Research Paper By Lorrie Ortiz
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
LORRIE: Good morning Stef.
STEPHANIE: Good morning Lorrie.
LORRIE: How are you?
STEPHANIE: Hey, I’m doing great. How are you?
LORRIE: Good. So I wanted to thank you for, hmm, allowing me to interview you for my ICA accreditation. Do you mind if I record this?
STEPHANIE: No, that’s fine. Thank you.
STEPHANIE: [Unintelligible: 0:18]
LORRIE: Oh, no problem. So I have a few questions. We’re just going to run through and, hmm, and, hmm, and then feel free to add anything at the end, once we’re done.
STEPHANIE: OK. Sounds good.
LORRIE: So can we start with just your name and your business?
STEPHANIE: Yes. It’s Stephanie Wood and the business is Stephanie Wood Group, umm, and Executive Coaching Firm.
LORRIE: OK. And I know that you, you, and I, hmm, have crossed paths before, so I know that you’ve worked in the community. What, hmm, motivated you to open your own business in coaching?
STEPHANIE: Umm. Let me think, here. A, a couple of things, actually, were strong motivators. Umm. I would say a, a sort of a life change, changing moment. Umm. My mother became very ill and so, taking care of her and — just really a lot of reflections about where I was in my life at that time and the things that really mattered to me, umm, became very apparent. And so, I decided early — I had already started a transition to, to retire, but that expedited, sort of, my path. And so, umm, I decided at that point that I wasn’t going to go with — I think it was about a two-year transition plan that I had, had put into place — I was actually already in coaching school. And so, working full time and, you know, getting my certification and so, I had started that a little bit. Umm. And then, as I said, just sort of the reflection and, just that, that kind of burning platform to, to make a move now. And then, honestly, you know, the coaching helped with that too. So in the first, sort of, three-day intensives, some of the work that we did there only made those questions I was asking myself clearer — and the answers, I guess, to those questions clearer and clearer. Umm. And, with my own experience, umm, with coaching, you know, we were going through a kind of, you know, “Who are you? What do you want?” You know, “What are you tolerating?” I think that question alone, “What are you tolerating?” at that point in my life, I, I honestly had compartmentalized so much, that I — that was like this huge eye-opener for me. And so, it was like, I don’t think I want to tolerate these things any longer. And so, umm, that was, that was the reason that I, I just had to open my own business at that time.
LORRIE: That’s amazing. That’s a wonderful, powerful question, “What are you tolerating?” versus “What are you embracing?
STEPHANIE: Um-mm. Exactly. Yeah.
LORRIE: And then what factors went into specializing in the medical field?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. I tell you, that, that was always hard to know. In the coaching, umm, program that I went through, they started asking us fairly early on to start thinking about the niche. And the development and, you know, kind of advice they gave us was it’s really hard to be everything to be everyone. And that, you know, a, a strong business model would be one whereby you, kind of, declare what you do — and, you, you have a more narrow focus. And so, I didn’t pick healthcare first. Where I landed first was, I wanted to work with executives. So, I knew, sort of, that executive arena was where I really wanted to be, and I’ll be honest, being a woman and, you know, working at that executive level, and sort of the personal challenges and opportunities that I experienced, my first path in fulfilling my passion was executive women. So I didn’t have healthcare, really, on the radar, initially, umm — even though that’s my background. And so, that first, probably six to nine months, that I was out there really networking and looking for opportunities — and, you know, healthcare, just became more and more apparent as, as an industry. Obviously, every industry needs executive coaching but just one that would embrace it was in high need. Umm. I realized, and I already knew this, that since I knew all the acronyms and understood the complexities of the industry, that I would probably be accepted and others on my team would be accepted probably a little easier. They didn’t have to educate us about the complexities. So, I think it just became a natural fit but, it was odd because it wasn’t like a, umm — I didn’t pick that destiny. Sort of, that destiny picked us, I think, umm — if that makes sense. And we’re still able to, obviously, get filled up with me personally, at least, with that, umm, fulfillment of supporting executive women.
LORRIE: Hm-mm. [Pause] So what do you like most about coaching?
STEPHANIE: I, I have always — me personally, throughout my career — it didn’t matter what position I had — I always, umm, got great joy from seeing others succeed. So, I, I think it’s just that ability to support the growth of someone else, and it’s, it’s so fascinating and so fulfilling to be a, a by-stander to that — if that makes sense. So, you know, you get to look through it, through this, umm, objective lens. And, umm, truly just see others grow and excel, and so, you know, whereas in corporate I could do it on a small scale. So, you know, support my own team and their development. I mentored several people throughout the corporation. My role in top management allowed me to have a pretty large stand of supporting people. But, now, in coaching, that’s what we do 100 percent of the time, versus, umm, like incorporate, my role was, you know, build a performance appraisal [unintelligible: 6:18]
So those types of things no longer are part of, umm, what we do, and they simply, umm, support the success of others and it’s just, it’s the best. I love it.
LORRIE: So with that passion, I guess, the follow-up question would be — how do you stay out of the person’s story?
STEPHANIE: Umm. Yeah. Now that’s great. And I don’t want to sit here and profess that I do 100 percent of the time. I think it would be a lie. Umm. [Laugh] But, umm, but I do think through your coaching training, at least for me, that was a super hard shift to develop. So I felt like once, sort of like, that lightbulb went off, once that capability to really have contextual listening and being able to really, umm, remove myself — I think that that ability to not impose judgment —that, that was a place where I think that, umm, that really, I was about to do that. So, you know, that place of ‘catching myself’ anytime that I might have felt any type of emotional connection to what I was being told — that was kind of the pause button. Right. So, you know, OK. You, you’re getting them the story back out. So, I think, honestly, for me personally, through time, I really find myself in someone’s story. I think now, where I really guard myself is to not make assumptions. So the longer I coach clients, the more I get to know them, I want to treat every conversation as, as a new conversation, as much I can. And so, I would say that is the constant, ongoing growth for me. And that is to not sit there and listen — you still hear it, but allow things to go on because you’ve built this long-term history with someone that you’re coaching. I hope I answered your question. I don’t know if I did or not.
LORRIE: You did. No. No. It was phenomenal. Thank you.
LORRIE: Hmm. I am really, actively, trying to work on that. So I appreciate that answer. Hmm. So, in your experience, when you’re talking about the client, what are the general themes — or are there general themes that you tend to see across clients?
STEPHANIE: Umm. Themes. I would say I’ve been a full-time coach now since, umm, say for four years, since 2016. And I would say self-awareness — I mean, you know, you can read about it. There’s so much, you know, data out there and research around our inability to be self-aware and how others perceive us. Umm. There is, there is just this huge disconnect. I mean, some research I looked at the other day was, if you ask us, Lorrie— I think this is hilarious, actually, 95 percent of us will profess that we’re self-aware. But the research actually only supported 10-15 percent of us actually are. And so —
STEPHANIE: when you think about that huge gap — and I actually see it constantly, and so that’s why I brought that up — then I think that any amount of time that someone engages in coaching — and we usually do 6-12 months engagements, and actually very few are six — the majority are 12 months, and many people re-sign up. So, I see this ongoing growth around self-awareness that, doesn’t stop. It seems like, it’s just this continued — it’s almost like, you know how they say that you never achieve, umm, like, you don’t stop learning how to be a leader, right? I mean, you know, it’s, it’s just like this continuous development of our craft. Because, every day we’re experiencing now as a leader and, “Oh, my gosh, I just learned from that experience.” I think it’s the same thing with self-awareness. And so, that I would say, 100 percent of our clients, whether — and, and everyone has a different kind of engagement level with coaching. Everyone has a different commitment. Everyone has a different willingness, you know, to be open to, to what they’re hearing and seeing and, you know, all those types of things. Regardless of all those variables, I see this enhanced self-awareness across the board. So, I would say that is the one consistent trend that I see.
LORRIE: So, and I guess the follow-up to that would be — what are some mechanisms that you use to help bring that self-awareness up for, for your clients?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. I would say it’s a combination of things, and I actually learned, the first one a couple of decades ago when I was, sort of, an internal coach in talent management for an organization. And when I first started working with leaders, we were using one assessment tool. And I remember, I, I almost found this, sort of funny in a way, but, umm, I literally had a leader say to me, “Everything in this assessment tool that’s good, is true,” I swear to God I’m not making this up, “and everything in this assessment tool [laugh] that is bad, I don’t agree with.” And, I, — and so, anyway, I thought, “OK. We need more data points.” Because it’s human’s nature — I, I mean, in this person’s defense, it’s human’s nature for us to, to just be in denial, right? That these thing that either don’t feel right or, you know, they’re personal and they hurt us in some way or whatever — that we are not going to believe them. And so, I started back then, gathering at least three data points. So, either a 360, a personality profile, some other type of, of, you know, assessment. And we didn’t just like, bombarded them with all three at once, but we would typically time those out a little bit. But I found that it doesn’t matter what assessment you use — there are great assessments on the market, and you will find trends. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re using Strengths Finder, and DISC, and a 360. I guarantee, those three assessments, you will find the trend, for that leader. They’ll find the trend. It’s not — you don’t have to find them for them, but you can help them find the trends. And when that happens, there’s just this, I don’t know, it’s kind of like, “Oh, OK. I, I’m being attention differently because I’m seeing that there is a repeat pattern here.” So, I think that that, that has been extremely helpful. And then, I think, too, umm, just as a coach, as they’ve learned about the tools, and as you continue to coach them, I think the most powerful coaching moments are those daily scenarios, right? So, even though they may have an agenda, your, your clients are going to have goals, and you’re constantly going to be supporting them in achieving those goals, I personally feel the greatest learning happens in that, “I was just in a meeting yesterday, and let me tell you about this meeting”, and, you know, “This is what I felt —”, and“This is what I said —”, and “This —.” And it’s those moments that, as coaches, we can tease out, we can challenge the story they’re telling themselves, we can help point out, you know, some natural tendencies that validate them or, you know “Because you care so much about the relationship, of course, you felt this way”, you know. So I think, it’s that type of stuff — it’s where we, we help make that happen.
LORRIE: That leads right into the next question. And there’s this saying in the coaching certification that I’m taking that, “After the third session, [unintelligible: 14:00] life coaching.” And, can you share a little bit about how this has shown up for you, or if this has been true for your clients?
STEPHANIE: So, did you just ask me — I’m sorry, there was a beep on my computer on my end. Did you just ask about we, we become life coaches? Is that what you said?
LORRIE: Yes. There’s a saying that we’ve learned about that, “After the third session, it’s all life coaching.” And so, can you share a little bit about how that has shown up for you, and with your clients?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. Absolutely. So, I, I guess when we engage with clients — and again, we’re corporate a corporate executive firm, but we say in the very beginning that coaching is not from the time you enter the door of the office, till the time you leave and go home — that coaching, truly to be effective, is all-encompassing of that individual’s life 24/7. And so, we sort of establishing that, out of the gate, and then we also — especially through the ELI assessment, that becomes very personal. And so, that’s not just about business relationships. And so, I would say, Lorrie — first of all, yes, I agree with that. And, umm, I, I believe we communicate it in a way — even though we never change what we’re doing — from executive coaching to life coaching — we don’t necessarily make that distinction — we are very clear up front that we coach the whole person, and it’s the whole person that’s coached that enables them to lead more effectively — and elevate their effectiveness to lead. And it’s that that whole, whole-person coaching.
LORRIE: And that leads right into the next question I had of — how do you [unintelligible: 15:47]? There’s a fine line between the coaching and, and what could turn into therapy if you’re not careful.
LORRIE: How do you maintain, and honor that line?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. Umm. I, I have had a couple of situations where this has surfaced. And so, I guess — first of all, let me say that coaching gets very personal and with the work with doing, even though therapy is more focusing on the past and sort of, umm, maybe the why of what happened, or just figuring things out, I guess, you would say — coaching is all about forward movement, but sometimes we have to go back before we can move forward. And so, there is this element of letting the client go where it’s most comfortable for them, when you’re discovering gremlins, or when you’re discovering that inner critic, or some of those things that are creating limiting beliefs for them, etcetera. There, there’s a discovery into the past. And so, that, as a coach, umm, I believe it’s, it’s our role to be very comfortable and allow the client to share whatever the client feels comfortable sharing, and then help them discover, and then redirect, right? And help them move forward on how they want to, umm, to, to work with what they’ve discovered.
But I have had a couple of clients that I was very clear that their — the movement was not occurring, and that, umm, the pain, the umm, the experiences were pretty deep. And so, there was one client in particular where I just felt like it was Groundhog’s Day, you know. I mean, it was like we were having this same conversation over and over and there was no forward movement. And this was a very unique situation of extreme, umm, domestic abuse that had happened and — so anyway. My — I was very honest with this client and said that I truly believed that support for them was outside my expertise and that I was more than happy to, umm, support them in any way that I could, but I highly recommend, umm, a consideration for support that could help them work through things that I was not capable of. And so, this particular client — I remember this conversation very clearly, and this was a very successful professional woman. Very successful, owned her own business. Umm. And function, day in and day out, but all this other stuff, right? And so, umm, she thanked me and she did start, umm, going to a therapist. And then, after going to the therapist — I’m going to say, maybe for three of four months, umm, our — I found that our conversations were not the same. And I just — I kind of helped her have an out — cause we had been together for a while. So I just said, “You know, maybe, maybe it’d be better if we just took a break and you just keep in touch with me and, you know, let me know.” And so, she and I — I have not coached her, now, for probably a year and a half. And, umm, I feel like she’s in a much better, much better place now. So anyway, yeah, it happens. It definitely happens. And I think that as a coach, it’s our responsibility, to help the client if they don’t see it. Because we are so personal with our clients that, I think, there’s this natural comfort that if there’s this, this hurt, or this need that — of course, they’re going to share it because we’ve built trust and I think it’s our professional responsibility to, maybe, umm, open — well, not maybe, but to open that door. And, and just let, let them decide, but be really clear about what we can and can’t do to support them.
LORRIE: Yeah. [Pause] So, I’m going to, hmm, shift a little bit and just talk a little bit about what, what, hmm — how do you stay abreast of the current trends around coaching?
STEPHANIE: Um-mm. Yeah. Umm. I guess, for me, personally, I mean, ‘Learners’ are my Strengths Finder as a top-five, so it’s just a natural — you know, mom and dad were both teachers, so you know, it’s just a — it’s a natural thing that I would always be really listening, etcetera. So, umm, I, I would just, umm, — I have this kind of unsatiable, umm, need to, to keep up on things. And so, read, read, read is what I do. Also, I am part, of a couple of organizations where we engage in different activities when we come together. One of my favorites is — one of the organizations that’s part of Harvard’s — umm, I think it might — no, maybe it’s not the School of Psychology. Anyways, Harvard has an arm that’s called “McLean Institute for Coaching” and, we come together and we share what’s called “Sticky cases”. And so, that is one of my favorites, like, developmental thing, where we come together — it’s totally confidential, obviously, about the clients that the coaches come and share, “Hey, this is a situation.” And then the coaches that are part of the, umm, umm, you know 90 minutes sessions, or whatever, we listen to the situation. We go into break-out sessions and we talk about, you know, “Wonder what, what’s going on here”, or “Wonder if they’ve tried this”, or “This is a good question, maybe to, to ask.” And then we come back together and all of the break-outs, umm, debrief and share what the coach that is seeking, umm, colleague advice and counsel around this sticky case. So that, that’s probably one of my favorites. But anyway, then there’s also kind of webinars and learnings and different things. Umm. You know, white papers that, you know, we, we write and share etcetera. So, either through organizations or my personal developments, or seek, even, additional certifications, those types of things.
LORRIE: It’s awesome. I’ll have to look that one up. Umm. And then, what advice [unintelligible: 22:15] starting in coaching?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. I tell you, just, get out and do it, I think, is probably my advice. I mean, I, I can remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, Stephanie. You have been an executive for x number of years. You’ve coached hundreds of leaders before you called it coaching, but it really wasn’t coaching I found out. But anyway. You know you’ve, you’ve been in this arena for a long time. Why are you so ‘dag-on’ nervous?” And, it wasn’t until I finally — it was kind of like a V8 moment, right? Where you just knock yourself in the forehead. But the big shift for me was, “Get over yourself. This is not about you being a good coach. That, that — it has zero to do with you. Just, get out there. And, and listen and practice these skills that you’ve worked hard to develop. And, you know, just take this on like, you do everything else. That it’s a continuous journey to learn to do this well.” And, and when I finally, you know, had that V8 moment, it was because, hey, I’m a high-achiever. Umm. You know, going back to strengths, I mean, ‘Achievers’ want to make top five, umm, but so is ‘Self-assured’. So, I had to just be like, “Quit”, you know. Just, to say, “It’s not about you. It really isn’t.” And then there was this little kind of — it wasn’t very nice self-talk, actually. It was kind of like, you know, “Get over yourself, Stef. Why are you —?” Because the whole reason I was nervous was that I thought I was not going to be a good coach. OK. I mean, that’s what I’m trying to get at. You know, the whole reason I was nervous was, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m not going to know what question to ask”, or you know, “I’m, I’m not going to do this very well.” And so, to finally just go — again, I know I’ve said this ten times, but that was the V8 moment. It is not about you. This is, this is zero about you. And when I finally was like, “Right, it’s zero about you and you’re going to go and, and engage in this with this full heart intent of supporting this person and achieving their success. And you’re going to practice these skills that you’ve learned because you have to practice them, continuously, umm, to hone your craft.” So that, to me, that was the biggest shift and I guess, I guess I’m assuming that other coaches would experience the same thing I did. But I guess, if they experiencing that, that would be my advice.
LORRIE: Hm-mm. And then my, my last question is — knowing what you know now, if you were doing the interview, what questions would you ask?
STEPHANIE: Oh! Gosh. Umm. Umm. [Pause] I guess the one thing that comes to mind — and I sort of felt guilty about this a little bit at first, and then I sort of just figured it out. But I probably would ask, “In your coaching practice, do you ever find yourself changing hats a little bit between coach, consultant, umm, you know, advisor. And so, I know, in coaching, obviously, and with ICF and everything else — I mean, I understand there’s code of ethics, and there are competencies — and when we are coaching in the pure essence of coaching, it’s, you know, asking questions and helping someone discover for themselves. But I have found myself in an arena, in healthcare, and I have nurses on my team, I have other healthcare executives and Has etcetera. And so, even though our role, and our firm as an executive coaching firm, we find ourselves, sometimes, consulting because we come with decades of experience and the client might need that, at that time. So I guess, we’ve just kind of fumble along the way to figure this out. And I’m not, I’m not professing to say we do it perfectly — for any, any stretch of the imagination. But I probably would have asked, “How do you manage that? Is that OK?” Umm, you know. “Do you —”, I don’t know. I guess that’s just the question. I’m not crafting it very well but just, as, “Like you, coach do you ever find yourself changing your hats in any way, and if you do, how, how do you do that? How do you keep that professional, and how do you honor the profession of coaching in a way that you’re not blurring the lines?”
LORRIE: Well, how, how do you manage that?
STEPHANIE: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know that we do it perfectly. I mean, what I’ll try to do early on with a client — well, not try, I know I do this early on with a client — I’ll say, I’m not coaching right now. In other words, the situation that we’re talking about, I’m, I’m shifting into counsel mode. Is that OK, or whatever? But what I probably don’t do a very good job of, quite honestly, is the more comfortable I get with the client, I think I probably bounce in and out of that, sometimes, in the same conversation, without declaring it over and over. And occasionally I’ll find myself declaring it even with, a client I’ve been with a long time, just because I think, “Oh my gosh, Stephanie, you, you are just way in — like counsel, advisor mode, right now. You better, you know, clarify this.” And so, I, I, I’m not going to say that we’re perfect at it but, but we do also when we’re hired on, we, we share that. You know, I mean, that — I think, honestly, I think that’s a differentiator, for us. I think that, the fact that, we have all been executives. We’ve all walked in the shoes of executives. I don’t think, in coaching, you need to have worked in their fields. So, in other words, I coach doctors, I’ve never been a doctor. I coach attorneys, I’ve never been an attorney. You know, so I don’t — you know, I’ve coached engineers, I’m not an engineer. So, I don’t think that you have to know their technical end of things. But I do believe that the reason we’ve been successful in healthcare is that we do know the industry. So, I’m, I’m not talking out of both sides of my mouth, but it sounds like I am. So I think there’s this advantage in the healthcare arena that, we do get it. And it allows us to, I think, advance and even stay with our clients, easier. So in other words, when they’re, when they’re going — telling us a story, etcetera, we don’t have to pause and ask, ask questions. I actually think we can ask deeper questions because we do get it. And so, I think that we can accelerate them from there. Umm. But, anyways. That, that’s the end of that. I think I started rambling, so I got off the subject to what you had originally asked me. [Laugh]
LORRIE: No, I — it’s — I, I think it’s hard. It’s a double-edged sword, right? So, you have the, [unintelligible: 29:30] that you do get it, but then it’s about declaring when you are in that mode versus the other mode, and asking the client, “Is this alright?”
LORRIE: [unintelligible: 29:41] I appreciate it. Those are of all the questions that I, that I had. I so appreciate your time. Stop the recording now.