Hans Phillips of Ontoco: “Commit to a bold future”

Commit to a bold future. State it powerfully. Have faith in the vision, so your people can follow you. Keep talking about the future. Focus on what is possible and the discovery it will take to get there. Be willing to forge a path into the unknown while focusing on the future. A leader had […]

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Commit to a bold future. State it powerfully. Have faith in the vision, so your people can follow you. Keep talking about the future. Focus on what is possible and the discovery it will take to get there. Be willing to forge a path into the unknown while focusing on the future. A leader had personality dynamics on his team. The current product was not working. Politics and gossip ensued. By creating a new future, he galvanized his team, they created a new product and were ultimately able to reinvigorate the business.


As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Hans Phillips.

Hans Phillips provides consulting, training and coaching for people worldwide. He supports people to discover permanent solutions to long-term challenges. With a focus on sustainable high performance, Hans works to transform people’s actions and results. He also assists in creating new avenues of communication and empowering workable relationships with others. Whether the project is professional or personal, Hans has the experience and ability to create lasting change. Using proven processes, methods and philosophies from the fields of ontology, phenomenology, emotional intelligence and psychology, Hans helps his clients get what they want from life. His clients report high levels of satisfaction and fun, as well as powerful new results.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My father was a top executive in corporate America as I was growing up. I watched him grow as a leader and achieve record breaking success while mentoring hundreds of people to be more than they ever dreamed. At the same time, I saw the price he paid for the excess that went with his success. He was dead by the time he was 50. This was heartbreaking for me and a lot of other people around him. How could someone so dynamic and successful let his inner demons kill him? I began to study success, communication and relationships and 10 years later met my wife Desiree. She was into metaphysical science, and I had never heard of such a thing. At first I resisted. If I can’t see it, it’s not real. But after watching her create seemingly impossible results in her life, I jumped in with both feet. We started a self-esteem program for teens in California and hired consultants and coaches to make sure we were on track. One of the people we hired was a man named Tex Johnston. He created amazing results with us, and I could not figure out how he was doing it. He offered a two-year training program, and I loved every minute of it. I hung my shingle and started my own consulting business the second year and had 23 clients by the end of the year. Year two I had 33 (too many!), and year three I started a training program for others. 33 years and 33,000 client hours later, here I am. I get paid to explore and discover how to have a sustainable, high-performance, balanced and successful life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I hired a consultant to look at my business before I opened my doors. Everything looked good until I told her my hourly rate. “For what you provide and what it’s taken you to get here, that is underpriced. You need to double your rate.” she said. Wow. Double? The first five times I had to voice that new price to a prospect were TERRIFYING! So much so that one woman asked me, “Are you ok?” I was not ok! Say yes or no and let me get the heck out of here! What I learned was I was pricing myself and my identity/ego, NOT the results. Selling yourself or the process is easier for you but far less enthralling for the prospect. But listen to them, reflect their vision, goals and dreams back to them and sell them that! Challenging for you, but so much more exciting for the prospective client.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My first mentor was my father, Dick Phillips. It was such a mixed bag of ego, dysfunction, brilliance and success, it was hard to emulate. The man who trained me was Tex Johnston. His patience, support, clarity, commitment, sense of humor, love and generosity got me where I am today. Looking back, I was young and earnest. No matter what I came up with as a ‘good idea,’ he always responded, “not bad.” And then he would share his wisdom, insight, processes and tools. He had such patience and compassion for my growth process. I will be in his debt forever.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

This is my favorite part of my business. My purpose is to share love, presence in the current moment and choice with as many of the people on this planet as I can until I die. I was SO enthusiastic when I started. I was in service of that purpose, and it made the conversations, marketing, sales and delivery so easy. I was passionate, positive, clear and in action. I loved my life. All of that was infectious for others.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

I had a consulting company many years ago. We were ‘recession proof’ because of our attitude and beliefs. In good times, we did great. In bad times, we had to be more patient, but we still did great. I read years ago that successful people have habits you can follow. I remember three in particular. They don’t watch TV, they don’t read the newspaper and they get up early in the morning. My heart sank when I read that because I loved to watch TV, read a newspaper and sleep in! It took years of practice, but I mastered all three in the end, and I understand why successful people do what they do. It is critical to manage your focus, manage what you let into your mind and heart, manage your time and your purposeful work and manage your exposure to our current ‘culture.’ So much is invented and NOT meant to have you or your team be successful. A powerful vision can withstand the current dire circumstances.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I did consider giving up a couple of times. Not to get too hippy dippy, but each time I was faced with the likely prospect of having to stop my work, I received clear signs that I was meant to keep going. So clear that I would laugh out loud. Because the circumstances that led to me almost quitting seemed insurmountable. And then the path forward became clear. I take extraordinary care of my well-being on a daily basis, so I am able to make good choices and take powerful actions in the moment. So many people deplete themselves, and their reactive thoughts and feelings run their personal and professional lives, ultimately impacting their results. It seems like a mystery to them, so they try to work harder. As Tex used to say, “If hard work was the answer, everyone who is working hard would be successful. And they are not.” So my focus is on work/life balance and sustainable high performance. I am in the best shape of my life at 60 years old. My EQ is high. My IQ is high and focused. I have worked on healing the family dysfunction from my childhood that bled into my adulthood. I practice what I coach and train people to do. I live my work. It keeps me humble, grateful and graceful.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Listening, encouraging, supporting, holding the vision and sharing it again and again, not being reactive to the team’s fear/insecurity/anxiety, managing expectations on both sides and practicing acknowledgement and straight talk.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Create a short-term vision. Have the team co-create the vision with the leader. CELEBRATE the milestones along the way. Have the team appreciate each other on a weekly basis. Check in with people to see how they are doing mentally and emotionally. Care a bit about their personal lives. Resist the urge to burn people out chasing an elusive dollar. Play the long game AND the short game. Give unexpected breaks.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

In person or via video. Be responsible. Short apology. Be direct. No reasons, excuses or storytelling. Ask how to make it better. LISTEN. Make promises about the near future and then get to work keeping those promises.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

You have to do what every explorer in history has done. You propose a vision and an outcome. Gather your resources and your team. And then go for it, knowing you will encounter challenges along the way. And perhaps fail. But proceed with enthusiasm and optimism. Manage the mood as you go forward.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Be authentic. Say when you don’t know something. Be a bit transparent. Share some of yourself. Also share your passion for continuing the journey and making it to the other side. Someone is going to make it. Why not you and your team?

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  1. Stop all training and coaching
  2. Drive the executive team to work long hours and demand that employees follow suit
  3. Text and email in the evenings and weekends sending the message that work is 24/7
  4. Not taking rest periods to regroup and remind yourself why you are working in the first place

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

I just assume that business is being done. Why not do it with me? This is a great time to get support. If the dollar is harder to get, why wouldn’t you and your team get training on how to best pursue that dollar? There is so much training/coaching/consulting that goes right to the bottom line for a company. And they don’t realize it. So they just work harder and longer, and they miss the opportunity that challenging times present.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Review the vision, mission, core values and fundamental operating procedures for the company. Fine tune all of it. Ask the team to add their feedback. Take it or don’t but ask, as this leads to buy-in. Then take the time to present and talk about each item. If you want your team to be fully invested, you have to guide them to investing in each part. I know a company that was in turmoil. Everyone came on board because they loved the product, the service and the leader. When I came in, I discovered they were 12 months into a ’sprint’ and no one knew when it was going to end. They had lost all sight of the foundation of the company. Everyone was busy, and nobody was happy. Needless to say, I did not get hired, and the sprint continued.
  2. Focus on appreciation. People will work far harder for love and appreciation than they will for money. You can appreciate your peoples actions (“Thanks for turning in that report on time last Friday.”), but it is more impactful to appreciate their core qualities and who they are as they take the actions (“I appreciate your focus, integrity and attention to detail. It really improved the report you submitted). A number of executives I have worked with see appreciation as a demotivator. When I had an executive include it in each of his team meetings, one of the members said, “This is my favorite meeting each week.” Appreciation works!
  3. Double down on higher levels of self-care. Most people work harder and longer in challenging times. But this has a limit, which people often exceed. And then you have to deal with burnout. Instead, work on being more efficient and effective. Make sure you rest, recharge and play when you are off work. Give up living to work and take on working to live. Share about some of your experiences during your time off with your people, so they can see you enjoying yourself. An executive I was working with was able to manage his mood and his psychology in a new way that had his people be optimistic and enthusiastic about the current and future challenges. He inspired them with his vitality.
  4. Take the time to coach/train/mentor. Oftentimes people isolate during difficult times. Many companies throw coaching and training out the window to cut costs. When you see a team member who needs support, put them with someone who can coach/train/mentor them. You may want to consider being proactive about this vs. waiting for people to need it. A leader I was working with created a buddy system so each team member had someone to share support with. Productivity increases as people focus on the vision and actions versus negative thoughts and feelings.
  5. Commit to a bold future. State it powerfully. Have faith in the vision, so your people can follow you. Keep talking about the future. Focus on what is possible and the discovery it will take to get there. Be willing to forge a path into the unknown while focusing on the future. A leader had personality dynamics on his team. The current product was not working. Politics and gossip ensued. By creating a new future, he galvanized his team, they created a new product and were ultimately able to reinvigorate the business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Boldness has magic in it.” — Goethe

I have failed my way to success. I have been bold, tried and come up short. AND there have been magical moments where boldness has created what is next in my life and work. It works to be bold, but you need to make sure you can sustain it. Mood is a critical part of enjoying the process and the success.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Under the forms section on my website at ontoco.com. There are lots of helpful tools, processes and questions.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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