An honest conversation with one of my favorite people, Andrew Neitlich, CEO of Center for Executive Coaching, about why executive coaching DOESN’T always work.
Center for Executive Coaching Alumni Interviews – Leaping into a successful executive coaching and speaking practice
“Victoria Trabosh is a whirlwind of energy and a fantastic executive coach. She has grown a successful executive coaching practice and also given a TedX talk, all while overcoming some serious health threats. Be sure to listen to her entire discussion, because the story she tells about meeting a titan of industry in the beginning of the interview has a surprise twist at the end. We are proud to count Victoria as a graduate of the Center for Executive Coaching. If you have interest in making a change and enjoying flexibility, freedom, and fulfilment — and you are a seasoned professional, please consider joining our executive coaching certification programs.”
Listen to the interview HERE
Andrew: Welcome. I’m here with Victoria Trabosh, a graduate from The Center for Executive Coaching. And she has had a ton of success. So, I’m glad to be speaking with you today, Victoria. Thanks for taking the time.
Victoria: Thank you, Andrew, my pleasure.
Andrew: So, can you just start by talking about your practice?
Victoria: Sure. I started full time executive coaching in 2003. I was working as an executive in a large bank and wanted to be a better leader. I wasn’t getting any help at the bank. So, I started taking coaching classes and realized that I wanted to work with leaders.
My focus has always been communication and leadership. It’s just the key. I believe everything is about communication and how we lead. So, that has been the focus of my coaching. And I remember telling you early on and I want to apologize. I remember when I went through your program and you were talking about strategy. And I said, “I don’t really work on strategy, Andrew.” You didn’t look good when I said that to you. And I want to apologize because you are correct. If we do not work on our strategy, none of it matters. And so, we do strategy through communication and leadership.
And when COVID-19 started, when things started to go bad, I thought, “What would I do if my practice fell apart?” I realized that my practice is very successful. I won’t contract, I will expand. I will do more for others and expect less from them. That’s exactly what I’ve done.
Still, my practice has changed dramatically. One, I’m not seeing people face to face since the beginning of March. But also the people that are attracted to coaching are now more interested than ever in learning how to lead well. Because nothing brings out what’s not working more than a crisis. And it’s clear that many people were not prepared for this crisis and don’t know how to lead through it.
So, it’s changed. But in many ways, it’s better. And I’m really thinking about what will be different when I go forward after this all ends, so to speak.
Andrew: You’ve been at this a long time. And there have been a lot of twist and turns. What was it that got you traction when you first started?
Victoria: As an international speaker, I tell people most businesses suffer from failure to launch. I see that a lot in coaching. People want it perfect before they even start. The fool around with their website. The fool around with getting their elevator speech. I’m not into any of that. I started with a temporary business card, three days after I left the bank. I remember taking the train up to Seattle to meet with one of the leaders in Seattle who ran a large mastermind group for CEOs.
I was panicked. And thinking, “What do I know?” Well, I’m in my 60s now. So, I was in my late 40s, I think, then. And I remember being on the train, getting all prepared, and thinking, “I know that I know what I know.” Which sounds ridiculous. But I also thought, “Why am I trying to be something that I’m not?” And so, what got me traction when I met with this person, a titan in Seattle. We were talking and I was just telling what I truly believe, without adding anything, no hyperbole. Just my beliefs. He looked at me and he said, “Vicky, every single one of the CEOs I know needs to know you and you need to work with them. Are you interested?” “Yes, I am,” I said quietly.
And I realized, when I went back to Portland, we are making this too tough. We all have something to bring to the world. And so, I got traction by being myself. I sent out a note. I worked in a high rise in Portland. And you know how people send out notices of who they are. I know a lot of people. We’ve been here 39 years. And I sent out a note, it was a picture of the bank building that I was in. And it was kind of in sepia colors. And it said, “This July I leapt from a tall building.” And inside it said, “I’m thrilled about where I landed.” Announcing my new career as an executive coach. Little die cut, a business card, and hand addressed because I had nothing else to do 500 envelopes.
I sent that out, Andrew, with no solicitation, just letting people know what I was doing. Immediately, I began to get responses. And easily 10 years later, people said, “I still have that card. Because I need to learn to leap.” And when I asked my graphic designer, I said, “Why did you write that?” She said, “You said it, Vicky. You just said, I just left from a tall building and I’m excited about where I’m going to land.”
So, I think that the key to my success has been, I am building and sailing the ship sometimes at the same time. But I am not prepared to stay on the dock. I’m going to move out and try because that is what has brought me success. Over and over again. And what brings leaders that I work with success.
Andrew: You talk to about you being who you are and your voice. One of the things that impressed me the most that you’ve done. And you’ve done a million things that are impressive. But you did a TED Talk, which is something that I haven’t done, and that many people aspire to do. And you talk about a voice there. But at the same time, how did you do that? What advice would you have for somebody who wants to be a speaker to the point where they reach that place of giving a TED Talk?
Victoria: Sure. And I just want to make a distinction, because everybody who’s done a TED talk knows that a TEDx talk is not a TED talk. I did a TEDx talk. And there are many TEDx talks. I wanted to do a TEDx talk and it’s your one idea that you have. Well, I had gone through oral cancer. And the original surgeon offered to cut off my mouth. He said, “You will not be the same.” And I would lose my voice. And I said, “Well, you’re not going to do that.” So, I found another surgeon who gave me 36 radiation treatments to my face. Which thankfully worked and removed the tumor.
And my one idea was, what is your voice? How do you use your voice? How do you listen to the voice of others? And your voice, Andrew, is one of the voices that helped me through that time. And then, how do we listen to the voice within? That process is actually the process I used to become a TEDx speaker. I applied for a TEDx talk in England. Because how exciting is that to go to England? I love to travel. And I was told no.
Now, what happens when we’re told no, is we usually stop. But then I kept saying, I want to do a TEDx talk or a TED talk. And ironically, there was a TEDx in my hometown where I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which was not where I saw my debut. But it was perfect.
I sent in my tape. And what I found that, one you have to have a message. It has to be the theme of the TEDx. Just because you want to talk, doesn’t mean people want to listen. And my theme, it fit into what their theme was for the TEDx talk. But most importantly, you have to be prepared. And when I was working, even though I speak all the time, it’s very nerve wracking to give a speech, no notes, you can’t go over about 17 minutes, 18 minutes, and I was talking to my coach about this. And I was really nervous. I said, “Paul, you know, I’m not sure about this.” He said, “Vic, is this message coming from you? Or through you?” And that changed everything. Because if it’s coming from me, then I’m worried about the way I look, how I say things, what I’m going to forget. If it’s coming through me, it comes deep from within the wisdom that lies within me, everything I’ve always known.
And it’s funny, I went back to Fort Wayne and I practiced a couple times. And the first time, I practiced my TEDx coach said, “You came in at 17 minutes and four seconds.” I said, “Great. I want to try it again.” I did it again. I literally came in at 17 minutes and four seconds. And she said, “How do you do that?” I said, “I don’t know. Because it was not memorized.”
So, I think that the key to this is, one, you have to have a strong message. You can’t give up because you’re told no. And you really have to realize that if you’ve got a message to give, it’s not from you. Because we are way too flawed for that. But it can come through you. And when you do that, you can have success.
Andrew: Usually in these interviews, I love to hear about a case study about a client. You’ve had so many clients. And here, I think, what you wanted to talk about, was when the coaching process doesn’t work. That’s pretty courageous and I appreciate it. And that’s what I love about our members. We talk about what is going on, what works, what doesn’t. We’re not sugar coating anything.
So, you have some pretty good insights about when coaching works, when it doesn’t, and why, right?
Victoria: Yes, thanks. I do love to talk about success. But I also have to be honest and say, “Why does this process of great coaching, with great coaches and great material, not always work?” I feel very fortunate. No small plug. But a true plug for you. Your tools and methods and process help clients navigate their success, their goals, their dreams.
But I often wonder, with all this great material, with every tool that they need, why don’t they always succeed? And I have studied a lot. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in classes and certifications. And I realized that there is this process that all people go through. And they skip an important part. And it’s called technically the T-T-M process, the Trans-Theoretical Model of change developed by Dr. James Chaska. It is about measuring behavioral change. What causes change? There are five steps. Quickly, the first is Pre-contemplation: We think about something. Maybe I’ll do or I won’t do it. I can’t do it. We forget about it. The second is Contemplation: I may do it. I think, I’m going to try this. And then there’s Preparation: I will do it, and here are the steps I need. The fourth step is Action: I am in that process. And then finally, Maintenance is the fifth step. I still am in the process.
Now, that is a great framework again. But what happens is people go from Pre-contemplation, I don’t want to do it, to Contemplation, I’m going to try this. And guess what they do? They move directly to Action. They don’t want to spend time in Preparation.
I was going through your methods and tools that I use so often. I have analyzed them according to these five steps. I realized that over half of your materials focus on the Preparation step that leaders often skip. This is the hard part for so many leaders, I find. What I find the people that don’t succeed, they want to skip the Preparation phase. That’s about 53 percent of the work in your tools and methods that they don’t want to do.
And this is what I find even in really powerful leaders. I just got an e-mail this morning for one of my leaders, who is going to do a complete pivot. Because of what’s going on with racism in this country. He is going to and he can do it and he can do it. But he is ready to go and change everything about his plan.
And when he wrote to me this morning about it, I said, “Great. And now you have to build that dream team and make sure that you get the people together. Because there is an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’” And going together is this Preparation stage. This understanding of who we are, what we bring, how we’re going to prepare it, and how we’re going to go about it. And if people fail over any, pick your thing – you want to lose weight, you want to build a new business, you want to change the culture of your own business — you’ve got to do the hard work of the preparation. This involves a tremendous amount of looking at who you are, looking at who you aren’t, and really evaluating it in a way that you can become successful in the long term. And then, we have to move to Maintenance. How do we stay who we are? That’s how we build for the future and we give something back. We can’t give back what we don’t have.
So, I really like that framework. And over the years, as I’ve watched people get super excited about this process in who they can be. If they fall off, it’s because they haven’t done enough in the Preparation phase.
Andrew: That’s really insightful. That is a big part of where coaching fits in. That is what a great coach does, I love that.
Good. Well, Victoria, one last question. And I think you’ve already covered it a lot. What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting into executive and leadership coaching today? You know, they’re thinking about it. They want to be more fulfilled. They want more flexibility. It’s a step they want to take. What should they be considering? What advice would you want them to get? I already hear from you so much advice. The passion that you have comes through loud and clear, which I think is a prerequisite for getting into this. But what else would you want to add?
Victoria: Well, what’s easy doesn’t last and what lasts is not easy. So, this is a tough climb. This is a slow climb. If you’re going to build a business, I don’t know that this time is any harder than another. But if you want to build a business, you have to be really prepared. That’s step three. Why do you want to do this? What do you have? One of the things that was really helpful for me was that I wasn’t desperate for clients. And if you are desperate, meaning you’re not making money, you lost your job, you don’t have any money, and you want to go find clients. And what are you going to charge an hour? You’ll find plenty of clients at 75 dollars an hour. But if you want clients at 500 dollars an hour or more, you’ve got to deliver.
So, I really suggest that people tgo through and this is not a plug, and you’re not asking for this. But it’s true. Your program is absolutely the most focus that I had for executives. And if you think you know it all, go take a certification and prove it. Because what I’ve learned every single time in learning about the work that I love to do, is that I don’t know it all. And these frameworks really help us. So, you don’t have a framework if you just want to chat with people, that’s called a conversation.
But if you want to help people move from Pre-contemplation to Contemplation to the Action phase, you have to be helping them through the Preparation phase. And that takes a lot of skill. And that’s not what I’ve known from being a business for the last 40 years. That comes from frameworks. Develop your own if you want. I’ve got some frameworks of my own. Make sure you’re helping people within a framework.
And have the financial resources so that you can go through slow times.
As someone who’s self-employed, one of the biggest things I warn people about is you better be able to be prepared to pay for private insurance. And if you can’t afford, depending on how big your family is, $1,000 to $2,000 a month for insurance, think about if you’re really ready to do this. So, it’s truly about being prepared to go into this business. Not everyone is successful at it. So, you have to have your own goals and be willing to work hard to reach them. And that doesn’t mean working all the time. That means working smartly. And making sure that you’re bringing value to those that you wa to work with most. That your most passionate to work with.
Andrew: That’s really good. So, yeah, let’s talk about that. Because when we first started this conversation, right? You indicated that you had a meeting with a CEO who was willing to introduce you to others. You did the 500 cards about taking the leap. And so, it seemed quick there. Other than you are talking about the learning of executive coaching. In my case, as you know, I share this in the program, my first six months was a disaster for me until I figured things out. I was lucky to still be working full time and trying to prove that I could do it on my own. Once I did, it took about, as the crow flies about a year before I was replacing the salary I had at my previous employer. And then, of course, the sky was the limit.
Well, how would you react to that? In other words, it seemed very quick for you, given your connections, and how you came across to people in your marketing. So, when you say, “Slow burn.” What exactly are you referring to?
Victoria: Well, no, let me tell you something. So, I’ll finish the conversation with that with the CEO in Seattle. He said, “I need all of my CEOs to meet you.” I said, “Great.” Took the train back home. And then the Mastermind Group that he had, fell apart. I never met with anybody from this guy’s group. But what it did was helped me. I took a chance. And what it did was built my confidence. You know this and I know this. People believe in you when you believe in yourself. I was as surprised as anyone that I’d been told I could do this work. My goal was to replace my salary from the bank in a year. That was my goal. One year. It’s going to take me a year to replace my salary. Because like I said, I came home from that meeting. I thanked him often. He and I stayed friends. And I said, “Even though we never worked together.” Which he always apologized for. I said, “Don’t worry about it. You changed my belief in what I could do. You heard me. I brought my authentic self. And that’s what allowed me to start having conversations.” So, yes, it took about a year for me to replace my salary as well. And that was by working. Not sitting here, hands open, hoping the universe will bring me some work. No offense to that. But I’ll telling you, I get business by hustling for it. And that’s by having great conversations.
Really quick story. I was at a big event for a CEO of the year. And it was it on the Nike campus here in Portland, a great space. I was tired. I’d been working all day. And I found the buffet table, which is really where I’ll probably die, sitting at some buffet table. And I’m just enjoying myself. And this woman walks up and she looked uncomfortable. She was really dressed up. But she looked uncomfortable. But I said, “Hey, you look great.” She did. And she said, “Oh, you know, it’s my suit. I don’t usually wear it.” I was like, “Okay, fine.” We talked a little bit, just a regular conversation. And she said, “What do you do?” And I said, “Oh, I’m an executive coach.” And she said, “I’ve been looking for a good executive coach.” And you know what I said? I didn’t really connect with her. I looked and I said, “You know, everybody says that.” And I kept eating. I mean, literally, I kept eating.
So, I sat down. And she kind of looked surprised and walked away. Andrew, I’m sitting there at the table and they bring up the CEO of the year. I mean, I roared. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, you know, I just told the CEO of the year everybody wants a coach.” But one of the things that I never do, is take a client that I do not really vibe with. And we did not have a strong rapport. She was so uncomfortable. She was not my kind of person.
So, the other key is, don’t be so desperate that you’ll take anybody. You got to look forward to every single call, every single meeting. And if you don’t like people, they can tell. And it won’t be successful.
Andrew: That’s really good advice. I appreciate that. Don’t take any client. There has to be a good fit.
Victoria, thank you very much. Great advice.
Victoria: Thanks, Andrew, so much. I appreciate talking to you.