A Research Paper By James Levin, Business Coach, UNITED STATES
Bold Kindness: An Interview With Stephan Thieringer
I had the privilege to sit down with Stephan Thieringer, founder of the Human Innovation Garage and one of the world’s top 101 coaching leaders according to the World Coaching Congress. We discussed what it takes to be a successful coach today and the mindset coaches should embrace in order to be authentic and valuable to their clients.
Stephan’s insights were particularly valuable for me as his international work as an executive coach is an area I also aspire to make an impact. Above all, Stephan excels in focusing on the human being behind whatever issue his clients bring to coaching.
Our interview lasted more than an hour and we touched on everything from coaching certifications to corporate trends and more. In order to focus on the most relevant points, this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Bold Kindness: Stephan Thieringer From the Human Innovation Garage Interview
How Did Your Coaching Journey Begin?
I think that for every coach who is really into coaching is a loathed question, right? Because, I think a lot of coaches look at this like they started their career, in like, you know, going through certification and certificates and when did you get your first client. But I think coaching for me started before that. Coaching starts when you are the coachee when you are being coached.
I think that is when you start absorbing some of what coaching is and what is not, what you personally and you can only speak subjectively there, what you think it needs to be, should be because it speaks to you, you being heard, you being seen, you being validated essentially, and in the right moment also you being called onto the mat so it’s a peak, and you being challenged, which I think is a big part of coaching.
But, the formal journey of coaching started just about a decade ago. When I started hearing about people becoming coaches, suddenly it was sexy. I knew somebody from HBS who had started a coaching academy. I called them and I said, Andrew, what’s this coaching thing all about?
And he said come down to Sarasota and spend the weekend. So that’s how my journey started. I think people have always been my beacon and that is why today I really enjoy coaching, serving, and supporting people.
What Was the Biggest Change When You Decided to Start Your Coaching Business?
The biggest change for me personally, the biggest change was not running a company with close to seven hundred people. And suddenly it was me and the wall saying “I’m going to build another company.”
And for me that was a little bit of a struggle because it was no longer about delegation, it was no longer about seeing the big picture and vision initially, it was about building it yourself and doing the work. But it also was a way to really learn about people even more, in a more formalized way and being more attentive to the conversation and dialogue initially also with one-to-one conversations, before I went back to coaching larger groups and masterminds. But that was probably the biggest shift, you know not having a large organization infrastructure. Which was something I had built, I mean, I’ve been through six start-ups, and three I talk about, and three not so much. But each one has scaled at some point. So I think that initially, that was the biggest difference.
You Mention Three Startups You Don’t Talk About and You Talk About Failure in a Lot of Your Writing. What Does Failure Mean for You and How Do You Coach People Through It in Business and Life?
As I get older I make less of a distinction between failures in personal or business because sometimes I believe they are very related.
Similarly, my coaching has sort of a place not just in life coaching but also in business in the context of executive coaching, they’re very closely related. I think the biggest piece about failure that I had learned is the ability to have agility around what I think works and doesn’t work and letting go, but also being self-critical and self-analytical.
The ability to be that, to say, you know what whatever I’m pursuing here, whatever I’m saying here, whatever I’ve done here, whatever I have in my own mind giving validity to the market or someone else or somebody who is more experienced or have more knowledge, has proven that is not the way that I think it is or thought it was.
Being able to accept that as a ‘full stop’ ‘exclamation mark’ probably as a human being when you sometimes have a vision you have a passion or you run after something is probably the hardest thing to accept. And I distinctly say accept and not tolerate because if you tolerate your kind of life with pain but you continue doing what you’re doing versus accepting says, “you know what I’m at peace with it.” I’m trying to make peace with it continuously, and the ability to let go rather than holding onto something that is a fixture of my mind and mindset.
That’s the case when you are a human being and you and I have talked about human innovation quite a bit. If I do that I may not be able to move out of the space that I’m in, and I’m closing myself off from an opportunity to shift perspectives, attitudes, etc.
[As for helping others accept failure] I think it is a self-reflective and self-assessment journey they go through, and I don’t mean this in the sense of a transformation journey. I think the art form of a good coach is asking good questions because most people have the answers somewhere.
The question is, are they willing enough, are they courageous enough, to see the answers and actually deal with the answers which may be different than what they want the world to look like? That is where I think the disconnect happens in all of us. It’s happened to me many many times, and it still happens. And I think that’s where my role is. To say “Hey, there is a different perspective”
Speaking of Human Innovation, What Exactly Does That Mean to You?
So I think, Human Innovation and the important last piece is the “Garage” on that. So ‘human,’ we are all humans, we all have certain qualities, we have certain inherent brilliance. And we have differentiators, you are different, I am different and the things you have that make you brilliant are different than me.
Sometimes and most of the time, I don’t think sometimes as we get older we really recognize what we really are good at and we need other people to tell us. If I’m able to understand a little bit better with more clarity, what I’m really really good at, I can start taking pieces, almost like a puzzle piece, like a lego piece, and start re-assembling those in ways that make more sense, which is just the innovations part.
Inherently brilliant pieces, innovated with a set of tools, that’s where the garage comes in where you go with your car because we have tools to fix it, that is really what Human Innovation Garage is all about.
What Defines You as a Coach?
Bold Kindness. Period.
There’s a lot of coaching out there, and there are a lot of coaches who have soft conversations. “Yeah, it’s great to see you, you’re doing so great” they have that coaching voice and say “congratulations” also. My responsibility when I take somebody on as a coach, I take responsibility, to be honest with them. To be kind, to be supportive, but also in the right moment to challenge people, to challenge anything there is, the entire status quo.
Because those are pivotal moments in the coaching conversation, and I can’t explain what happens but it is a gut feeling. You got to be, as a coach, you gotta be not afraid of losing the client because if you are afraid of losing the client because you are asking a difficult question you are not only doing yourself a disservice but you’re also certainly doing your client a disservice. Because you will never get to this point when you will be asking the question, “Hey James are you full of shit, or is this really the conversation here?”
I am over-simplifying the conversation, that’s essentially what it is about. If you are not willing to challenge the client to the absolute maximum and in the moment where it is appropriate, you’re just doing everybody around you a complete disservice.
How Do You Work With Your Clients as a Coach?
I really focus on four areas when I start talking to a new client. It’s what I call the different sets. My inspiration for this comes from someone else I have worked with.
So one is heartset, one is souldset, one is a mindset, and one is healthset. And when we think about it, in business we talk a lot about mindset, and we talk about healthset, and let me explain. “Focus, focus, focus, don’t let anything distract you” and that suddenly becomes a mindset, “and by the way, if you got some time, you maybe can meditate a little, that will focus you.” That is where we leave it.
On the health side maybe you talk about nutrition, certainly we always talk about working out, “Oh you have to work out in the morning.” but what we don’t talk about is the neuro-scientific effects of everything from oxytocin serotonin to dopamine. We don’t talk about that. We don’t talk about community service. That if you do community service, oxytocin is a continuous payment towards your body and positivity and that lasts, above all the other neurotransmitters, it lasts the longest. It is getting gradually released over the course of the day.
What we don’t talk about is, in the hearthset and the soulset, we don’t talk about old wounds. I talk about executive trauma in my work. So we don’t talk about “how did you grow up?” How does, maybe the role you have with your parents, the non-forgiveness you have with your father or your mother, or whatever the trauma may be around, how does that trickle into your interactions with employees, executives, and all the people in your organization?
That needs to be addressed. And how can I help you have awareness around it, and become self-reflective, which goes back to the original square of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and self-management? But how do I not throw all my stuff over somebody who is potentially triggering me and then have the awareness that somebody triggers me? So how do I move through this? How do I process that?
That is really where deep executive coaching in the context of how to lead people, how to influence people, and how to inspire people, is where that very fundamental piece starts.
Besides the Experience Which You Already Mentioned, What Else Makes Someone a Great Coach?
I think experience, I think is expertise, I think the right amount of empathy.
I think it’s the right amount of tolerance for, not even just tolerance I think acceptance, of the diversity of people and an immense amount of curiosity. I think that is kind of the guiding line, the curiosity, asking the questions, “why is that person that way?” and the curiosity to want to learn more about that.
To be curious always requires a willingness to learn. I think that is the piece; the willingness to learn about the other person and continuously asking questions is a big part. Also to be kind, but also to be relentless until there’s this pivotal moment. Sometimes, it’s like in business, we run a business for a year, or two but we say “ah this didn’t work.” But maybe if we would have run the business for another three months we would have had the breakthrough. We don’t know!
Coaching is very similar. Sometimes we are so close and if you let go, and you kind of take that virtual pressure off so to speak, you’re kind of letting the person off the hook of actually challenging themselves. Over the course of time, you have to develop respect, appreciation, the feeling for the client. Do you know where their trigger point is, where is that pivot point? And you get to know a client’s pressure points and you start understanding patterns.
Oftentimes clients, when they come to seek a coach, they identify certain patterns where they’re recognizing, “Oh my god, this is happening over and over again I want to get better.” So I think the commitment needs to be there from the client. Not to be like someone else, like in a competition. But I want to be better today than yesterday, and continuously improve myself. I think that is another commitment to yourself, not to the coach, but to one-self to say, “you know what? I wanna continuously improve on that.”
Finally, What Advice Would You Give Someone Who Wants to Start Their Own Coaching Business?
So I think, let’s take you as an example, and let me explain why I’m kind of pushing it back. It is easy for me to give you advice because I have a relationship with you but I also I wouldn’t give anybody advice whom I don’t have a relationship with, I think that’s the first piece.
If we are talking about you building your coaching business, there is one very unpleasant part about it. Which is not selling, but you gotta put yourself out there, you kind of put yourself out there, in networks, you gotta connect with people, you gotta be open, you gotta be approachable, and you gotta be someone consistent in whatever it is you do in your messaging.
And I struggled with that myself for a long time. The longer I have my company now and the various things I do, the clearer I’m probably getting. But as entrepreneurs we also are people who, don’t like the roller coaster we see something not working, we wanna try something new. But it is a little bit like a restaurant that hasn’t survived its first year yet, you gonna be consistent. So a lot of times what people will say to young coaches is, “well identify one thing that you are really really good at.” So let’s talk about it in the context of niches. If there’s a niche where you think that there is nobody else that knows as much about it as I do. Well, go with that.
That is the other thing, as soon as you can identify something like that, at least initially to enter the market, it becomes much easier. I don’t believe that a website and a big business setup and an office, all that stuff is anything of relevance. I think it’s about building personal relationships and being very bold about asking for introductions. Get very clear in your mind on what your client avatar is and say “Hey, I’d love to work with this client and I’d love an introduction, would you be open to doing that?”
You can not be everything to everybody and I think that is what I would say as well. You gotta be very selective. Again, that is sometimes difficult to be as well, because we’re building a business, we need to make income, we have a revenue goal, we have a revenue expectation, okay. Am I gonna accept, because of that, every drop that comes my way? No!
You can learn more about Stephan’s work on his website The Human Innovation Garage