It’s not what you say, it’s how you make people feel: When I was working in hotel management, many of my team members would come up to me and tell me how much they appreciated my guidance or leadership. And I truly believe what they were most appreciative of wasn’t necessarily what I said to them specifically, but rather it was more of the feeling they had from our exchange — that told me they felt appreciated and supported in their growth.
As part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Duval.
As a pioneer into new forms of learning, Michelle Duval helped found the field of professional coaching in Australia in 1997 and became a leading voice forging developmental and transformational coaching worldwide.
Michelle’s coaching psychology methodologies and training programs are used by professional coaches in over 60 countries. She has also co-authored two international handbooks on coaching, and is featured in 20+ books.
Using her experience and research Michelle developed Fingerprint for Success (F4S), a people analytics and coaching platform designed to help everyone optimize their potential for success.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My interest in the coaching industry was sparked by my early experiences in the hospitality industry working for 5-star hotels. My role at the time involved coordinating the visits for high-profile guests (like Andre Agassi, Richard Branson, and Pavarotti) to ensure that their needs are all taken care of during their stay.
Through this experience, I had the privilege of taking a peek into the lives of these individuals who are the top and elite in their respective fields. I got fascinated by the entourage of support each one of these professionals traveled with — ranging from dieticians, psychologists, chefs, sports coaches, and more.
And this got me thinking: How can I make this same level of support accessible to everyone so that we can all fulfill our potential in all aspects of our lives?
Since then, I’ve been working hard to solve this question through my startup, Fingerprint for Success (F4S) — an AI-powered web application that brings personal coaching to everyone.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Our main motivation for F4S is to make personal coaching available to everyone through the use of AI-powered technology.
The biggest issue with the coaching industry at present is that it’s always been seen as a “luxury” that’s only for those at the top in their field — superstar athletes, celebrities, CEOs, or top-level management.
But I’ve always wondered why shouldn’t these same resources be made available to anyone and everyone? Don’t we all want to discover our strengths, blind spots, preferred communication style, ideal motivators, and more? Wouldn’t this information make us better team players, leaders, people?
I found my answer to these questions through technology. With a focus on advancing conversational AI, we’ve been rolling out the world’s first personal AI Coach on our platform. Our “Coach Marlee” app is able to recreate that same coaching interaction within a device — such as your smartphone — making it more affordable, accessible, and convenient for everybody.
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?
Several years ago, I was invited back to my old high school to speak to the students about my career and how I found success in my field. Before I took the stage, I’d decided I would head to the bathroom first. As I entered the auditorium again, I realized that the students were snickering. And I was wondering what was going on. To my horror, one of the teachers pointed out to me that I had toilet paper tucked into my clothes for the whole cohort to see!
So what exactly did I learn from that? From then on, I realized that the most embarrassing moment in my life had already taken place. And if I could survive that, I should be able to survive pretty much anything else that life throws my way!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I actually go to various mentors for advice whenever I encounter different issues. It’s difficult to identify any single story to share about the impact they’ve made on my life. I feel that the impact can be seen in the culmination of how far F4S has come.
But the one thing I will add is that if you’re looking for mentorship, always try to approach someone who is a specialist in what they do. I find that people who don’t have the depth of experience in their field won’t be able to make as much of an impact as a mentor as someone who has had very specific experiences to share.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I generally see disruption as a positive thing in most circumstances, and I feel that it should arise from the need to improve the current situation, rather than for the sake of going against the trend.
For example, the one area in which I find disruption to be ineffective is when I’m trying to develop a psychologically-safe space and culture for my team.
So when I talk about developing psychological safety in the workplace, I’m referring to creating an environment where people feel supported enough to make mistakes, be vulnerable, and be creative. And in order to develop this safety, it requires setting an empowering, consistent and welcoming work culture. So being disruptive, changing things up, and constantly taking big shifts in the way we work together may not be as helpful in developing this safety.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- The customer comes first: Coming from a hotel management background, I’ve always been obsessed with customer experience. And this ingrained mindset has helped me tremendously when developing the F4S application. Whenever I’m at a crossroads about something, I always put myself in the shoes of the user and think about what it is that they want at the end of the day.
- No one will love you like your dog: I learned this from my dog! For me, it’s also a great reminder that you can’t make everyone love you, nor can you make everyone happy. It’s incredibly important to be able to stay true to your vision and do the best you possibly can to achieve your goals.
- It’s not what you say, it’s how you make people feel: When I was working in hotel management, many of my team members would come up to me and tell me how much they appreciated my guidance or leadership. And I truly believe what they were most appreciative of wasn’t necessarily what I said to them specifically, but rather it was more of the feeling they had from our exchange — that told me they felt appreciated and supported in their growth.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Personal coaching can be beneficial to all individuals, and not just for a select few. My vision is to seeF4S used as a platform to break down these assumptions about who deserves coaching and who doesn’t.
Everyone deserves the chance to discover the best versions of themselves through personal coaching.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
This may surprise you, but I actually haven’t felt that I’ve experienced any major challenges that are unique to female disruptors.
I don’t feel that being a woman in this field has significantly disadvantaged me. If I encounter rejection from someone, my mind doesn’t automatically think that it’s because that person is biased against women. I could have been rejected for a whole variety of reasons — my race, nationality, physical appearance, etc. These are prejudices that men face too.
So instead of trying to figure out what superficial reasons that person had for rejecting me, I try to focus on how I can improve myself. Could my communication have been clearer? Is my idea really the best it can be? How can I make myself more convincing? These are the things I’m more concerned about.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I’m quite a hands-on learner. So I find that it’s the interactions with people throughout my career that have had the deepest impact on shaping my thinking throughout my life. You can learn so much by just observing people and seeing how they live, work, and think.
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 #1 movement is to bring personal coaching to the world, and F4S has been my vehicle to accomplish this.
My other “movement” is health-related. When I was 23 years old, I was diagnosed with several autoimmune diseases and was only given a few months to live. It was only through sheer perseverance and experimenting with different therapies that I managed to “cure” myself. So I’ve made it my personal mission to create more awareness about these unseen conditions, provide support to others with the disease, and be involved with the advancement of treatment research.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my earliest life lessons actually came to me as an experience, rather than a quote I read. When I was 17 years old, I scored badly on my high school trial exam. It came as a shock to me, and I got quite worried about how I was going to be able to bring my marks up for the actual exam.
I told myself I had to do something to fix this. And I decided to try listening to a hypnosis recording about creating the optimal study plan. Fascinatingly, after listening to that recording, I was able to create the most in-depth study plan that had everything mapped out for me — when I would study, how much rest I would get, when I ate, and even what I ate. And because of this, I was able to increase my marks by around 40%.
This was one of my earliest experiences with the coaching principle of how altering your mindset or motivations can have a profound impact on your life. If you can change your mind, you can change your life.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!