In this episode, Mike is back and shared his Burning Man experience and an interesting discussion about coaching and leadership. Enjoy!
Table Of Contents
- Leadership In The Context of Coaching
- Interesting Thing About Cult Leaders
- Applying Leadership Into Coaching
- Vulnerability in Coaching and Leadership
- Do Coaches Need To Be Leaders?
- Leader Without No Followers?
- Closing Thoughts
Leadership In The Context Of Coaching
April: So today, Mike, I want to talk about coaching versus leadership. So my first thoughts on this is it can be a Venn diagram, right? There’s coaching and then there’s leadership and then there’s some overlap in the middle. What do you think?
Mike: There’s a lot of leaders who are not coaches. However, I do see the leadership being a component of coaching. It’s one of those things where every coach needs to have leadership qualities, but not every leader needs to have coaching qualities.
Mike: So when I think about what kind of leader do you want to be and there’s a certain type of leadership that’s necessary for coaches. So the majority of the leadership that I focus on is leadership that is within the context of coaching that can be really, really helpful.
April: Okay, so leadership in the context of coaching. Talk more about that. One thing that you mentioned also, I want to bring up that you mentioned at the summit and also in The Strong Coach program is to be a leader you have to have followers. That’s one of the definitions of leadership. So in the context of coaching, what does leadership mean?
Mike: Yeah, and I brought that up because there’s just a million books on leadership out there right now. It’s a hot topic. It’s been trending and with it trending there’s all these ideas about what leadership is. Is leadership this, is it that, is it this? It’s like, you know what? It’s none of those things. Leadership is are people following you? If people are following you, then you’re a leader and if people aren’t following you and you’re not a leader. So all these books and these trainings and seminars and all this stuff is they are doing leadership training and it’s how do you want to show up as a leader and what kind of leader do you want to be. But I have seen very little … the majority of good leadership training, if you want to improve your influence, so leader has influence. If you want to improve your sphere of influence, you actually need to be studying marketing.
Mike: So if you want more followers, you actually have to be a good marketer, a good promoter, somebody … And when I say marketer, it’s what’s your message and are you out there giving your message and is it resonating with people and people are going, “I like what this guy has to say. I like what this girl has to say, I’m going to follow them.” So when I started thinking about that, I go, “Well, being a leader requires marketing”, but some people just naturally have that way about them that people want to follow them.
Mike: Then we have all this leadership training, which is how effective are you as a leader? I mean, people could be following you and not really doing what you want them to do. So if you’re a leader and you want them and you’re leading a business or you’re leading some type of organization or a church or whatever it is, is how effective are you as leader?
These people may be following you, but is it loosely? Are they checking in five minutes a week or are they doggedly every day, eight hours a day are in it with you. So there’s different layers of that effectiveness as a leader. So all these trainings that are out there, a lot of them are how to be a good leader, how do you want to show up? How do you want the communication to be happening? How impactful is your mission? You could be a gang leader and your mission is much different than a leader of a nonprofit helping at risk youth.
Interesting Thing About Cult Leaders
April: Well, right. I wanted to bring that up too because another interesting thing that happened to the summit was something that Ross Johnson said is that he studies people like cult leaders and he studies leadership in an unconventional way to see how people are following people that have the most followers or that have influence in that way. There’s good things that you can pull out of that and I imagine there’s also things that you don’t want to pull out of that when it comes to the coaching.
Mike: Well the cult leader thing is really, really interesting and he’s not the only one that studies that. I’ve definitely studied that myself.
April: Yeah. Makes sense. A lot of people are following those people.
Mike: So you’ve got how many people are following them, but also the people who are following them, how committed they are. So that’s what’s really interesting about cult leaders is people give a cult leader their entire life. I’ve interacted with people who are in cults, I’ve interacted with people who they grew up in cults and now they’re not in them. So I’m actually pretty familiar with that thing. Right?
Mike: That’s the thing that triggers people around cults is a cult leader asks for everything from their people. Whereas someone who’s a leader of a company is asking for so many hours or effort from somebody or whatever. So a cult leader may only have eight followers, but these followers are dedicated giving them everything. So cult leaders are interesting because they’re able to demand a high amount out of somebody and they may not have as many followers, but you may look at … there are some cult leaders that have followers in the thousands and now that’s a really powerful experience that’s being given, or whatever you want to call it.
So cult leaders are really interesting in that way. I do want to point this out. This will be a controversial comment and I’m okay with that, but most cults are fine. You can look at the United States as one big cult, right? So cult is short for culture, and so it’s like this … If you look in the definition in Webster’s dictionary of cult, it definitely is not saying it’s short for culture. But when I see cult, when I think about a cult, I think about a cult has a very defined culture. There’s a lot of rituals, the same thing.
Then if you back out just a little bit more from what people typically think about a cult, you run into a church and you run into religion, and that’s just a looser cult. It’s a little bit looser, and then you get into your city. Well, every city has its own culture. If you go to LA, it’s got a culture, little towns in LA have culture. It’s got their own little cult, and then if you go to Austin, Texas, it’s different. It’s got a different culture. They’ve got different cult going on, and you expand that out to the United States and you go, “Oh wow, the United States is a very loose cult”, and there’s these little things, and so I really look at culture from as small as a family unit all the way to the entire planet.
Applying Leadership Into Coaching
April: Yeah, that’s really interesting that you can take it from this idea of cults having these super dedicated followers and break it out into these bigger kind of cultures and communities and so how do we take what we can learn from cult leaders or leaders in general and apply that to coaching and how can we apply that?
Mike: Yeah, so how can we apply that? The big thing that I’ve been looking at most recently in regard to building a culture, so being a leader and building something in that’s happening when you’re not even there is building in ritual and so you see with the military, there’s a ritual. You’re there at a specific time. You do a certain thing. You see it in school. The ritual. Pledge of allegiance, it’s a ritual. You go to church. Prayer is a ritual. Communion is a ritual. If you go into a CrossFit gym, the ritual is with the warm up and the order in which things are presented. They’re rituals that are put in place and when people start practicing these rituals, there’s an indoctrination is we start programming the mind. “Okay, if this, then that.” So people start following these rules. So rituals are these rules that get put in place.
Every time we show up, we pray. Every time we show up, we do a 10 minute warm up and maybe we listen to this kind of music and there’s a ritual involved and some rituals are tighter than others and some of them are organic. There’s been rituals that have been created inside The Strong Coach that I had nothing to do with. People would go, “Mike is the leader of The Strong Coach”, but a lot of that is really organic. So there are rituals and that’s one way to start systemizing leadership and culture. Another thing that I look at in regard to cults and culture is the language being used. CrossFit crushed us and a lot of people started calling CrossFit a cult. One of the reasons is is because it has a specific language. Metcon, wad, whatever else, and you have names for all the workouts. Fran, Diane, you have the hero wads.
If somebody who had never been exposed to CrossFit before walks in the room and here’s me talking about this, they’re completely lost. As a leader you can create your own language and then there’s this exclusivity that begins to happen and people really desire to be a part of something. I want to be a part of a group and this group has this culture, these rules, these rituals, this way of doing things and this resonates with me. So I’ve been a leader of many different things. I was in the military at one point and I had people that were following me there, whether they wanted to or not or whether I wanted them as followers or not. What’s been really cool as I’ve gotten older and being a coach and being a business owner and being involved in my community locally, what I’ve really got to enjoy is really attracting the people into my sphere, followers into my sphere, that I enjoy. That I really, really love.
So what I get to do as a leader is live my life and be very self expressed and be giving like, “This is how I like to do things”, and people go, “I like to do it like that too”, or “I’ve never done it like that, but that sounds really fucking cool. Can you show me how to do that?” And I go, “Yeah, do it like this”, and then people started doing it like this with me. Now what I do is I have a whole culture of people. I have a whole group of followers who are doing things the way I like to do them and we’re having fun. There was times in leadership where I was having to lead people through things I didn’t enjoy in ways I didn’t want to do it and now I get to do it the way I really enjoy doing it. A lot of it is simply spending time, putting a message out, telling people how I like to do things, attracting the right people. When that’s the case it becomes very, very easy. We’ve had things inside The Strong Coach language emerge too. I talked about rituals emerge, language urges. We talked about the rocket ship. I don’t know. You could probably tell me more about the specific language that exists within a Strong Coach than I can.
Vulnerability In Coaching and Leadership
April: There’s a number of things that have popped up recently. I am complete. Things like that that are just … and it’s all about just like you’re saying, you’re sharing what you’re doing and people are latching on to that or that’s resonating with people and then it’s not only you’re sharing what you’re doing and what you like, but you’re getting other people to like that kind of thing too. So another question I had is what is the role of sharing and vulnerability when it comes to coaching and leadership?
Mike: Yeah, so vulnerability is a very sought after quality. People really like vulnerability.
April: Why is that?
Mike: Vulnerability falls under authenticity. So people really what they’re starving for is authenticity and what’s really happening for you? What’s really your experience? What are your thoughts? What are your feelings and are you sharing that? Now I can be authentic without being vulnerable. I want to say that because one of the things I noticed with coaches out there right now is the only gear they know for authentic relating, for authenticity, is vulnerability. So this one friend who’s a coach and she goes, “I am exhausted, I’m exhausted with all this authenticity.” I go, “Authenticity should be the easiest thing.” Then I looked and I was like, “What’s going on?” And then I realized after reading a bunch of her posts, I was like, “Oh, you only know one gear of authenticity. You are only recognizing the gear of vulnerability.”
Mike: That means that … that’s prying yourself open and sharing parts of you that may be uncomfortable, and vulnerability is very, very connecting. I’ve done it. I did it at the summit and I stood up in front of everybody and I had vulnerable shares that caused an emotional response in my body that was uncomfortable and it caused a lot of connection. So vulnerability can be a very powerful tool and there’s other areas of authenticity that you can get into where a lot of people miss authenticity, in that I could be talking to you and by being authentic it means I’m really sharing what I think is helpful for you so I can meet you where you’re at. I’m going to really listen to April. I’m going to really get into what’s going on with her thoughts, her feelings, what is her experience.
Then I can authentically share with you something I think is helpful for you from my own personal experience. It may not be a vulnerable share, but it’s authentic. I don’t have some type of … I’m trying to be extremely helpful to you and I don’t have any type of-
April: Extra agenda?
Mike: Yeah, no agenda or alternative motive going on. I’m like, “I am here just to help you.” So people are starving for that authenticity and I do think that people are getting authenticity and vulnerability confused. Vulnerability is just something that can be used inside of authenticity, but it doesn’t always … Yeah, it’s not the same thing.
April: Are these two things, vulnerability and authenticity, necessary to becoming a leader or a coach?
Mike: No, I don’t think it’s necessary but you won’t be very good at it and it’ll be hard. If you want to do it the hard way, don’t be authentic. Because here’s the truth, is my job is very easy in a lot of ways and that’s because I am being authentic. I show up as I am. I’m not trying to create some type of crazy strategy of like, “Okay, if I say this then people will do that.” I’m not doing that. I’m being authentic and when I show up, when things come up for me, I share them. Maybe I don’t share everything and that can be … You go, “Okay, this isn’t for them. This is actually not helpful for where we’re going”, but when I am talking, it’s coming from a place of, yeah, this is actually what I think and I’m not trying to play any games.
April: Yeah. So being a coach and a leader, it helps to be vulnerable and authentic in … I imagine that helps in creating connection.
April: That’s one thing that we want as leaders and coaches?
Mike: Yeah. It creates connection. So if you’re coaching someone, what you get to do is create safety. Safety is the number one thing. If you cannot create safety for your clients, then they’ll never trust you. If they don’t trust you, they’ll never take your advice. They’ll never open up and tell you what’s really going on for them so you can’t actually help them. So safety is number one, and sharing vulnerably yourself can create safety. This is actually something I did unconsciously for a long time that I now recognize that I go … There’s a lot of things I did unconsciously. We can talk about some people are really good leaders naturally, and then they consciously recognize they’re doing things and they make it a strength. So that’s what’s happened for me in a lot of ways. One of the things that I’ve done is I will find … This’ll be interesting. This may even sound … Well, I’ll let you decide how it sounds.
I’m a very open person. I will share. I had dinner with somebody last night. He was like, “This is a personal question.” I’m like, “Dude, have at it. You can ask any question you want. I’m an open book. I don’t care.” What I find is people open up to me very fast and I’ve many times met somebody in the first five minutes they share something and go, “I don’t know what just happened, but I just shared something with you I’ve never shared with anyone, and we just met five minutes ago. What’s going on?” They’re being surprised by the process. For awhile I didn’t really know why people were so willing to open up to me and share their deep dark shit. One day I realize it’s because I share first. I share something that they perceive to be uncomfortable, so it doesn’t even have to be uncomfortable for me.
So I can feel someone out now and I go, “Oh, they actually experienced some discomfort in this area of their life. Maybe in money, sex. It’s usually money or sex. Money, sex, body image. These are all things that … some people may be really comfortable with money but just uncomfortable with sex or they’re really comfortable with sex, but they’re uncomfortable with money. So what I’ll do is I’ll find where they have discomfort and so I ping them. I just in conversation, “Oh, this is uncomfortable”, so I’ll share something that I know that they perceive to be uncomfortable and so when I share something, they’re thinking, “Oh man, everyone thinks that everyone is like them, so they go, “Wow, Mike just shared vulnerably. He just shared that da-da-da-da-da.” The whole time I’m going, it was actually not that big of a deal for me to share.
I’ve shared everything in my life with people and groups. There’s not really anything hanging there anymore. No shame or guilt or anything like that. So what I’ll do is I’ll share something that they would perceive as like, “Oh, I would be ashamed to share that”, and they go, “Wow, he really opened up to me.” So now there’s this thing called law of reciprocity and it’s a psychological thing. So when I make a vulnerable share, now someone else feels compelled to share vulnerably as well and in the same area a lot of times. Or maybe not. So what I’ll do is I’ll share something. They’re like, “Oh wow”, and they want to relate to me. They want connection, they want to connect. I just opened up to them like, “Wow, I feel compelled to have reciprocity and share something similar”, whatever. So whatever discomfort they imagine I’m having is the level of discomfort they’re now going to go into for themselves.
So this is where vulnerability comes in super handy as a coach because life experience and then if I even share the impact it had on me in the moment. So there’s things that I’m not ashamed of anymore, but five minutes after it happened, I was fucking really ashamed of it. So I’ll share that feeling. I’ll go, “When I did this, man, I felt like my whole world was ending” and people go, “Whoa, I’ve had the experience of my whole world ending” and then it brings them back and now they’re sharing. So what it does is it opens a door and what it does is allow them to trust and now we have this reciprocity. I have a vulnerable share, they have a vulnerable share. Oh wow. We’ve bonded. We’ve connected in a way they’ve never connected before and I didn’t throw them under the bus. I didn’t condemn them. “Wow. I can really trust Mike now.”
So I have coaching relationships that get built over time and it gets deeper and deeper and deeper and the trust gets deeper, deeper and deeper and people let me and further and further and further, and as that happens, we can get to the heart of what’s really going on and be much more effective as coaches.
April: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s really, really important. That’s something that I’m always looking for ways to connect with people and simply the basic fact of sharing first sounds like it’s one of the most effective ways to connect with someone, and that’s awesome. Especially for us coaches who are in the industry to help. Most of us want to help. We want to guide, we want to make a difference in people’s lives. That sounds like one of the best starting points that we can have. Especially on a first interaction with a new client or a new member.
Mike: Yeah. Sometimes I’ll watch myself do it because a lot of those behavior’s automatic for me. I’ll watch myself and I go, “Wow, I’m talking a lot and I know I should be doing more listening.” Then afterwards I go, “Wow. I actually created a really deep connection”, because what I was talking about with something that allowed them to then … and then I shut my mouth and then I let them talk and what they end up sharing is really … we get deep quick. Like my new friend I made, I had one phone call with him about a month ago and then we had dinner last night here in Park City and I went on a 10 minute story about what happened with me last week at Burning Man. There was no small talk. There was no small talk at that dinner because I opened hot and for the next couple of hours we had deep, meaningful conversation.
April: All big talk, huh?
Mike: All big talk.
April: Nice. I love it. Oh, that’s fantastic. I’m definitely going to keep that in mind as I continue to interact with people, especially on this podcast now, opening up and sharing first. It’s a good thing to remember.
Do Coaches Need To Be Leaders?
April: So now do coaches need to be leaders?
Mike: That’s a good question. Do coaches need to be leaders? To a degree. There’s degrees of leadership, right? So we can look at it from volume and intensity right?
Mike: You could have a lot of followers or you could have few followers and have a high intensity. So for instance, my coach, I don’t know how many people he’s coaching, but it’s not that many. It’s under 10 and I would say that he actually does not really position himself as a leader. So I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. He’s much more of a reflection. So he attracts leaders, he coaches leaders, but most of the coaching that’s happening is at a different level so there’s a lot of reflection going on and so he doesn’t really tell me … I would say what I’m experiencing is the leadership is more subtle, not as intense. So he doesn’t have a lot of volume or intensity, but there’s still a level of leadership happening there.
So in the fitness space, when we’re trying to lead people to a place of improved health, whether it’d be physical or psycho-emotional health, one of the qualities that a leader does is paint a picture of the future for people. So for instance, with my coach, I have a very clear picture of my vision for me and he helps me find where I’m going better. For a lot of my clients, I’m finding that a big part of my job is to inspire them to a greater vision than what they have for themselves. For most coaches that are listening to this, that’s going to be true for them as well. Most clients have very shallow goals, you know, weight loss goal, and there can be a much deeper conversation and much greater vision for them or their goals may just not be as big as it could be, might be, whatever.
So as a leader, one of the things we get to do is we get to paint a picture of the future with our clients. So I’m a big fan of a 50/50 split. So it’s a conversation. We’re creating a vision of your future together. What do you want? Cool, I’m going to help you get there. I’m going to commit to that. Then I go, “You know what? This is what I see for you.” It’s that father energy. Dad always knows that we could accomplish more than what we think we can accomplish for ourselves or what our mom … our mom is going to show up and go, “Honey, I love you just the way you are. I don’t care if you struck out at baseball”, whatever. But dad is going to go, “No, we need to practice. We’re going to get better. You can do better.”
So a really good leader’s going to be able to hold both of those energies simultaneously. Really accepting people for where they’re at and saying, “Wow, good job. You’re amazing. I accept you and love you for exactly where you are in your journey right now. Really great job”, And “Wow, because this is where you’re at. Look at where you can go.” So that is another attribute of leadership and if someone is painting … I would say that’s one of the bigger ones is painting a picture of the future for others in which they enroll. You go, “Hey this is what I see for you. Do you want this?” And they go, “Yes.” Okay, that’s really good leadership people to level themselves up.
April: Yeah. Well and I imagine once you develop the skill of vulnerable sharing and leading in that way, you’ll be able to take the motherly side of, “I accept where you are. Great job. I’m meeting you where are you at”, and the fatherly side of knowing where and how you can push them into … paint that picture for them. The deeper connection you’re able to make with them, the more you’re able to see both sides of that.
April: Cool, so that comes back to creating that connection and being vulnerable first.
A Leader Without Followers?
April: Cool. Okay. Here’s an interesting question. Can you be a leader if no one is following you?
Mike: You know what? The first person you get to lead is yourself and a lot of people are running on autopilot. They are just repeating what they did the day before. They’re unconsciously going throughout their day and the first person you get to lead is yourself. If you have no followers, focus on you.
April: How do you lead yourself?
Mike: Always be focused on you from there on out. You have to lead yourself first. How do you do that? By practicing greater awareness of where you are. Being in touch with the reality of what’s actually happening. Most people are rejecting where they are. They live in a fantasy and you’ll know if someone’s in a fantasy because they’ll be blaming other people for things and everything will seem like it’s outside of their control. People who are in touch with reality are engaged with what’s happening very regularly from moment to moment. So some are more engaged than others. I find that I’m becoming more engaged every day. So one is being in the reality of what is, accepting it and then also being able to paint a picture of the future for yourself. Where are you going and what are you doing to get there? That’s leaving yourself.
April: That was exactly where I was at before The Strong Coach. That’s why I was laughing. Oh goodness. All I knew before I did The Strong Coach is that I was unhappy where I was at and unhappy is a little bit of a stronger word than was necessarily … I tended to try to be very positive. Anyway, point is I was pretty bored with where I was at and so my reality was that I was working as a front desk person. If you asked me who I am and what I do, I’m a coach. I’m not a front desk person. So I saw strong coaches coming up, got on a discovery call. The discovery call was with you, which was great. Not only was I nervous because you’re someone that I’ve followed for a long time, but I was like, “Oh wow, how can … what’s going on?”
I just wanted to learn more and so I was out of touch with my reality in that I was not doing really what I wanted to do because I thought there were so many other … I had been at a number of different gyms and not been able to coach in the capacity that I really wanted to and that was really difficult for me to accept and I was getting so bored not doing that. So right away on our discovery call, there were a number of questions that you asked me and one of them was something to the effect of, “Why do you think you’ve been at so many gyms that have not been successful?” Two of the gyms that I was at closed down and the other two were just not the right place for me. Luckily I had enough in me to understand when to leave one of the gyms.
As I was sharing that story, you brought up something that has to do with a relationship with a family member or something like that and I immediately broke down. That was the punch in the face for me of, “Okay, there’s something in your reality, there’s many more things in your reality that are not actually what you want. Let’s actually sit down and paint a picture with my imagination brush, and eventually my real life brush.” What I actually wanted and my entire journey since then has been a roller coaster, but all for the most part of things that I wanted. At the very least I’m getting these experiences of okay, one thing in my life is really good, let’s keep doing that. Another thing in my life is not within integrity or reality that I want. Okay, how do I change that?
It’s just been wild and awesome and really having the support and the connection with you and the entire Strong Coach community has been incredible in the journey. That’s that story.
Mike: That’s awesome.
April: Then just continuing to have the principals that I learned in the strong coach to continue to be a reality check for me. I didn’t know how to have a reality check for myself, but back to the point of leading yourself, the first person you get to lead as yourself. I now have the tools to do that and check in with myself and I’m still learning how to do that because …
Mike: Me too.
April: Yeah. The biggest thing that I’ve learned, especially with The Strong Coach summit, was learn how to feel literal sensations in your body. Feel what’s happening, sit with it, understand it and know that you can change that into something that you actually do want or you can create a new story around that feeling. I just put up a post on my Instagram about failure and failure for a long time.
The story that I had around failure is that it’s bad. Don’t make mistakes. If you don’t do it right the first time, then that’s bad. There’s nothing you can do if you don’t do it right the first time because you didn’t do it right the first time. As I’ve been through and taking myself through and leading myself through these principles, I’ve changed my story around failure. I still get the same feeling, which is the butterflies, the shakiness, the anxiousness around new things or around failing. But my story is different. It’s, “Okay, take a deep breath. You have these feelings. Failure’s good. You’re actually learning.” Failure is one of the first steps in learning. So just leading myself through these new stories is really fun. So yeah, leading, there’s a number of different ways to lead and as you lead with yourself first, that’s such a good foundation for continuing to lead with others and then building the connection to be able to really coach them through it too.
April: Cool. Any last thoughts on coaching and leadership?
Mike: Ongoing process. Always improving. It’s a practice. There’s no such thing as perfection. Recognizing that we get to be better every single day.
April: Yeah. What are some things that you’re still working on when it comes to leading yourself and this kind of practice?
Mike: I would say there are times … so even just this week, there have been times where I set an objective. I began writing a book this week and I am committed to starting my day writing the book and going through this process and all this stuff. Then I watched myself resist it. I go, “I am so excited about this”, and then I was like, “Well, maybe I don’t really need to do it”, and I watched that voice go and I go, “That’s interesting. Ha ha.” I get a nice little chuckle at myself and then get to move through that.
It’s interesting how I’m moving in a direction and it’s like all these distractions start popping up and so it’ll be like, “Oh, I’ve got all this open space, I’m not going to do anything”, and then all of a sudden these people start texting me wanting to hang out, and I put myself in a town where I don’t know anybody. Then I’ve got people trying to lure me into a town where I do know some people and I’m like, “Ah”, so yeah, it’s been fun. I am going to go visit some people, but I am going to also stick to my plan.
April: There you go.
Mike: But I definitely recognize where I could just go, “Plan gone.”
April: Oh, gotcha. Recognizing that resistance and leading yourself through it.
April: Awesome. Well, what a great conversation on leadership and coaching. I think that’ll be really exciting for people to listen to. So we’ll just call it for today. Remember, if you do want to jumpstart your coaching business, head over to thestrongcoach.com. Get our free email series of three emails. Just find the button that says get this free series and click on it. Thanks, Mike.