A coach’s main role is to ask insightful how, what, and why questions guiding the client to answer their most important challenges for themselves. Success occurs when the client shifts from seeking answers from others to trusting their own intuition for a path forward.
The coaching industry is now tremendous. It is a 15 billion dollar industry. Many professionals have left their office jobs to become highly successful coaches. At the same time, not everyone who starts a coaching business sees success. What does someone starting a career as a life coach, wellness coach, or business coach need to know to turn it into a very successful and rewarding career?
In this interview series, called “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach” we are interviewing experienced and successful life coaches, wellness coaches, fitness coaches, business and executive coaches and other forms of coaches who share the strategies you need to create a successful career as a life or business coach.
In this particular interview, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michael S. Seaver.
Michael S. Seaver is an award-winning keynote speaker, leadership consultant, executive coach, and author. He offers no-nonsense strategies to help people find confidence in their life’s narrative, commonalities across generations working today, and ways to communicate with emotional intelligence. His latest book, I Know: A Practical Guide For Awakening To What’s Within And Finding Work-Life Integration, is available in print, ebook, and audiobook.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and what brought you to this particular career path?
I was raised in a West Michigan town of 2,500 residents. My grandfather started the family business, Seaver’s Lawn Service, Inc., in 1953 and my father took over in 1987. From ages 12 through 24, I maintained lawns, landscaped properties, and plowed snow, leading crews of five to ten people. I learned the values of hard work, sacrifice and setting long-term goals.
My wife and I moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2003 to escape Michigan’s snow and join a growing economy. Yet, as it slowed in 2008, we divorced, and I suffered minor bouts of depression and understanding my place in the world. Thankfully, I was accepted to and completed an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management where I traveled internationally, interacting with students from 53 countries and saw the importance of authenticity, assertive communication, and inclusion of diverse people when conducting business.
I started my coaching and consulting practice in October 2011 and have traveled the world uncovering new perspectives. I’ve been blessed to coach hundreds of leaders and have worked on a number of projects that have changed corporate cultures from command and control to align and empower. Through it all, I realized that the more I challenged mainstream ideologies, the more I recognized the patterns in human life, and the more I shared how people are more similar than dissimilar — the more I could uplift others to live authentically and empower them to become coaches to the people around them. All the hardships and lessons I learned had purpose and now I uplift others as they uncover their authentic selves.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Years ago, I surveyed my clients and asked what they appreciated most about me and my program. What struck me was the theme that I listened intently. My executive clients often feel lonely because of their stature in the workplace. I serve as a safe place for them to express their feelings in a way they can’t to their peers or teams. So, first character trait — listen actively. You’ll be followed, trusted, and respected more deeply.
Second, I authentically shared the lows of my personal journey. In being vulnerable first, I made it okay for them to share something they might not have otherwise. For decades, western societies were built upon what Stephen R. Covey called the “personality ethic.” Leaders had to appear a certain way, wear a mask, only share their wins to be perceived as credible. The tides have turned and being a leader today means you’re trustworthy because you operate by a “character ethic.” You, with integrity, transparently share your challenges, mistakes made, and your personal life experiences at work.
Another character trait that guided me was leading by example. Years ago, my intuition told me rote learning was being replaced by experiential learning and peer-to-peer networks. I shifted away from partnerships with universities and serving on boards of directors. I decentralized how I shared my ideas and processes and story openly on social media. I began offering free monthly webinars. I published I Know and immediately launched a reading group and executive mastermind based on it. As uncomfortable as being an outsider was at the time, I feel enormously blessed that I trusted my intuition, dissociated from bureaucracy, and am now meeting people where they are.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
20 minutes of meditation each morning. Daily exercise for one hour. Eating vegetarian and alkaline for my DNA. Acting in alignment with my mission. Setting long-term goals and monthly milestones to accomplish them. I avoid television. I talk with leaders from five different countries each month. On the first of the month, I review my previous month’s journal entries, find patterns, and adjust for the upcoming month. The consistency of these habits has helped me shed old emotional triggers, greatly reduced physical illness, and taught me new skills that help me help more people. Without these daily practices, I wouldn’t feel as clear about which services to offer clients. I wouldn’t have gotten out of a depressed state in early 2019. I wouldn’t have the motivation to take calculated risks. As time has passed and my goals evolved, my habits did as well. Every level of my life has demanded a different version of me. Yours will as well. Embrace these minor changes as they often lead to newfound levels of success.
This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
The American Psychological Association released a study in early 2021 confirming that Americans are more stressed than they’ve ever been. Gallup’s recent wellbeing studies confirm that Americans are “thriving” at the lowest levels they’ve ever tracked. The indefinite uncertainty of society’s transformation has offered each of us the opportunity to reassess what we value most. We could continue down the old track of stress, dis-ease, and unhappiness, or we can reform our personal habits to slowly design a life full of what gifts us the most happiness. When I talk to executives who are nearing retirement, I repeatedly hear long lists of regrets — “I wish I wouldn’t have put money before my family. I wish I would’ve started my own business. I wish I would’ve seen more of the world.” Creating new habits that break you free from society’s unhealthy pressures will guide you to a life filled with joy… and it’ll help ensure you limit feelings of regret.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
Knowing your personal mission (your “why”, your purpose) and professional, personal, and relationship goals is the place to start. With goals set, you can then design weekly habits, that if repeated consistently, will help you make meaningful progress. As you’re confronted by distractions, unexpected roadblocks, and new information, you can compare your habits to your mission to offer you confidence in saying “yes” or “no” to new courses of action. The more aligned your new habits are with your mission, the easier it will be to develop more and more good habits.
As you stop no longer needed habits, ask family and friends to hold you accountable by calling you out when you do something you said you desire to stop. Or, promise yourself that if you stop repeating a bad habit, you’ll reward yourself in a meaningful way in 30 days. Each time you repeat an old habit, reprimand or take something away from yourself. Establishing good habits is easier when you repeatedly reward yourself. And, they incur the consequences of mis-aligned choices. Wellbeing is born out of redistributing your time into activities that uplift you, gift you time with others, and pull you towards the version of yourself you’ve dreamt of.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Your challenges aren’t in the way… they are the way,” Ron and Mary Hulnick. I was sold hook, line, and sinker on perfection. On being perfect. On not making mistakes. On projecting an image of who I wanted others to think me to be. For years, I was unhappy. Miserable. Inauthentic. One day, I considered suicide because I couldn’t find a way out of the hole I dug for my life. Somehow, I came across the Hulnick’s quote and I was able to connect the dots in how my life’s challenges happened for a reason. I was meant to experience them so I could learn how to overcome them — and then guide others to overcome the same challenges for themselves. Today, I safely walk people and organizations through the most emotionally messy changes. By choosing to be the person I needed when I was younger, I proactively teach leaders how to heal themselves and then pay it forward coaching and mentoring others. As the tide rises, each boat does as well.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
On January 1st, 2021, I published I Know: A Practical Guide For Awakening To What’s Within And Finding Work-Life Integration. After reading the book, a Sacramento-based finance executive approached me to lead a reading group and CFO roundtable. Two months later, I launched the “You and I Know Circle” with 12 leaders from around the United States. The feedback we’re receiving about the book and from Circle members has been phenomenal and enormously validating for me.
Every other Friday, I facilitate a one-hour group Zoom meeting with a celebration of wins, a behind-the-scenes review of a chapter, and a series of questions guiding members to end old behaviors, experiment with new ways of being, and fully commit to aligned habits. After each meeting, I summarize key takeaways and offer action items to be completed the following week. Half-way in between meetings, I email members again with deeper insights, resources, action items to consider, and how to get prepped for the next group call.
The You and I Know Circle creates much needed psychological safety to be vulnerable and take calculated risks. Members realize they’re not alone in navigating personal and professional challenges. And, they’re authentically sharing their voice and life’s mission. I’m so proud of the fears they’re overcoming, the clarity they’re uncovering, and the long-term relationships they’re developing.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many coaches are successful, but some are not very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful coaches from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
In chapter nine of I Know, I dive into specifics of being a sought-after coach. I share a five-step meeting structure, nine practices of great coaches, and methods to ensure your personal traumas and biases don’t inhibit your coaching style.
1. Don’t Give Answers. Coaches are not mentors, counselors, or consultants. A coach’s main role is to ask insightful how, what, and why questions guiding the client to answer their most important challenges for themselves. Success occurs when the client shifts from seeking answers from others to trusting their own intuition for a path forward. I once coached a SVP of Retail who had been giving his staff answers. On the whiteboard to the left of his desk, I asked him to write “3 Solutions For Every Problem.” When his team came to his office looking for answers, he simply pointed to the phrase on the whiteboard. In a short period of time, each team member was offering solutions and taking profound ownership of their choices. The business flourished.
2. Do As I Do. Successful coaches distinguish themselves by only coaching on topics for which they’ve received formal training or from their own personal experiences. Three years ago I coached the CEO of marketing firm. About three months into the agreement, he disclosed he was addicted to cocaine. We immediately agreed that he’d engage a medical doctor to help him release his dependency and a therapist to process childhood traumas. I continued to help with branding, communication, and business strategy. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I tried to do the work of the physician and counselor. It would’ve been deeply inauthentic of me, and likely detrimental to he and his family.
3. Ideal Audience. Be hyper clear and specific about who you serve and why. When I was a teenager, I was a robot in my family’s business. After I finished an MBA at age 30, I realized I wanted to be a coach. I was given the advice that I should help others overcome the same challenge I had overcome for myself. So, today, I help executives become the most authentic versions of themselves. I know a career coach in Colorado who worked as a corporate recruiter for decades and she now helps clients build their personal brands to land their ideal jobs. I know a coach in California who was physically and emotionally abused by her ex-husband. She is now a life coach uplifting battered women. Allow your pain to become your purpose and your ideal audience will be easily defined.
4. Linear Process. Another characteristic to find clarity in is the step-by-step process you’ll walk your clients through. Coaches who have a multi-step process with defined action items and timelines, benefits of each action, aligned resources and ideas, feelings a client should experience, and a descriptive name. For example, I call my process the “Purpose Driven Leadership Experience.” I chose this name because I guide leaders in uncovering their purpose and most authentic selves through intentionally manufacturing learning experiences.
5. Meet People Where They Are. In the Age of Aquarius, bureaucratic, hierarchical, and centralized power structures are being replaced by grass roots, holacratic, and decentralized systems. Ahead-of-their-time coaches are clear on who their ideal client is and where that client invests their time. In the society unfolding, coaches have to share the same information through a variety of channels. Consider designing a content calendar where the same daily message is shared via your website, social channels, newsletter, webinars, public presentations, media publications, podcast, YouTube, and more. This is hard to do, but once you get in a flow, you’ll be thankful you invested the effort to do so. The universe loves consistency applied over a long period of time.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen coaches make when they start their business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
To start, many do the opposite of the above five suggestions. And, that’s okay — we learn best from our mistakes. Some coaches think they need professional coaching certifications to be credible. That’s untrue. To counter this, openly share your personal journey, the process you used to overcome challenges, and client testimonials. I’ve seen coaches set the pricing of their hourly fees and packages at half of what they’re truly worth. There’s considerable data online about the right pricing for coaching services in your geography. Check out the International Coaching Federation, Forbes Coaches Council, or Society for Human Resource Management. Many coach for free thinking it’ll build goodwill and drive business later (it doesn’t). Charge something for your time… and offer discounts, buy one get ones, or free access to your resources if need be.
Based on your experience and success, what are a few of the most important things a coach should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience? Please share a story or an example for each.
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Coaches who facilitate incredible change for clients consistently paint a picture of a future filled with possibility, joy, and hope. Humans are a social species and we feel safest when we navigate challenges with someone by our side. So, listen actively, reserve judgment, and honor that they’re doing the best they can at that point in time. Another goal might be to purposely create feelings at each step of the client’s journey that helps them see how far they’ve come and what they can achieve by remaining focused on your process. And, if you unexpectedly check on your clients every 3–4 days, they’ll know just how committed you are to their transformation. Intentionally create feelings in your clients. It’s a game changer.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business, and particularly in coaching. What are the best ways for a coach to find customers? Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
First, give without expectation of return. I shared channels above that could be included in your content calendar. The world’s information is available for free online and prospective clients have numerous options and it’s imperative you find a way to differentiate. By authentically sharing your journey and consistently giving away your best ideas through myriad channels over a long period of time, serendipitous opportunities will appear.
Also consider partnership with other coaches to gain access to new circles of influence. Co-author articles, be a guest on their podcast, tag and share their resources on social media, attend their webinars — these are just a few examples. Get creative. Another option would be to offer a free 30-minute introductory strategy session. This is not a sales call. It’s an opportunity to help the potential client express themselves, clearly identify their challenges, and see what they’ll actually need to accomplish their goals. If I can’t help, I refer them to other coaches. If there may be a match, then I schedule another meeting to dive into specifics. Remember, give, give, give… then receive.
Coaches are similar to startup founders who often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to end up burning the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to your fellow coaches about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting their business?
Schedule your priorities. Block your calendar each day weeks in advance for the activities that will keep you balanced. Whether meditation, exercise, journaling, time with family and friends, reading, listening to podcasts, rest, or other, block your calendar and devote that time to the activity that balances, uplifts, and recharges you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement would stopping people from looking to celebrities, athletes, government officials, or subject matter experts for answers to their lives’ most pressing questions. I believe Teddy Roosevelt said it succinctly when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” External stories can be motivating, but someone else’s unique journey shouldn’t be emulated. Your journey is yours. I believe each of us has the answers inside us already. We have to dig to find them. By being still, sitting in meditation or prayer, and crashing disparate ideas together, an empowering path forward will be made available. Instead of believing in something outside yourself, believe in yourself.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Author Dan Pink. I envy his data-driven approach, the way he tells stories, and his empowering Pinkcast. I’d like to learn about how his parents shaped him emotionally, lessons he learned from traumatic events, and what he hopes to leave society with.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please visit https://michaelsseaver.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!