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Lessons from the Navy and Meaningful Mentors

Episode #1034: Join Severin Sorensen and Don Myers for a profound discussion about Don’s journey to, and evolution of, executive coaching over the last 18 years. Severin and Don discuss learnings from Don’s time in both the corporate and the Navy worlds, and how Don has maintained high levels of retainment in his Vistage groups throughout his career. Several other topics include the importance of mentoring, reframing, storytelling, and the Drama Triangle. Watch, listen to, or read about this sage discussion and glean actionable insights you can apply to your business and coaching practice today.

About Don Myers

Don Myers is an executive coach, CEO coach, leadership strategist, Master Chair, and Vistage Chair of 18 years. Don currently leads four peer advisory groups, two chief executive groups, a key executive group, and a trusted advisory group. Don also works with Culture Counts on the themes of communication, facts, and stories.

Prior to Vistage, Don was a Senior Vice President of a real estate investment trust called CWS Communities Trust which manages home communities. He also served as the Vice President of Security Capital Group which helps other real estate companies raise capital and form other real estate investment trusts like America and Prologis.

Don entered the business industry through a marketing role at IBM after his career as Lieutenant JG and Main Engines Officer on USS Newport News and USS America. He also completed two tours of duty in Vietnam. Don has served his country with excellence and has done the same in the way he has served the Vistage community.

As of this year, Don has received nine Chair Performance Awards for excellence, a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Indiana University, and an MBA from the McKellar Graduate School of Management. Don’s Vistage groups are known for their high retention rates and great impact. Don Myers continues to be an impactful and life-changing Vistage Chair today out of the Denver, Colorado area.

Key highlights

Creating effective advisory groups

Timestamp 04:59

In the beginning of Don Myers’ executive coaching career, he developed peer advisory groups with Vistage that had a variety of members. His peer groups contained individuals who worked in law firms, sales, management, and a variety of other industries. While coaching these individuals, he would connect them to their clients: his other Vistage members. Doing this, he was able to benefit his peer advisory groups—ultimately increasing their clientele. In exchange, his group members would invite others to the peer advisory group. This process helped develop his coaching career, increase the number of participants, and help more business leaders.

Lessons from the Navy

Timestamp 06:41

Don served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Don shares that his time in the Navy “was the catalyst for everything that’s happened in [his] life since then.” One of the most valuable learnings from his time in the Navy was the “idea of being on watch.” When taking over a watch position, Don shares that it was vital for the new watchman/woman to be aware of the direction of the ship, the logbook, and the targeted course. Furthermore, Don also learned to trust those that were higher in the hierarchy of the Navy. “It was just my job to serve the members in my division,” states Don. Don applies these concepts of being responsible, watchful, trusting, and in service to his high impact coaching practice today. These concepts have helped Don encourage his clients to achieve their business goals and develop greater clarity in their lives.

Corporate mentoring

Timestamp 09:32

Don’s entrance to the corporate industry is marked by excellent mentorship and training. After the Navy, Don started his career in the corporate world with a position at IBM. His first year with IBM was focused on training and learning about “consultative selling.” In his training, Don learned about IBM’s “intolerables” which focused on the importance of corporate and personal image. During his career with IBM, he was able to develop one-to-one relationships with his customers, which greatly impacted his coaching career today. Don then entered the real estate industry working with LaSalle Partners, receiving additional mentorship for 22 years.

The stories we tell ourselves

Timestamp 18:21

Severin and Don discuss the importance of the stories we tell ourselves and how they can change our perspective on life and worldview. Don is currently involved with a group in Denver called Culture Counts. Culture Counts focuses on communication, facts, and stories. Don shares that people themselves “are a story, not a fact.” When events in life are experienced, people tend to apply meanings and strategies in order to navigate and explain the experiences. Working with Culture Counts made Don realize that he could revisit events of the past and apply different meanings, creating a different worldview for himself. Before developing an awareness of this, Don states that his “worldview was: the world’s a dangerous place, you can’t trust people, and [he’s] not smart.”

Don operated in the world from this point of view until he decided to apply new meaning to his previous experiences, changing his worldview, and bettering his life. Severin relates to this and states that it is important for people to “have permission, that when the facts change” they can interpret their stories differently. Don uses this in his coaching practice by helping people “unlock… from paradigms that are built in half truths or the truth that they understood at the time.”

The challenge of transition groups

Timestamp 28:18

Within his executive coaching groups, Don states that there is an “intimacy” built within the group. In his Vistage groups, Don’s members “care deeply about each other” and develop their own culture or friendship and growth. In the beginning of Don’s coaching career, he was invited to “take over a transition group from” a Vistage member “that was retiring.” Doing so was very difficult because the transition group had already developed its own unique culture. “They had their view of how that group should work” and it was a challenge for them to change their group structure to suit a new leader. Looking back on this event, Don shares that he has since learned that he was facing the messiah complex while trying to lead this transitioning group. Severin relates to the difficulty taking over transitioning groups and shares that one of the reasons Vistage groups are so impactful is the multitude of unique groups that are available for members to choose from.

The evolution of group retreats

Timestamp 31:49

Throughout his coaching career, Don has held group retreats for his Vistage groups in multiple forms. First, Don hosted spousal retreats that lasted from Thursday afternoon until Saturday morning. After group members requested a change in duration and dates because of family events, Don transitioned to hosting 2-day retreats that gave group members an opportunity to present their operating plans for the year. Since then, Don has continued to evolve his group retreats. Today, his group meetings involve a group activity, such as a cooking class, a speaker, and time to mingle. Listening to group opinions and requests when making retreat plans is important so that the retreat can have a customized and direct impact on group members. It can help group members “be more present and focused” on the retreat, ultimately increasing the retreats impact.

The Drama Triangle

Timestamp 35:56

When asked about a recent learning that he wishes he had learned earlier, Don shares that he wishes he knew about the Drama Triangle earlier. This evaluation method helps identify who the hero, villain, and victim are in conflict. Each point of the triangle is representative of each role and indicates how they are taking “more or less responsibility than they should.” Don uses this in his practice to help identify how to best help his clients’ conflicts and challenges. Don shares an example of how he used this methodology with a client and realized that his client wasn’t the “victim” as he had previously thought. In this situation, Don states that it helped him realize that “it’s not my job to essentially have my judgement of what he should do.” Because of this, Don transitioned his coaching stance to a more supportive and ultimately more impactful presence.

Enhancing lives and realizing dreams

Timestamp 40:17

Don adapted his “why” that pushes him to excellent coaching from the “why” of a business he worked with in his real estate career. This business operated on the “why” of “enhancing lives, realizing dreams.” Don was introduced to the business’ operation and the passion that the company had for making their tenants smile and developing their employees internally. Don combines this business’ “why” with a quote his father would say: “it’s our job to leave it better than we found it.” Don’s desire to help business leaders enhance their lives, realize their dreams, and make their lives better than they were before executive coaching, are a few of the many reasons that Don’s executive coaching practice is so impactful to its members.

Don’s powerful questions

Timestamp 43:20

Early in Don’s career, he was introduced to the importance of questions and the power they hold. He learned the power of asking business leaders “what’s the most important thing for us to talk about today” from another impactful Vistage Chair, Dwight Frindt. Don has also developed his own coaching questions. Some of these include: “how long do you want to suffer in your desire to get to be right,” “what game are you really trying to win here,” and “is this a battle that you want to have?” Don always aims to stay in a state of curiosity and courage. He explains that, “sometimes I have to be courageous to be curious.” This helps Don to ask the tough questions that can have a great impact on his clients.

Don also uses Byron Katie’s four questions to further develop his coaching sessions and a worksheet called “what I hate about my neighbor” that can help business leaders identify the source of some of their conflicts. Using these questions and methodologies allows Don to further help business leaders change the stories they have made in their life; giving them the opportunity to build a more impactful and goal oriented worldview.

The power of stories

Timestamp 51:09

Stories hold a unique power for executive coaches. Don uses stories in his executive coaching practice to share his life experiences and lessons with his clients. Some of the stories that Don shares include mistakes that he has made throughout his coaching career as well how he has learned from them. Severin shares that in coaching “stories help people learn longer” helping them remember the story and the meaning behind it.

Learning to explore

Timestamp 55:17

One of the things Don has learned in his coaching career is the importance of taking time to explore with his clients. Don learned this in an experience he had with a client when his advice was not well received. From this experience, Don shares that it is important to get permission before giving advice and it is just as important to explore thoughts and reasonings with a client. Since then, Don has applied this learning to his coaching practice to further support his clients and the impact coaching can have on their life and wellbeing.

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