Nichole: Hello and welcome to Biz and Tell. I’m your host, Nichole Santoro of iMarketingSalon.com. I help business professionals establish themselves online through podcasting, so that they become the go-to experts in their industry.
I help my clients launch, market and maintain their podcasts, so when potential clients listen to your show, they learn more about you and therefore begin to know, like and trust you. By the time a prospect asks for an initial consultation, they’re practically pre-sold on you and your service. To learn how podcasting can grow your business, please visit iMarketingSalon.com.
Today, my guest is Gail Sussman-Miller. Gail is the Chief Obstacle Buster at Inspired Choice. Her mission is to inspire career bravery, self-acceptance and joy. Gail has helped executives, teams and small business owners take brave career action to go after what they really want to do and not settle just for what they can do.
Gail has a special passion for helping women more bravely speak up. She helps people increase and leverage their emotional intelligence. Gail has been teaching professionals how to improve their careers and lives, from the inside out, for the last 15 years.Coach @GailSussmanMill inspires execs & small biz owners to take brave action, not settle. Click To Tweet
Previously, she spent 13 years at Andersen Consulting, which is now Accenture, in marketing and knowledge management. Gail calls herself a Midlife Bloomer Baby Boomer, because she married, became a step-mom and a grand-mom, and found her true calling all after the age of 41. Gail is proof it’s never too late to find deep happiness!
To learn more about Gail, please visit her website at www.inspiredchoice.com. Hello, Gail. How are you today?
Gail: I’m fine. It’s so funny to listen to your own bio. I just get a kick out of it. I feel like such a celebrity in your hands, Nichole.
Nichole: That’s why I love sharing the bios. I think often times we don’t always take a step back and celebrate everything that we’ve accomplished. I love starting the episode that way because it’s really celebrating you. I’m excited to do it.
Gail: Thank you. It’s fun. I’m glad to be here.
Nichole: Good. Could you share a little bit about your path to becoming a coach?
Gail: It’s a fun one, I think. As I said, I’m a midlife bloomer Baby Boomer. The reason I use the “midlife” term is people often call someone a late bloomer. I don’t believe that I missed a boat. Some of us evolve differently. My blooming happened right around the age of 41.
I went to college, not really sure of what I wanted to do. I went with the most desirable or least unpleasant focus. I wasn’t called to it. I said, “Alright, I have to go to college. My parents are making me go.”
I’m glad I went. I got an Elementary Education degree. I just started doing jobs. I grew up and believed, like many do, that career/work is just living for Fridays. You just work to make a paycheck.
Picture a hallway with lots of doors. You keep going through these doors. I went through a door where I met my husband. I answered an ad in the Reader and we met. It was fun.
He had done a men’s personal training called New Warriors. I met him three months after that. Two years later, maybe a year and a half later, my mom died. I was feeling very lost. I knew there was a women’s component to that training program. It’s called Woman Within. I did that in ’97.
It was very deep work. It helped me move past my grief about my mom. In that step, I met a woman. Running across her again in the community, she said, “How are you doing?” I said, “I’m kind of lost.” She said, “Let’s sit down and talk.”
I wound up hiring her and I had no idea she was a coach. I actually benefited from the power of coaching as a client. That led to me making several decisions, one of which was marrying Steve, because I wasn’t sure. I was such a perfectionist. I thought, “Oh my God, but he’s not this. He’s not that.”
She helped me through a lot of self-acknowledgment. Then I thought, “Of course, I love this man.” We went forward. I got laid off. I don’t know if you’d remember this but Midwest Coaching Conference was only run for two years, organized by Chicago Coaches.
Nichole: I do remember.
Gail: I decided to go to their coaching school. I enrolled in Coaches Training Institute, CTI. I came home to a career that was made just for me. Life hasn’t been the same since.
I didn’t know you could be that happy to do something that is a career. That’s how I came to coaching. It was first by receiving it. Then I realized that’s who I’ve been my whole life. That’s my approach to teaching. I don’t just always tell, tell, tell. “How do I do this? You do this. You do this. You do this.”
Even at Andersen Consulting, when I was teaching people the knowledge management system, I said, “What’s your instinct? Look at all those menus. What do you think you would click on?” It’s been fun.
Nichole: Wow. This next question might be tough to answer, because I don’t think you’re going to have one answer. I’m going ask anyway. What do you enjoy most about coaching?
Gail: It’s funny, whenever I’m asked for one thing or the most, I always have trouble giving one answer. At a root level, as I was just describing, it allows me to express me. It’s so interesting about coaching. I’m sure that you know the danger of comparison. It’s something that we all do.
There are so many very linear-thinking coaches. I’m much more of an intuitive, free flowing. That lets me express me. It took me a few years to accept that and grow into that.
I love watching people make their own discoveries about who they are and their own brilliance, that it can be easy, and that it can be small steps. They think they have to figure it out.
It really allows me to be creative, use my intuition. This is going to sound very self-centered. It’s both self and other. I get inspired by what my clients do. When I teach them ways of thinking and being, I re-inspire myself, if that makes sense.
Nichole: That’s really cool.
Gail: I’m coaching them and I’m coaching me. “Yes, Gail. Wait a minute. You need to tighten up those boundaries over here or over there. Yes, you just talked about some self-care. Let’s do a check in on that. How are we doing on our own self-care?” It’s pretty cool.
I was giving a workshop to some women. I was teaching what I usually teach. This woman dropped her jaw, was dumbstruck. She said, “I’ve read Deepak Chopra and Oprah and Eckhart Tolle and all these people, but you just brought it all together for me.” I thought, “Wow.”
Nichole: That’s some name-dropping.
Gail: Someone else in the room said, “Wasn’t that an insult to you because it was all these other people?” I said, “Are you kidding me?”
Nichole: It’s some pretty good company.
Gail: Yes, or that I helped bring it together. I can’t remember which coach it was I learned this from. It may have been CJ Hayden who teaches a lot about marketing. We as coaches have our own dog whistle, and only certain people are going to hear us, get our message, and relate and understand.
That helped me to understand that, even within my target market, some people are going to get me and relate and some are not. That dog whistle metaphor helps me to let go of all those who can’t hear me.
Nichole: I love that. That’s a great metaphor, because not everyone can relate or hear, and also that that’s okay, to have acceptance around that. You’re here to serve who’s wiling to be served. That’s very cool. Gail, what is your coaching superpower?
Gail: Again, you made that singular. It’s tough to narrow it down to a singular. At a very high level, I teach people mindset shifts first and then practical techniques. I am an expert at perspective shifts.
I really believe that all of our results in life start with a single thought. Many people work backwards from, “I want these results so I’ll take these actions.” I like to start at the thought end.
I have this formula, if you can picture an arrow to right after each of these words. First we start with thoughts. If we hold on to them long enough, they become beliefs.
A thought might be, “I’m not very good at marketing my coaching practice or my consulting practice.” That might be a flickering thought. Then you say, “No. No. Actually, I’m okay.”
However, if you hold on to the thought, “I’m not good at it,” it becomes a belief. It gets a little more anchored. That stirs up emotions or feelings of being inadequate or not good enough. That influences the choices we make, the actions we take and the results we get.
When you can shift the thought at the beginning of that chain reaction, magic happens. I use a lot of emotional intelligence concepts in my work, and I really help people at a granular level to appreciate the small steps and the small successes, so they can really appreciate it’s not just suddenly a light bulb. It’s all these small steps that create exponentially bigger results. It’s really fun.
If there’s anything else I’d add, it’s squeezing the juice out of the lemons that life gives us, and finding the learning opportunity. It’s the observation level that I think I’m really good at helping people do.
Nichole: I’ve heard of emotional intelligence. I’m not very familiar with the definition around it. Can you explain that a little bit more?
Gail: Yes. My perspective on emotional intelligence is influenced by the certification I did with MHS, Mental Health Systems. I’m working off of the way I learned it through them. I know Daniel Goman really popularized this concept.
It’s, first of all, being aware of and understanding your emotions and the emotions of others so you can more effectively have interpersonal relationships and effective relationships.
There are five key areas: self regard- your own awareness that you’re even having an emotion or feeling it, being aware of it and a sense of purpose that drives you.
Self-expression is the second one. That’s how you express yourself when emotions are present, how assertive you are. The third is all about interpersonal use of this awareness. Empathy is a really big feature of that.
The fourth is decision making. We have an emotional brain in the amygdala in our brain. The emotional brain kicks in first, then the thinking brain. We could be flooded with emotions.
Daniel Goman calls it a hijacking. Suddenly, we’re angry. If we don’t pause and let the thinking brain say, “Wait a minute. What’s really going on here? What’s the appropriate response?” we will just speak or act from the emotion.
That’s an interesting one about decision-making and impulse control. The last area is stress management, which is all about adaptability, flexibility, resilience. The whole picture ties into our optimism. It’s very effective to be aware in those five areas.
This is the cool thing. Daniel Goman studied business leaders. Those who have a higher level of emotional intelligence have a two-to-one success ratio over others with the same IQ and the same technical skill knowledge. Unlike IQ, you can improve your EQ, your emotional quotient. That’s the cool thing.
It’s very powerful. We don’t realize that emotions are behind every decision we make. Back to that thought, belief, feeling, choice, action equals results. Your emotions drive the choices you make and the actions you take, right down to what you decide to eat, if you’re going to walk or drive to get exercise. So many people are driven by fear in the business world.
Nichole: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Gail: Yes, fear of marketing and saying I’m good. Sometimes just being asked, “What is your coaching super power,” you have to admit you have some.
Nichole: Right? Yes.
Gail: In the business world, I have to look good. I have to get promoted. I have to compete and get ahead of all these other guys who might get the job I want. That’s all fear driven.
Nichole: Speaking of fear, what’s one thing you would do with your business if you knew you could not fail?
Gail: Yes, good segue. Something I’ve been dreaming about and I feel like I’m determined to do, but it does scare me, is I would like to create an online membership site.
Gail: Tied to the fact that I want to reach more people and help reach, teach and inspire, especially a lot of women, it’s a great way to get a message out. It’s married with that.
I’m picturing videos and, maybe, monthly calls. Obviously, one-on-one is available, but different ways that people can learn some of my super powers.
I’m also going to be 63 years old next month. It feels like a legacy product and a legacy to leave behind. I’m sure you know, in working with clients, there are always about 20 or 30 things that I wind up teaching almost everyone. That message and the way I teach it, the Gail dog whistle of the way I teach it, I’d like to capture that.
I can’t reach everyone and not everyone can afford coaching. Not everyone likes to learn that way. I just talked to a gentleman yesterday who said, “I’ve tried individual coaching. I like group coaching. I want to hear what other people are experiencing. I learn from what they’re going through.”
It’s just another avenue. That’s the thing that I really most want to do. There’s a lot of technical behind it. I have to sit in front of a video camera, which I think I would enjoy. You can tell I love talking and I love teaching. It’s the doing.
Nichole: Yes. Good. I wish you tons of success with that. It sounds like a fabulous idea. It’s another avenue and another way to learn and to get group support. It can also be really helpful. I love it.
Gail: Yes. Thank you.
Nichole: Gail, how does your coaching process work currently then?
Gail: I’m taking that to mean how I coach. Is that what you mean or more about the business?
Nichole: Yes, exactly.
Nichole: More about if I were your client, what would that approach be?
Gail: Okay. Good. I have about a 15-question questionnaire that I ask people to fill out, just to dig a little deeper, and for themselves to understand what they want and how they learn, and for me. We go through that.
Once coaching starts, the only structure I put around them at all, is I start by finding out what if anything is a burning issue for you today, that you want to be sure we talk about before we hang up. I do most of my coaching by phone. There’s an overall plan and something we’re working on, but life is happening along the way.
I start out by asking them for three wins, three successes. That might be something where they stretched a bit during the week, something they’re just proud of, or something that happened.
I pull out of that- this is sort of that squeezing the juice out- what’s the essence of the win, how they did it, if it was something that was new, what the greater impact is on them and their life and the lesson that they learned, so that they can repeat it. They understand, “I don’t know. It just happened.” “Let’s look at how it happened. What were you thinking? What were you believing? What choices did you make going back to that?”
There’s sort of a four-step approach. Coaching isn’t always linear. If it is, to the extent that it is, first I’m checking in on what it is that you really want. The second step is the minute we declare what we want, we have, what I call, “Yes, but” thoughts that pop up. “Yes, but I’m too old. I’m too young. I don’t have enough experience.”
Gail: “But, Nichole. Yes I want a membership site, but it’s so much technology.” Then we poke holes in what those obstacle thoughts are. I call myself the Chief Obstacle Buster. This is the point. The point is, what’s really true? Let’s go check out some of those assumptions.
The third set, literally from one coaching call to the next, is to make a choice about some direction. The fourth step is action. We come up with some homework steps, small things, three or four. I’m going to go check this out.
Then we come back to the next call and like the shampoo bottle says, we rinse and repeat and say, “How did those actions feel? What kind of results did you get? If you didn’t do the homework, what did you do instead or what got in the way? Are we on the right track about what you want? What are the new obstacles? Make more choices. Take more action.”
That’s what moves things forward. That’s my process. Along the way, in that, there’s a lot of intuition for me. It’s amazing. It’s like a voice in my head that is so clear, “Wow, what about this? Where have you done that in the past?” We might go back and forth on that four-step process. That’s generally the flow.
Nichole: What I love about it is that you really go deep. You ask a lot of questions and give the space to acknowledge what’s working and, like you said, why it’s working, so that you can repeat that.
Any time we have a new idea to pursue, fear and, like you said, emotion takes over. Learning to practice, to recognize the successes that we’ve had before so that we can repeat them, sounds like a winning formula to help move forward with their dreams.
Nichole: You’re welcome. You’re talking about your coaching process. Who is your target market and who are the kinds of clients who you typically work with?
Gail: My real passion is working with women. I’m actually just creating a shift in my practice to give that more focus.
I really like to help women boost, what I call, their internal leadership and their external leadership- how they make decisions for themselves internally and managing emotions, stopping the treadmill that we live on to be able to make changes personally that we’ve always wanted, and the way that we manage and lead, perhaps, in our personal relationships or in our careers.
I really like to work with women on all career levels or small business owners. Like we said in my bio, I want them to have tools and to be inspired so that they can go after what they want versus settling for what they can do.
I’m talking about a woman today who is doing reception work and administration, sitting behind a desk, when she has 16 years of this amazing experience, degrees, and desire to be working with people. Something has her just stuck here.
That’s what I mean, going after what you really want to do. Yes, I could flip burgers or drive a bus. I could work in an office. However, what do you really want to do?
The other people who I’m working with are businesses, 50 employees or less, on conversations with their Baby Boomer-aged employees about retirement. There’s a lot of fear about age discrimination, so how to have those conversations.
Companies are not getting ready strategically to think about “Wow, we could start losing some really key players. How are we going to plan for them to mentor younger employees? How do we support them in making that decision?”
Then there is the “Oh my God, what if they don’t want to retire?” My generation is really enjoying working. I just now feel like I’m getting started at 63. For employers, that’s scary because these people are earning more. How long are they going to stay? You can’t ask them to leave.
It’s a delicate topic and it’s a strategic topic. That’s one that’s relatively new for me that I’m having a lot of fun with. It’s really about having tough conversations. At a coaching level, that’s what I’m teaching them. How do you have tough conversations?
Nichole: I’d imagine tough conversations but with a positive goal in mind. It’s not, at the end of this conversation, doom and gloom. My sense is that you see the opportunities in all these conversations where it’s truly a win-win for everyone who’s involved.
Gail: Yes. What makes them tough, the reason I call them that, is that initiating conversations- this is also like performance reviews- there’s a pretty strong likelihood that the person could have a defensive or a negative reaction. Then the person initiating the conversation wants to avoid it at all costs.
What if they cry? What if they get mad? What if they think that by asking about retirement, we’re saying, “We don’t value you anymore. We’re putting you out to pasture.”
There are all these projections. How to handle projections, how to set those aside so they don’t taint the conversation, that’s the piece that I see as more of the coaching rather than the factual “Here’s how you avoid age discrimination” or “Here’s what the law says.”
It’s more about the emotional piece, again. How do you take care of your own emotions and the fear you have about having this conversation? How can you just be with the employee and let them have their reaction and focus on the greater good of why you’re working together as a team, the two of you?
Nichole: That’s where the obstacle buster comes in. I love it. We have a couple more minutes, if we could switch to marketing for a second.
Nichole: You mentioned marketing. Can you tell me what’s worked for you?
Gail: I have to tell you, the biggest thing about being in business is the marketing has coached me. I’ve had to face all my fears about telling people I’m good at something, how to tell it and to actually say it.
I was always good at networking, but not that confident in the beginning. I had one talk at a Borders bookstore in Chicago. They told me, “We’ve never had anyone come speak who didn’t write a book.” I said, “Really? I’m going to help you sell some of your books and journals.”
I did a workshop. I told everyone that I knew and about 40 people came. There was barely room for them. I actually used the CTI process. I did the perspectives wheel.
It was amazing. I got the speaking bug. Again, coming back to CJ Hayden, who I heard speak in 2001 at the ICF coaching conference, she helped explain the warmest down to the coldest ways to market.
Human interaction is the best marketing method, speaking or networking, when you’re talking to people. I took off on speaking. My second most powerful method is writing. I write the way I talk. I think that has a big connection, but speaking is the best.
There was Michael Charest. I love giving credit where I can of the teachers I’ve learned from. He really helped me understand, at an ICF special, all-day workshop he did for us in Chicago, that I have to ask at the end of speaking.
I use a clipboard and I make an offer of complimentary consultations. That is how I get most of my clients. I add in to that a little Law of Attraction. I pay attention to opportunities, things that cross my path and say, “That looks interesting.” Then I go pursue it.
Nichole: Gail, I really appreciate you being my guest today. This is fantastic. Thank you again.
Gail: There’s always more.
Nichole: There always is. Have a fantastic day. Thanks, everyone, for listening today. Take care.
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