got to fix it. One thing I loved what you said about advisory teams is to pick somebody who’s on your side and has your back. One of the reasons people are so fearful about bringing an advisory team together is they’re going to pick people who maybe don’t have their back or try to take charge of the company, even though they shouldn’t be able to.
When I’ve talked to people and they’re like, “Advisory team? They’re going to be such a pain and have their agenda.” Sometimes when I’ve talked to people about recruiting them for people’s advisory teams, they’re asking for high money to be part of the team. Have you found that people have to pay people high money? I’ve had people say, “I’ll be on that advisory board for multiple six figures.”
I’m not even talking in terms of money here. I’m talking in terms of skin in the game, care about the individual and I want to help you succeed. Are there boards of advisors that do pay those advisors? There are. I’m talking about finding people that care about you. One other key point that I want to make after listening to your comments there is I want to make sure that it’s clear that these individuals on your advisory team could be within the company that you’re currently working in or external. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they support you as a human being, want to help you and may have expertise in a certain area that could help you get an edge.
If they have expertise in a certain area, could they be specialists?
That shortens up our learning curve. I remember an old story. I got a leak in my sink faucet. I’m a guy, so I can go fix that leak in the sink. I tried for two days, went to Home Depot and Lowe’s and buy tape and tools, but it’s still leaking. You call a plumber who’s a specialist. She or he comes in. Thirty minutes later, there’s no leak and $75 or $150 is out the door, whatever it might be.
This has been something that I’ve embraced most of my life. I want to be perceived as the guy, even though I’m intelligent and people see me always come in going that I don’t know anything. “Let me learn from this person.” If they’re a specialist, I have learned that they can take something that would take me days or weeks to figure out in 30 minutes or less. I would not have thought so much about a previous boss or a manager. That’s a cool angle because there’s somebody who understands a lot more about that person in the working situation.
It may bring a good sense of, “I know that you’ve had these five experiences in the past when we work together. I would love to see you have the opportunity to do X or Y.” It can create a very compelling conversation where you can take their advice and put it into good use.
In theory, they should also know how one works under stress and certain conditions. They’ve probably experienced that working for that person and have had to either coach them through that or deal with reviews of some sorts, so they’re probably in that place too, which a lot of people will forget about the human dynamic. I love the fact that you’re not.
When I look at who I want on an advisory team for myself, for example, I want somebody who will tell me the truth and has my back, but I also want somebody who isn’t going to hold back. They can tell me the professional ROI of the situation and the personal ROI like, “Doug, if you do this, look at the stress it’s going to cause on you and maybe the organization, the family or whatever it might be.” It gets me to think differently.
It goes back to coaching. You get some insights and have new thinking. Tying those two together and I don’t know what the answer is to this, that’s why I’m coming to the expert on it. Should I be hiring people on my advisory team who know how to coach and ask questions like this, or should I hire people who can direct me or a combination of both?
The advisory team concept is about their expertise and their relationship with you. You want to be in a situation where let’s say, you have a peer that you’ve worked with a lot in the past that you’re able to brainstorm with and come up with new solutions very easily. That’s someone that you might want to call when you’re trying to come up with a new angle on a product or problem.
There are different reasons why you want someone on a specific type of person on your team. It is an expertise type of thing for me. If I’m talking about the type of people that I’m seeking as advisors to me, it’s someone that was a very senior executive in a consulting firm that has started a smaller operation and is an absolute expert in his field or someone that is a marketing, branding strategy and positioning expert. Those are things that I can not only benefit from as I grow but are very relevant to my business.
If we think about having a great parent, they’re usually an advisor too. I remember when I was going to get married, I went to my father, who had been married for 35 years to my mother. I said, “Dad, when do you know it’s time to get married?” He had an answer. What I’m hearing is going to people that already have success in what you’re trying to do that have your back and have a vested interest in your success. You take those from different specialties, people you worked for or others. Have a team together. You meet regularly and get advice from them. That’s an advisor team.
In a general role, I connect with these people at least every six weeks, if not more frequently, based on business needs. I would also offer that as you grow in your career and grow your business, the types of people on your advisory team will change. I’m in the process of leveling up my advisory team. It’s something that you can always have in your back pocket to make sure that you are going to be as successful as possible.
When you’re leveling up your team, you, in some capacity, might outgrow your advisors. You must go to them, explain what the situation is and add new people. That’s fair. It’s the process of never-ending growth. You’re not going to get to be a professional athlete, likely with the same coach that you had in middle school.
Sara and I are talking about a lot of great subjects like coaching advisory teams. I want to shift to something that is a cool subject, in addition to what we talked about. That’s something you deal with a lot of time, which is how you deal with all the stress and change in an ever-changing business environment, especially when it comes to human capital with the post-pandemic, the Great Recession and all kinds of things going on in businesses. There’s a lot of stress floating around there. I found more stress than there was years ago with this situation, especially when it comes to human capital.
The stressors that we’re under are more difficult and compelling than we’ve ever seen. Without question, the climate is constantly changing. That’s not the weather but how we are feeling and our well-being at work. When I think about this compelling, overarching discussion, I want to put structure in place. I always work to have some structure to keep sanity in my life, stay focused as much as possible and make sure that I have the support that I need.
I think about accountability and making sure that I have someone that I can talk to about a big problem and that I am establishing clear goals that are linked to my purpose so I’m working on things that will matter and deliver results. Some of these things are very traditional, I realize, but when you’re focused in a time of great change, you might deliver more results than you expect.
I am a big proponent of setting daily priorities on my calendar. I manage to list 3 to 7 things that I need to accomplish in a day and work on them until it’s done. I am also a big proponent of self-care, creating wonderful habits and making exercises in my life. Some of these things are very stabilizing and can help you stay in a better mindset. Mindset is a devil. It can get you if you don’t take action and have some structure in your life.
I also recommend that people take the time to make sure that they are in their best energy for their most important meetings because how you come across affects everyone that you’re working with. If you’re conveying negative energy, you might not realize how you’re damaging your relationships in your life.
I am also big on if there is something that you want, don’t hesitate to ask for it. If there’s something that you want from a well-being perspective that works, ask for it because more than ever, people are in touch with how difficult times are at home and the stresses that people are under. If there’s something that you want, workplaces are much more likely to give you what you want, if not more.
I love the fact that I have clear goals for my purpose. I remember when I was a younger lad, I asked an older gentleman who I thought was very successful and he was. He was a retired financial planner. He’s known as the luckiest guy in the world, he told me. His name is Ray Lowe. I asked him, “Ray, what’s the success to longevity?” He’s old and still married to his same wife. He travels and had all the money he wants. He seemed like a happy guy. I said, “What’s the key to happiness?” He said, “When it comes to business, design your life first.” I thought, “That’s profound.” I had never thought about it in that regard.
I did start doing that. I was having a conversation with a friend who’s an associate in business as well. He said, “Doug, you look great. What’s going on in your life?” I said, “I sat down and did this from time to time. I decided I’m going to make decisions based on my values, what I’m going to say yes to and no to.” I got a lot going on like everybody else. I was feeling some stress. These are the basic tenants that we’re supposed to do. Stress can be a devil and a blessing too, if you know how to utilize it for your benefit. That’s what I have found.
I went through and did that exercise. On one side of the paper, I wrote down all my values and on the other side of the paper, I looked at the values and started picking out the common themes. I came up with a list of how I’m going to make decisions based on values. As I’ve been doing that, I’ve been saying no to things I would never have said no to before.
In this ever-changing world, which will continue to happen, I feel that if we make it based on our value system and we’re clear on that purpose and outcome, you can’t control change. Change is going to happen. I went to a place to get a massage and an amazing thunderstorm happened while I was in the building. I walk out and you can barely see the vehicle in front of you. That’s changed. What are you going to do?
It happens in business every single day. It goes back to what you said about your state, how you show up, your emotions and physiology and how they affect the outcome of what might be a great meeting or not a great meeting, not a great interaction or an amazing interaction. I’ve always found that the strongest state wins in relationships. Sara, I want to thank you for being here. A lot of people are going to be reading this over and over because this is amazing content. If people want to get ahold of you because people do, how do they contact you?
Check out the website, give her a call if anything resonates on this particular episode, and see what Sara can do for you.
Thanks so much for giving me time. I very much enjoyed our conversation and would love to hear from the readers.
I very much appreciate you being here. It was a subject matter that I hadn’t explored in this type of avenue before. Many people are so confused about, “What is coaching? How do I use it? Advisory boards, I’m supposed to do it. I’ve been telling myself that for the last few years of my business life and I haven’t done it. How do I do that?” Change that’s happening and going to continue to happen. With everything that’s happening in the world globally, there’s going to be continued change. I appreciate you being here, Sara. Come back some other time, if you would.
Thanks so much. I would love to come back. I hope you and the readers have a great day.
That was an excellent conversation. What do we converse on? Lots of good stuff. When should you use coaching? Should you be using coaching yourself? Do you have a coach or just somebody that gives you advice? Coaching is about to get you better off by getting you a new set of thoughts. With that new set of thoughts, you will own that. What will happen over time is you’ll make better decisions, put different actions into your business and grow.
This is why coaching works. As much as we’re intelligent, there are a lot of other intelligent people too that can give us the ability to think differently by giving us new insights by asking questions. What kind of questions? It’s open-ended questions. Advisory teams, no matter what size your company is, you can and I employ you. You must use an advisory team.
Advisory teams speed up the availability to access not only information but others, sometimes even capital. Whatever you need in your business, other people are out there looking for you to help you be successful. All you have to do is ask. What I loved about what Sara said was finding somebody with your best interest in mind. The hat is part of the key. Have a clear understanding and expectations of what you want from the advisory members. Therefore, you will look for the right advisory members.
The third thing we discussed was how do you deal with an ever-changing environment? Let’s face it. With everything that’s been going on, this episode is on May 16th, 2022. Think about it. How much change has happened in the last years of your life? How much change has happened in the lives of others over the last years?
I can tell you, it’s not only with the Great Resignation, but a lot of people are looking for quality of life, so it affects how people are doing business. They were not looking necessarily many years ago. I’ve talked to people that want money and that’s my key. It still is for a lot of people, but a very large majority of people are saying, “Quality of life plus money.”
How do you deal in this ever-changing landscape with employees, personnel, vendors or people you’re doing business with just in general? How do you navigate these waters for yourself? I found going back to your values and making value-based decisions is one of the best things that you can do, but you’ve got to get clear on this stuff.
If you want access to Sara, it’s at SaraWSheehan.com. Check out her website. If you want to touch base with her, she gave you the contact information. I appreciate you reading the show. If you have any episodes on certain topics that you would like, feel free to send in your information at Doug@CEOSalesStrategies.com or catch me on LinkedIn, @DougBrown123. Let me know like, “Doug, I’d love to have an expert come in on this subject.” We’ll find that person and source it if we don’t already have readily accessible relationships like that, which we probably do.
The second thing is I always ask you this. If you love this episode or any of our episodes and you haven’t subscribed, please subscribe. Pass this along to friends and ask them to subscribe. If you wouldn’t mind, put a five-star review up if you think this is worth the five-star review. The reason I asked that is the more subscribers we have, the better the algorithms work for us. The higher our show goes, the more people we can help.
Lastly, if you feel that I can help your business in any way, shape or form, reach out to me. If you’re an old traditionalist Baby Boomer like me and want to call the company number, it’s (603) 595-0303. As always, make your day great because you never know if you have tomorrow. You think you do but now, be happy. Go sell a lot of stuff, sell it profitably, make a ton of money, help somebody else out along the path and be good to one another because life is life. Until next time, to your success. I’m signing off on another episode created just for you.