Stephen Kohler of Audira Labs: “Life is short”

It would be a global listening movement. It would encourage us all to slow down, breathe, and truly listen to one another without fear, judgment, or hate. We would use creativity — in all forms — to help foster this sense of listening and a desired impact of bringing us together. As a part of our series about business […]

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It would be a global listening movement. It would encourage us all to slow down, breathe, and truly listen to one another without fear, judgment, or hate. We would use creativity — in all forms — to help foster this sense of listening and a desired impact of bringing us together.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Kohler.

Stephen Kohler, Audira’s Founder & CEO, brings passion for people along with 25 years of extensive corporate experience within organizations ranging from startup to Fortune 100, across multiple industries.

On top of an accomplished business background and an immense network of functional and industry professionals, Kohler is a certified Professional Coach (PCC, CPCC), Balanced Scorecard Professional (BSP), and a passionate musician.

Woven through Kohler’s work is a desire to see people work authentically and in concert to achieve a meaningful goal.

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?

After spending 25 years climbing the corporate ladder, I realized that I was no longer fulfilled. Despite having achieved what I thought I had always wanted (senior corporate role, prestigious firm, etc.), I found myself realizing that I was no longer leading with purpose and passion.

After self-reflection and listening to others who had made similar career shifts, I determined that I had a passion to serve others. I transitioned into leadership development and became a certified executive coach.

I loved it so much that I decided to pursue a lifelong dream to start my own business and founded Audira Labs. In Latin, Audire means “to listen,” and we use listening — particularly through the lens of music — to help leaders, teams, and organizations amplify their leadership.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

In listening to our clients, we have heard three resounding themes: first, they are tired of boring leadership development that puts everyone to sleep (a.k.a., “death by PowerPoint”). Second, they want something that is not “cookie cutter” and can support the unique aspects of their business. Third, they want something practical that can be applied to their business on an ongoing basis.

With this in mind, and drawing on our belief that listening is foundational for strong leadership, we leverage music as a lens to amplify individuals, teams, and organizations to become stronger leaders. We use an experiential approach that integrates musical instruments and exercises to help leaders learn, practice, and apply key concepts into their leadership journey. We have a deep curriculum that can be customized to fit the needs of our clients.

Participants love it because it’s unique, highly engaging, and also integrates practical models that they can apply on an ongoing basis.

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?

Let’s just start by saying it involves dogs. My family and I are huge dog lovers and have two furry mutts at home. When I first started, I had a very makeshift home office from where I conducted my coaching and team leadership calls. Our dogs would bark unexpectedly during serious conversations with clients and I would have to apologize profusely. Attempting to “pivot,” I literally moved my base of operations to my car for about six months. On video calls, I would have clients ask — when seeing me in my car — if I needed a place to stay, as they were seriously concerned that I was homeless.

Albeit a somewhat amusing story, the more significant lesson for me was about “self-narratives” that we all have. In this case, I had a narrative that my home could not be a productive place from which I could work. To help shift my own narrative, I asked myself the question: what would it look like if your home could be everything you wanted in a working space? I then designed my workspace to match my vision. I am now happy to report that I’ve got the ideal working space at home and can’t imagine working anywhere else. And yes, it still includes two dogs.

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’ve been so fortunate that I can happily report that I’ve had many. Part of this may have been that I’ve actively sought out mentorship throughout my professional and personal journey. I’m a voracious learner and love to ask questions, especially to individuals about what inspired them and helped pull them through their respective challenges.

Perhaps the biggest gift of mentorship along the way was delivered by my father. He reminded me to pursue work that is filled with both purpose and passion. Upon graduation from college, I had the good fortune of receiving several job offers — some of which paid well but did not offer work that connected with my sense of mission or passion, and another which paid the least but for which I was secretly most passionate. My father wisely asked, “Which one would you pick if money weren’t an issue?” This sealed the deal. Although, I would add that I was expected to support myself!

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?

As leaders, we must be intentional about our “impact.” In other words, we must identify how we want our actions to affect those around us — whether it be on our teams, or our organizations or within our communities. In relation to being disruptive, the question is “to what end?” Are we being disruptive for the sake of breaking things or to a greater purpose of enabling something greater than ourselves?

A classic example of disruption that doesn’t meet the desired impact is the proprietary data gathered by companies, governments, organizations, and individuals via the internet. While companies and consumers love how all this data can help users connect, it has resulted in serious privacy concerns and security breaches that have the potential to far outweigh the benefits.

A positive example is Tesla’s demonstration that the paradigm within the automotive industry — that one must choose either performance or efficiency — was patently false.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I’ll answer it with a 3-word sentence, “Life is short”.

Many years ago, I was in a professional role in which I was absolutely miserable. I was experiencing tremendous anxiety to the point that it affected my health. I had an internal narrative that said I couldn’t leave the job because it was “the perfect job that everyone would kill to have; I’d be a fool to leave.”

At a family dinner during that period, one of my brothers, who happens to be an oncologist, took one look at me and said, “Stephen, life is short…believe me, I see this fact on a daily basis. Find something that makes you happy.” With that, almost like magic, a weight was lifted. I realized that not only did I have the freedom to leave, but I had a personal obligation to do something that filled my cup, so to speak. Within a month, I was happily working at a different company in a role that I loved.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Although I can’t tell you specifically what it will look like, I can tell you how it will occur. I’m always listening. I love to be curious. I love asking questions such as “why?” and “why not?,” particularly with relation to paradigms we experience in all parts of our lives. It will involve creativity. It will serve others. It will be filled with purpose and passion.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The Stranger by Camus. This book was transformative for me when I first read it in French class in high school. As an existential philosophical novel, it encourages you to think deeply about existence, values, and meaning.

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

“I know that I know nothing” — Socrates

This quote has always held meaning for me because it speaks to the importance of being a life-long learner, remaining curious, and being wary of our ego’s tendency to believe we “know” things. By embracing a “beginner’s mindset,” we can open ourselves up to expanding perspectives every day.

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. 🙂

It would be a global listening movement. It would encourage us all to slow down, breathe, and truly listen to one another without fear, judgment, or hate. We would use creativity — in all forms — to help foster this sense of listening and a desired impact of bringing us together.

How can our readers follow you online?

We invite you to check out and follow us on social media. Links include:

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

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