“Know that setbacks can become stepping stones”with Authors Bill Eckstrom and Sarah Wirth, and Phil Laboon

Know that setbacks can become stepping stones — It sound cheesy, but my biggest professional failure turned out to be a blessing. As Bill mentioned before, we were both fired from the same company. I’d never not succeeded at a job, so that really bruised my ego. Then I was hired by Bill just a couple months […]

Know that setbacks can become stepping stones — It sound cheesy, but my biggest professional failure turned out to be a blessing. As Bill mentioned before, we were both fired from the same company. I’d never not succeeded at a job, so that really bruised my ego. Then I was hired by Bill just a couple months later into my ideal job. The latter doesn’t happen without the former.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Eckstrom and Sarah Wirth, co-authors of THE COACHING EFFECT: What Great Leaders Do To Increase Sales, Enhance Performance, And Sustain Growth. Bill is the founder of EcSell Institute, a research-based organization that works with leaders internationally to help them better understand, measure, and elevate coaching’s impact on performance. Bill was invited to the TEDx stage in 2017, and his talk “Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life” was the fastest-growing TEDx Talk in the history of the event when it was released. Sarah is vice president of client services at EcSell Institute. She has twenty years of experience in employee assessment, leadership development, sales executive coaching, and customer service.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Bill — Although a couple years apart, Sarah and I were both fired from the same company. I started EcSell Institute shortly after being fired and hired Sarah not long after she was let go. Part of what motivated us after this happened was to figure out what the best leaders were doing to create sustainable growth.

Sarah — Since Bill and I had both worked in environments where we experienced not-so-great coaching, we were also motivated to build a company that would help all coaches improve. We know first-hand the difference that good coaching makes to your success.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? 
How much space do we have to write this down? 
 The company was started late in 2008, and everyone knows what kind of shape our economy was in at that time. The first call we ever made to a prospect, the prospect picked up the phone and actually said to our sales person, “Are you even aware what is happening to our economy?” and then promptly hung up.
 Our office, the first couple years, was in my (Bill’s) house due to our inability to afford any commercial space. Everyone had to get used to working around my three school-aged children and two barking dogs. 
 The first Coaching Summit event we held was in San Francisco in 2009 and we had only 8 people attend. We had booked space for 50+ and ended up paying for it all, but it was an early turning point in our company. A colleague mentioned to me that we should strongly consider cancelling the event and cash it in. My response was, we are going to hold the event and behave like there are 100 people attending, and the eight who did attend would be treated to the most amazing two days of education they had ever received.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
A primary motivator for me was the commitment I made to people like Sarah, who, in spite of knowing how small we were, put their trust in me. I wasn’t going to let them down by allowing the business to fail. Our work and respective coaching discoveries were also so profound that they added to the engagement of our work. And though cliché’, we just always found a way to make something happen when needed.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
At the time, I couldn’t have defined what Grit even meant. Looking back, it wasn’t just Sarah and me who personified this, but our entire team. They are an amazing group of freakishly talented people who had many different opportunities to move to better paying jobs along the way, but instead, chose to grind it out with each other. I do believe there is some good ol` fashion loyalty and work ethic involved — we would like to think it is a Nebraska thing.

So, how are things going today? 🙂
Things are going well, but we are never satisfied with our growth. This is not to say we don’t celebrate wins, but we are quick to say, “Okay, what’s next?” When I take a minute to reflect, I recognize some amazing accomplishments our team has put forth:
 We wrote a book that is backed with research, not opinion, that describes what great coaches do to grow team performance.
 We developed the Coaching Performance Equation (described in the book).
 We developed the Growth Rings, which were introduced to the world in our TEDx Talk that went viral (also described in the book).
 We have been able to correlate coaching activities to results, such as increases in sales results (in the book).
 We are the only company that I know of that can measure the quantity and quality of coaching (we detail how to do it in the book).
 And more…

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I don’t think it is ever a single thing, but like a great leader/coach, there are a series of strengths that allow us to stand out. 
 Our team is, first and foremost, as I said earlier, full of freakishly talented people. We assess everyone’s talents to make sure they are not just a good fit for culture, but also A+ raw talent. 
 We use research as the backbone to all our programming. Whether delivering a keynote address or creating a new coaching program, research guides us. 
 We developed a coaching cloud software that helps us quantify coaching/leadership effectiveness. 
 I also think we were naïve enough to believe all coaches/leaders would want to know how to improve; that they would welcome not just the quantification of their effectiveness, but would willingly take action to improve. And, while there are those that do search for that, most leaders don’t want us to hold a mirror in front of them. Most leaders/coaches don’t want to be held accountable to great coaching, and, in spite of data, most will continue to treat people the same way, leading to the same results. As a result, we have to find the organizations and leaders who are desirous of and willing to lead through personal change.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Bill — This is an interesting question because I’m not sure there is a formula to this or that it applies to entrepreneurs. I think entrepreneurs have an inherent “one speed, full speed” nature about them, so burn out is not something they often consider — they sign up for this fast paced life. To create a thriving business, there is not much “work/life balance,” and an entrepreneur typically works at what most would consider “burn out” speed. Balance is something we give up to create what we hope will be a life- or world-changing business.

Sarah — I think avoiding burnout is about listening to your mind and your body. If you are overwhelmed, physically or mentally, then listen to that and respond accordingly. We’ve had the benefit of learning mindfulness from great mentors like Dr. Peter Jensen and sometimes little things in your day, like taking a walk or meditating for 10 minutes, can make a big difference.

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?
Yes! His name is also Bill (aka Mitch in The Coaching Effect), and what he did differently is described in the beginning of the book. Bill was my boss when I got into my first leadership/coaching role in the medical equipment business. He, for whatever reason, took a liking to me and really wanted me to succeed. Though he couldn’t articulate it at that time, Bill seemed to know that growth only occurred in a state of discomfort and created a ton of it for me. He challenged most everything I did (in a positive way), gave me all kinds of room to fail (which I obliged him in doing), but he also treated me like a brother. He cared about me deeply, and though I would avoid him at times to escape his never-ending challenges, I never feared for my job. He has a unique way of making me feel secure, but never comfortable.

Sarah — A former boss, Malcolm, was a great mentor to me in my first professional experience. He knew me well enough to know when I needed a challenge. I remember he once asked me to work with him on a special project that required me to flex my creative and strategic muscles to help develop a new product for our clients. I loved the project and appreciated that Malcolm tapped me to do it with him. When I asked him why he chose me as his partner, he said, “I could tell you were bored and needed a challenge.” I didn’t know about the importance of getting out of order back then, but Malcolm definitely did.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? 
Bill — My wife and I have always been involved with young people in a variety of capacities. Sometimes the most powerful of which have been informal: a young woman who ran out of money and needed a place to live during college, so we housed her. A young man battling depression and needed a place to escape from the stress of college — we took care of him. Countless college students had access to our home to do laundry, a quiet place to study, we cooked Sunday dinner for kids who did not get dinner on campus — these are all examples of what we love doing. Recently, in addition to working with young adults, I am also loving therapy dog work with our labrador.

Sarah — The area I’ve focused on the most is mentoring other women leaders. I was lucky enough to have some great mentors in my life, both men and women, and want to pay that forward by helping others with their careers. I find that young women in particular are in need and desirous of being able to talk to another woman that has faced some similar challenges.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Bill –
 1. Don’t start a company during a recession — we began late in 2008.
 2. Start a company during a recession — people think you are either brilliant or crazy and I don’t mind either association.
 3. You will end up doing more writing than you ever considered, and I’m not even referring to the book! Blogs, articles, research papers, white papers, content, content, content. It takes me longer to write than most and this has always been a struggle. 
 4. It truly will cost you 3X more $ than planned and take 3X longer to become profitable. This held true for us, but it would not have deterred me, I just would have planned differently.
 5. Hire your own personal coach sooner than later. I eventually did this and my coach, Cathy, has proven to be an invaluable gift for me.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

1. Seek out mentors or coaches who will push you — My son’s tennis game improved a ton when he found a coach that wasn’t easy on him and demanded more.

2. Do something that scares you and do it scared if you have to — I don’t love public speaking, but I’ve forced myself to do it as a way to grow, and I still get VERY nervous.

3. Reframe failing as just learning — If you try something and it doesn’t work, you’ve now learned something. I’ve tried many presentation techniques over the years that weren’t effective, but that’s okay because I learned what didn’t work. Failing is valuable if you apply what you learned to make changes going forward.

4. Know that setbacks can become stepping stones — It sound cheesy, but my biggest professional failure turned out to be a blessing. As Bill mentioned before, we were both fired from the same company. I’d never not succeeded at a job, so that really bruised my ego. Then I was hired by Bill just a couple months later into my ideal job. The latter doesn’t happen without the former.

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. 🙂

Get out of order and become comfortable with discomfort. Growth only occurs in a state of discomfort (which is also the message of my TEDx Talk). Hopefully the movement has already begun.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Bill Eckstrom on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/billeckstrom/)
 @billeckstrom on Twitter
 @eckstromwl on Instagram

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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