Becoming a Virtuoso Question Asker and an Excellent Listener
Episode #1002: Discover the unexpected journey that led Ozzie Gontang from being a therapist and a runner to becoming an admirable executive coach in Episode #1002 of the Arete Coach Podcast. Continue to watch the interview, download the transcript, and read the recap.
About Ozzie Gontang
Ozzie Gontang is an executive coach, master coach, and a Vistage Cope Award winner. He was a longtime member of Keepers of the Flame, and he modeled excellence in abundance, caring, sharing, and radical candor. Ozzie is extremely wise and has the ability to recall many things, put them in context, and use them at the right time. In addition to being a great coach, Ozzie is an avid health promoter and marathon runner with 81 completed marathons. He operates from San Diego, California, and today works with national and international business leaders, helping them grow.
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An Unexpected Journey to Becoming a Coach
When asked about his journey into coaching, Ozzie says it was one of those serendipitous paths. While working on his master's degree, one of the courses he took was led by a psychiatrist who started a research program on psychological-physiological aspects of endurance exercise. The chosen exercise was running, and, as Ozzie says, he became one of the guinea pigs.
However, he got completely hooked on running, and, after five to six months, ran his first marathon. From there, he became a running therapist. Instead of sitting and talking with his clients, he would walk or run and do counseling.
Eventually, he was asked by one of his clients, who he was training to run a marathon, to come and talk to his executives. They were running multimillion-dollar companies but didn't know how to take care of themselves, which led to different health issues, from anxiety attacks to heart attacks. And that was the beginning of his journey with coaching, the most challenging and most rewarding part of his life for almost thirty-five years.
Preparing Himself to be a Coach
The most powerful gift Ozzie got that helped him to become an excellent coach he is today is the gift of collegiality. He emphasizes the importance of learning not only from your teachers and mentors but also from your cohort. As he mentions, having great teachers and mentors ready to share their experiences was of great help to him. But it is the way they guided him, without telling him what to do but by asking questions to help him understand what he needed to know that was vital.
One of the most important lessons Ozzie has learned is the importance of becoming a virtuoso question asker, as one of his mentors would say. In a coaching situation, it comes down to assisting the clients as they work on their goal by asking good questions, which can help them realize what they already know and need to know, instead of telling them what to do.
The other important lesson is the ability to use silence to do the heavy lifting and not be afraid of silence once he asks a question.
The “Why” and the Purpose
For over 40 years, Ozzie has been a director of the San Diego Marathon Clinic, which was started to bring people with different kinds of issues, such as depression, back into the community. The goal is to be there to help them grow and not to treat them as patients. Therefore, Ozzie's "why" comes from the desire to connect people and create a community and then watch how he is not the person having to help them grow because there is a community of other people they can depend upon that can offer support.
He also emphasizes the ability to ask questions as opposed to telling people what to do.
“Can I ask the question where I will learn something, being curious of that person, but they will also learn some really wonderful insights into themselves?”
The Most Powerful Questions
Probably the most powerful question Ozzie uses is:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Quoting one of his mentors, Lee Thayer, he explains, “If I don't know what I want to be when I grow up, then I can do anything." But, when you ask that question as an adult, it is actually related to the idea of—can I be responsible for my life?
From that seemingly easy question, another one comes up, “What is your purpose in life?” What is the unique contribution that one can give because no other person is the same, and no one else has had the same experiences that life brought?
The final question is, “What legacy do you want to leave behind?” In his work, Ozzie always starts with the individual and their specific experiences.
Best Day as a Coach
When asked what his best day as a coach is, Ozzie explains that, to him, the best days are always the ones when the client walks away with the insight into themselves that, when they look back at it a year or two later, they will realize that was literally the fork in the road.
Favorite Quotes that Have Impacted His Coaching Practice
One of the most impactful quotes for Ozzie is the one that stayed with him for a long time, especially through events of losing someone: "I knew a day like this would one day come, but yesterday I didn't know it would be today."
On the other hand, a quote that brings the awareness that the catastrophic and painful situations in life could also offer a gift or an opportunity for the future and become a growing point:
"I can sum up life in three words. It goes on."
The Most Useful Tools
“The first tool is the awareness that I am the tool.”
Another important tool is the question. A question can broaden us in many different ways. But when it comes to asking questions, it comes down to asking the right questions at the right depth because that gets the person to where they are.
Realizing it and saying to a person, "I'm not my thoughts and my feelings, I have thoughts and feelings," is one more tool that Ozzie emphasizes.
He also finds various kinds of assessments that give the individual insight into themselves and offer valuable information to the coach as valuable and of great help.
A Significant Failure
One of Ozzie’s most significant failures relates to a situation that created a sense of distrust from the client's side, which led to a realization that:
“There is no relationship without trust as the foundation.”
On Vistage Experience
Ozzie was a part of Vistage for almost 34 years. He explains that he will always honor Vistage, TEC, and all the men and women of Vistage because he received so much from them, giving him the ability to give to others.
More than that, they helped him understand what it is that is in his way. Through introspection, he realized what mindset or self-limiting beliefs he has that are stopping him. During that journey, he developed strong relationships with his peers, and in them, he has friends for the rest of his life.
Ozzie credits his parents for showing him and teaching him that love is what it is all about. The most important thing is that people care and love each other.
Being in monastic life for nine years taught him the importance of honoring and accepting another person because of who they are now and who they can become.
From that perspective, the role of a coach is to guide a person and assist them in getting where they need to go to accomplish what they need to accomplish in life.
Advice for Those Considering a Career in Executive Coaching
In Ozzie's opinion, it is important to find a coaching program that is going to be of help to the individual. Not only from the teachers but also from the cohort of people that they would be interacting with.
“We're all coaches, but we often forget that some of the best coaches are the people that you go for a walk with every day.”
As he emphasizes, it is important to learn to listen to people. That skill can be practiced daily in situations with family and friends. It will eventually turn into the ability to be silent enough to listen to what is being said and help.
On Life’s Purpose
Talking about his daughters and how proud he is of them, he gives his own answer to one of the powerful questions he asks his clients—What is your purpose in life?
“To pass on life.”
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