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Coaching From the Ground Up: An Interview with a Founding Leader of Action Coach

Episode #1035: Severin Sorensen interviews Steve Leach, a founding coach and impactful leader of the Action Coach organization. Steve Leach shares his experience transitioning from an executive to a leader in the coaching industry. Severin and Steve discuss the importance of metaphors, growth, understanding your client’s goals, and the psychology of businesses and executive coaching.

About Steve Leach

Steve Leach is a business and executive coach out of Brisbane, Australia. He has been coaching for 26 years and was one of the first franchisees and a founding coach of Action Coach. In his executive coaching practice, he has helped 630 business owners, while also spending some 9,600 hours in speaking engagements across 68 different cities and 19 countries.

Steve’s hard work and insight in the coaching industry led him to be the first inductee to the Global Business Coach Hall of Fame and the first recipient of the Global Master Coach of the Year. Throughout his coaching career, he has gained many other awards while working closely with Brad Sugars, the founder of Action Coach, developing various coaching programs and workshops. Although Steve primarily coaches out of the Brisbane, Australia area, he has clients and projects all over the world.

Steve uses Zoom to its fullest potential, increasing the engagement his clients experience and thus maximizing his impact on their businesses and executive responsibilities. Steve offers a unique perspective on the coaching industry as he has watched it grow from its infancy to the booming industry it is today.

Steve has a great passion for executive coaching and helping his clients get from the “what” to the “how” of running their businesses. His experience in the development of what is now called executive coaching, offers great insight to the purpose, passion, and drive of today’s executive coach.

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Key highlights

Steve’s journey to executive coaching

Timestamp 02:47

Steve started his career in the corporate world by taking hold of the opportunities that came his way. Soon he transitioned to working for the government as a Senior Export Advisor, which gave him a sense of what it was like to help businesses as a coach. He then met Brad Sugars and worked with him producing seminars and workshops on business and entrepreneurialism. Steve became an integral part of Action Coach as he helped business leaders go from the “what” to the “how” of implementing their new learnings to their businesses.

The two worst times to hire

Timestamp 07:23

In Steve’s early executive career, he shares that he felt like he had “all responsibility” but “no authority.” He relates this to the two worst times to hire new employees or executives: “when you really need them and when you really don’t.” It is important for employers to develop a framework of guidelines for the jobs they want to hire for before taking on new employees. Steve shares that there is a “very small window of opportunity” between these two points where a framework should be made for the new staff. Doing this gives them a way to bring their own expertise into the existing framework.

Defining coaching

Timestamp 09:29

When Steve started working with Brad Sugars, their main priority was “taking the business owner, in his vision and his existing tools, and enhancing their strengths rather than mitigating their weaknesses.” In the current business climate which does not favor consultants, and their overall business model being different than the traditional consultant, Brad and Steve had to reevaluate what to call their new business model. Previously, the word “coach” was only ever attached to sports and the arts, but they decided to apply it to the business world. They chose this because, “the coach never takes the playing field. The consultant does, the contractor does, the subcontractor does, the coach can’t take the field with the team… the coach observes from arms distance, gives strategies, and then the team goes out and implements the tactics.” This type of guidance and leadership that helps the team achieve their goals, closely aligns with the role of an executive coach who helps a business leader identify and achieve their goals.

Developing Action Coach

Timestamp 14:18

Steve was directly involved in the creation of Action Coach as one of the founding coaches and first franchisee members. When Steve joined Action Coach, there was a primary focus on speaking engagements and workshops in several countries. Brad Sugars then decided to franchise the business and transitioned his current employees (including Steve) to franchisee members. Action Coach developed a 10-day intensive training process that encouraged autonomous franchisee members to generate their own leads and do their own sales while coaching. When Brad Sugars retired, Steven was a part of the team that maintained Action Coach. During two years of his time as the Global Director of Coaching, training schools were established worldwide and the number of coach members went from 124 to 760.

Keeping the cadence and staying energized

Timestamp 17:52

Steve executes his coaching practice out of Australia; although, he has clients all over the world. In order to keep up with his coaching sessions and maintain a high-energy presence with his clients, Steve has a weekly structure that keeps him focused. On Monday, he focuses on client innovation and other enterprises. Tuesday through Thursday, Steve coaches his clients from 7:00am to 5:00pm. Friday, he rests from coaching and does additional activities such as interviews and podcasts. He also occasionally incorporates group workshops and meetings as well. The ability to rest and recuperate helps Steve stay on top of his coaching practice.

Coaching as education

Timestamp 23:03

Severin and Steve talk about the excellent outcomes that sometimes occur with unlikely clients. Both Severin and Steve have experienced coaching a business with lower revenue and watching them grow and succeed. Steve shares that “if you think of [coaching] as education… then you get a return on that educational investment.” Just like pilots who spend thousands of dollars for their training and get a return on their investment, individuals who invest in coaching gain a return on their educational investment. Executive coaches are able to get a front row glimpse at the powerful ROI that small businesses can receive from coaching.

Wile E. Coyote and lessons of life

Timestamp 27:41

When asked about his favorite topics to speak on, Steve shares the importance of understanding the psychology of business. One of his favorite metaphors focuses on the Wile E. Coyote. He will ask the audience to identify what Wile E. Coyote’s purpose is and they will most commonly respond that the goal was to catch the roadrunner. However, Steve shares that the goal of Wile E. Coyote is build and invent. If he eventually caught the roadrunner, he would have no reason to build and invent. Because of this, his “unconscious” mind would “sabotage” all of his inventions to make sure they never succeeded. Steve uses this to explain that leaders often do this in business. Business leaders “never want to finish the business because” they would be left without meaning.

Business gyms and business hospitals

Timestamp 30:54

One of the ways the Steve maintains his busy coaching schedule is by functioning as a business gym versus a business hospital. Steve explains that many executive coaches work as a business hospital—only servicing businesses that aren’t healthy and then ending the coaching relationship once they reach an acceptable level of health. Steve chooses to function as a business gym that takes in healthy businesses and makes them better. By focusing on building a business gym, the coaching relationship lasts longer and has a greater impact on the business leader’s life. Furthermore, it helps Steve spread his energy and guidance across more clients, ultimately increasing his positive impact on businesses worldwide.

Elastic goals

Timestamp 42:07

Each business leader has their own goals and vision that Steve centers their coaching on. However, these goals are elastic. Steve leads the executives he coaches towards these goals and encourages them to aspire to something greater. He shares an example of a client who bought their own jet. Steve states that “if I talked to them about that 6 years ago, it probably would have popped his brain.” Business leaders are “attached to their vision by an elastic band” and if executive coaches push their goals too far out, the executive will “rebound in the opposite direction.” However, Steve also shares that everyone has their limits and can decide to not invest further in their business. At this point, Steve identifies the roadblock and the client then exits the coaching if they desire.

The pit crew

Timestamp 45:32

One of the metaphors that Steven used during the development of the coaching industry is that executive coaches are the pit crews of the business world. Executives and business leaders can come into their coaching sessions and quickly get the tools and guidance they need until the next coaching session. In the same way, pit crews offer quick guidance and assistance to racers before entering back into the race.

Overcoming your own programming

Timestamp 50:41

When asked how Steve will measure his life, he shares that success to him is “breaking the mold.” He shares some of the excuses that people have for not wanting success and that it is important to overcome “your own excuses” and your “original programming.” Examining how you identify success and acknowledging your subconscious roadblocks to that success, much like the Wile E. Coyote metaphor, is key to “breaking the mold” and reaching your ultimate success goals.

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