Center for Executive Coaching Alumni Interviews — Coaching subject matter experts to be leaders (and doing this without any marketing or administrative work)



Mike Zorn is a Center for Executive Coaching graduate who has developed a coaching practice focused on his values a nd preferences. He coaches subject matter experts to develop leadership capabilities. He also demonstrates a model that some independent coaches prefer, one allows him to avoid marketing or administrative work (listen for details). If you want to join the ranks of graduates like Mike, please explore our programs.


Mike’s bio:

Mike Zorn has a track record of working with leaders across many businesses sectors from retail, health care, manufacturing, logistics, and IT. His work is to guide the leader to understand and appreciate their opportunities to grow and expand their  leadership toolbox in critical behaviors of  executive presence, emotional intelligence and  broad business behaviors such as influence, decision making, strategic thinking and execution and team leadership. He has extensive experience in multi-functional retail management capacity working with retail leaders to develop themselves and highly productive and engaged retail teams. His 30 years in Human Resources allows him to develop and get the best out of others at all levels of an organization.


Andrew: Welcome, I’m here with Mike Zorn, a Center for Executive Coaching graduate. Mike, thanks for taking the time.

Mike: My pleasure. I’m looking forward to it.

Andrew: So, could you tell people about your practice?

Mike: Sure. So, I started really looking to do coaching as a full-time about four years ago. My practice now focuses primarily on individual leaders who were subject matter experts. Whether it is in the IT area, medical world, or legal world they have now been promoted into positions of leaderships within those organizations. And while they are wonderful doctors, wonderful programmers, they have not had experience with leadership. That is the niche that I have fallen into.

I run eight to 10 clients on an average a month. And I keep myself busy. But, not overly busy.

Andrew: That is a big niche for coaching…that technical person without necessarily those critical skills for communication, leadership relating, all of that. That’s good.

You are doing this in an interesting way. Most of the people I have interviewed, either were internal coaches or created their own client base. You went into a different direction. Can you talk about what you did?

Mike: Yeah. So, frankly, after I took your course, and I loved your methods and tools and what I found is that I wanted to build my practice around that kind of content and not what I didn’t want to do. So, the things that I didn’t want to do is the administrative accounting stuff, you know, making sure that people were paying me, that kind of thing. And the marketing aspect. Other than referrals, I really didn’t want to get into that.

So, what I did is I went out and found firms that were open to bringing people on as coaches, but they would take care of those things. And I built my practice around that. I’ve been very transparent that I work with different groups. You know, I serve a niche for them. I serve a place for them. So, that’s kind of where my practice has gone. I didn’t want to be responsible for things that I didn’t want to do anymore.

Andrew: There are pros and cons to that. The pro of being an external coach is that you own the client, and you get the full fee. The pro of doing it your way is that you don’t have to market. You don’t have to handle the administration. Clients come to you. What other considerations would you suggest that people think about if they’d like to go in your direction?

Mike: Be sure that it’s a coaching practice that is consistent with the values that you have. For example, let me discuss the process of working on weaknesses versus strengths. I believe strongly in the Marshall Gold concept of, “What got you here, won’t get you there.” And so, we have to look at your blind spots and weaknesses.

I talked to a couple of firms where they are more about celebrating strengths and growing those strengths. To me, that’s not always the right approach. This perspective comes from having a coach for eight to 10 years when I was working, and she focused on my blind spots. So, that is one aspect of my values and beliefs about coaching.

The other, and this came a bit later, I didn’t care early on what I got paid for some of the assignments. I just wanted to get the experience and get the hours. I don’t have near as many hours as you, but I probably have 700, almost 1,000 hours now in total working with people just through this process. So, now I’m a little more particular in which clients I take on. I take the chemistry interview, which most of them make you go through, seriously. I really decide whether I want to work with the person, as much as they are deciding whether they really want to work with me. And there have been a couple, after doing the chemistry interview, I’ve called the firms back and said, “No, this isn’t someone that I want to work with.”

So, I get that latitude. Those are all things to consider.

Andrew: It sounds like you really know who you are, what you want, and you’ve applied that in this field.

What would be a case study that you might give as an example of some of the results you’ve gotten through coaching?

Mike: Sure. It’s one actually that I’m really quite proud of. It was an individual that the company was an IT firm, fairly significant IT firm. And he had been a program manager, which basically means he managed the apps, the modules that would be built-out. But they promoted him into a leadership role as a director. And I first started with him there and I’ve been working with him now almost two and a half years. But we really had to kind of take away the fact that he needed to be a subject matter expert on everything. We he needed to be a leader, focusing on coaching his own team, coaching himself in the sense of what it means to be a leader, on communication, strategy, emotional intelligence, setting expectations, and influencing people. All of those things were foreign concepts to him.

And so, what we have been able to do is we worked on those. And we had him try different things. He has gone from being a director to a VP to now a senior VP. And we are continuing to work together. So, it’s worked really wonderfully. Again, it’s the concept of taking a subject matter expert and making them a really strong leader. And he has done a remarkable job at that.

Andrew: Yeah. I think that is one of the biggest growth areas in coaching and continues to be. There are so many firms that are so technical. For whatever reason, people have never developed those skills.

Mike: And I think that’s how they progress. If you think about it, you come in as a developer. You come in as maybe QA analyst. You didn’t get to be a team lead. It’s all about technical skills and knowledge. It’s not about the behaviors. Once you become a leader, it all shifts to behaviors. It’s about showing yourself as a strong leader. And I think that is what has worked very well over the years in my practice.

Andrew: Wonderful. To conclude, what advice would you give to somebody listening that wants to get into executive coaching to help ensure their success?

Mike: Well, first off, I think you have to take a program such as yours. And I think yours is one of the better ones out there. I like the materials that you provide. You have to find somebody that you can talk to and you can understand what the profession is about. That’s the first thing.

Then the second, I think, depending on what you are doing, try to find a niche that you feel comfortable with. And you do that through some self-reflection. You do that through really trying to understand where you want to go with yourself. And I think, once you do that, then you can start to build a practice around that. And you may have to take on other clients. One of the other things that I don’t like to do is coach those people that a company is getting ready to terminate. I did those early on, but decided that is not what I’m going to do moving forward.

So, I think part of it is being open to what you can take to get your practice going, to get some experience, to be able to talk about it. But with a vision to where you want to be. And then, start moving yourself in that direction. I gave away a lot of free coaching at the early part to get some experience. I don’t do that anymore at all now. I just did that to get some experience.

Andrew: Yeah. Would you recommend that people do that? There is a lot of debate about giving away free coaching. Some very good coaches and successful coaches will do that. I don’t. I believe that a client needs to be committed. One way to show commitment is by paying. I don’t mind a meeting or two to confirm fit. Given you used to do it, and you don’t anymore, what is your perspective and what advice would you give on that?

Mike: I needed to get the hours. I wanted to get the experience. I did do it on a basis that is slightly different. I gave them a rate if they thought they got something out of it, they could pay. If they didn’t get anything out of it, they didn’t have to pay. Most cases, I think all of them, ended up paying at that point. And I did it staged, you know, after the first three sessions, we will sit down and decide if you are getting anything out of it. If you are, you agree to pay 25 percent. And I staged it over quarters. It wouldn’t be something that I did long term. I just wanted to build a bio that say, “Here are the industries that I have worked in.” And I didn’t have to say if I did them for free or not. And in most cases, it wasn’t completely free. I just had a guarantee that if you didn’t like it or it didn’t do anything for you, you didn’t have to pay me.

Andrew: Right, right. Your ultimate goal was getting those hours under your belt.

Mike: Yup.

Andrew: That’s good advice. Good. Anything else?

Mike: I will just tell you. I have never looked back from what I’m doing at this point. I’ve loved the four to five years that I’ve been doing it. I think I’ve done some things that are helpful to people. But, you know, again, I know not to make this a sales pitch. But your class, your materials, absolutely some sort of certification where I get that chance to interact and learn is highly valuable. And I think that certification carries a lot of weight when someone wants to see your bio or at a chemistry interview. So, I wouldn’t just do it without going through some of the studies.

Andrew: Right. Mike, thanks very much.

Mike: My pleasure. Thank you for the time.

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