Operations & Management

Using a Coach Mindset to Unlock Your Full Leadership Potential

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We talked with Kevin about:

  • His path to become a consultant and starting his business with his wife
  • Why a lot of firm owners aren’t prepared to be leaders
  • How to reframe your leadership approach to be more effective
  • How to use coaching to help develop your team

About Kevin Poland:

Kevin Poland is the owner, CEO, business consultant, and coach at The Renaissance Group, a pioneering firm specializing in business and leadership coaching in the financial advisory space. Kevin’s journey into entrepreneurship began when he and his business partner, his wife Jody, made the decision to leave the corporate world and embark on their own business venture. They stumbled upon the transformative teachings of Michael Gerber, particularly his renowned work, "The E-Myth," which revolutionized their understanding of business ownership. Inspired by Gerber's philosophy, Kevin and Jody immersed themselves in learning and implementing his principles. Their dedication led them to become among some of the first consultants certified by Gerber's company. Their mission? To revolutionize the financial advisory landscape by empowering business owners to establish systems and processes that mitigate dependency and cultivate sustainable growth. For over 25 years, Kevin’s holistic teachings for organizational development have helped hundreds of business owners solve their most pressing problems, steering them toward prosperity and achievement.

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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:03):
Kevin, welcome. Thank you for being here.

Kevin (00:06):
Well, thank you for having me and I appreciate it.

Lauren (00:09):
Yes, I am excited to hear more about your business. You have so many great years working with, really coaching on the strategic planning side, business training, especially for folks in the RIA space. So we share that parallel there and I'm really looking forward to getting into coaching — what does it mean? — and talking a little bit more about leadership. I mean, this could be a multisession conversation, I know, but at least talking high level about it. So before we get into all of that, let's just hear about you. I want to hear a little bit more about your background and how you got to where you did today, and then we'll get into some of these questions.

Kevin (00:48):
Okay. Yeah. So The Renaissance Group, we've been in business for 25 years and my partner is my wife, Jody. We both left corporate America to start our own business, and that's kind of how the journey started actually. As we were in the process of starting our own business, I accidentally fell into the concepts or learnings of Michael Gerber and the E-Myth.

Lauren (01:17):
Yes, yes, yes.

Kevin (01:18):
Do you remember 25 years ago how people used to get their professional and personal development, especially corporate people? Cassette tapes we podcast, right? And so we were part of that Nightingale-Conant program where they send you tapes and you have them for 30 days and you can listen to them and if you want them, you can keep them. Or if you kept them, you have to pay for them or you could send them back. And I just remember this one conversation with my wife saying, those tapes are due back tomorrow; are you going to listen to them or not? This particular set — and just coincidentally I had about an hour drive to go see a client — they were these tapes called the E-Myth by Michael Gerber. Coming from the corporate world, I wasn't really familiar with small business training.

I wasn't familiar with Michael Gerber, and I don't know why I said, all right, I'll just listen to him. And I was just enthralled by this man. He was kind of yelling and screaming on the tapes about how most people who start their own business are not entrepreneurs but technicians suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure. And that what I'm really doing is not building a business but building a job.

Lauren (02:35):

Kevin (02:37):
And I was just amazed at his message. And so obviously I kept the tapes and especially the part about building processes and systems to really help grow your business and make it less dependent on you. And I was an industrial engineer. I came from the pharmaceutical industry, so systems and processes were in my wheelhouse and I'm like, wow, this guy's making sense.

Lauren (02:58):

Kevin (02:59):
I bought the book, read it, and at the end there was some contact information. So I reached out to Gerber's company and I asked them if they could help me and that kind of thing. And they let me know they were certifying E-Myth consultants; they were just getting started.

And so my wife and I went out to Santa Rosa, California, and we were part of, I think the second class ever to be certified as E-Myth consultants. So that's really how we got started doing the business coaching. And that's the first big problem we solve — we help business owners grow in a way that makes their business less dependent on them using these E-Myth philosophies in terms of financial services or financial owners. Coincidentally, one of the people in our certification class was a financial advisor from Los Angeles who worked with a lot of small business owners and he was looking for a way to help them, and he's the one who said, hey, you should work with financial advisors; they’re technicians really trying to figure out how to grow a business. So that's the main service we offered: the business coaching. And then as our clients grew and added teams and staff, what we noticed was what was missing was some leadership coaching. So the other big service we offer today is what we call Leader as Coach but leadership coaching for not just the owners but for anyone who's got direct reports, a team leader, a division leader, or the business owner. So 25 years later, we're still doing business and leadership coaching and I work with mostly financial advisors.

Lauren (04:36):
The E-Myth is so good. I think it was one of the first books I read as well. I'm just kind of getting into things and I feel like it really, so many other kinds of philosophies, EOS® and others, have kind of stemmed off from there, if you will. But now to swing back with the financial space, are you exclusively working with RIAs, financial advisors, or is it other folks or is that your main core?

Kevin (05:02):
Personally, I primarily work with financial advisory type businesses. However, since a lot of them work with business owners, they give me referrals to their business owners. And then we do target some other segments, women-owned businesses, a couple other segments some of our other coaches work with. So we segment the market, the small business market, primarily with professional service type businesses.

Lauren (05:30):
So I'd love to hear, since you're in that kind of world, talking with business owners, especially those in financial services, are there thematic leadership challenges you're seeing maybe at a specific stage of growth or maybe that technician, sort of how they let go of being able to the delegate or die syndrome kind of thing? Or I'd love to hear more about what thematic changes or leadership challenges you're seeing.

Kevin (05:54):
Sure. Yeah. Well, people are hard. Our team could be our biggest source of joy or our biggest frustration. So what's really missing I think, is there's not a lot of training for leadership and management of direct reports. And you think about any of the certifications, a financial advisor gets a CFP®, a CFA, I mean they don't really teach you how to lead and manage people. So there's that lack of knowledge. And so there's that frustration of I'm not really sure what to do when it's leading my people and that type of thing. What I've seen over the 25 years is business owners, the owners of the business, have gotten better at what I call strategic leadership, putting those visions, values, missions, and strategic plans in place. And maybe I'm biased because in a lot of the business coaching, that's what we do. So I am seeing that. What I'm seeing, what's missing, is kind of what I call everyday leadership. What are those day-to-day things we should be doing when we have direct reports?

Lauren (07:17):
Can you give some examples of those? When you talk about day-to-day leadership, is it a meeting style? Is it complimenting people? Is it spending time? What kind of pieces do you feel are missing?

Kevin (07:29):
Yeah, so a lot of things you said. Just how do I give my people feedback? How do I conduct meetings, especially a one-on-one meeting? That type of thing. How do I know if my people are happy here until they leave? How do I have real conversations with them? How do I develop them and grow and I guess what they call employee engagement. It's a big discussion, especially in larger firms but how do I know if my people are engaged and what can I do as their manager, as their leader, to engage them?

Lauren (08:14):
Right. Let's take one slice of that. So you talked about meetings, those one-on-one meetings. What kind of recommendations would you have with someone? I mean, I've talked with advisors too where they're like, I want to focus on my art. I love doing what I am doing. I love working with clients but then managing a team is hard. What kind of tips would you give in those situations? I think meetings can also impact your day-to-day, your communication style, that kind of thing. How would you go into that and being set up for success that’s a win-win for both sides?

Kevin (08:47):
Yeah, and you're right, that technician from the E-Myth, that craftsman and us got into business, a lot of us, because we like doing the work. Advisors see their clients, and that's where they want to spend their time. So one of the ways to think about it is to have different roles. And so one of your roles, as soon as you add even one person, you're now a leader and a manager. And so when you're in that role, it's a different skill set than giving financial advice.

Lauren (09:19):
It is. And you're just in that role. Doesn't mean you've had experience with it, training, any of that stuff.

Kevin (09:27):
So you're kind of the accidental manager or you didn't choose to do that. So it is a set of behaviors and skills you can learn. And because we don't like it, especially at the beginning and we're not good at it, the technician in us doesn't like to do things we're not good at.

Lauren (09:53):
It's harder to push through. It's like this new way of thinking, adjusting your, I mean the whole thing, your speech, all of it. So share a little bit more about that.

Kevin (10:02):
So what do we do? We just, I don't want to say ignore our people but if they make a mistake or we just cross our fingers and hope they will get it right, we don't confront them. We don't go back and say, well, maybe it's me. Maybe I didn't train them correctly. Maybe I didn't share the vision enough times. Maybe I didn't train them correctly on how to answer the phone or talk to clients. A lot of times we will blame them instead of looking internally. And so you do have to make that switch. And so the reason we call it Leader as Coach is it's taken on a new identity. And so if you think about it, this starts with your mindset. If you change your mindset and take more of a coaching mindset or what we call developmental bias, then your behavior’s going to change to match that. So again, if your current mindset is you are the craftsman, you are the technician, you are the only one who can give great advice, where are you going to spend your time? So I said, well, what if your job when you're in this role of leader is to be the coach? Your job is to develop your people.

And so change is hard but that's the first step in making that behavioral change of just let's change our mindset and start thinking like a coach. Then we can start acting like a coach.

Lauren (11:34):
Now I know you've got this kind of foundation for what it means to be a Leader as Coach. Can you share?

Kevin (11:39):
Yeah, that would be great.

Lauren (11:41):
It might be helpful to kind of talk through what does that actually mean for someone, let me see if I can get this just a little bit bigger here for us but can you kind of talk us through this? We'll get even a little bit bigger here for what this means, right? I know you've been using this terminology Leader as Coach, and I think it would be helpful to kind of break it down just a little bit more to kind of understand those components of it.

Kevin (12:14):
It's right in the middle. So that's kind of your starting point. There's so much to leadership and management. We just try to break it down into a couple of foundational behaviors and foundational skills anyone could start working on this year and see some really great results with your people. So like we said, it starts with that mindset and your job is to develop your people. And when you have that behavior, or let's go back, let me go one step back quickly. If you start to think in terms of that mindset, that every interaction with your people, whether a formal meeting or just a bump in the hallway, you have an opportunity to develop your people and help them make progress. And again, from an identity standpoint, identity drives our behaviors. If we can make this switch to thinking of ourselves, almost like a sports coach. It's not a perfect analogy but when you think about what a sports coach is doing, yes, they're sharing the vision and the plan but then when they're practicing or at game time, they're giving constant feedback and talking to performance with people all the time. They're not waiting for an annual review and especially your talented people. And here's a great visual, if you can picture this, I use it sometimes in presentations. I got a picture of Coach K, the Duke coach, Krzyzewski, when he coached the Olympic teams. And there's a picture of him giving LeBron James, some say maybe the best basketball player, instruction, giving him coaching. So even our talented people, if we can picture ourselves as we're coaching our people, that's what we want to do. And so then these three behaviors — conducting regular scheduled one-on-ones, regular feedback, and delegation — are just some behaviors we can start to help our people develop.

Lauren (14:19):
So can you talk a little bit about feedback, right? Because people receive feedback in all different ways. Sometimes it's very defensive, sometimes people are like, I want all the feedback. Give it to me. I want a 360, I want regular feedback. Some people hide behind curtains to avoid feedback. In that coaching mindset, what kind of recommendations do you have maybe in those one-on-ones to be able to help with the feedback piece of it too?

Kevin (14:55):
Yeah, that's perfect. Yeah. So what you're going to do is you are going to tell your people that one of the things I want to do this year is get better at leading and coaching you. And so I want to give you some more feedback. And so we teach a couple of feedback methods and we focus on what we call positive feedback and neutral feedback. The positive feedback is basically you want to catch people doing things and give them clear and specific feedback, what they did, how they interacted with that client.

You want to not just be general, hey, great job. You want to say, hey, that was perfect the way you responded to the client, answered all their questions, got the forms in a timely manner. That's exactly how we taught you positive feedback. We want to correct behaviors. And again, we're focusing on behaviors. If it was something we want changed, we're going to give what we call neutral feedback. Say you're someone who interrupts other people during a meeting or something like that. You want to give it in terms of neutral, saying, hey, Kevin, listen, when we were at the meeting today, every time Lauren spoke, you kept interrupting her. Could you stop doing that? That's all. People don't want to get feedback afraid. It's going to take too long. It's a discussion of Kevin's mindset during the meeting. Here's the behavior that's acceptable. We don't interrupt other people during the meeting. Could you stop doing that?

Lauren (16:30):
So less is more in this situation, just in a warm way but kind of direct but also not kind of going on for five minutes about talking and interrupting.

Kevin (16:45):
And then your other point of some people don't accept feedback. Well, one of the things you'll do during your one-on-ones is have a discussion about how we give feedback and how you want to receive feedback.

Lauren (17:03):
So actually having a conversation and getting that from the start.

Kevin (17:07):
Yeah, you can talk about feedback. Again, you can put it in a way, like you said, different people accept it in different terms. So you do want to customize it to the best you can. But again, if you're focusing on the behavior, here are the behaviors that make people successful at our firm, and here's what I'm seeing. So again, one of the ways to think about feedback is if you can't see it, it's hard to give good specific information on it. Right?

Lauren (17:40):
It's too abstract. It's hard to latch onto. Yeah.

Kevin (17:44):
You don't ever want to say things like you have a bad attitude. If I say you have a bad attitude, what are you going to say?

Lauren (17:53):
No, I don't. Yeah, tell me more. Yeah, I don't understand. Yeah, right.

Kevin (17:58):
But you can say, hey, I noticed you interrupt. Every time someone speaks, we can see it. So you want to let them know that you are giving feedback to improve future performance. That's the whole point of feedback. And you might have to talk to people about what is the best way to accept feedback.

Lauren (18:20):
Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, so just a piece on delegations, I want to make sure we get to skills. Just being mindful of time, just a quick thought today, actually literally minutes before we chatted, I was going back and forth and I saw something I personally try to reinforce with our group, something that needed to be updated, and I know I could have done it and it probably would've taken me just a few minutes. But the simple act of, I think, asking someone else to do it helps to get into the patterns and habits. Really easy to do it yourself. And I think the delegation of the feedback helps people to learn. Do you have any other examples of folks who are in a leadership role that would help encourage delegation, not just here's 10 tasks kind of thing?

Kevin (19:10):
Yeah, well, yeah. So the obvious thing is we are all stretched for time. If we could delegate work, we would be able to save ourselves some time. Here's what we do with our clients. And again, back to the coaching mindset and taking it to the next level. We think of delegation as a way to develop our people. So we think of it as delegate to develop.

Lauren (19:33):
Oh, I like that. That's a positive bend on it.

Kevin (19:37):
So if we need our people to eventually say maybe be in a client-facing role, maybe they're in a paraplanning-like position now. Or what we want to start doing is delegating some work that challenges them and develops them. Maybe the presentation skills or being able to ask and answer questions and those types of things. And so get back to that technician. And you talked about it a little bit. The challenge is we're craftspeople. We like to keep the challenging work. We like to do the hardest work, which is also the most time-consuming to ourselves and delegate the less than fun work, right?

Lauren (20:22):

Kevin (20:23):
But again, if our vision is we want to grow this business beyond ourselves, that technician, that craftsman, if we eventually need other people who can do client work, we need to develop them. And so if we can delegate some of the harder work to them, then you start to become the coach. You start to become the teacher. So some of the topics of your one-on-ones are you're going to work with your direct reports. So how are you going to get better at speaking? What are you going to do first? What are you going to do second? And then as you continue the one-on-ones, you have conversations about the work you delegated to them; how are they progressing? So that's how we kind of tie it together to this development mindset. This coaching mindset is in addition to saving us time, one of the reasons we're going to delegate work is to help develop our people, to get us to where we want to go as a company.

Lauren (21:20):
Yeah, I like that paraplanner example you gave too, because it's that — how do you help to bring folks in? I also see models too, where there's more of a senior advisor and a junior advisor too that's in the room to be able to learn from folks and get into it. Let's get into the skills portion of it, that outer ring too, and listening, questioning all of these pieces. I'd love to hear a little bit more about that.

Kevin (21:45):
And again, these are very fundamental and on the surface, they're easy to understand but they're not easy to always implement.

Lauren (21:57):

Kevin (22:00):
So really no one's really trained us in listening; we’re just expected to know how to do it. One of the things we want to do is get better at what's called active listening, really paying attention and making eye contact, and even listening with understanding and empathy, listening to learn. And especially during the one-on-ones, when they come to us with a problem, we want to make sure we're listening. And here's the cool thing, especially for a financial advisor who is giving advice to direct advice to a client, is they should be good at listening. They should be listening to what a client is really saying, what the client's real concerns are, what the clients are really trying to accomplish. And so it's a skill set we should already have. We probably already have. We just really don't think about it consciously or potentially apply it to our own people.

Lauren (22:57):
You could do a whole workshop just on listening, I think especially for financial advisors. I mean not just within teams but even just with clients. I'm sure you've done those before.

Kevin (23:06):
You want a quick tip? If you find yourself drifting off and not listening, wiggle your toes. It'll bring you back to the present.

Lauren (23:16):
Oh, that is a very good tip. I like that. That's a great takeaway.

Kevin (23:21):
All right, so questioning.

Lauren (23:23):

Kevin (23:25):
If you do just get one thing better this year, asking better questions will help develop your people more than anything. And we have this mantra we teach, ask versus tell. And so what happens when one of your people interrupts you or comes to you with a problem? We get paid a lot of money to be experts. That's our satisfaction. And so we want to solve the problem — solving your people's problems. Don't tell them the answer, don't be the advisor. Ask them questions.

Lauren (24:13):
Help them to collaboratively come to that end solution.

Kevin (24:17):
So one of the ways to develop people, probably one of your needs is you need people who can solve problems. And so we're going to teach them in a sense how to solve problems by turning it back to them saying, well, what's the real challenge here? What is the problem? What have you tried so far?

Lauren (24:38):
Pulling it apart versus just sort of like bam — pack on a solution without actually understanding what's going on there.

Kevin (24:47):
And the challenge is this way, it takes longer short term but like I said, long term then your people stop coming to you with problems. They come to you with solutions. And that's what we're trying to do in this whole idea of developing the one-on-ones; you should be spending most of your time asking questions, not telling, similar with a client. When advisors are working with a client, they should be spending a lot of their time listening and asking questions, not doing a lot of the talking. So again, it's a skill set to pay attention to. And if we can ask more than we tell, we start to really see our people start to grow and develop.

Lauren (25:40):
Okay. And then this last piece of it here, the directing.

Kevin (25:44):
Directing is being very clear about what you expect from people. It turns out we're really not that good at it. We think we're very clear because we're having these conversations in our head all the time, and we think if we tell our people once they understand. And so when we say directing, really think about clarity. Does my person, do my direct reports really understand what is expected from them, expect in terms of timing, quality, quantity. Have we really laid it out? And I mean, this is a really simple problem but we probably hear it a lot, and you'll say to one of your direct reports, hey, I need you to do this right away. Send this client this or get this signature or I need it done right away.

Lauren (26:47):

Kevin (26:50):
Right away means something to you but it means something different to me. Well, right away it means, well, as soon as I'm done with all my other stuff, I'll get to that, boss.

Lauren (26:58):

Kevin (26:59):
So when we say directing and being clear, say, look, I need this to the client by 9 a.m. tomorrow. Do you understand? Can you make that happen? Versus again, I mean it's an oversimplification but we do it all day long.

Lauren (27:14):

Kevin (27:15):
Get this to me first. Can you get this to me first thing in the morning? Well, what's the first thing in the morning for you versus first thing for me?.

Lauren (27:22):
That's right. Yep.

Kevin (27:24):
So if we can be very clear and specific, that's what we're talking about in directing — we really have to be better at our clarity.

Lauren (27:32):
Yep. Oh, this is good. I also enjoy, as you've been talking about this, there's connections you can make between all of the rings. How directing can impact one-on-ones and the feedback and all these things. So you can see how it all is at the center point of the coaching mindset. I appreciate you talking through this and we are about at the end here. I feel like time’s been drifting away because I think, like I said, when we started, I think we could have multiple sessions on these topics but I really appreciate you getting to some of those nuggets and what does it really mean for that coaching mindset at large. Are there any other kinds of final tips you think would be helpful to share or resources for folks who do want to lean into more of that coaching mindset? I mean, maybe it's for an advisor who’s got a small team, or maybe it's for a larger firm that has multiple managers or even managers of managers, any other kind of maybe books or tips or resources even you all have?

Kevin (28:36):
Yeah. So one of the ways to think about this is to think of leadership as this Leader as Coach, as a system or a process you can teach other people in your company. It's almost like a coaching culture. So as your firm does grow and you have other people with direct reports, here's the way we give feedback here. Here's the way we conduct one-on-ones here. Here's the way we ask questions. Here's even maybe a list of some of the best questions that work during one-on-ones. So one of the ways to get it to work for you is to start thinking about this. Back to the E-Myth. As a processor system, leadership at our company is a system. We have it documented and we can teach others how to do it. So I think a great way to think about it is to help your firm grow.

Lauren (29:32):
Yeah, I love that because it's not just about shaping the systems but that shapes the culture. So the systems are helping to shape the culture, which helps to also just shape the scalability of the culture to be able to keep that intact of that leadership first and helping each other. Because I think a lot of the methodologies you shared, they're not the, I'm going to excel by bringing other people down. They're the more we support helps to grow collectively, which also impacts the culture at large too. So fun. Well, we'll make sure to include links to your website and resources as well. I'm sure folks will be interested to learn more. Like I said, I feel like we could talk about this for quite some time but some really great takeaways I really appreciate. That chart was really helpful and I think it really helps to illustrate that coaching mindset. Thank you again.

Thank you, Lauren.

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