Pain journal — I encourage you to track how you felt, who was involved, and what happened in high pressure situations. If you collect information over a multitude of experiences, you’ll identify patterns in what was challenging for you. Then, you can design strategies to limit your exposure to the person or situation, or develop new skills to handle the situation next time you’re confronted with it. There is power in patterns
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewingMichael 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 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).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Iwas 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 5–10 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, interacted 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 a purpose and now I uplift others as they uncover their authentic selves.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
My grandfather. He worked his entire life for the same employer, on the same shift, in the same building. His intuition guided him to start the family’s business so he worked nights and weekends for decades. When his four children were of age, each started working in the business. When all of his grandchildren were of age, they worked in the business. What I’ve always found inspiration in is that he stayed committed to his employer and built his entrepreneurial venture at the same time for five decades. Our family lived in a town of 2,500 people. For him to do what he did and become a millionaire, I’ll admire his self-belief, sacrifice, and focus on a long-term goal no one else could see. Today, I delay immediate gratification knowing that accomplishing my goals will be more fulfilling. I customize my services to my clients as that was my grandfather’s value proposition. I remain perseverant knowing that my journeys’ roadblocks aren’t meant to stop me, they’re meant to teach me. Out of the ashes of the depression and World War II, my grandfather became one of his community’s biggest influencers. I’m purposely working my business’ long-term plan to do the same.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I’m immensely grateful for my stepdaughter, Aleah. Her 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. Our lives’ deepest meaning comes from our relationships. Without her teaching me lessons, my business wouldn’t offer the services it does today.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn 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.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
The more leaders I coach, the more I recognize an unspoken pattern regardless of the person’s socio-economic status. The leaders who love their careers, who are deeply engaged in their work, and who influence those around them easily — they help others overcome the same challenge they had when they were younger. I often describe it as “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” In our teenage years and early-to-mid-twenties, we experience a set of recurring emotional challenges. Around age 27 or 28, we figure out a way to overcome that challenge. Then, we learn the most and add the most value to our community when we teach others our process for overcoming that challenge. If you’re in your twenties now, keep learning experientially, reflecting on what is happening to you repeatedly, and find someone to share your feelings with. If you’re in your early thirties now, identify your challenge, how you overcame it, and the ideal group of people who need to hear your story. Then, start sharing your process and story through the means most authentic to you. Each of us defines success differently, but the common thread through each definition will be how we uplifted those in need.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. In early 2011, I was Director of Sourcing — Talent Acquisition for Arizona’s largest healthcare organization. I had everything society says is right. Society says that when you make six figures, you’re winning. Society says that if you’re driving the fancy car, you’re winning. Society says that when you have an attractive partner, you’re winning. I had all of those things and more, but I remember sitting in brutal rush hour traffic one day and feeling I was doing the opposite of winning. When traffic came to a halt yet again, I looked around and started bawling uncontrollably. I knew I was making the mistake of living per society’s rules — not living my authentic purpose. A few weeks prior, I had finished reading Drive. Sitting in rush hour traffic that morning, it finally became real for me what Pink was trying to teach us about autonomy, mastery and purpose. I worked six days each week and my calendar was controlled by my team. I had little autonomy. I was doing the work of three director-level employees and was responsible for five different system programs. I had little time to master one competency as I was asked to be just good enough at many. I realized my life’s work was to help people live authentically and I was working in a role where I couldn’t connect their personal purpose to the organization’s purpose. With help from Drive, nine months later I resigned my role and started my coaching practice.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“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 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.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
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 a 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. What I hope this teaches others is that command and control leadership structures are being replaced by cultures that align and empower employees at every organization level. Employees want to know what is expected of them, deserve to receive recognition and be cared for as a person, to have their opinions count, and receive chances to learn and grow. Instead of leaving this up to the Principal group, we’ve now decentralized certain aspects of leadership by creating an entire organization of coaches.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
1.) Life is a movie. And, you’re simply playing a role. When you begin seeing situations from 30,000 feet, you begin to extract excess emotion, irrational fears, and unnecessary “what ifs” from accomplishing the intended goal. Feeling stress increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Your brain’s limbic system takes over and your rational-thinking neocortex isn’t allowed to make decisions. Through not taking others’ actions or words personally, you can remain objective. You don’t see situations as zero sum, you see them as win-win. You can see others as actors playing a part, and you see them as a human with families, hobbies, and interests not that different than yours.
2.) People are mirrors for our learning. The more stressful the situation my clients and I encounter, the more I realize how the behavior from others we find to be out of alignment with our own values can actually be used to help us release old beliefs. What is stressful for us now may soon become a non-issue. Instead of getting emotionally hijacked before a stressful experience, we can proactively see the situation as a chance to identify old patterns and see how our stale beliefs keep us stuck. We can be okay not doing things the way we used to. We feel safe to take calculated risks and try new approaches. When we encounter a similar mirroring situation in the future, we’ll not feel the stress we used to.
3.) All experiences are practice. I believe perfection is the lowest standard you can set. Life is better lived when we have lower expectations. I like to surrender how something occurs and instead focus on accomplishing the intended outcome by any means available. Because there are many paths to the same goal, we can practice and learn from many routes. When the brain expects to make mistakes, we can treat a stressful experience simply as practice and learning in preparation for the next experience. Success doesn’t just happen, it’s a mindset we purposefully create.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
1.) Eat for your DNA. Years ago, I used 23andMe to decode my genome. I gave that information to a physician who custom-created supplement, dietary and exercise recommendations. By removing foods my DNA couldn’t use to function optimally, I’m able to focus for longer periods each day. My stamina and productivity are higher. I’m clear about the options available in any situation. I feel far fewer emotional triggers in high-pressure situations. Because I give my body what it needs to feel balanced, it’s easier to recognize when it doesn’t feel right. I have genetic markers for depression, Celiac Disease, and Alzheimer’s and it’s comforting to know I can give my body the right nutrients to limit their onset as I age.
2.) Interval training. Exercise produces endorphins, helps us sleep more deeply, and delivers more oxygen to the brain. Stress lessens. Mood improves. Fatigue is reduced. I attend instructor-led exercise classes and hike and run trails each week. By working out the morning of emotionally-charged situations, my cortisol levels stay lower and I’m able to think more objectively when others can’t. Your leadership brand grows when you stay balanced, hear everyone’s voice, and continually find win-win solutions.
3.) Pain journal. I encourage you to track how you felt, who was involved, and what happened in high-pressure situations. If you collect information over a multitude of experiences, you’ll identify patterns in what was challenging for you. Then, you can design strategies to limit your exposure to the person or situation, or develop new skills to handle the situation next time you’re confronted with it. There is power in patterns.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
Since mid-March 2020, I’ve committed to 20 minutes of meditation each morning immediately after I wake up. Most of the time, I set a timer using the Insight Timer app, but I may mix it up and follow one of the app’s guided meditations. When in silence, I repeat my favorite “I am” statements, visualize having and feeling the things on my vision board and ask questions waiting for any insights to come back. My day feels more controlled. I’m able to respond faster when I feel emotional (I am a Pisces after all). For years, I’ve struggled with feeling confident. These meditations have given me a deeper level of knowing I wasn’t expecting.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
Before conflict or negotiation, I ask myself what a win looks like for the person I’m talking with. By keeping this top of mind, I stay focused on seeing the person as human and my partner — not an adversary I need to take advantage of. Before I step on stage, I use a breathing activity (inhale for eight seconds, hold for eight, exhale for eight) to limit my brain’s release of cortisol and keep my heart rate in control. This helps me stay focused and deliver powerful stories to launch my talks. At the end of the day, I ask myself what percent of the day I invested in living my life’s mission. Our days are full of interruptions and this question has helped me say no to people and activities that extract my energy — and redistribute time into activities that allow me to authentically use my talents to unlock others’ potential.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
20 minutes of meditation each morning. Daily exercise for one hour. Eating vegetarian and alkaline for my DNA. Acting in alignment with my mission. Setting long-term goals and monthly milestones to accomplish them. I avoid television. I talk with leaders from five different countries each month. On the first of the month, I review my previous month’s journal entries, find patterns, and adjust for the upcoming month. The consistency of these habits has helped me shed old emotional triggers, greatly reduced physical illness, and taught me new skills that help me help more people. Without these daily practices, I wouldn’t feel as clear about which services to offer clients. I wouldn’t have gotten out of a depressed state in early 2019. I wouldn’t have the motivation to take calculated risks. As time has passed and my goals evolved, my habits did as well. Every level of my life has demanded a different version of me. Yours will as well. Embrace these minor changes as they often lead to newfound levels of success.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
Knowing your personal mission (your “why”, your purpose) and professional, personal, and relationship goals is the place to start. With goals set, you can then design weekly habits, that if repeated consistently, will help you make progress towards accomplishing a goal. As you’re confronted by distractions, unexpected roadblocks, and new information, you can compare your habits to your mission to offer you confidence in saying “yes” or “no” to new courses of action. The more aligned your habits are with your mission, the more fulfilling accomplishing your goals will be.
If you’ve ever completed a DISC assessment, it will also offer meaningful insights. It sheds light on your introvert v. extrovert tendencies, how people-oriented or task-oriented you are, your default emotion under stress, how you’ll respond to conflict, how you view your position in a group, and more. Introverts tend to set, change, and live out their habits alone. Extroverts may find more pleasure in living their habits in groups or in competition with others. In aligning your habits with your behavioral profile, you’ll have more wins, faster.
If you need to stop no longer needed habits, ask family and friends to hold you accountable by calling you out when you do something you said you desire to stop. Or, promise yourself that if you stop repeating a bad habit, you’ll reward yourself in a meaningful way in 30 days. Each time you repeat an old habit, reprimand yourself or take something away from yourself. Emotionally intelligent people reward themselves. And, they incur the consequences of misaligned choices.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I believe achieving a state of flow is built upon how well we know ourselves. With clients, I work diligently to help them define their personal mission, core values, motivators, goals, strengths, and what they enjoy learning. The closer the activity is to allowing the use of two or more of these authentic pieces of who they are — the more likely flow will be found. And, once they experience it, they can then proactively choose new experiences that may evoke it again. Soon, an upward spiral of learning, growth, and accomplishment starts.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number 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.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Author Dan Pink. I envy his data-driven approach, the way he tells stories, and his empowering Pinkcast. I’d like to learn about how his parents shaped him emotionally, lessons he learned from traumatic events, and what he hopes to leave society with.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please visit https://michaelsseaver.com.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.