Catrin: Steve, hello. Nice screen name. What's up with that?
zamboni: Just an old nickname from school... because I love hockey so much.
Catrin: I see... I won't ask about your team allegiances, though - after all, we might alienate some potential clients here! Anyway, it's a pleasure to talk to you today. Are you ready to face my probing questions?
zamboni: Definitely. Don't go easy on me.
Catrin: Don't you worry - there's no danger of that. In fact, I'm going to start off with a question that I think a lot of people ask themselves, but wouldn't say to your face: don't consultants and coaches like you just sell plain common sense to people for good money?
zamboni: Wow! Interesting start. Definitely not easy! But, in short, yes: because my clients are at a crossroads in their lives, keeping messages simple is key to moving them forward. However, the true value of a coach or consultant is found in his or her ability to propel you towards taking action. Contrary to what you sometimes read in self-help books, there is no trick to being successful - it's all about doing. And if you just want to talk, you don't need a coach - you can always go to the pub and commiserate with some friends about your grand, unrealized plans for the future. But when you're hitting a low, will they really tell you the hard truths, or will they just say what you want to hear?
Catrin: True. It always seems easier to find someone who's willing to be kind than someone who's willing to stick his neck out and tell you the truth.
zamboni: Exactly. And a good coach or consultant will always tell his clients the truth, because the truth is what they need to succeed in the end! They might not want to hear it at the time, but they will appreciate it in hindsight, and that builds trust. And killing people with kindness has never helped anyone reach their potential. Of course, you always need to remain tactful and respectful!
Catrin: Agreed. That goes for life in general!
zamboni: Needless to say, everything always depends on the client's expectations: if she set the bar high for herself, then it is my role to see to it that she reaches that bar. And yes, at times, frank and fierce conversations need to be had to move the client towards her goal.
Catrin: I'm actually in awe: you must be quite the people person to do this job. I'm not sure I could do it! For example, what do you do if you do not like a potential client?
zamboni: First, thank you for the compliment! Yes, I guess I am quite the people person, because I have not yet encountered an individual that I have not liked. I think I am a naturally empathetic person, which allows me to put myself in other people's shoes. It's really hard to dislike someone if you understand exactly where they're coming from, and that ability translates to both the coaching and the consulting world.
Catrin: What about the other way? Have you had a client who didn't like you?
zamboni: Good question again! I have had one client who discontinued our coaching relationship because she was not sure of the direction I was going. It was part of our agreement - actually, it's part of all my coaching agreements - that if either one of us is not completely satisfied, we stop. If there isn't 100% trust and chemistry, then it's better for that client to find that elsewhere. But like I said, it's only happened to me once and I learned from the experience so it was positive for both of us.
Catrin: That's a very straight and honest answer - but I guess you did say that a good coach always tells the truth! Exactly what types of crossroads do you have experience with? Does it matter, or do you think coaching transfers to any area?
zamboni: I've coached a wide array of underlying issues, ranging from personal time management and self worth to relationship issues and identity crises. I believe that a good coach can transfer his skills and knowledge across many different aspects of life. Now, that's not to say that coaches don't need to have specific areas of expertise when coaching. For example, I have not been a senior executive, so I wouldn't agree to coach an Executive VP about business strategies or organizational changes. But if that same EVP wants to learn about igniting his workforce, then I'm his man!
Catrin: Steve, overall, what's the single most important piece of advice you give to all your coaching clients?
zamboni: Be willing to take a risk and be open to all possibilities. For example, when traveling Italy, you can take the beaten path, and you'll be guaranteed a lovely experience. But the real gems of the holiday come when you go around the corner and experience something totally unexpected - for example, when you drive down that tiny bumpy road and find that small local vineyard with the perfect quiet little restaurant tucked away in a corner of it... how exciting, thrilling and alive! The same principle goes for careers, and even life in general.
Catrin: Please stop talking about traveling to Italy...it makes me jealous. Let's talk about your corporate services - what's special about them?
zamboni: For one, they are all built to fit the client's need. To do that properly, I make sure I understand the organization's present situation, and then I figure out exactly what the goal is. The final step is to then find a strategy to fill in the gap that exists between where the company is now and where it wants to be in the future.
Catrin: And what are some of the formats you use to achieve those goals?
zamboni: There are many different goals that a company might have, and matching the right ideas with the appropriate presentation is not without its challenges. For one, a good consultant makes every effort to keep it simple, and usually has trusty programs, workshops, and keynote speeches ready in his kit bag that can be adapted to a majority of situations.
Catrin: What if they can't be adapted to a situation you encounter, though?
zamboni: if there is something outside of my realm of expertise, I'm not afraid to bring in others to meet the needs of my client. The client's satisfaction is the most important thing. It shows the client that I am truly working for them, instead of for myself. And if you demonstrate that you put the client first, they will continue to seek you out in the future, because they know they can trust you. And that is truly a win/win situation!
Catrin: When you do keynote speeches, do you sometimes get hired by companies to address a specific issue? Say, if they're having problems with rivalries in the office, would you theme a speech to address that?
zamboni: Yes, definitely. And I like to use personal experiences in keynote speeches - that way, they're all the more real to the audience. They can tell that I've seen what they've seen. And I've certainly got a few stories up my sleeve about office rivalries!
Catrin: As do we all... except that yours are probably much more insightful. Alright, I think I'm almost through with my questions, except a few of the easier ones.
zamboni: You've saved the easy ones for the end, then?
Catrin: I sure did. For example, I know that you like strategic board games - tell me why.
zamboni: Board games are great because they are both social and mentally challenging. And that makes them an overall fantastic way to spend quality time with people - to really interact face-to-face, the old-fashioned way.
Catrin: And here we are chatting over instant messenger! You can't even tell if I'm making faces at you. But back to board games: what about the type of person who gets angry when he or she loses?
zamboni: Losing gracefully is an important life skill. I suggest practicing with board games; I promise it will come in handy in other areas...
Catrin: Haha! I agree. And now for the last question: what's up with this Agent Z character you've invented?
zamboni: You mean Codename "Ignite"? :-)He's just my more exciting alter ego, and I use him to enliven presentations, articles and discussions sometimes...
Catrin: I have to say you look quite dashing in your Agent Z getup... but should grown business consultants really pretend to be secret agents?
zamboni: Oh, absolutely, unequivocally, 100% yes! Sure, it's a little on the silly side, but in my experience, most people enjoy a little comic relief. And wouldn't the world be a better place if people didn't take themselves so seriously all the time?
Catrin: Steve, a truer word has never been spoken! It's so true, in fact, that I think we'll end on that note. It was a pleasure to talk to you, and maybe we can play a game together some time!
zamboni: Any time. Just don't expect to win ;-)