#5: Dan Willis – Creating Change in Organizations with Executive Coaching

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    All right, so hi, everyone, who’s listening, watching, and reading. This is Go New. And we are a platform for transformational education and coaching. And it’s really about self-growth and change in all the areas of your life that usually are not being talked about enough in school, like relationships and building your own business and marketing and romantic relationships, parenting, and etcetera.

And I’m very excited to have Dan Willis with us today. And thank you for being here, Dan.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Sure.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And Dan is an organizational coach and I’m very excited to talk to you today about creating change in organizations. And I’ll tell you why, because as a coach it’s hard enough to help someone, an individual to create change. And what’s interesting for me to hear from your expertise is how do you create change on a bigger scale. And I would let you introduce yourself and just tell us a few words about yourself.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Sure. I come from an engineering background actually. I was an electrical engineer for about almost 30 years, software and electrical engineering. And worked in the high-tech world for quite a while. And I was able to work with a few coaches. I worked for a great company, a Fortune 100 company, and really started to understand what coaching could do.

And as I got later in my career realized this was an avenue that I wanted to go down was the organizational development. And I wouldn’t got a coaching certificate, transitioned from the engineering world, and have now been doing coaching for quite a while, and I feel it to be very gratifying from a social perspective. It’s a lot better than just turning out the next cell phone, that’s what I used to work on. Now actually helping people get past their blind spots, stop stepping on their own air hose, is just very gratifying.

And so I’ve started working in many different area, mostly in the technology, but I do branch out into different areas. And I also have an interesting side business; I have a mobile escape room.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Oh, you do?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    I do, which is a lot of …

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    That’s so interesting.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, so when you talk about change there’s some things we can talk about, some interesting stories from the mobile escape room.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah, that’s fascinating. So you went from engineering electronic devices to engineering organizations.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, helping them, that’s exactly right. One of the trends that I saw which was really disturbing to me if I could just say it this way – I’ve seen a lot of organizations adapt that Elon Musk style of leadership, where they are in this product development cycle, they’re just beating their people to work as hard as they possibly can, there is no other alternative, there is no work-life balance. There’s just work. And I could name at least six companies that I’ve worked with either personally or with folks that are involved in my coaching, where this mentality has really become prevalent. And it is really creating a situation of personal tragedy almost.

I’ve seen divorces, unfortunately we have … I personally seen people commit suicide, one of the companies I work for. And so for me it’s just really become a critical area that needs to be addressed and to change. We need to look at new alternatives and new paths. Otherwise I fear we’re just going to continue to make more Elon Musk, and people see that as the path to success.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So you’re talking about the fallacy of the approach of in order to make an omelet you need to break some eggs, and that’s being humans that work with you and for you.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I certainly don’t have any problem with holding people accountable, if we have come to an agreement and we’re working together and we’re working through organizational either development or product change. I don’t have any problem with holding people accountable for things that we’ve decided upon. It’s when we move beyond that, and it becomes a situation of personal attack and really just driving the organization as hard as you can in order to get as much productivity. And just seeing the people as fungible widgets.

And so I try to help companies to stay out of that and to move away from that if they happen to have slipped. Because it’s a very easy approach to get into, you just bring in a person that’s an asshole, and let him drive everything as hard as they possibly can.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah, and it’s funny because usually the person who makes the decision is not necessarily the most qualified one or the smartest one, right? It’s the person who is the best in holding and acquiring power, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Decisions flow from power. And you’re talking about an alternative approach. The world is being done in many corporate America companies, and I’m curious what is the alternative? Because there are deadlines, there are people that hold you accountable, you need to meet specific benchmarks, how do you make it happen? How do you inspire people versus pushing them to their limits?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, that’s a great question, Sasha. Yeah, I’ve been very, very fortunate to see a couple different alternatives. I’ll see if I can make this answer short. I have worked with companies both personally and coaching where they are at a surface level they’re a fun company to be around, that they inject energy into the culture, whether you have foosball tables or like I said we bring in the escape room, the mobile escape room. You can tell they’re very conscious about that their employees are having fun and giving back. And so you can inject by continuing to provide these positive attributes into the culture, you can motivate people and hold them accountable and still have a good environment.

But what I’ve seen is the next level up from that which is very prevalent now I think for some of the smart companies is bringing in this concept of emotional intelligence and the people are truly caring about the employees. When I know that you truly care about me, you’re my leader, and you truly care about my well-being, my career growth – I’m really willing to go to great lengths to make sure that I am living up to what I agreed to.

But beyond that I actually had the opportunity to work with a great leader, his name is Irwin Jacobs, and he founded Qualcomm, a very, very smart man. And one of the things that I found that he was able to instill in the culture was yet a level above that which was this transparency. There’s a level where you can have candor in a professional way, and just you’re pulling off all of the groupthink, you get rid of these social norms where if I don’t have something nice to say I can’t say anything at all.

And you’re actually able to really create an environment that not only cares for people but has this radical candor that so many people have talked about. And that becomes a very productive environment. And then you’re all holding each other accountable.

So it can’t be done. It just takes effort. It just takes conscious effort.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So let’s say you’re going into an organization, and you see as an outsider a really clear toxic environment. People are not happy, they’re being pushed to their limits, they’re overworked, they’re burnt out and they’re expected to stay after hours, right? It’s kind of the norm if you will. What would be your suggestion to the CEO?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I’ve run into this situation a couple times. And for me the best luck that I’ve had is working with the CEO in terms of a 360-degree profile. And it is an opportunity to understand what part of that toxic culture the CEO himself or herself is bringing to that situation.

Because a lot of times I find that they’re not aware of … they are at some level, but they’re not fully aware of what they’re creating in that space that makes that toxic situation. So that’s where I tend to start. And then go down from there depending on where that leads.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    That sounds easier said than done. If I’m in a position of power and you come and tell me, “Well, let’s look at your own behavior,” right? My guards are up. So there is subtlety in mirroring what’s really happening. So how do you do that?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    I have not run into a situation where a CEO had such a big ego that they weren’t willing to learn, and they weren’t willing to take feedback. Because at the end of the day either the Board of Directors has the string that will pull the CEO or the CEO is maybe the owner of the company, and they don’t want to see profits disappear and they’re in a situation where things aren’t good. So I have not run into that.

Now if I were to work with someone like an Elon Musk, like a Steve Jobs, where their ego is so huge, and maybe it is a situation where they literally would not listen, to me that’s not a situation that I think you could change the culture and it’s not a situation I would probably want to be coaching in. I’ve just learned over the years you cannot push a rope. And so either they are interested or they’re not interested.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    I see. So you choose your battles.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    I do choose my battles, yeah. I don’t know about you as a coach, but I have a golden rule that if I’m working harder than the coachee, then the situation is going to go nowhere, and it’s not worth my time.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yes, completely. And I can sense that in our first conversation as well with my potential client. And I have the privilege of saying to some clients, well, potential clients, “Sounds like I will not be the best fit for you,” right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Right.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    My goal is to really create an impact in the lives of others and I cannot do that if someone doesn’t have a certain buy-in, and is able to own what they’re doing right and what they’ll doing that’s maybe not as effective.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah. Sasha, there’s something as simple as personality profiles, I’ve had good luck with those in working with an executive team, where I come in under the pretense that we’re going to work together better as a team by knowing each other better. Just simple tools, whether you use Enneagram or you use Disc or Myers-Briggs, but then in that conversation working with the CEO a lot of times they are a dominant personality that are unaware of some of the blind spots that they have and the effect that they have on the opposite types.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah. So what would you say that your main goal as a coach to provide insight? Or is it something else?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    I would say …

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And obviously it’s a very simplistic question.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah. I hate to deflect it, but it does depend on the context. If a person is truly interested in their own personal growth, then we look at how are they doing with trust, respect, communication, their self-awareness. And my goal is to help them in all those areas. I look at a leader and say, “We are going to assess where the trust and respect is and let’s work on areas of self-awareness, blind spots, communication, casting vision,” and helping them, so in a case where they’re trying to get better that’s usually where I go.

To your point earlier if it’s a situation where it’s caustic or there are issues, and I’m brought in to help, which unfortunately happens more often than not. That’s where I just wanted to raise that self-awareness of the team and the culture as a collective so that we can then move in a new direction.

Again, I go into the premise that if they’re not aware of it it’s like pushing a rope. I’m not sure that exactly answered your question. How would you approach that?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Could you clarify what exactly? What challenge would I approach exactly?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Let’s look at it from the perspective as you said with me, let’s say that you have a well-intentioned CEO, however he is or she is creating a caustic environment simply by pushing on the gas pedal so hard that it is causing a ripple effect that they are may not be aware of, how would you approach that?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah. I would really look at what’s happening right now, and what they want to be happening, and look at the gap and just ask him again and again and again, “What is the problem and what do you think caused the problem?” And talk about exceptions to the rule, right? When does it actually work?

And looking at facts and examples, I think can shed a lot of light on the situation and the missing links. So I think it is important on my end as an executive coach to be very gentle, though authentic. So I won’t bring up resistance or defensiveness, right? My goal is to explore together.

And I am very aware that I might have my own blind spots, right? Even though I have expertise, I’m not the expert that comes down from the mountain and brings the knowledge.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Right.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So it’s the person who already runs the organization for quite a while and probably achieved some success, right? So we’re exploring together what actually doesn’t work. And if I can help the CEO for example, to come to the right conclusions themselves then I did my job right. And when the relationship develops enough for them to have trust in me, I might say things much more directly.

And it’s important to be upfront from the get-go for me and to say this is not a friendship relationship, right? I am not here to placate you or to tell you things that will make you feel good, even though I will reflect on these things of course. But it’s important for me to say the things that no one will say to you, right? That’s why you hired me.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I agree with that a hundred percent. I think the one challenge that I have, and maybe you and I have slightly different clients, I don’t know, but when I work with CEOs or people in the C-suite they’re able to articulate what they would like, sort of that classic coaching model – Here’s where I am today. Where would you like to be? Where are we missing?

And they can articulate things in terms of finances and in terms of tangibles, but not so much things that are the intangibles where the blind spots come from. And that’s where I found that some of those tools of awareness are necessary, so that we really can uncover what those are to then ask the question, “Okay, now that we understand how you’re being perceived,” and I don’t know if you use this term, but I use the term of a public identity, it’s very similar to a blind spot, but a public identity is how do people see me in a way that I might not see myself.

For me I struggled with that in my corporate career, because I like to have fun, I like to be very jovial, I like to motivate through energy, and that worked very well to me up to a certain level. And once I got into sort of that VP level that was not seen as productive, that was now that public identity became somebody was not taking things seriously, possibly deflecting things through humor when they needed to potentially just have a conflict.

And so I think that falls back to that situation where the CEO once you can observe that and uncover that, that’s where then I have the most success of, okay, then where do we want to get from here to there? What can we move forward in your public identity.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    I see. So what would be the main challenge that CEOs and leaders in the organization come to you with?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Boy, that’s a big question. I’m trying to think of the cases. I think some unknowingly many CEOs come into the situation either in a situation of imposter syndrome, where they are in a situation where they feel they’re in over their head, and we have to work through that.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    This is so important what you’re saying. I think if that would be normalized enough, and I hope that there are a lot of managers, leaders, that are watching this or listening, because it should be normalized, impostor syndrome is a thing and it’s a thing not just in your first year. To extent it’s there forever to stay, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That’s right. And I agree with you, Sasha. I think the more that we can get that into the open and de-stigmatize it is the better. Because in through my entire career I felt like I had some form of imposter syndrome, even though it was a very successful career, it was sort of like I get an excellent … just I get to a point where I start to feel comfortable, and then I would get promoted and I would be right back in that vicious cycle again of now feeling like an imposter. So it’s really helping people through that.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    I appreciate that vulnerability, Dan.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    What’s that?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    I appreciate this transparency that you just shared.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Oh, yeah, and I thought I was the only one that had that, but as I talked to more and more people I would say … and I’d be curious if you knew it, 75% of the people I have talked with and coached have some level of imposter syndrome peer failure.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yes. I worked with a start-up and the CEO could not pronounce the word CEO for a few months, literally. But on paper that was his title.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, isn’t that interesting?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    I’ve had people that tell me what they’d like to do but they cannot pronounce the next level of, “Here’s what I’d like to do in my career, but I’m not worthy, I’m not even going to say that. I can’t even allow myself to say those words.”

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Just to think about that, yeah. What do you think it is? Is it mom fear of failure or more fear of success?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    I do feel it’s more fear of failure, personally, from the people I’ve worked with. We put such a high bar on what is success in our Western culture. I would be very curious to know what an Eastern culture might look at success, but I know from the Western culture success is such an elusive and stigmatized word that I think we all put tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves not to fail.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah, I think it’s really about what are we measuring as success, and how we measure success of a country, right? The index, the growth index, right? It measures numbers, right? How much is produced? It measures money. In Bhutan for example, the difference between Western and Eastern countries, Bhutan that is a small Buddhist country, they don’t have that kind of index to measure the performance of their country, it’s the National Happiness Index.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    They actually go and measure how happy are the citizens, which kind of makes even more sense in a way, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I think it’s a noble idea.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    It doesn’t matter so much you produce if people are not happy.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah. And in our culture that isn’t even a consideration, suicide rates are up, opioid, the whole sleeping at night, how many people now take sleep medication, it’s just rampant because of that. So yeah, that’s one area.

The other one to go back to your other question with CEOs, I do work with a lot of them that have this concept in their head of I must be seen as … as a CEO I must be seen as the smartest person in the room, I must be seen as having all the answers, I must be seen as … And just they create this situation for themselves which is impossible to live up to. So that’s another area.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    It’s just not sustainable.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That’s right, yeah. And it’s not grounded in reality.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah, so the battle is not for the success of the company or the people, it’s for the success of maintaining one’s ego or one’s image.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    For myself and for others.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That’s right, yeah. And it is very closely tied with fear of failure, but it’s a syndrome that I see that happens with many different people. And as a CEO, what’s interesting the CEO at the top really has no one else to talk to, the folks in the C-suite, if I’m at a level, typically a mid-level manager, there are people that can help me to understand it’s okay to not have all the answers, it’s okay if you say literally I don’t know. But the higher level you get that becomes a more and more difficult situation, and so you do have that, you have to project that identity.

And a lot of times people are looking for you to have that ultimate confidence because they want to believe in you, and they want to follow you. So that’s a lot of pressure. So we work through that I must be seen as, as well.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah, it’s very lonely at the top.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    It is lonely.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Who do I talk to except my best friend or my romantic partner, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah. And many times you’ve talked to them so many times, or they don’t really understand the situation at a level that can really … They just become a sounding board, not really someone that can help to discuss and ask those. So yeah, it’s very lonely.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So how does coaching, executive coaching or business coaching comes in and help with that?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, that one in particular I do like to get mastermind groups together where I can. I like to bring several CEOs together so we’re not just talking one on one. And that has been very effective. I’m sure you’ve been in many masterminds yourself. Do you find those to be effective?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Extremely. I’m thinking specifically about process groups that I’m teaching at a university for future councils, psychotherapists. And those are incredible, because … And during psychotherapy training there is so much self-work that’s being done and self-reflection, that by itself the bar is quite high in terms of self-awareness. And when people come together and can be mirrors to each other, it’s just incredible how fast that process can be in a group environment.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    It is. That’s exactly right. I’ve seen some very, very powerful epiphanies and enlightenment as different people play off of their experiences all wanting to help someone who’s struggling with a certain area. It’s a very powerful tool. So I use that as often as I can, when you can get that right mixed – that’s the important part, you have to get the right mix of people.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yes. In a way one-on-one you can talk about how the person shows up in a group, but when you’re sitting in a group you can just sit and reflect on it right here, right now.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That’s right, yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    You just so what you did, what was that about?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Right, yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And would you like the group’s feedback, how they perceived that?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Well, and another part to that, Sasha, which is also equally powerful is let’s pretend that we have that group and we’ve been meeting together for a while, they can then hold each other accountable at a level that is very, very unique. Because you and I have now talked about I had this epiphany, I’m going to go make this change, and yet I come back the next month and I haven’t done anything. You have the ability to say, “What’s up with that? What happened? We had a great conversation and you completely let it drop. Are you serious?”

Yeah, it’s a very powerful technique, I don’t know who invented it but I have sure used it a lot.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    I think it goes back to the times we were sitting as a tribe around the fire.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That might be.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And telling stories to each other.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah. I just had someone email me about that, it’s very interesting. He was asking for a group of where can you find the tribal wisdom, where does the tribal wisdom gather so that young men can now learn from that tribal wisdom? And we don’t have that anymore. It’s a very difficult thing to capture.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yes. So what would you say is the biggest challenge that organizations face? We talked about the leadership, but when you look at maybe low level, not management levels, but when people work as groups what might be the biggest challenge?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, that’s a good question. One of the things that I found, and I think this will get to yours, is that within groups there’s a bit of the self delusion. And let me give you a very simple example, when we work with this mobile escape room that I mentioned to you earlier, we do a meeting with the team before they go into the escape room, and the whole point of the escape room is we’re going to set them up for success by going through some best practices. We then let them go through the escape room as a team knowing those best practices. And then I observe how they go through, and afterwards we talked about what happened, what actually happened.

One of the things I find very interesting is when we have that pre-meeting I can ask you, let’s say you’re on a team, and I can say, “Sasha, why don’t you rate your team? How do you do on simple things like celebration?” “Oh, Dan, we’re over the moon in terms of celebration. We celebrate everything.” “And how do you do in terms of communication?” “Well, we’re very candid.”

They have this perception that they do these things very well. They might be candid and say, “Once in a while we get off the weeds and we have to come back.” But then when I go into the escape room one of the most interesting things is all of that goes right out the window, and the first thing that I see that leaves is celebration. We are such a culture about get from A to B to C to D, there is no celebration along the way. It’s we’ve got to get out of this room. Did that strike a chord for you?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Well, sure. When I work with clients for … let’s say I work with someone for a year, and we look back where they were, the point A and after a year, the changes are incredible, what someone can create in their lives in all areas of life, because it affects one area, each area affects other areas, it’s incredible. But the fact is that sometimes it looks so gradual during the growth that you don’t see that you’re actually climbing a huge mountain. And I think it’s important to assess, “Well, what are the good things that happened during this week,” right? Instead of going and just seeking problems, right?

And some part of it is biological, right? Our amygdala is very fast, there are the negative bias, we’re looking for danger, we’re looking to see what’s wrong, which is great but what happens when this tiny part of our brain hijacks our whole perception of reality? We just live in fear, in constant fear and failure mode.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, well, and I think also it’s easier to … I’ve seen many, many people that can get into this loop. It’s easier to execute than it is … And what I mean execute, just do things, do the next thing, move on. Then it is to slow down and actually think and be strategic, that people just are not as wired to do that because it does take time to slow down, there is no instant reward. The instant reward comes from doing things, it’s that long-term.

A book that I really like is called Atomic Habits, I believe the author is James Clear, and he said exactly what you just said which is, “We don’t see the 1% improvement every day, but by the time you get to the end of the year you’ve exponentially grown and how powerful that is when you can harness that.” Yeah, so I agree with your point, 100%. And I think it’s important for people to really grasp that and look back and see where they have come on a regular basis, to slow down get some [unclear 31:56]

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah, exactly. And that’s how self-perception changes, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Like, if I can look at myself and see … let’s say I have challenge getting to appointments at time, like a very specific, very easy thing, and very easy thing to identify, not necessary to do.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    What happens if after a month by using specific strategy that is easy to master, I look back in my calendar, and I literally was on time for 99% of the appointments. Can I still say about myself that I’m constantly late, right? Literally, I can’t.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    You can’t. You just … you changed your identity. Your identity went from somebody who doesn’t show up on time to someone who now shows up on time.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah. And it’s so interesting sometimes self-helps books create more of a problem than a solution by trying to create change through change in perception. And that’s so superficial in trying to convince myself that I am someone who’s on time all the time, while I keep on being late to appointments, this is just … it doesn’t make any sense.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So I think it’s easier to start creating changes in actions, in behavior, and perception will follow.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I agree. And I also think it’s very important to view yourself in that new mode of I am a person that arrives on time, and therefore because of that here are the things that I am doing.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah, so you’re saying that there might be even a snowball effect, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Since I’m creating this change, well, maybe I’m able to create this change as well.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I look at it as a complete package. And let me think of an easy … so let’s say if I’m a runner, I want to be a runner, I have a goal, my goal is to run three times a week. Well, that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if that’s the only part of this, then I’ve missed the boat. If my identity is I identify as a runner, I hang out with people that are runners, I eat well, I research my equipment, my shoes, and I am running – you don’t need to remind yourself to run three times a week, you are just doing it because that is your identity. That’s who you are now. And I just think that’s where that strength comes from, to make those personal changes.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yes. Could you say more about your mobile escape room? That’s such an interesting concept.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, it really has surprised me. My business partner started the very first mobile or the escape room in Colorado. And then he went from there, we decided to do a mobile one, and I thought it was going to be something that was more of a toy, it’s funny. But the insights that we’ve seen from the one hour that you spend in the escape room and then the meeting afterwards and the meeting before, it’s the biggest bang for the buck in terms of team development I have ever seen. It’s really … And I don’t want to say that it sounds like hyperbole, but it really gives you the opportunity for you to say, “Grade yourself, how do you think you do as a team?”

Then you witness it in a situation that is very similar to work and that there are deadlines, you must communicate well as a team, so it’s very similar to work. But at the end of the day it’s not like you’ve lost a contract or you’ve made a failure. It’s just you did or you didn’t get out of the escape room.

And then as we observe what happened along the way … here’s a perfect example, I was working with a team a couple weeks ago, four men and one woman, and I said to her, “Communication is very, very important in this, because there are so much going on you need to be heard. It’s one thing to talk, it’s another thing to be heard.” And I said, “Can you tell me that you can be heard with all these macho guys around?” And she said, “Oh, they’re Pussycats,” she said, “I run the roost here. I’m the one.”

Sure enough she got in there, she was the one that found one of the critical clues, and she said it but in a very quiet voice, she questioned herself whether it was important and they completely missed it. And so it’s epiphanies like that, where how often does that happen at work where I’m not sure of myself so I don’t bring my voice into the conversation? And then it starts to snowball, it starts, “Oh, yeah, you’re right, we have done that. Yes, that is a trend that we have.” So it’s been really interesting.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    I’m very curious to hear some of the insights, especially things that keep on happening that you found out from this experience, maybe one of them that I’m curious about is in the first evaluation, when people rate themselves, and then they go into this escape room – do they usually under-evaluate or over … So underperform or over-perform their initial evaluations.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    In a sense they underperform, they underestimate, because they’re nervous about going into a room they’ve never been in before. So they will be a bit self-deprecating. However, if you listen closely when you’re giving them advice and saying things like, “Communication is critical, you have to be able to be heard.” Their body language and their response is, “Oh, we’ve got that covered, we’ve got that covered.” So they tend to underestimate their team performance, but when you be specific with them they tend to overestimate how they’re going to do on the tactical, the celebrations, the communication, the strategy.

So I don’t know if that made sense, but it’s an interesting mix before they go in. And then once they get in how quickly, because of that timeline, all of the techniques, all the things we just talked about go right out the window and the team just returns to their norms, to their current situation just like that. And it’s very interesting.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So the biggest thing that I’m taking away from your experience with the mobile room is the meta communication about communication, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    It’s not enough to talk about the task of escaping from the room; it’s as important or maybe even more important to talk about the task of performing a task together.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, it is. There’s a certain strategy around that task, and what I see is when there’s someone that has a lot of empathy, has a lot of emotional intelligence, they are usually the ones that are the cohesion for that team, that bring it together so that communication is heard, so that the strategy is carried out. They’re the ones that will usually say, “Timeout for a second, we’re stuck, we can’t just keep executing, we need to stop and regroup.” And it’s okay that we’re going to regroup, we can waste three minutes regrouping.

But if they don’t have a person with that type of intellectual ability, then typically teams it’s all about brute force and either they make it with brute force or they don’t.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    It’s so interesting. In every (patterns?) that I did so far everyone talks about emotional intelligence and its development being the biggest factor in success.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, it is. It absolutely is.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And I think this is the biggest shift in Western society in terms of, “Well, why are we doing this work in the first place? And how we’re doing this,” right? I’m thinking about this long, long test, a study, 70 years, 300 men were followed throughout their lives, lots of data. And the two repeating factors that predict the amount of happiness is the quality of relationships, the quality of romantic relationships.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Ah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So money, health, yeah, that’s great, but they weren’t repeating factors across a big pool of people.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Interesting. Was that from Daniel Goleman’s book on emotional intelligence? Do you know if that study is that where that came from?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    It’s one of the Ivy League universities that published it.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Okay.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    I think it was published a year ago, or 2017 or 2018.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I think there are so many studies around that, you even you see the children on the playgrounds. I know this was one of the books … one of the stories in Daniel Goleman’s book, but you see the children that when another child falls down and one of the children comes over to help them up and has that emotional intelligence, in general those children do better across their school years just because they’re able to handle themselves emotionally better than the other children.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yes.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    It’s funny. They did another study if we’re geeking out on research.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Let’s go for it.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Which is awesome, right? And I know that science changes, what was true yesterday might not necessarily be true today. So that’s fine and keep my hand on the pulse, and … So they looked at grades in terms of predictors of success in different areas of life, and it was way less important than if the person smiled or not in the high school photo.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Oh, interesting. Huh, so that was a higher correlation with their success. Oh, isn’t that interesting? I had not heard that one, Sasha, yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And if you think about it, who are the successful people at work, who are the people who are promoted? The friendly people who are just fun to be with.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Like, if you simplify it completely.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    And that is such a hard thing to learn. I mean, I came from the epitome of that, because engineers are stereotyped as introverted, there’s black and white, they want to do things. And the reality is in order to be successful that intellect only takes you, that IQ only takes you so far as an individual contributor. But if you can’t bring in emotional intelligence and work well with people, your career is very limited. And it’s hard for them to understand that.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So let me ask you this, how one can develop their emotional intelligence? Let’s say we have someone who’s listening and they’re thinking, well, you know what, like I understand it’s really important, but how do I walk the walk? How do I actually walk on it?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    I would love to hear your answer, but I’ll give you mine and it’s very, very simplistic, because I love to keep things as simple as possible. What I ask people to do is to monitor, “How often am I triggered? And how often am I triggering someone else?” Forget about all of the advanced theory of emotional intelligence, but let’s just …

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    By trigger and triggering, what do you mean?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yes, good question. By how often am I in a situation where my emotional … I have become triggered so that I’m now thinking out of my amygdala, like you talked about, versus my cognitive ability. Someone told me that my work is not satisfactory or they looked at me in a weird way and I interpret that to be some type of failure, so that I have become triggered in a way that does not allow me to work at my best capacity in frontal lobe.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That to me is triggered. And then am I triggering, how often am I triggering someone else? When I sit down and talk with somebody and I give them feedback, am I doing it in a way that is a good healthy conflict versus a way that triggers them to just shut down?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yes.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    And if people just can monitor those two very simple things – how often am I triggered; how often am I triggering someone else? And try to reduce that, simply putting space between the trigger and my response, just letting the time pass, just five seconds is a huge epiphany for many people. So that’s where I start.

How about you, how do you start?

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    I think that’s very important what you said, it’s a stepping out of this individualistic space of me and my world, and stepping into the interpersonal, right? Or interpersonal, I constantly forget which one is which. But between me and others, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    How what I’m doing is affecting others? And how what they’re doing affecting me? That’s so important. And actually noticing it and making it a habit to assess it on a constant basis, right? Because if I have the information I can’t change the things that I want to change, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That’s exactly right.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Now as an answer to your question – how would I do it on a larger scale and on a smaller scale? Larger scale, just invest in yourself and work with people who can help you with that, right? I work where … like I have a therapist … well, two therapists, because I’m doing equine therapy, I work with horses.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Oh, wow.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    My human therapist and my horse therapist. And I’m in three different masterminds, and I work with two coaches and one mentor.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Wow.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    So I surround myself with a team of people who are experts in the field, and can really help me. And this feels amazing to invest in myself, in my goal, in my business goal. And when I have a client who’s coming to me and asked me how much it cost to work with me, my voice doesn’t tremble, because I walk the walk, I practice what I preach, and I invest a lot of money into working with the best in the field to better myself and my relationship with others and my positive ripple effect on the world.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I think that’s great. Unfortunately I think you’re the rare exception, because most people don’t invest in themselves to that level, which is unfortunate. I wish more people would. I feel like we’re still at that tipping point where sometimes when I come into an organization and say, “Well, we can put you with a coach,” they view that as punitive, because something is wrong with them.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Someone is punishing them.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Exactly. A few more companies are now enlightened where they’ll say, “Oh, let’s bring in a coach,” because they know it’s for the superstars, I want to invest in my employees.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Exactly.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, but for someone like yourself that goes out and actually seeks it and surrounds themselves by that, that’s fantastic.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And Olympians or Olympic athletes, they’re not successful despite having coaches, they’re successful a lot because they have incredible coaches working with them.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And it would be ridiculous not to work with the coach on very high levels of achievement.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I agree. Yeah, it goes back to that, I think if you can start simple with emotional intelligence aspect, learning people, increasing the self-awareness, and then letting it snowball into some of the more advanced techniques, that’s where I start every time. And that and the blind spots are the two biggest things that I find myself teaching and coaching.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yes, beautiful. In terms of smaller scale, and just maybe one tip to work on emotional intelligence and grow that capacity, would be I really view emotions … a helpful worldview on emotions for me is emotions are just physical sensations with a story attached to them, right?

So for example if I’m really furious right now and I really break it down, and I watch my body, and be a detective who’s looking for any physical sensations, right? I might notice, “Oh, my jaw is really tight,” right? My stomach muscles are really tight as well, right? So I have this information, what is the story that I’m telling myself about triggered by those physical sensations?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    This person is out to get me, the world is against me, life is very difficult, and it’s all about survival, and on and on and on, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    But what if I can break those down? What if I can just look at physical sensations as they are, and look at the story as it is, right? Then I have a choice to buy or not buy in to that story.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Then I have a choice how to react.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That’s right.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Am I going to act out, right? Because I can express anger in many different ways. I can throw something on a wall, or I can yell at someone, or I can just completely shut down and storm on someone, right? Or I can just say, “Hey, Dan, I’m really angry right now.” And you’re not going to tremble and fall, right? You can probably hold that, right? I’m not holding the responsibility on you, I’m not saying, “Hey, Dan. You make me really angry.” You’re not making me anything, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, that’s right.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    No one makes anyone to feel anything. Everyone has their physical sensations, and their stories, and there are certain circumstances that might bring those up, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, I agree. Yeah, it’s the people that can disconnect that, and then own their reaction to the situations, that it is so powerful. I loved what you said, yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Owning it, right? This is owning the responsibility for my own responses.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That’s right.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And maybe being the observer for a moment, noticing what’s my experience, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I’ve had people ask me and say, “Well, then what you’re saying is I can never get angry. I can never show emotion.” And I said that’s absolutely not it. There are examples where a situation will happen, a trigger, you put space in between, and you assess that the right reaction is, “I have every right to be angry and I will be angry about this.”

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Exactly right. And amygdala is not much faster than the frontal cortex, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    That’s right.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    The center in the brain that’s responsible for fear is faster than the logical parts of the brain. So if I slow things down, I actually allow those parts of the brain to catch up.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, well, and here’s one thing that is very interesting, and it’s a whole other topic that we don’t have time for, but when there are people that understand what you just said sometimes they use that as a tool. In other words, I can trigger you if I know that you’re not smart enough to slow down, and I use the word smart, and I hate to say that, but emotionally intelligent, then I can trigger you and I can do it in a way to my advantage. I’ve seen many times in companies where if I know how to push your buttons in a simplistic term, then I can get what I want by pushing your buttons, and so that I come out. And that’s yet another reason to have this emotional intelligence and not let yourself get triggered, so that you’re not then being played.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Yeah. So it’s living from a place of personal power truly, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    And from self-discipline, and from self-choice. And instead of being this robot that is just reacting to what life brings up, I can just choose how to react and also how to act, right?

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s very powerful.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    It’s been such a pleasure talking to you, Dan.

Dan Willis (Organizational Coach):    I know, it feels like we just started two minutes ago, yeah. This was great, Sasha. I’ll do this any time, so yes, thank you very much for inviting me.

Sasha Raskin (Executive Coach and Leadership Coach):    Thank you so much.

About the Author Sasha Raskin

Sasha Raskin, MA, is an  international #1 bestselling co-author , the founder and CEO of  Go New , a transformational education program, a  life coach, and business coach and a  psychotherapist in Boulder, CO. He is working on a P.h.D in Counseling Education and Supervision and is an adjunct faculty at the Contemplative Counseling master’s program at Naropa University, from which he also graduated. Sasha has been in the mental health field for more than 10 years, worked with youth at risk, recovery, mental health hospitals, and coached individuals, couples, families, startups, and groups. He has created mindfulness stress reduction and music therapy programs within different organizations. Whether it’s in person or via phone/video calls, whether as  a counselor , a  life coach or a  business coach, Sasha uses cutting-edge, research-based techniques to help his clients around the world to thrive.   As a  coach Sasha Raskin provides individual and group  coaching in Boulder, Colorado, and worldwide via video and phone calls, drawing from over ten years of experience. His services include:  life coaching,  business coaching,  career coaching,  ADD / ADHD coaching,  leadership coaching, and  executive coaching. Schedule your free 20-minute  coaching phone consultation with Sasha Raskin As a  counselor in Boulder, CO, Sasha provides  individual counseling in Boulder, CO ,  family therapy in Boulder, CO, and  couples therapy in Boulder,  marriage counseling in Boulder, and  couples intensives /  couples retreats, drawing from over ten years of clinical experience.  Schedule your free 20-minute  psychotherapy phone consultation with Sasha Raskin

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