Know Thyself. I supported the COO of a consulting firm two years ago that was known to play favorites with her staff. As time passed, her favorites began to feel ostracized, overworked, and underappreciated. Their department revenue dipped, employee turnover increased, and clients were leaving. Through my coaching with her, we were able to identify why she played favorites, how to release her fear of vulnerability, and what she could do to redistribute appreciation to persons that reported to her. Thankfully, her organization has thrived during COVID-19. They’ve not had to lay anyone off, they will meet their annual budget, and they’re hiring again. Knowing herself stopped the destructive behaviors that trickled down through every layer of her team.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael S. Seaver.
Michael S. Seaver, Founder of Seaver Consulting, LLC, is an executive coach with expertise in executive leadership, personal branding, change management, organizational effectiveness, and employee engagement. Clients have included executives and leaders at Stanford Healthcare, Honeywell, Boeing, and more. Prior positions included the Director of Talent Sourcing at Banner Health, largest private employer in Arizona with over 50,000 employees, Director of Career Management Alumni Services at Thunderbird School of Global Management, and Assistant Director at W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University coaching MBA students and alumni. He is certified to deliver TTISI assessments (e.g. DISC, 12 Driving Forces, EQ). www.michaelsseaver.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
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 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.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I have two tattoos because of my stepdaughter. Aleah’s mom and I dated for seven years (did not marry), and although she and I are no longer together, Aleah is now 20 and an even bigger part of my life. Over the last decade, I have had four coaches, two therapists, and have paid for countless meals for mentors to help me find clarity. I’ve come to believe that children are our greatest teacher. They mirror back to us the very things we need to improve in ourselves, remind us about the purpose of human life, and the potential that sits latent inside. Shortly after she graduated high school, we backpacked across Europe. In Munich, Germany, she asked me a question I never ever considered. She asked me if I’d get matching tattoos with her. My heart melted. Two weeks later, we both had ink on the inside of our biceps. Because of Aleah, I honor diverse perspectives more easily, I display my authentic self with more confidence, and I help heal my clients’ relationships with their children.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In early 2012, one of my very first clients asked for an outline and timeline of the learning I would be guiding him through in our six sessions together. I didn’t have one. I had taken his money and didn’t have an expected outcome for our time together. I intuitively knew how to ask questions that pulled learning out of people, but I was completely unaware about how to sequentially manufacture learning experiences that would evoke necessary emotions and key learning that would set the person up for what was coming next. Embarrassingly, I invested the next seven nights into reading coaching books, designing a haphazard process, and paying a coach way too much money to tell me the process was okay to use. Lesson learned. Fast forward to today, I have a six-step branded process. Each step has a specific name, activities the client needs to complete, and defined emotions I want him or her to feel. I learned quickly that a coach’s brand is built upon the outcome they’re known to produce in their clients.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?
Distribute sole responsibility for an employee’s engagement away from the employee’s direct supervisor. Organizational culture is an entire team effort. For the last two years, I’ve provided coaching and consulting to a multi-state top 100 accounting firm. In December 2019, we requested applications, interviewed, selected and then trained and certified 35 of their employees (from all levels of the business), to be internal coaches. Little did we know that three months later COVID-19 was going to turn upside down their traditional business practices. The unexpected daily habit adjustments, business process changes, and emotions the employees started feeling were profound. We chose to create a questionnaire and scoring system that would help the 35 coaches assign a numerical value to any employee’s emotional state. We readied resources internal and external, facilitated an in-depth training session, hosted community of practice sessions, drafted monthly emails to all staff, and created informal communication channels to assess anyone’s need for support. Because of these 35 people and their persistence in checking in with 200+ employees regularly, the organization didn’t have to lay anyone off and their turnover dropped. They’ll meet their revenue target for this fiscal year and employee engagement scores rose. Yes, communication between an employee and supervisor is important. But there’s no better way to change a poor leader’s performance than to have his peers put daily pressure on him. A rising tide lifts all boats.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
I’ve worked with organizations to change their quarterly employee bonus calculators. To set up metrics-driven and time-based goals connected to the organization’s strategic plan. To set a strong vision around client experience and show, month after month, how each employee contributes that experience. But, things really click when a culture of recognizing one another and sharing wins becomes commonplace. According to Tony Robbins’ research, one of the six core human needs is contribution — to add value to the lives of those around us. One of the best, and easiest, methods to help team members feel more confident and a part of something bigger than themselves is to begin one-to-one and team meetings by recognizing one another and then inviting each person to share wins. According to Google’s Project Aristotle, psychological safety is often born out of feeling empowered to share your story vulnerably. When we appreciate a colleague in the way she desires to receive praise, she will feel more confident and likely be more engaged, productive, and willing to go above and beyond for the team. When we offer one another chances to share personal or professional wins, we help them see how they are growing, they take on more responsibility, and share lessons learned for betterment of the team. If your organization bakes these practices into its weekly meetings and all departments and leaders perform them consistently, synchronicity is a given.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
1. Know Thyself. I supported the COO of a consulting firm two years ago that was known to play favorites with her staff. As time passed, her favorites began to feel ostracized, overworked, and underappreciated. Their department revenue dipped, employee turnover increased, and clients were leaving. Through my coaching with her, we were able to identify why she played favorites, how to release her fear of vulnerability, and what she could do to redistribute appreciation to persons that reported to her. Thankfully, her organization has thrived during COVID-19. They’ve not had to lay anyone off, they will meet their annual budget, and they’re hiring again. Knowing herself stopped the destructive behaviors that trickled down through every layer of her team.
2. Listen Actively. In 2019, I coached an entrepreneur whose startup was acquired by a much larger organization. I was charged with helping this entrepreneur become the Senior Vice President for the larger organization, and he knew he could be. Early in our talks, we recognized how results oriented he was and how that mindset was hindering his ability to see the genius in each of his team members. So, we designed a monthly reach out strategy that “forced” him to listen to each staff member. It was hard initially, but he eventually become more comfortable with it. Then, a miracle occurred. During an all staff meeting, a group of employees announced the “One Voice” movement that was created to help integrate his team into the larger team. Because this leader challenged himself, listened actively, and connected the dots, the employees felt safe to lead an initiative that has coalesced the team around a common cause. The last time I spoke with the SVP, they were expanding their SaaS into Europe. I couldn’t be prouder of him.
3. Communicate More. I coach and consult the managing principal of an accounting firm. He is naturally a gifted listener and has offered his time more than he needed to — often to the point of physical burnout. From keeping his office door open, to town halls, to newsletters, to focus groups, to calling employees, to recognizing team members with gifts, this leader embodies a humble servant. Society’s recent turbulence has offered his team a chance to reimagine their culture. Because of his clarity, many firmwide are emulating his demeanor and the firm is benefitting immensely. Employee engagement scores are up. New revenue lines are launched. Poor employees have departed. New higher caliber talent has joined the firm. When the doors of communication are opened, the followers become the leaders.
4. Empower the Team. I coach a director of a U.S.-based technology company. Her charge was to centralize 20 administrative assistants and support professionals into one department. These people were in three different states and many had the same leader for more than a decade. The purpose of this shift was to simplify processes, standardize procedures, and automate tasks. The director knew an expectations meeting needed to be held soon after she took her role. In that meeting, she was hyper clear about what was not changing, things the team would change together, and how she would communicate with all of them transparently at the same time through the transformation. The first couple of months were rocky, but her persistence paid off. Eventually, the biggest problem employee acquiesced and the director was able to methodically gather steps, tasks, responsibilities, and resources. The team met regularly and together designed procedures that saved the company money, were more efficient, and allowed each employee to cross train on other employees’ tasks.
5. Iterate. In 2017, I coached a small business owner that was well connected and helped upstart mutual funds find investors. Because of a few childhood emotional traumas, he ended up using cocaine as an escape and became addicted (I was not aware he was using). He crashed his new car into a telephone pole, called me and asked if I could save his marriage and his business, as he had to tell those closest to him he was addicted. It took me a couple of months to turn his wife around (they’re still married), but it became quite apparent that his business partner no longer wanted to be a part of the business. We uncovered a way to help him exit the partnership where both parties could save face. Instead of finding money for mutual funds, my client is now teaching mutual funds and family investment offices how to market and brand themselves. It’s a brilliant iteration because it leverages his skills in a way that is scalable when his business wasn’t scalable before. No matter what challenges life throws your way — there is always a solution. A new way. A brighter future.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Open as many lines of communication as possible. Grassroots movements of information will produce innumerable benefits to the employees and the organization. Consider offering open office hours, town halls, suggestion boxes, pulse surveys, weekly reach outs, small focus groups, internal Shark Tank competitions, affinity groups or a Netflix Club. When humans feel psychologically safe to express themselves, through myriad means, they feel empowered to share ideas. When humans feel empowered, they’re more likely take responsibility for their own growth and the betterment of their colleagues. When colleagues see one another as human, gossip, sabotage, and ego take a backseat.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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 stop 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.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“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 that 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 and every boat does as well.
Thank you for these great insights!