Transforming mindsets for successful leadership

Podcast transcription - 20th March 2019

Alan Cowley:                    Welcome to the Invested Investor. More and more entrepreneurs and investors are working with coaches to improve their performance as leaders to drive growth in their business. My guest today, Katy Tuncer coaches, leaders on both sides of the deal. VC's and angels as well as founder's and CEO's. She has coached Peter and me as well as, an array of different people all over the world. Everyone talks about the value of coaching and what they achieve from it in their businesses, but today I'm talking to Katy about how she does it and what early stage CEO's need to achieve to be successful, especially once they scale. So, Katy, say a little bit about your background and then how did you get into coaching?

Katy Tuncer:                    Thanks for having me on the Invested Investor, Alan. I'm a coach and I call myself a coach these days. It's probably only been about the last five or six years that I have been focused professionally on coaching, but I've at least two decades of being a coach I just didn't realise it for a while.

                                           My background right back from 20 odd year ago when I joined the army, has been very strongly influenced by an interest in leadership. So, I went to Sandhurst and did strategy consulting training and learned a lot about leadership there. I've been at the MET and over the years and as you know from the previous podcast that we did, have various forays into entrepreneurship. Some elegant failures, some successes, not the subject of today but the theme through all of it has been leadership. I'm obsessed with understanding what it takes to be a great leader. Both on the practical sense doing it myself and more and more now in coaching others and helping them to make the best of their own brilliance, realising everyone is different. There is definitely not only one way of doing it and what I'm working on these days is coaching people to be successful in the areas that matter to them and their businesses.

Alan Cowley:                    Okay. So, start-ups specifically. What does coaching help CEO's to achieve? I know that you led a research project this year called Born or Made in collaboration with the Judge Business School and also the Cambridge Angels?

Katy Tuncer:                    Yes. The Born or Made research project that we ran this year rose because several us realised that our experience of coaching, no matter how extensive and over many years it is, it is systematically biased in our understanding of how it works. So, we work with people who've chosen to work with a coach by definition.

                                           So, this research set out to understand what it takes to be a successful leader of a scale up specifically, what of those traits, behaviours, characteristics, attitudes, beliefs can be learnt. So, there comes in the born or made side of it, and of those, which ones can coach, mentoring, training, etcetera have the greatest impact on. We found in that research that there's six areas that are the most important areas correlating with success, and by that we mean IPO getting bought, becoming profitable enough such that the equity investors are bought out. That's generally what we're talking about, within 10 years of founding. Something like that.

                                           Those six areas are very wide-ranging and a hugely positive outcome from the research is that most of them can be highly effected by coaching. The first area is selling and specifically selling to three audiences. To the customers, obviously, to the investors, obviously, and most importantly but sometimes overlooked, to the team. That's both the formal employee team and the wider team. So, that's the first one.

                                           The second one was listen to experts (but don't believe everything they say), which is very important. There's detail behind all of these.

Alan Cowley:                    Which we'll be able to find online at some point soon?

Katy Tuncer:                    Yes. We can put a link in the show notes.

Alan Cowley:                    Fantastic. So, what's the third one then?

Katy Tuncer:                    The third is called deciding fast and slow. So, the importance of not being the hold up where you are procrastinating over small decisions and getting in the way of other people making progress, but also not flitting around and making quick, big, strategic decisions or even in extreme cases, pivots of the business without proper care and consideration.

                                           The fourth one, building a team. The huge importance of being able to delegate, empower, whatever words you want to use, a team that is motivated and aligned with a vision and the appropriate operational detail to be able to know what they're supposed to do. In fact, there's a quote from Peter in the research about the importance of building a team and everything else will fall into place. That's how strongly he believes that.

                                           The fifth one is around getting things done and getting the right things done. So, the nuance on this is that most CEO's, founder CEO's know what the right things are to do, but for whatever reason they get distracted and we can talk about that bit in coaching in a moment.

                                           Then the last one is all about being resilient, about maintaining consistently the right amount of passion, renewing yourself, avoiding burnout and complete breakdown, and there are some really bad signs to look out for where CEO's are not sleeping properly, they're not on their A game because they're not looking after themselves properly and that spells disaster for the business.

Alan Cowley:                    So, you've identified these six success factors for CEO's.

Katy Tuncer:                    Yes.

Alan Cowley:                    Let's just talk about how coaching works. So, for the basics, for me and some other people that are listening, what are the mechanisms and secrets?

Katy Tuncer:                    Well, the first thing is to get their match right with the client. So, I know personally that I work best with earnest, ambitious, overachievers. I certainly wouldn't call them rounded leaders and neither would they. They have areas of absolute brilliance and areas where they really need to work and they know it. So, for example, I know that a client coming to work with me with that kind of profile and in a fast paced environment is going to work. So, I'd say the first thing is to get the match right.

                                           There's something else that's really important about the setup and that is the way that the client found you. Almost all of our referrals at Horizon37 are from word of mouth referrals. So, I have sometimes a referral where someone will come and they'll say, "I know that you achieved X with this person that referred to you and I want to achieve something like that as well." That is a dream referral and a dream set up because their expectations are all about them, what they can achieve, and it's all very positive.

                                           The opposite end of the scale is when you get a referral which says, "So and so, person Y, who may be on my Board or whatever, said I need to be fixed. There's something wrong with me, and that you are the person to fix." Being positioned like that at the beginning as some sort of fixing device or worse, like a weapon to get them into shape, it's a really hard one to come back from. So, that's all part of the set up that's really important as well. So, if anyone's making referrals for a CEO, if you're an investor and you're trying to work with your CEO to find a coach, the positioning of that is really, really important for success.

Alan Cowley:                    So, then how do you set up the coaching relationship?

Katy Tuncer:                    The first thing to cover off is always the confidentiality and the boundaries and that's a critical thing for coaching to work is to set the space and to commit to what you're going to do as a coach and be very clear about what you'd expect from the client to make the relationship work.

                                           What I quite often say to set that expectation is that I'm standing for my clients' brilliance. It's all about them. For me, when I'm coaching I'm in a flow and I'm absolutely there for them, I'm standing for their brilliance. Even if I do know a lot about their surrounding context or I do know the kind of people that they're talking about in coaching that's not relevant to me. It's all about what I'm listening for from them as the client and I will explain that at the beginning.

                                           Some people get quite surprised or even emotional at point when they realise, "Wow, I'm in an environment here where it's all about me and I'm used to being out there and everyone wants a piece of me and it's all about everyone else." Actually setting that up at the beginning of coaching can be very powerful.

Alan Cowley:                    What happens once you've started to build that relationship?

Katy Tuncer:                    So, once we've got to a point where we've connected and we've set expectations, boundaries, permissions, we're ready to go. The very first thing we'll start is to understand objectives. What is the client there to achieve? Sometimes they will be different as we go through the coaching, so what their incoming priorities are and that's totally fine. So, at the beginning we will talk about their goals. Their business goals, their personal goals. What do they want to achieve at the end of our coaching engagement? Usually I would begin with a finite coaching engagement with specific outcomes and I'll challenge them and I'll build on what they're saying. I'll ask them why they want to achieve that. I'll ask them if there are any underlying priorities and achievements they want to get, anything else that they would value, and we get that very clear at the beginning before anything else.

                                           Usually Horizon37 coaches, myself included, would then lay out an agenda for the next few sessions and we would talk about areas of breakthrough that the client would like to have in their mindsets. For example, new skills and techniques that they'd like to practise and then make sense of, analyse and make sense of in coaching and we'll lay out an agenda. But I was saying earlier, often that changes so we'll often come to session two and re-dig everything cause good clients, they've gone out and done tonnes of stuff out in the world based on their coaching session, they've taken the actions, put their comments into action and they come back to coaching going, "When I make sense of all that, what's next?" So, that's perfect. That's how we want to ...

Alan Cowley:                    That's the ideal situation. What about the opposite of that? When it all goes off-piste?

Katy Tuncer:                    There's two types of off-piste. There's good off-piste, which is when we really start to get to the nub of the real issues. Limiting beliefs, mindsets that are causing them to have persistent problems in certain situations, they cannot relate with certain type of people, that kind of thing. Those kind of things, when we get to that we go with it and I'm constantly aware of what the client wants to achieve overall and sometimes going down those routes can be incredibly powerful.

                                           There's other kinds of off-piste where you have to use your judgement  as a coach on this, but if someone starts to rant a lot, sometimes you need to say, "Is this really serving you? Is this allowing you to achieve the breakthrough that you want?" Now, sometimes they say, "Yes, I need to get this off my chest." Then I need to make sense of it. But other times you hear these repeated stories about a problem that someone else has done something wrong and actually as a coach you play it back and you say, "Have you noticed that you are using this word in all of these stories?" Or, "Is this about this person, are we in this coaching relationship to fix that person that you've got a problem with? Or do you want to come back to this?" Often you can sort of get people back to their purpose, their priorities and what really matters to them when you notice an off-piste like that.

                                           So, I mean, it comes with experience and I think when I first started doing coaching I was a lot more formulaic. One of the things I really hold close to my heart about how coaching has to work, is you need, as a coach, an entire repertoire of different tools, techniques, frameworks that you can use and then you kind of discard them all and you just pick and choose from the ones that you need at the time because you're free to be led by the clients' agenda. That's where you really want to get, into that space.

Alan Cowley:                    Can you elaborate a little bit more on these frameworks and techniques? What sort of stuff do you use to coach?

Katy Tuncer:                    Okay. That's a great question. There's a whole range of things. So, the things I like are diagnostics. Things like 360's, where you get input from lots of different people anonymously and then you get some new insights about yourself. I think some psychometrics are really helpful. I particularly like Myers-Briggs, which I probably would say because I'm ex-McKinsey, but I think most of our profession still thinks Myers-Briggs is good. But there are many others that are good psychometrics.

                                           Then there are also ones you can use on teams. There's a whole range and I think those can be quite helpful when you put them in context and you start with asking the client what they interpreted. There are some which I'm a bit cynical about and I get people come to me and say, "Can I join Horizon37 coaching team?" I've done a coaching training course and I used the five-step method, right? I say, "Well, we use a five step method every time." By the way, how many times have you tried it? I think ... I don't mean to be sort of stick in the mud or sound really old or anything because you can be excellent at coaching and not have tonnes of experience, but you can't be excellent if you're just following a formula every time. So, those are the kind of frameworks that I'm quite weary of. If it's like, here is a set of questions that I ask in this order and I get to this result. I don't think ... You can get some results but nothing like the kind of transformative results you get when you bring whatever the best thing of that moment is that you can find to that client.

Alan Cowley:                    So, you touched on coaches that work at Horizon37 and I know that you've said that it's notoriously difficult to describe a coach and you also told me before that you're not even the same coach to each client. So, can you describe what kind of coach works at Horizon37 and what is special about those coaches?

Katy Tuncer:                    Yeah, that's a really, tricky question because one of the answers is, that we are all our own individual coaches which always sounds like there is no single way, but that's the point is we don't try to conform and do it in one way. We had a big debate recently within our senior team about whether or not we should provide advice. Is advice outside the realm of coaching? Now, technically it is. So, we definitely all agreed that we should not be going in and giving advice on the market entry strategy that is appropriate at that particular time. You know, anything like that. That's strategic advice and that's outside the realm of coaching.

                                           For example, to try a new mindset when you're trying to relate with somebody. To think about them in a different way and we would actually advise to our clients that they should think about the positive capabilities, motivations, traits, behaviours that that other person might have coming into the collaboration. Like that's the classic one. We pretty much agreed in the Horizon37 team that that would be appropriate advice. You would advise your client to try that new mindset. That's one of the areas where we constantly debate what is the best way to do it. But some of the team would be very comfortable doing that, as I am for example, and I would say, "Here, look. This is a very well-trodden path, we work with lots of people that have had this particular sticking point. Try this." Others in the team would be much more gentle and create and the space and help the clients to think their way to that point themselves. It's not one or the other is right, but the point is, within our team we've all got the broad understanding of what it takes to be a leader and the relevant experience ourselves, and we've tried it enough times that we can make a judgement  each time.

Alan Cowley:                    That's what makes a good coach in your eyes?

Katy Tuncer:                    Not the only thing. I think it's a lot about the underlying attitude. I think I can say hand on heart, every single one of our coaches really cares about the impact that their clients' going to have as a result of working with them and when you think like that you get outside yourself and your own ego goes out the door and I think that's a critical part of being a coach. It's all about the client so much that you're in their world and you're standing there as a platform for their brilliance. I think that's a really important thing for being a good coach.

                                           There's one more thing as well, which I would say is really important for being a really excellent coach. So, I'm distinguishing here between you can be a good coach or trainer by teaching people techniques. So, you can teach somebody how to present with gravitas by putting their hands in a different way or standing in a different way, speaking at a different pace or a different tone of voice. There's lots of techniques that you can teach. The kind of coaching that we do starts with mindsets. So, if you had that problem, someone saying, "I want to present with gravitas," you'd start by saying, "Well, what value are you trying to create for the audience? How are you thinking about your audience and the value that you want to bring them?" Have you got a mindset of, "I should be here because I'm bringing value" or have you got a mindset of, "Do I look good, am I giving a good impression?" If you start at that point in a coaching conversation with mindsets, the impact is much bigger we find than when you have a whole load of learnt techniques. That applies in a whole load of other areas, I just use presenting as an example.

Alan Cowley:                    Yeah.

Katy Tuncer:                    But in lots of influencing, negotiation, selling.

Alan Cowley:                    If anyone is listening or is interested, how do you become a coach at Horizon37?

Katy Tuncer:                    Well, we are looking for new coaches all the time and so, the first thing is having a good look at our website and see whether you think you've got a fit and then to reach out and email me at or contact through our website. We are very interested in diverse coaches. We like to be able to say to our clients, "Here is a very wide range of types of coach. We guarantee that they're going to be high impact coaches but they are different." So, even if you don't think you're standard fit, we would really like to hear from diverse coaches to join our team.

Alan Cowley:                    Finally, have you got any advice to investors or CEO's, how they can find a coach?

Katy Tuncer:                    Yes. The first thing is to recognise that you want a coach and there is potential value from having a coach. So, if you've got to that point, great. That's like half the way there. I think it's important to distinguish between a coach and a mentor. So, a mentor is somebody who has specific knowledge, expertise. They've done it before and they would give advice and they might open doors. You know, that they're kind of wise. Right? That's a mentor. Often we find founder CEO's have lots of mentors.

                                           A coach is different. The coach is there to help you make sense of your situation, to make your own choices, and to also make sense of the whole array of advice. Great quote in the Born or Made research, advice is a form of regurgitated nostalgia. Right? Now, this is true. A coach is there to help you choose what advice to take, what not to take, who to seek proactively to get advice from and that. So, there's a difference.

                                           So, I think when you think about trying to find a coach, don't get mixed up between a mentor and a coach. A great mentor knows stuff. A great coach doesn't need to have done the same things that you've done precisely before. In fact, sometimes that can be a hindrance. I find myself doing regurgitated nostalgia sometimes when someone's dealing with exactly the same problem that I have and I have to stop myself. So, there's a really important difference there.

                                           But then go out, take advice from people that you know and get referrals for coaches. It's such a personal thing, and ask those people, "What did you achieve from working with that coach?" Far more important than getting them to try and deconstruct what that coach did with them. Just ask them what they achieved, and I think that's probably the best way to get your short list of coaches. Then have a chat with each of them. See how you fit, see how you feel about the interaction. See where they ask you lots of questions and try to understand your problem or whether they try to tell you all about how great they are and which five step process they're using. Beware, beware. So, anyway, but I'm a big advocate of coaching of course and we've seen that's it's really growing. That more and more people are seeking coaches to improve their performance as leaders.

Alan Cowley:                    I completely agree. I completely agree. I think you focus on investors and CEO's and I think this is for general life as well. I think it is useful.

Katy Tuncer:                    Yeah.

Alan Cowley:                    To anyone that's listening, whether you're in the start-up ecosystem or not.

Katy Tuncer:                    Yeah. It's really great to be part of a profession that is not only growing but innovating like crazy. I get asked all the time, "What bits of your coaching work can be codified so that a robot could do it?" Great debate. You know? How much of what you're doing can be done on the phone? Quite a lot. Not all of it. Some bits, you know, and there's a constant innovation in the profession and it's really fun being part of it right now.

Alan Cowley:                    Brilliant. All right. Thanks very much Katy.

Katy Tuncer:                    Thanks for having me on.

Alan Cowley:                    For the second podcast.

Peter Cowley:                  Thanks for listening to another Invested Investor podcast. You can subscribe to all future podcasts via our website or via number of podcast platforms online. Remember, you can order our book online and be sure to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to get the most up to date, interesting, and insightful content from the Invested Investor.