Episode 14: The One Guide You Need to Meet on the Mountain w/ Abby Foster

Personal awareness is the absolute foundation of all individual and professional growth.

Episode 14: The One Guide You Need to Meet on the Mountain w/ Abby Foster

What is executive coaching, and why is it necessary for executive development? Today, David sits down with Abby Foster, the founder and managing principal of Ahnimisha Consulting, LLC, to answer these questions, share personal stories, and give advice to women in business.

Show Notes

Stay tuned for the second part of our interview with Abby, where she and David discuss behavioral assessments.

Visit Ahnimisha Consulting at: http://ahnimishabusinessconsulting.com/

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Show Transcript

[00:00:00.730] – David Maples
Hello! Welcome back to another episode of The Buck Stops Here Podcast. I’m your host, David Maples, and today we’re talking about the one guide you need to meet on the mountain. That’s right. Today we’re talking about executive consulting. It’s a first of a two-part interview with Abigail Foster, who’s the managing principal of Ahnimisha Consulting. Abby does consulting for some of the largest businesses and families on the planet. And without further ado, I want to welcome Abby to the program. Abby, we’re glad to have you here today.

[00:00:42.870] – David Maples
So, today we have a very exciting episode of The Buck Stops Here Podcast. We have Abby Foster on with us today, and she is an executive coach. She’s SHRM certified, a CPA, she’s Birkman certified. She’s worked with clients varying from small mom-and-pops to she’s done some consulting work for one of the largest family of companies on the planet and currently continues to do so to this day. So, without further ado, I want to invite Abby to the show here today, and thanks for coming on. We really appreciate it.

[00:01:17.640] – Abby Foster
Hey, there. I’m glad to be here.

[00:01:20.190] – David Maples
Yeah! So just to kind of dive into this a little bit, Abby, can you tell me a little bit about your background and what you do? Because we’ve got the credentials. We know what you’ve done. You know, you’ve done stuff for this. So, give us kind of in a nutshell, who you are and what you do for companies.

[00:01:38.540] – Abby Foster
Okay. So, my background- Really, it’s been quite a journey. I am first generation, so when I decided I wanted to go to college, I had absolutely nobody to guide me. So, I actually walked into a CPA firm because I liked accounting. So, I thought, well, maybe that’s what I’ll be. Not realizing they charge by the hour. And I went in and just said, hey, I want to talk to a partner. What y’all do? Well, he told me what they did for a living. I found it incredibly boring, but I also had been told- Now think about it. This is back in the day when women were told, well, a good business degree for a woman is, right? So, accounting was it, and I went for it. And I live in southwest Arkansas, so I went to southern Arkansas university and got that degree and then launched my career as a CPA. And within two years, did get my CPA licenses and literally left that industry like a scalded cat. So, I went straight into manufacturing with 3M Corporation and absolutely love, love, loved it because what they did is that got me out onto the shop floor.

[00:02:47.830] – Abby Foster
Now, I’m going somewhere with this, and where I’m going is what I found on the shop floor was people, right? All different kinds of people, and I just loved interacting with them. So, when my husband graduated, and I left 3M, we went to Houston, which we were there for 20-something years, after identifying it, of course, as the one place we knew we never wanted to live. And so we went to Houston, and I worked with Baker Hughes corporation. And boy, several years in, I was on a high potential women track, right? In a group. And Baker Hughes had discovered they were losing women at the middle management levels. And so, they put us in a group and tried to help groom us and mentor us for the next step. And it was there that I did a personality assessment called The Birkman. Right then, when I saw my Birkman, it was all about people, and that literally launched what I consider to be the real me because it gave me- This was a level of personal awareness I’d never had, really. And it gave me an awareness of myself that allowed me- It just gave me a green light that allowed me to kind of decide for myself and really, intentionally, and deliberately determine what it is I wanted to do, you know, for the rest of my career.

[00:04:12.550] – Abby Foster
So, I literally went to the president of our company, who was a good Louisiana boy, and said, look, I want off the finance ladder. I want to go do something fun. And I ended up traveling the world for Baker Hughes, building organizations, and that’s where I got into organizational development. All along the way, I was the type of person who really liked to mentor and coach others, to really see ’em succeed, because I viewed that, as a leader, as my legacy. If my people succeeded, if I had 300% turnover, and it’s because all of them went somewhere better, yeah, I felt very successful. So, I just kind of went in that direction. Did a lot of global projects for Baker Hughes and then got an opportunity to go to a startup in human resources, which really gave me that deep dive into HR. And we sold our company. It was a startup like I said, and so we sold our company, and at the time we sold it, I was the director in the company. And I then went into Deloitte Consulting. They reached out and wanted me to help them with their human capital consulting.

[00:05:24.730] – Abby Foster
So, I went there, learned to be a consultant for two years, and then went, you know what? I am going to cherry-pick what I absolutely love, love, love to do, based on what I’ve done and what I know now about myself, and launch my own firm. And so, that’s when I started on Ahnimisha Consulting. One thing that I saw throughout my career was so many people reacting versus being proactive, especially when it came to people. I saw things like people shuffling people along rather than giving them really good feedback that says, hey, this is what you’re really, really, really good at. This is what we love, love, love about you. And boy, if you could just alter this. If you could pivot right here, you would be so much more effective. And so when I started my business, that’s one of the things that I just decided my mission and my absolute passion in life is helping people reach their full potential as ordained by their creator. It’s as simple as that. And so, in that, I decided organizational development, executive coaching- I do a whole lot of facilitation, especially for City of Fayetteville, Arkansas. I’m a preferred provider for them.

[00:06:39.160] – Abby Foster
So, doing succession planning and things like that, but also a lot of facilitation for them. Because as a city, there are a lot of really important issues that they grapple with, and having that sort of objective third party, you know, to lead some of the community, you know, meetings and things like that. So, that’s kind of me in a nutshell. I work for banks and does some stuff for hospitals and things like that. But it is all kind of within that leadership development. You know, really, just seeing what organizations need and then creating the training that help them really take their leaders, especially to the next level.

[00:07:30.630] – David Maples
To take a step back here, let me break this up a lot. You’ve had a kind of a very long and storied career, and you’ve done a lot of different things. You got on the executive women track. One of the things I’ve known you for quite some time, and one of the things you did for a long time is you, let’s not sugar-coat it, you were a woman in kind of a male-dominated business.

[00:07:58.090] – Abby Foster

[00:07:59.070] – David Maples
Okay. So for you, breaking that glass ceiling is something you’ve done your entire career and growing in organizations. And so, looking back on kind of that career – and I do want to get into the executive coaching, I just couldn’t let there, right? What do you think are kind of challenges for young women today in joining organizations? I know it’s a little bit different world. Things have shifted a little bit. What do you think the challenges facing them today are as they enter the workforce?

[00:08:32.230] – Abby Foster
I’ll tell you, one of the greatest challenges I see, especially in young women that I coach, is embracing their own strengths and viewing themselves as a contributor, a unique contributor, let me say it that way. Walking into the organization, the room, whatever it is, absolutely owning their strengths and knowing who they are, not waiting on an invitation. And again, back in the day, nice girls waited on invitations. Well, I wasn’t necessarily a nice girl because I didn’t wait on invitations, right? I can remember my aunts telling me one time because I was real competitive and I was a fast runner, really, really fast. And so, at recess, I would actually play keep-away football with the boys. And I remember my aunts telling me one time, if you outrun the boys, nobody’s going to marry you. And I looked at them and said, you know what? I will get married because I’m going to marry one of the slow ones. I’ll catch him and just kept going. Right? And it’s that attitude. I didn’t know then that I had barriers. I actually did what the boys did, you know? And I loved it. I absolutely loved it. As I got into business, I began to see those barriers and I began to back up a little bit.

[00:09:59.310] – Abby Foster
And again, it was that pivotal moment when I literally saw on paper what all my strengths were that I went, wait a minute. That is me. I recognize that. It is me, and I’m going to take it, and I’m going to own it, and I’m going to stand really firm and grounded in it, and once again, I’m going to stay in vertical, and I’m going to move forward. And that’s what I would say, is one of the biggest barriers- maybe not barriers, but challenges that young women have, is because we’re told so much. I mean, I love the Me Too movement, right? I love gender equality. The reality is, if we become enmeshed in this idea that we are somehow not equal or we’ve got to fight for it, then we don’t tend to be thinking about what I bring to the table and owning what you bring to the table and letting that actually lead the way. Because when you begin to contribute- what I’ve found over and over again, and this is even in that male-dominated oil industry, yeah, sure, there were challenges, but never once was I minimized or set aside when I was contributing.

[00:11:17.070] – Abby Foster
Right? I mean, if I come in and I begin to analyze, you know, where my place is and things like that, yeah, then maybe there’s some opportunity there for hesitation. Is what it- is really what it ends up manifesting itself as. And that hesitation is where someone else steps in and does what they do. What I learned is when I step in and I just simply do what I do and bring that to the table, bring in every single piece of you. Humor is one of my superpowers, and it’s one of the funniest things, right? Because if you can’t have fun, don’t do it. Just don’t do it. Whatever it is. I’ll never forget it. One of the warehouses at Baker Hughes, and this is in Lafayette, it was our biggest warehouse, and I was implementing a new inventory system, and I needed these guys to get on board with me because they were the biggest ones. And if they did it, then everybody else, Omaha, everybody else was going to actually get on board. And I sat there and I told the manager about what I was doing, and he said, I don’t know, I got my own system.

[00:12:21.020] – Abby Foster
And he did. He had a good, tight system. He got my own system. I don’t know that I want to do that. You hear me trying to talk Cajun as I’m saying this. And so, I noticed that they played spades every day at lunch. So, I told him, I said, okay, here’s the deal. I want to play spades with you at lunch. If you win, I walk away. If I win, you implement this inventory system. And he looked at me, he said, okay, you’re on. So, we played. By the way, I didn’t know how to play spades. I had never played spades. So, we sat down, he beat me, and I get up to leave. I said, okay, that was it. Fair and square. He said, well, wait a minute, if you’re willing to do that. He said, come back and let’s talk about it. So, I did, and, you know, long story short, they adopted the new system, and everybody else did as well. Again, that’s one of those just using who you are and not trying to determine what other people might want you to be, but walking in the room, just fully embodying who you are and contributing that really unique stuff that is yours to contribute.

[00:13:28.450] – David Maples
That’s really interesting; that story that you just told about playing spades. Do you think it was because this obviously broke down some kind of barrier or wall that existed there, right? They’ve got their own system. They don’t want to listen to you and implement it. And you’re right. In large organizations, if the big organization does it or the big part of the organization does it, and it works for them, they will implement it. Oh, man, it works there. It’s got to work in all the other divisions. And that’s really interesting that you did that. That was a little bit of a risky enterprise for you, too. You know, early in your career to kind of do something like that, right? But at the same time, you broke down a barrier. You broke down that wall. And I think that’s really interesting. Do you think it was partly because they saw you trying to kind of meet them on their level? Like you just said. I’m just like you. I do this stuff. What do you think was the moment that you made a breakthrough there when you were talking to this individual?

[00:14:21.430] – Abby Foster
I think it’s in recognizing that I’m in their world, right? And I’m talking about it in that warehouse. I’m not talking about Baker Hughes because that was all of our world. But in that warehouse, I was in his world. And by the way, he had a well-oiled machine. He was running it really well. He was very meticulous. I listened to him. I cared about who he was, which is actually the way we connect. And that’s one of the big coaching lessons for a lot of people, is you’re not going to motivate and inspire if you’re not connected. You don’t change anything from the outside, right? So, you can view everything with an outside perspective, and you’re always going to be on the outside looking in. But when you simply walk in and have conversations and listen, listen to what’s going on. I mean, it took just a matter of minutes to recognize how proud that man was of the systems that he had built there. You know? And just recognizing what mattered to him and then having those conversations around his world versus your world.

[00:15:40.190] – David Maples
That’s really interesting to, you know, kind of hear how that worked out. You just kind of- As you said, nothing changes from the outside end. It changes from the inside out. You have to be part of the organization, and you have to connect with those people. So ultimately, I’ve heard it said that executive coaches kind of break down the four disciplines. And I want to ask a little bit about executive coaching, and I want to ask about assessments as well. I’ve heard it say that it breaks down to your people, your processes, apparently cash flow is something people talk about, and then operations or something like that. I don’t know. There’s something- I’m not an executive coach, so that’s not what I do. But at the same time, tell me in a nutshell what you see kind of executive coaches or consultants- and if you will actually spell out that distinction for me. What’s the difference between a consultant and a coach, per se? What would you say that is? How do they work in organizations?

[00:16:37.670] – Abby Foster
Okay. So as a consultant, I would say the big difference is you’re coming to them with a solution. As a coach, they already have the solution. It’s in them. Your job is to walk alongside them, to guide them, sometimes to hold up a mirror to them, which is challenging at times. Right? To hear the words beneath the words, which always, always reveal what the need is and what the desire is. Coaching is about growing, and it’s about growing strong within yourself. It’s about recognizing what you do that nobody else does. Again, it’s about really getting locked and loaded on your strengths and then being you when you walk in the room, right? And using those and taking them to the next level. There are so many times- Our barriers to success are within us. We are the only people who can keep us from success. And when we begin to recognize that- Man, there’s this situation or circumstance that I always feel awkward in, I always get, kind of, feel blindsided, or I feel like I’m just not at my best. That’s the one we want to talk about. As far as coaching goes, as your executive coach, I want you to tell me a little bit more about that.

[00:18:02.360] – Abby Foster
Executive coaching is a lot of listening. It’s about asking the right questions. The coachee guides the conversation. I don’t guide the conversation. I listen to them. And as I’m listening to them, I’m hearing their words, I’m hearing the words beneath the words, I’m asking those open-ended questions. And as they’re answering the questions, they’re literally moving closer and closer to what the issue is. Sometimes it’s something that they simply- it’s a blind spot. Something they just don’t know about themselves. And sometimes they come to me because their boss says, hey, you need to get past this, right? One way or another, you need to get past this thing that you do that you don’t even see. Other times they come to me because they’re ready to take it to the next level, and there’s something they feel is really kind of holding them back or a challenge that they just can’t seem to get through. And we talked about it. And once we identify, then we’re like cooking with gas, as they say. Once we identify it, we can really define where you are today, where it is you want to be, and what that gap is.

[00:19:16.390] – Abby Foster
And then they will actually- And I guide them through a process of putting together a plan for how they’re going to get there. All along the way, I’m going to pull tools out that I will give them that they are- it’s now their tool, right? And they keep it in their back pocket and pull it out and use it when they need to. But so much of it, I would tell you, is about personal awareness. And I would tell you that personal awareness is the absolute foundation of all individual and professional growth.

[00:19:48.350] – David Maples
So, on The Buck Stops Here, our listeners vary from- You know, we have some large organizations that listen to us. We also have some very small startup kind of organizations. And I like to say, “Your mileage might vary.” But a lot of the advice we have on the podcast or people we interview is that I always say that you need to listen to the advice we give you or listen to the things you hear here, and you need to line it up with how it works for you. And so what I wanted to ask you right now is, when I hear executive coach, the first thing I think is, oh gosh, that’s only for the CEO of the corporation. And it sounds like, from your answer there, this sounds like it’s a lot of introspection and a lot of learning that even could happen with new hires in the right application. So, tell me how that’s different. Tell me how it’s different because it sounds like, and if I read this correctly, you’ve done coaching for people in all these different areas. So, talk to me a little bit about how it’s a different coaching a CEO or president or head of a division or vice president versus somebody early on in your division. How does it work differently for those, or is it all the same?

[00:21:01.610] – Abby Foster
As far as the process, David, I would say the process is really close, but the content is very different. So, I would tell you that executives are harder to coach than, of course, somebody who is young and new, and it’s all about experience, and it’s ingrained experiences. So, when we do something that helps us succeed, right, actually, there’s a chemical that’s released in our brains, and it’s a feel-good feeling, and we constantly want to repeat that. Okay? It’s a drug, and we want to repeat it. So, we continue to do that same thing. So, when I’m a C-suite or senior leadership, I’m really ingrained in what worked. But, you know, the old adage, what got you here won’t get you there. And that’s because, at some level, you get to a point where everybody has the technical skills. Everybody has the experience and the expertise, the subject matter expertise, but not everybody can actually motivate and inspire others to be their best self. And that’s what leadership is. So, when you begin to get at those levels, now all the skills that got you there are not the ones that are going to launch your success in that arena.

[00:22:31.690] – Abby Foster
It’s going to be more about listening. Silence. That’s something so many people just don’t learn is the power of silence. When you are the executive, you should do more learning. I mean, I’m sorry, not learning, listening. Then you do talking, right? Leaving silence in the room is an amazing, powerful tool because people will feel that silence. And as they do, you learn so much as the leader. You learn so much about what’s going on, what people’s fears are, what the challenges are that they’re facing. And you’re taking it all in. That’s a huge piece of it. So, yeah, they’re very, very different with younger people. I mean, they’re so much fun, right? The young people entering the workforce today, I literally could have given birth to them. So, every one of them becomes my child as far as I’m concerned. And I do want to see them reach their full potential. For them, it’s more about really being grounded in who they are. Think about it. For most of their life, someone’s been telling them who they are and what they should do and shouldn’t do. And to some extent, some of what they’ve been told is really not true.

[00:23:44.810] – Abby Foster
And so, they kind of build a perspective of themselves or a truth about themselves that sometimes they have to get over, you know, to keep going. And something on the inside of them knows that. So, really getting grounded in who they are. For the experienced executive, it’s more about letting go of what got you there and really pivoting to embrace what it’s going to take to be successful in that role.

[00:24:14.270] – David Maples
This reminds me of back when I used to work at Wells Fargo and some of the other things, and I would run into- You know, I was on a fast track for promotion. It doesn’t matter really, now, but it’s funny to think back on those days, and Abby, this sounds like- I would run into a lot of people who would get into middle management, and they would talk about getting stuck. They would get stuck in their career for whatever- And it’s something you said a minute ago that really struck me. They were all technically very proficient, and they were looking to move up in the organization. And it’s like when you look at Olympic runners, right? Even if you come in fifth at the Olympics, I mean, we’re talking like fractions of a technical difference in what you did, starting off the block or whatever it is. And so that’s not really the thing that’s going to make you the winner, and you get stuck. You’re like, I’m always coming in fifth, right? I’m always a bridesmaid, never a bride kind of thing. And so I wonder if that’s one of those things, is that they, if there- Maybe the mindset is wrong, that they think it’s, “I just need more technical expertise.”

[00:25:14.650] – David Maples
But all the other people are just as technically proficient as you are, based on what you said. And it sounds like it’s that human kind of introspection that those leadership skills or some of those quote-unquote soft skills, which I think are probably harder to measure, is that what they’re missing? Is that what’s keeping them from going to that next level?

[00:25:37.170] – Abby Foster
Sometimes it is. For the most part, it is. If you’re in middle management, you probably have already demonstrated the skills, the technical skills, right? And that’s the reason that you’re there. Now it’s about- It’s actually not about you. It’s about others. Your job as a leader- One of the key focuses as a leader is to mentor and guide others and equip them to make them successful. Your job as a leader is to make the people for whom you’ve been given responsibility successful, right? And that means you equip them; you guide them. One of the biggest things in middle management that I see is- And look, feedback is tough for everybody, right? As a matter of fact, scientifically, our bodies react negatively to the word feedback because that’s a survival thing, right? So much of who we are goes back to survival. So, we are going to assume the worst when someone says the word feedback. We’re going to assume the worst because we’re readying ourselves to survive, right? To face whatever’s coming. One of the things that I find that in middle management is an awkwardness or an uncertainty around giving corrective feedback. And one of the ways- I had this wonderful middle manager lady who was- she was actually trying to move to the next level, and she had a tough time giving feedback.

[00:27:12.190] – Abby Foster
As a matter of fact, she would go in to give the feedback, and before she got done, she would say, “You know what? Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry. You’re doing great. You’re doing great. Just don’t worry about it.” And she’d leave. So, one of the things that I asked her – she had a couple of kids – and I said, under what circumstances is it okay for you to not teach your kid how to brush their teeth? That’s not okay at all. Why do you teach them how to brush their teeth, right? And she said, “Well, because, you know, I need them to brush their teeth because it’s a health issue.” Why does that even matter? Well, it matters because, you know, they’ve got to have good personal hygiene and all of that. Well, why does that even matter? Well, it matters? Because I want them to be successful. And, you know, why do you want them to be successful? Well, because I love them. I said, okay, stop right there. Under what circumstances is it okay for you to not teach the people who work for you what to do to be successful? She’s like, well, I’m starting to see what you’re talking about now.

[00:28:14.010] – Abby Foster
Why would you do that, right? We’re not going to use the old word in business, or we will get a visit from HR. What we’re going to say, though, is it’s my job to make them successful. So, under what circumstances would I withhold something that I know they need to know in order to be successful? When you begin to look at it that way, you’re not looking at it as conflict. You’re not looking at it as you’re doing something to them. You’re looking at it the same way you would people that you care about and you want to be successful. Now, I would say if you are mad at somebody or you don’t like somebody or don’t ever give them feedback, that you just should never do it. Intent is kind of a grounding thing, but I see that as one of the key things for middle managers. That is the difference between the ones who really can move to the next level because they’ve already locked and loaded on that. I actually care about the people who work for me, and my job is to equip them so that they are successful. And then my whole mind begins to turn in that direction.

[00:29:18.790] – Abby Foster
And when it does, you start realizing it’s not about you; it’s about them, and it’s about what you’re trying to achieve.

[00:29:27.910] – David Maples
You know, it sounds like something that- and your organization may not actually provide an executive coach for you at this level. You know? Is this something where they need to reach out on their own? It also sounds like something that might be a little taboo because if you’re going to go- Look, it’s on the New York Times bestseller list. You know, how to whatever supercharge your career, whatever it is. Right? And I think that’s generally accepted, right? I bought all these business books, and I’ve read all of them, right? But it sounds like- and I found, you know, again, your mileage kind of varies with those books because depending on you don’t always have a sounding board to get feedback on that thing. So, it sounds like executive coaching is something that people, if they’re having a challenge moving forward in their careers, it sounds like it’s something they should individually avail themselves of. But I also think it might also be a little taboo. It’s kind of like saying all of a sudden like- and it’s not the same thing, but people don’t say, I’m going to see a therapist, right? Necessarily. It’s kind of one of those things. You realize that there’s a challenge for you.

[00:30:31.530] – David Maples
Would you say that you get a fair number of people who kind of approach you in that middle management kind of role, and they’re trying to move up?

[00:30:38.040] – Abby Foster
Yes, and there will be some that I’ve had, some of the people that I’ve coached their organization says, okay, we want to get them to the next level, and I’ll coach them. And then they’ll go, you know what? I want to keep going with coaching. And so then they will, on a private level, they will say, okay, let’s keep going. And yeah, I do have people who on a private level, said, hey, I need a coach, you know, and can you coach me? So, I do coach in both arenas. Now, one thing I want to stress about organizations getting coaching. There are organizations, believe it or not, who utilize coaching in a detrimental manner. So, they will utilize coaching when there is an issue, and they’re wanting to manage someone out of the organization. Right? They’ll get them a coach. That is one of the first questions that I ask every client, you know, who contacts me. And, hey, we have this person that we want you to coach. Well, tell me about the person. The thing that I will ask them is, is this someone that you’re wanting to keep in your organization? Because if it’s not, you’re going to pay way too much money, and you need to have a conversation with HR, and you need to put an exit plan together.

[00:31:58.860] – Abby Foster
If this is someone you want to keep, you want to grow, that you want to be successful, then executive coaching is a good answer.

[00:32:08.750] – David Maples
Got it. I think – and this is kind of something that maybe if you want to come back on another day, we could talk about, because I know you have a lot of experience in the HR sphere – it sounds like it’s a field full of landmines. You know, if they’re just going to try to use an executive coach- it’s kind of like nobody likes to- What is it? The minute you start liking to use the axe, you should put it down when you’re firing. I mean, some people enjoy that. I don’t personally enjoy those people, but- and organizations are kind of legendary for how they try to exit people from it. But it also sounds like something that you’re not really- I mean, this is an open question. Do you want to work with organizations who try to use- I mean, it is a tool when they try to use coaching as a method to get someone to leave, right? I never thought about that until you mentioned it. It doesn’t sound like something you’re really keen on doing because it sounds like you’re more interested in growing the individual. Is that a fair assessment?

[00:33:07.630] – Abby Foster
I coach for success.

[00:33:08.320] – Abby Foster
Yeah. And it also really skews the power of coaching when you accept a project to coach somebody that you know they’re wanting out of the organization. Now, if they’ve already had that conversation with the person, and the person knows that they’re leaving and they say, hey, if you want it, we will get you a coach, and that coach can help you, you know, determine the next steps, really take a look back at what wasn’t working, you know, and what you can do differently next time and how you can grow and that kind of stuff. That’s a whole different conversation. But the coachee would need to be acutely aware. They know that this is part of their exit strategy is they’re getting this gift of coaching so that they don’t get to repeat whatever that was. Because here’s the reality, guys, when we have something, a blind spot, or something that we just don’t see that is detrimental to our leadership, we will get to repeat it over and over again until we recognize it and until we step back from it and kind of peel back the onion a little bit and learn how to do things differently, then that’s the cool part about leadership development.

[00:34:29.450] – Abby Foster
Leaders can develop. That’s the cool thing is behaviors- we can learn new behaviors.

[00:34:36.170] – David Maples
So, you don’t subscribe to the Superman theory that these leaders, they’re born fully formed. So, you would not agree with that kind of statement.

[00:34:46.540] – Abby Foster
No. I don’t think so. And like I said, I’ve even coached C-suite. The interesting thing there is so many times, all of us, no one ever tells us that, first of all, we are on this earth for a purpose. A purpose that is so incredibly unique to us that if we don’t do it, it simply will not get done on this earth. Okay? So, we don’t think of things in those terms. We think of reacting to whatever the culture or the situation or circumstances give us rather than really knowing, hey, I’m here for a reason. And I’m going to gather everything that I’ve been given, all the skills, all the abilities, the personality, everything I’ve been given, and I’m going to use that, you know, to go forward. That’s a legacy. We don’t think of ourselves in terms of leaving a legacy. And I don’t care who you are, at whatever level you’re at, you will leave a legacy because you walk the earth, you leave a legacy. And the cool part is you get to choose what your legacy is. I’ve had one C-suite who kind of looked at me and said, well, what if I don’t want to leave a legacy?

[00:36:02.330] – Abby Foster
And of course, my answer was, you don’t get a choice. You leave a legacy because you’re here, because you are pulling oxygen out of the air and into your lungs, you are leaving a legacy. And you get to choose what that legacy is going to be. Now, this particular person had a real, really serious blind spot. And once they opened up their mind to recognizing what that was, then they were floored at their blind spot themselves and then truly devoted to doing something about it, recognizing it and doing something about it.

[00:36:38.270] – David Maples
So, I’ve heard it said that your company has a culture, whether you want it to or not. And I guess that’s kind of a similar thing. You can’t just choose not to leave a legacy by the virtue of the fact that you existed and you interacted with people. You know, they’re going to talk about when you leave a room. When you leave the room, what you left behind is that legacy.

[00:37:01.803] – Abby Foster

[00:37:01.920] – David Maples
You don’t have a choice about.

[00:37:03.215] – Abby Foster
You don’t.

[00:37:03.260] – David Maples
That interesting. I want to not switch gears for a minute per se, but I wanted to talk a little bit about, like, what are some of the more interesting challenges that you’ve helped leaders and organizations and things like that solve as a coach? What are some kind of things you’ve seen, maybe some different stuff in your career? Like, what is something interesting that you’ve seen when you were doing coaching?

[00:37:33.190] – Abby Foster
I had one coachee- And this wasn’t the same one I was telling you about earlier, but this person also had a real problem giving feedback. And she was with a hospital. She was a leader, middle management, and really needed, you know, to be able to give that feedback, but she absolutely could not. And as we began to talk about it, as it turned out- Now, as you mentioned, coaching is very different from therapy, right? Therapy, you look backwards. Coaching, you look forward, and you’re always going forward. Sometimes some things from the past will pop up, right? We recognize them, we peel them back, and keep going forward. We’re not going to go backwards. What ended up happening as I asked her questions, you know, tell me more about why you’re uncomfortable when you go to give corrective feedback. And as she began to tell me, so why does that bother you so much? So, tell me a little bit more about that. And she just kind of stopped at one point and said, I don’t want to get in trouble giving feedback. And I’m like, how in the world? Okay, so tell me a little bit more about that.

[00:38:53.400] – Abby Foster
What kind of trouble could you get into? You know, if you’re going to- you’re leading people, right? It’s your job to equip them, and it’s your job to help them. So, tell me more about that. And as it turned out, there had been a circumstance in her life as a teenager where she gave feedback that was not accepted, and she was basically, let’s say, ostracized and kind of ousted. And, in that moment, her mind kind of built that filter that said, don’t ever give bad news because when you do, you might be the person who gets pushed out. She had carried that with her forever, and technically, she was a genius. I mean, she was fantastic when it came to really doing what she needed to do as a leader. She hit that roadblock and had no idea why she was hitting it. None whatsoever. I’ll tell you another one, and I’ve been seeing this since 2020, conflict among leaders and leadership team members who have always worked well together. When they began to- And I’ve seen it over and over again. As a matter of fact, I have built quite a revenue stream around leadership team conflict resolution.

[00:40:21.070] – Abby Foster
What happened with COVID is that people stopped seeing each other, so they stopped being in the same room together. There’s a whole load of nuances around communication. About 70 – 80% of it is non-verbal and has nothing to do with the words that you’re saying. And they lost a lot of that communication. They didn’t see each other. So, when something would fall between the cracks, something would go wrong, what we do as human beings – and we can’t not do this because we’re human – is we will come up with the worst possible answer. It’s what we do. Once again, it’s survival because we’re trying to get ready to handle the worst possible threat. It’s the way our minds work, and we can’t not work that way. But when you’re not in the room together, when there’s a lot of space and distance between you, you don’t have that opportunity to have those really casual conversations. And so you begin to think in these negative terms, and whatever the situation is, it becomes an issue. And then the issue grows arms and legs, and the next thing you know, you’ve got to divide, and you have teams kind of pivot against each other. Leaders who might have different styles and they might not have individually appreciated one another styles.

[00:41:39.290] – Abby Foster
Well, now they’re in full-on conflict. That’s been a really big issue over the last couple of years. And again, I can’t tell you how many team leadership, team conflict resolution workshops that I’ve done. And each one is different because it’s all around something different, but just recognizing the challenge and the impact that distance has on us. We are connectional beings as human beings. And when COVID hit, and we had to- If you didn’t have shift work before, you might have started doing shift work so that you had fewer people in the office at any given time and, you know, things like that, and everybody remote and that kind of stuff. There was so much loss there and so much conflict that really bubbled up in the, you know, kind of space that it left between people.

[00:42:40.550] – David Maples
That’s really interesting. You said that 70-80% of all communication is non-verbal. You know, in my professional career, aside from The Buck Stops Here Podcast, I exist in kind of this marketing-advertising, kind of, realm. And one of the biggest complaints we’ve had from clients over and over again – and they keep asking us – we’re in there to help them do their marketing stuff, and they’re like, yeah, we’re having a hard time closing, you know, deals or sales. We’re doing everything over Zoom or GoTo Meeting now, or something else. And it does seem like any virtual meeting pales in comparison to a one-on-one conversation. And I hadn’t thought about, until you mentioned this, I hadn’t thought about how that applied to, you know, conflict resolution among leadership teams. But there’s a lot of these nuances as human beings we just don’t get now. It’s really incredible that it’s just something I hadn’t thought about at all and how that affects them. So, let’s say I’m a person in an organization, and I’m looking at getting a coach. Somebody’s talked to me about I need to hire these three people. I need a good accountant, a good lawyer, and I need a great coach, right?

[00:43:59.910] – David Maples
And I think of those three, coaches are probably arguably that’s where you really need to make sure you make the right hire because I think they have a lot more access to a lot of different aspects of what’s going on in your business or you personally. So, I think you need to do that. So, what would you say are kind of tips on finding a really great coach? What advice would you give to people who are out listening right now who might want to say, yeah, I need that in my life?

[00:44:25.890] – Abby Foster
So, I would tell you that your coach needs to be somebody that you’re comfortable with. So, some of the things- I do some coaching for University of Arkansas for their high potential group. And one of the things that they did, they had a number of executive coaches, and each one of us put together just a short video that said who we were and our approach to coaching. And all of the professionals in that high potential group viewed those and chose which coach. But even then, you need to look for somebody who is not jumping straight into a proposal. And I will tell you, David, there have been coachees that I have opted out of because it wasn’t meshing, you know, for me. And this is not one of those tasks that you just want to check the box that you did it. Because this is something that, you know, first of all, it’s expensive, it costs money. And secondly, you’ve got to have somebody who, first of all, there’s a good kind of rapport with, you feel comfortable with, but then there’s also trust. So, I think you want to look a little bit into the types of organizations that they’ve coached with, ask them some probing questions, and if they start naming names, not of companies that they coach with necessarily, but people. I say stay away because trust is absolutely imperative and integrity.

[00:46:09.930] – Abby Foster
You don’t want someone who is going to, you know, say, well, you know, this will go on until the end of time or whatever. You want someone who’s going to ask you questions about what is it you’re trying to achieve, you know, exactly. And then can put together, you know, kind of a realistic timeline for working with your people or working with you. You want someone who’s going to say, okay, here’s what I’d like to do. I typically start with a Birkman personality assessment because, boy, that gets into the DNA of who they are. And then go from there to focus in on what is it we’re even trying to achieve. What challenges are you trying to overcome? What skills are you trying to learn? What behaviors are you wanting to either develop or put behind you? You know, those kinds of things. And then you go into another phase of coaching where you now have identified it. You’re on the path to utilizing new- learning new skills, learning new behaviors, utilizing some of the tools that you’ve been given. And you want sort of a debrief time. You know, where you’re using it, you’re meeting every other week with your coach, and debriefing on how that tool works for you when you were in that situation, you know, and things like that.

[00:47:40.660] – Abby Foster
But what I’m saying there is you want a coach who can actually see a beginning and an ending, you know, to the coaching. This is not like, you know, I don’t know what- I’ve gone to a chiropractor’s before, you know? So, you’re going to be with this chiropractor for the rest of your natural life. It’s like, no, it didn’t work that way. So, I think you want to look for that kind of stuff. So, it’s really connection, you know, and comfort with the person. It is, having some background, having the integrity so that you can build trust. If there’s no trust there, you will not have a good coaching experience, and it won’t be effective. You will have wasted your money. And then a kind of a plan or a technique for how to move forward. You wouldn’t want the coachee to tell you how you’re going to actually begin to move forward, right? You want the coach to come with a bit of a plan for how you address your time together.

[00:48:49.490] – David Maples
So, at the digital agency I help run, Catapult, we get into a lot of things that I think people – We’re doing marketing and some consulting things, right? And so, sometimes people ask a lot of questions that are kind of – we have some expertise in a lot of different areas – but we get a lot of questions from people sometimes that kind of are pushing us like they want us and we’re like, no, we’re not coaches. That’s not what we do. And it’s one of those things, but at the same time, they kind of tell you about their horror stories with coaches. And I’m not doing this to go negative, but one of the things I’ve heard a lot of times is like, you know, I was meeting with a client the other day out of New Orleans, and he was like, “Yeah, I turn over a rock and there’s another person who says they’re a coach, and they never had a successful business.” And I thought that was interesting. And that’s not the first time I’ve heard that from people. So, and it seems like it’s one of these things that, you know, people have just hung on shingle. And it seems like there’s a lot of different flavors of coaching.

[00:49:52.630] – David Maples
There are these kind of roundtable-type things. You know, there’s some organizations out there that do that when they bring in business owners, and I guess they’re doing quasi coaching. So, I guess my questions about that are kind of credentialing and things like that. As he said, you turn up a rock, and someone else is now a coach about something, right?

[00:50:12.510] – Abby Foster

[00:50:12.850] – David Maples
So, my question is, you mentioned one of the kind of the warning signs, like what are the kind of things you’d say, “You know, this is something maybe you should take another harder look at.” So, you said one would be if they start name-dropping, because I’m assuming this stuff should be confidential.

[00:50:27.410] – Abby Foster

[00:50:28.170] – David Maples
But I have heard in many cases, there’s no contract or anything that says it’s confidential. Right? So, I’m kind of wondering, what are those other kind of warning signs? Like, what should you really look at for on this?

[00:50:38.670] – Abby Foster
Well, one of them I mentioned earlier, too, and that is really a coach needs to get very clear, I guess, input from you on what it is you’re trying to achieve. And if you are representing an organization, if the answer is, you know, we’ve got some people who, you know, they are not good leaders and, you know, we kind of are wanting to manage them out, you need a coach who will say no. You know, I’ve had people contact me, actually, someone from a bank contacted me, and they were wealth management. So, one of those people who needs to kind of really manage better their book of business and, you know, get more of it, I don’t do that. So, having a coach who says, “No, I don’t do that, you know. That’s not who I work with, you know, it’s not what I do. It’s not the type of coaching that I do.” Business coaching versus, you know, career coaching. Asking questions that basically say, how do you go about? You know, as a coach, what is your- How do you go about working with an individual? I’ve had people- I’ll do some career coaching. Now, a lot of times that career coaching is younger people. So, it’s even people just coming out of college, you know, or I’ve got some going into college, right?

[00:52:10.970] – Abby Foster
College is expensive. You don’t want to throw away a semester because it’s not the right, you know, it’s not the right focus for you. And then again, you know, younger people- Being able to explain what do you do, why do you, you know, how do you structure career coaching versus leadership development versus behavior modification? Those are very different things. And if your coach can’t, you know, articulate how they work with those different scenarios, if there’s never a point where they say, I don’t do that, I’d say that’s a red flag for you. There are some certifications in coaching. There’s International Coaching Federation, and I’m more than halfway through in getting that certification. Very, very strenuous. So, I would say- But at the same time, guys, I can go out there, David, and I can Google right now, and within, I don’t know, an hour and a half, two hours, I can have my certification in coaching from somebody. Right? So, really recognizing what it is, what kind of investment has the person made in different tools that you would use as a coach?

[00:53:37.590] – David Maples
I want to ask you kind of a conceptual question for a minute.

[00:53:40.688] – Abby Foster

[00:53:40.850] – David Maples
If you could go back in time to talk to a younger version of Abby Foster and coach her-

[00:53:48.357] – Abby Foster

[00:53:48.870] – David Maples
-on what decision she needs to make,-

[00:53:51.200] – Abby Foster

[00:53:52.470] – David Maples
-what would you, what kind of advice would you go back and give to yourself?

[00:53:58.830] – Abby Foster
Wow. Wow, that’s huge. Because I know the young Abby, who was referred to once at Baker Hughes as an HR nightmare, okay? So, the advice I would give her is to spend some time with herself, recognizing out loud what it is that she knows that she’s good at. And I don’t mean technical skills. I mean, Abby never met a stranger, right? Abby actually really likes people. All of them! You know, even the ones that are edgy and scruffy and everything else, you know, that tend to look like they’re trying to push people away. Those are strengths, you know? Recognize what your strengths are, and don’t ever doubt your strengths. I would also tell her that when you’re unsure, it takes a lot of confidence to say, I have no idea what to do next. Say it out loud. Say it a few times, and you will find the world does not end. It doesn’t implode on you. As a matter of fact, what you’ll find is a whole load of people go, hey, I’ve done that before. This is what I did. Seek that information, and don’t feel like you’ve got to handle it just because, right? Those are, I think, two, you know, pretty impactful pieces of advice that I would give her.

[00:55:46.850] – David Maples
Thanks for sharing that. I know that that’s- I like to- I don’t know. Those kind of questions, I think, are interesting. You’re very introspective. I mean, this is what you do for a living, and you’re obviously very good at it. I just thought it was interesting, I say, “You know, I’ll see what she would say she’d tell herself, you know, going back in time.”

[00:56:07.150] – Abby Foster
David, let me tell you, my very first management position was Baker Hughes, right? And so, I was managing accounts payable, I was managing cost accounting, and they didn’t have a cost accounting department, so I was actually building one. So, I had these ladies in account payable. There were several of them there in the group, two of them in particular, who just didn’t like each other. So, I’m 20-something years old, okay? I’m probably 26, maybe 27, and this is my first management position. And by the way, Baker Hughes and other companies all do this. They don’t train you to be a leader. They train you, right? You’ve got the technical skills, and they make sure that you’ve got those, and then you do really good with that, and they go, okay, now we’re going to put you over all these people, and no one’s going to tell you how to handle them, right? I had a child. I had my daughter, but, you know, she was still just a baby. So, I had one of them come into my office and go, I’m going to tear into her. And she called her a dirty name. I’m going to tear into her.

[00:57:11.080] – Abby Foster
And I’m looking at her going, okay, I just want you to pay the invoices, right? You’re in accounts payable. That’s all. Then the other one comes in and says, I’m going to pray about this, and I’m going to think about it. So, what do I do? I go into their work area, which was called a bullpen, right? Appropriately so. And, I go into the area, and I say, okay, you know, employee one, employee two – because I’m not saying names – come and stand right here in the center of the room. I back off and say, okay, now fight to the death. Whoever wins gets to keep your job. Leadership 101, right? And they look at each other, and they look at me, and they start laughing. Y’all, in today’s world, that would be on YouTube, okay? That would be so YouTubable. It would be out there. I mean, it is like the worst leadership ever. And so I told him, you know what? You’re not hired to like each other. You’re hired to work together. You don’t have to like each other, but you do have to work together. And so, I go back to my office, and of course, I get the visit from HR.

[00:58:22.230] – Abby Foster
Abby, what made you think of that? I said I saw it on the Roseanne Barr show last night. To which she said, okay, Roseanne Barr is not leadership development. And I’m like, okay, so then get me some. Okay? It worked, by the way, but think about that in today’s world. This is in the 90s, right? If you were to plug and play that same scenario in 2022, think about what would happen. It would go viral. I mean, there was no question about it. We don’t teach people how to lead, you know? We don’t teach them. We don’t even give them the expectations of them. And we certainly don’t teach them that from this point on, the moment you accept a leadership position, it is no longer about you. That 20-something-year-old Abby was thinking in terms of just pay the bills, because I’ve got a cost accounting department I’m trying to build over here, right? And just do the work. That was about me; that wasn’t about them. And that was an opportunity, albeit a lost opportunity, for me to build a team with that group of people. To use that situation to really build a team.

[00:59:41.370] – Abby Foster
So, that’s it. I’m off my little soapbox now. But that’s one of those things that has truly informed me. And I look back, and I can own it. And I can laugh about it because there was no such thing as YouTube. The Internet had not been invented yet. So, you know, I was good that way. It didn’t end up being a world viewing event, but at the same time- That kind of stuff, by the way, y’all, happens over and over again in today’s world because we don’t tend to develop our leaders before we make them leaders.

[01:00:19.330] – David Maples
To follow up on this question, you’re at Baker Hughes, a global oil company. These companies are multi-billion dollar companies, and if there’s anybody who’s got the money to invest in these kinds of things to grow leaders, they definitely have it. And it’s interesting. You know, and you do consulting for some of the most wealthy families on the planet, et cetera. You know, you’re literally- the people you’re consulting with or coaching on a daily basis are managing a portfolio of, in some cases, almost 1,000 companies. So, kind of from that standpoint, you say this happens again and again. So, this is not something that just happened back in the ’90s. This is something you’re seeing happen today-

[01:01:03.211] – Abby Foster

[01:01:03.670] – David Maples
-on a daily basis. So, we take people who are technically competent, promote them up, and now say, now manage a whole bunch of other people who were trying to be as technically competent as you.

[01:01:13.730] – Abby Foster
Right. Exactly.

[01:01:15.250] – David Maples
It’s interesting, and I think that’s really interesting that, you know- I think a lot of us, you know, in smaller multi-million dollar companies, you know, we look at it as like, oh, those people have it figured out. Once I reach 500 million in revenues, once I reach the first billion in revenues a year, then we’ll have it all figured out. So, what you’re saying is that none of them do, apparently, or very few of them have that kind of figured out.

[01:01:42.940] – Abby Foster

[01:01:44.770] – David Maples
That’s very interesting. I think it’s very informative. So, for those of you on the podcast listening right now, I think the thing we would say that we’ve said before is that you don’t have to all figure it out. You want to get better as you go. And just remember, just because they’re bigger than you doesn’t mean they have a better plan than you do.

[01:02:02.970] – Abby Foster

[01:02:03.380] – David Maples
It sounds like they don’t.

[01:02:05.134] – Abby Foster

[01:02:05.530] – David Maples
What would you say three major takeaways when you’re looking at executive coaching? What are the three things that people should know if they’ve listened to us today?

[01:02:15.730] – Abby Foster
So, for one thing, they should know that executive coaching is a very powerful tool for developing leaders who can motivate and inspire everybody in the organization to truly optimize their contribution. I would say a second takeaway is executive coaching exists because we never stop learning, and we never stop needing as leaders to peel back the onion and to meet and get better at challenges. Another thing I’d say about executive coaching is that it is a great starting place for being tremendously grounded and unapologetically owning your strengths as a leader.

[01:03:25.870] – David Maples
So, I guess based on this interview today, I would say I highly recommend Abby and Ahnimisha Consulting. It’s A-H-N-I-M-I-S-H-A dot com. Ahnimisha Consulting, which means to think beyond, actually. So, it’s about thinking about where you’re going. And that brings me back to something you said earlier. Executive coaching is about looking forward, not necessarily looking back, and so that’s a big difference between it and therapy. Reminds me of something the late Colin Powell said once. I was at a small conference with him once, and he said that, you know, he’s made some mistakes in his life. And he said- But he lives his life looking forward through the windshield instead of looking back at the past because the things in the past you can’t change. All you can do is change your actions moving forward. And really, that resonated with me today when you made those kind of connections. So, if you’re interested in hiring Abby or finding out more about executive coaching, check her out at ahnimisiha.com. And I really want to thank her for coming on today and spending time with us. So, Abby, again, thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate it.

[01:04:33.820] – Abby Foster
Anytime. I totally, thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with you today.

[01:04:38.430] – David Maples
This concludes our episode for this week. Be sure to listen next week, where we will continue our interview with Abby, where she will talk about assessments and how you can use those for yourself personally and in your business. If you like what you heard and don’t want to miss an episode, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you happen to be listening. Let us know what you think of the podcast and give us a review or comment on YouTube, and your review or comment could be featured on next week’s episode. Thank you for listening, and go out there and have an amazing week.

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