After my sudden cardiac death I remember feeling sad as I lay on a hospital bed in intensive care. I was sad at the thought of never being able to glide through the water on my beloved stand up paddle board. I was watching the sun rise at the start of a pristine summer’s day and yet I felt that life wasn’t co-operating. This sadness bordered on anger. Underlying this feeling was the emotion of fear. I was caught up in my separate self, consumed by my problem. I didn’t feel like I had a choice in how I related to this situation; I was a victim; I was oppressed; ultimately, I was disempowered.
What I really wanted to do was to control things. I sensed that my health situation meant I wasn’t going to be able to do what I loved; my life wasn’t co-operating and so I grasped for control of my health; I also became a victim of my circumstance and tried to take control by judging myself. In doing so I was entering a trance.
You can enter this control trance through any number of things: losing your health; someone you love gets sick; your financial situation drops off a cliff; your relationships unravel. Common to all these circumstances is a grasping on your part to try control all aspects of your life in that moment.
You feel disempowered and insecure and this fear leads you to grab for control.
You feel disempowered and insecure and this fear leads you to grab for control. This has a negative effect on other parts of your life and can cause a downward spiral; it leads you to hurt others; it results in you ruining both personal and business relationships.
The challenge is to see this trance for what it is; to see that any solution you try to secure when in this state will not work.
You need to wake up from the trance and do a complete reversal.
You need to wake up from the trance and do a complete reversal: counter intuitively shifting from insular and controlling to open and trusting; shifting from seeking power to tapping into the source of all power. By connecting to the universe, by plugging into the source, you can replace your grasping and insecurity with profound awareness, love and deep security. By breaking this trance you empower yourself; you become free to choose your attitude, to choose how you respond to whatever is going on, no matter how disruptive that situation may seem.
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The brain is our search engine – using a universal algorithm it indexes the world according to our limited human capability. Over time we build up an ego, which uses a secondary set of algorithms to filter the indexed world according to our unique context.
The ego determines how we see the world and ourselves.
The ego, as gatekeeper, provides us with manageable information it deems most relevant to us. The ego determines how we see the world and ourselves. Our context is determined by the experiences we go through and how they shape us.
Our actions are mostly determined in other parts of the brain than where the ego resides. This means that even though we are led to believe by our ego that it is determining our path through life, much like the distinction between story and plot, other parts of our brain are providing the plot, the what and why we do what we do, while the ego presents us with the story, how we are doing it.
Your greatest challenge is to break out of the trance your ego has created.
Your greatest challenge is to break out of the trance your ego has created. Your ego filters the world so that your awake awareness is only comprised of what it predetermines is good for you. As such you have been living on automatic, in a reactive mode, grasping for control when life doesn’t seem to be co-operating. To break the trance you must bring into awareness aspects of the world that have been hidden by the story your ego has created for you.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO BREAK OUT OF BOTH THESE FORMS OF TRANCE?
In trance many of your energy centres remain closed up; you find power from within your sense of separate self; you operate from a very limited and contracted place; you are within the illusion, the fairy tale, that has you grasping for power and fulfilling a false need for control. When you break from the trance you enter universal flow; all your energy centres open; power comes through the universe to you and it is unlimited; you access your innate super powers of compassion and love; you achieve full empowerment.
It’s always there.
It can either liberate or bury you.
It all depends on how you deal with it.
Compare fear with the wind. When it is a gentle breeze against your cheek, you hardly notice it. However, when it tuns into a howling gale you instinctively brace into it.
No matter its strength you only become mindful of the wind when you notice it, gently rippling over or buffeting your whole body. In that moment of mindfulness you can decide to enjoy nature or cower from its power.
Fear is always blowing.
At times with ferocity.
Choosing how you confront fear puts you in power.
As much as we sometimes fear fear itself, it is an integral part of our overall energy system.
I’ve pitched for millions of dollars in funding; I’ve given many keynotes and run countless workshops all over the world; as a lawyer I delivered numerous arguments before packed courtrooms; and yet, every time I take the floor before an audience, I feel the familiar butterflies rising in my gut. Instead of railing against them I embrace them.
I know that the more of them there are the greater high I will feel after my talk concludes successfully.
You see fear is a raw emotion that arises from deep within us and it can be harnessed and converted into a powerful energy that drives us to step up and achieve more than we may have without it.
Without that fear I may become nonchalant and try to wing my talks. Previous experience has shown, for me at least that this can be a disaster.
I need that fear to achieve at my best.
I choose to harness it, rather than let it debilitate me.
At EXOscalr we want to support the next generation of entrepreneurs and are offering a limited number of slots for early stage entrepreneurs to work with us.
As part of our support, we will significantly reduce our rates for one on one coaching with entrepreneurs and will also work with peer groups made up of a maximum of 3 synergistic entrepreneurs.
To qualify your current business must be pre-Series A funding. You could be anywhere on the spectrum between exiting your current role to do a start up through to being close to raising your Series A venture capital round. Our logic is that Series A is enough of an inflection point for us to have a full business conversation that doesn’t necessarily require EXOscalr subsidising you by reducing our fees.
EXOscalr is a strategy, growth and wisdom coaching company. We help CEOs and their teams deal with the internal entrepreneurship rollercoaster, supporting the growth they need to exponentially improve their performance and their life.
Ping email@example.com to find out more about the opportunity to work with us.
Last week I had the pleasure of talking with the students of the Bachelor of Science Advanced – Global Challenges at Monash University, Melbourne. This is a one of a kind degree in Australia as it combines a science degree with training in leadership, persuasive communication, entrepreneurship, policy, ethics and corporate social responsibility.
My session was titled Wisdom through Ferocity. I led the group through my journey from lawyer, serial entrepreneur and venture guy to wisdom guide and leadership coach. And then just as they were getting comfortable we dived into a self-inquiry workshop designed to get them to really think.
This is what some of the participants had to say:
* “Though provoking and intimidating – self discovery isn’t easy!”
* “Great dialogue about the importance of a ‘wisdom society’.”
* “How rich this conversation was. Thanks for the insights.”
* “You ask the really tough questions and a rich conversation unfolds.”
* “Thank you for challenging me to find my soul work and to focus on big things that create change.”
* “Awesome dialogue exploring the deeper sense of self and who we truly are!”
I hope that this sparked an ongoing conversation amongst a group of people who may well turn into some of our next world leaders. I am also excited to see how they develop their own wisdom practices over the ensuing years.
I plan on rolling the self-inquiry workshop out more broadly to companies and believe it would make a fantastic keynote catalyzer for strategic retreats and executive offsites.
One of the students asked to interview me and this resulted in me honing my thinking which I’ve set out in a Q&A below:
Are we unconsciously conscious?
Both negative and positive emotions are processed by the unconscious brain, not because as Freud believed they are repressed, but because the observable affects of these emotions are expressed so rapidly and automatically that they take place beneath conscious awareness.
The unconscious and conscious are part of a cohesive and very active brain|mind operating system (OS) that assesses life experiences and responds according to the system’s programming.
This OS operates in service of an individual person’s life management and its overarching value metric is energy efficiency. It parses any decision against past reinforced learning. This parsing leads to the unconscious part of the brain|mind OS automatically enacting what it already knows, unless there is a conscious intervention.
Assuming the OS programming is optimal, flow is an extremely powerful state to achieve, because in flow one can circumvent the need to interact with the conscious completely. In flow we lose the sense of self and become one with our environment reacting to it fluidly.
When viewed against the backdrop of a cohesive OS we realise that the concept of self is not a necessary construct for effective operation, nor does a distinct self exist. In contrast we can view self-organisation more as auto-organisation, without the requirement for some centralised self-driven agency.
This individual OS is capable of interacting relationally with the OS of other individuals to form an effected individual and collective response.
How does wisdom fit into the mix?
The overarching goal of attaining higher levels of wisdom it to produce more harmonic alignment – be that within ourselves, within our teams, our companies, our societies, our planet and the universe.
Wisdom dictates that the more we learn about our unconscious forces the better equipped we will be to deal with and, when there are issues, treat, the behavioural and emotional situations we find ourselves in. Through wisdom we can reprogram our OS.
One of the key objectives of a wisdom practice is to be able to insert an interstitial between emotion and affect in order to steer an individual’s response to a situation towards a more positive outcome.
The purpose of a wisdom-practice is to optimise this learning for the benefit of that individual and the broader collectives they are a part of. Ultimately wisdom should contribute to a universal OS. Many of the rules we have currently within our brain|mind OS are not in harmony with this broader universal OS and by gaining higher levels of wisdom practice we can do our part to produce more harmonic alignment.
What is the difference between being an advisor and a wisdom guide?
Previously my work was as an expert, an advisor and analyst. I was conducting my own pattern recognition across vast areas of technological and trend development and then interpreting and communicating this to others. Clients came to me for advice. This was a lean forward activity for me, while my clients mostly listened, took the advice on board and then acted upon it. By contrast much of my work today is about guiding and coaching people to have their epiphanies, to get them to access what they already know but haven’t yet processed and to harness their super powers. This is a lean back role in which I let the atmosphere come to me – I often hear the meaning between the lines and I listen for the music behind the words. This open and empathetic channelling approach empowers me to resonate with my client’s affective cadence and ask the right -and many times, the hard – questions to steer the conversation for my client’s benefit.
Why is wisdom important to our future?
We are moving aware from conscious operation in much of our external environment – autonomous vehicles, smart machines, AI, chatbots etc. As this trend picks up pace the perceived need for us to interact consciously (I say ‘perceived’, because we mainly use our unconscious to control the current systems) will reduce significantly.
This is a window for us to become more attuned to our unconscious, for us to let go and for us to rewire our OS to be more connected with the universal OS. This window will close if we instead retreat from controlling our environment to losing ourselves in VR which is a very real threat.
This window is important because we are in the early stages of shifting from a knowledge-centric society into a wisdom society. We have witnessed the beginnings of this shift over the past 16 years.
Through my near-death experience I had incredibly vivid visions of societies being built up and crumbling, civilizations evolving and devolving. I believe that for a very long time (many thousands and thousands of years) we have been in a devolving cycle, but we are now in the early stages of an ascendancy from a time of darkness and confusion into a time of light and collective wisdom. The pace of this ascendancy is contingent on a proactive approach. If we do nothing and rail against this natural cycle we may evolve very slowly and not achieve our full potential before the cycle shifts again. It is up to us to catalyze and accelerate this ascendancy.
Why Be Fierce?
This mantra is designed to remind us that we can reprogram our behaviour patterns away from simply accepting our programmed response to situations and towards finding a better, more attuned path. Aim more for an internal ferocity than an external viciousness.
Thanks for reading and continue to
Rand Leeb-du Toit
EXOscalr provides a wisdom practice to both Fortune 500 CEOs, CDOs and high growth leaders.
We focus on wisdom through ferocity. We guide our clients to be fierce and invest their time and resources wisely by considering future trends, competitive pressures, growth demands, innovation and corporate venturing capabilities and their own data.
My personal wisdom guidance is derived from a mix of over 30 years of business experience and the unique personal insights that ensued from my sudden cardiac death.
I read all my email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m also at +1-650-529-4181 and +1-646-480-0205. Feel free to reach out.
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One of my clients, Bridget, has written about the first six months of her transformational journey since starting to work with us at EXOscalr. It took a lot of courage to write and I wanted to share it with you. It provides an insider’s view of what it feels like to be ‘under way’ on such a journey and it is powerful stuff:
I had achieved substantial external success. However, internally it was a different story. I felt that I was a fraud hiding my true self and I was constantly burnt out due to anxiety and fear.
When I first started working with Rand I told him that while my quest – contributing towards bringing world peace on earth within my lifetime – was a seed that had been lying in the depths of my soul since my inception, and while I did not yet know how it would be achieved, the road towards action was littered with fears and distance within and between myself, and it was these barriers which needed to be addressed first.
Despite my external successes, my internal was lost. I had written a poem a few months earlier, in which I wrote;
I’m stuck in a wheel.
Why can’t I move on?
Be better, be me, odd as I am.
I knew that I was hiding from myself and others, from my dreams and future, and that the only way to become my best self that I so dearly wanted to reconcile with, would be to peel back the layers of fear that kept holding me back. And peel them back we have!
After a few months of working with Rand I broke through my biggest mountain yet. Denial. In a reflection I wrote;
For the longest time I have been unwilling or unable to accept myself. My true self. My true purpose. And maybe I am still hiding, but I am absolutely closer to accepting who I am and where I am heading.
And I am. This transformational journey has been a rollercoaster as with each layer that is removed a stronger, more aligned me is revealed, and almost as quickly a new fear rises up to be challenged. Despite facing the desire to run away multiple times, I am incredibly proud of myself for standing my ground and fighting for myself. It’s amazing how quickly fears disappear when you do.
I have more fears ahead of me to conquer, more transformation to undergo, and I am aware and gracious for the fact that I could not have achieved such significant and accelerated personal growth without Rand’s absolute acceptance of me, both during times of advancement and setback. I adore our sessions because Rand assists me in shining a light on the compass of my soul, the Sherpa and sage of my internal journey.
I am eternally grateful for the privilege of working with him and can’t wait to see what the next six months unveil.
At EXOscalr we work with our clients to unleash their absolute potential and make a difference. We draw on decades of experience, including insights gained in venture capital, corporate innovation, building high growth organizations and advising the Fortune 1000 on transformation.
As a professional coach and adviser I constantly focus on the trends in achieving exponential growth and how you can make more difference.
My latest newsletter on Exponential Growth and Leadership:
As we move into the festive season, I’d like to wish you the best over this period. I’ve also got three things I’d like to share with you:
– SuperCEO: The Leadership Accelerator
– A piece on Innovation Psychology and Cognitive Business
– A series on Near-Death, Career Choices and Life Lessons
Announcing SuperCEO: No Holds Barred, Extremely Powerful Leadership Acceleration
I’m very excited to let you know that we have created a new program called SuperCEO: The Leadership Accelerator. This 10-week program provides leaders with insights and skills that empower them to exponentially scale themselves and grow their businesses.
The pilot program commences on the 8th February 2016 with a select cohort of CEOs participating in weekly workshops and one on one rocket coaching sessions.
The program covers a range of topics, including:
* Achieving Exponential Growth
* Becoming an Elite Performer
* Creating Contagion
* Shifting from Great to Extraordinarily Great
* Building a Plan, Data, Progress Operating System.
Rocket coaching is a unique methodology consisting of high powered 30 minute sessions designed to enable leaders to punch through on issues, making solid ground in areas they’ve been stuck on.
By the end of the program CEOs will feel like they’ve applied an accelerant to their issues and to achieving their goals as winning business leaders.
SuperCEO will benefit individual CEOs as well as those within a venture firm’s portfolio or part of a corporate venturing program as they will develop a common understanding and have access to a shared exponential growth operating system.
The program will run 2 to 3 times a year and as every aspect is conducted over the Internet, CEOs from anywhere in the world can participate. More details can be found on the SuperCEO Facebook Page.
Innovation Psychology and Cognitive Business:
It is fantastic to see the current high level of interest in entrepreneurship and innovation. However, I do harbor concern about its longevity. Without solid ROI much of this activity will eventually fall on fallow ground. The current fervour favours mechanisms and methodologies over nurturing talent, building capability and breaking new ground.
Hackathon junkies abound. Pitch panels prognosticate. CEOs yawn.
Just like us humans have cognitive capabilities, I believe so do organisations. Even more interestingly, organisational cognition is a mirror that reflects the collective cognition of its people. This insight is what my recent piece on Innovation Psychology builds on. It points to the arrival of a new cognitive business era, in which organisations are far more mindful than in previous eras. Tapping into innovation psychology CEOs can ensure their companies continue to forge ahead.
Near-death, Career Choices and Life Lessons
A two-piece series has been published by Thread Publishing profiling my journey over the past few years. Here are some highlights:
At the time of my sudden cardiac death I was defined by my work as part futurist, part serial-entrepreneur, part advisor and part former venture capitalist. What I was doing allowed me to assimilate these different aspects into giving unique, analytical advice.
Coming through this experience I feel extremely grateful to be in the small percentage of people that survived. That gratitude has made me feel I have a responsibility to make more of a difference in the world.
The experience altered my perception of time completely. I no longer feel the same sense of urgency to be busy and to track ourselves against a linear, progressive timeline.
We should focus less on keeping ourselves on an ego-determined path – or a path set by our peer group, culture or society. That way is fraught with artificial drivers and makes us feel like we have to do certain things to be successful and happy. Those measurements, for me, are no longer important. What’s important is listening to our inner voice, our soul, and focusing on what resonates with us deeply. This is where we find true joy.
My overarching goal is to bring about a stronger sense of empathy. Being more empathetic with others can not only create deeper connections and stronger leaders, it can also act as a forcing function for solving many of the big issues in our world: hunger, poverty, suffering, war.
We are limitless in our capability, but we need to break free from our societal constructs and personal constraints – and truly come alive.
At EXOscalr we draw energy from our clients by working with them to burst the constraints of their potential and make a difference. We have created algorithms and an operating system to help people understand and navigate their exponential growth and transformation and to keep them directionally correct and moving forward.
As a coach and leadership adviser I constantly focus on the trends in achieving exponential growth and how you can make more difference.
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One of the most thought provoking questions I’ve received is whether I can help people cheat death.
Are you coaching people on how to cheat death?! If so, shut up and take my money.
Cheating death implies there is a grand design and order that predetermines the specific moment and manner in which you will die. The universe is far more subtle than that. It is not overly concerned with you and your sense of self. The universe doesn’t care if your ego lives or dies, if you are happy or suffering. But it does have an order to how it operates. Once you are on the final runway of life it would take a significant force to redirect your energy back to our reality and bring you back from the brink. Let’s call this a life force multiplier.
I do believe my transformational coaching can help you to harness that force. I believe I can assist you to understand the energies at play. When the time comes, you will know what to do to create your life force multiplier. You can then choose to ‘cheat’ death for a higher purpose.
Let’s use an example to delve deeper.
You are seen by your peers as a great leader who has already made it. But if at any point in your life you had taken the time to really stop and think about it, deep down you would know you could do better. But now it’s too late. You know you haven’t stepped up enough, and disappointment pervades your moment of death. You could’ve done more. You could’ve faced death satisfied you had done your best to make the world a better place. Instead you slip away surrounded by defeat and regret. This is a very confronting thought.
In that moment of death comes pure clarity and you know, without a doubt that you could have avoided that feeling of disappointment by:
* tackling your challenges head on,
* confronting your fear of the unknown,
* dealing with the complexities that surrounded you.
Had you stepped up earlier, embraced your greatness, done all you could and given your best, there are two possible outcomes at that moment of death:
1. You could move on to the next realm with a smile on your face. Sometimes it is a person’s time to go and c’est la vie; or
2. Whatever affliction or situation threatened to kill you, you could turn things around, fight it from the depth of your soul and make it back – your determination to continue your great work radically boosts your inner strength and your life force multiplier kicks in, you achieve flow and pull yourself back from the brink.
There have been numerous accounts of near death experiences in which people have come back filled with an overriding desire to make the world a better place. In my case I faced overwhelming odds, but as I recovered I knew with absolute certainty: I had done so to change the world.
I had done so to change the world.
How do you get to be in such a position where you have the inner strength to effectively ‘cheat’ death in order to achieve more?
This is not about your ego, your sense of self, or what defines you. You need to be working on things that totally resonate with you at your deepest level. You need to be totally focused on your soul work. And this is where my role as a transformational coach kicks in. We spend time finding what resonates with you and finding your purpose. We work through any blockages to you achieving your goals and then developing a plan of action. I am there for you on your journey as you execute on your goals. I have your back. I act as a sounding board and a trusted advisor, because your board of directors is not there for you in this capacity.
Where are you positioned on the Life Purpose Spectrum?
How purposefully you live your live can be measured on a continuum. We can call this the Life Purpose Spectrum.
If you are placed at the far left of this spectrum your life has no purpose. Perhaps at some point you felt it did, but your priorities have shifted. A common example is that you realize your role leading your organization no longer resonates with you.
If you are placed on the opposite end of the continuum, the far right of the spectrum, your life is filled with purpose. To continue the above example, you may have found your purpose again by transforming your organization, changing its business model to be more relevant to a more engaged customer ecosystem. Or you may have moved on to another organization that better reflects what you find important in life.
Take a moment and ask yourself,
“Where do I sit on the spectrum?”
Write your answer down.
Now think about people who participate in death-defying activities. Your first thought is probably that they are off the continuum, that they are at the far, far right of the spectrum. That may well be the case, but it is their mindset that I want to highlight. Their mindset is instructive for you as a leader as you think deeper about where you truly sit on the Life Purpose Spectrum.
Consider Loic Jean-Albert. He is a proximity flier. That means he dons a $2500 wing suit and jumps off mountains. After an initial free fall of a few hundred meters to achieve optimal acceleration speed, his suit inflates. He then hurtles downwards at a speed of more than 50 meters a second. The smallest error can be catastrophic. He has had a lot of friends die – he isn’t playing golf.
But for him it is life, it is living – in a Newsweek article he says that he watched his grandmother die of cancer in bed and he found that horrific.
“I can’t imagine anything worse. What is important is how you live. Death is inevitable. I don’t care how or where I die. Those details are not relevant. And who knows, death might just be one of the most beautiful things that we get to experience.”
For him it is all about purpose. If he is following his true purpose then whether he lives or dies is neither here nor there.
“We are evolving, through technology and through skill. I liken what we’re doing in proximity flying to the first animals that left the water. We are evolving and growing. And becoming stronger. What else is the purpose of life?”
Another proximity flier, Ellen Brennan, points out that for her it is all a question of what you want from your life.
“Do you want to go work your ass off, never get out of that hole and exist knowing that this is all that you’ll ever have, apart from maybe two week’s vacation in Florida every summer? Because that’s not what I want. I want to do things that people tell me I can’t do. And that domestic grind, to me, is not life. I want to live.”
Now ask yourself again,
“Where do I sit on the spectrum?”
Write your answer down. Does it differ from your initial answer? If you are truthful to your inner soul and find yourself further left on the spectrum than you initially thought, you’ve got some work to do.
Leading executives can become totally focused on their operational role. Yet at some point, a trigger results in them losing their mojo for working in one business. What type of role is better suited to their next phase in life?
I posit that it is a meaningful transition for them to coach entrepreneurs and manage a portfolio of startup investments.
I’d like to illustrate my hypothesis by exploring two case studies.
Finding His Creative Mojo: From Ad Agency to Angel
David is a successful CEO of a world leading advertising agency. He has been focused for the last 12 years on growing the business, its reputation and its people. When he first approached me he felt that something wasn’t quite right. he had used an executive coach for many years, so understood the paradigm. Yet he realized that he needed to work more with a transformational coach. A coach who not only understood the business landscape, but also had firsthand knowledge and understanding of and empathy with people going through a transformational journey.
He loved to sing in the shower, especially on mornings before a big pitch, or when he was traveling on business. But he found himself no longer singing. This was the initial signpost for him to realize that it was time for him to go on a different journey. Many people ignore these early warning signals until it’s too late for them to change.
We spent our initial time together exploring what had excited him before. We delved into what areas he most feared. We explored if there were deep, unresolved issues that could stand in the way of him making a transformational shift. It is always best to work through such issues in the early phases of a transformation. They may cause blockages in your ability to perform. They could also act as blinkers to you discovering what you find purposeful.
We started the process of getting him to hear his inner voice. It had been suppressed for many years by his ego. This voice is always there in every one of us. We may suppress it to the point were it is so faint that we cannot hear it. What we were looking for from his inner voice was a deeper understanding of what resonated for David. What was his true soul work? In his 20s, he had worked with some start up companies on their market positioning. He had also been active in creating a technology spin out from his advertising agency.
He came to the realization that it was time for him to move on from running the operational, day-to-day side of his agency. It was time for him to get back into the world of creating. At his core he was a creative, which is why he had been so successful in the advertising arena. In particular, though, it was time for David to move deeper into the world of startups. Meaning and purpose for him was about building companies that were making a difference in the world.
This was never going to be a binary process, with him being an operational executive one day and a startup portfolio player the next. We had set that expectation early on. He knew it was a significant journey. It would have many moments: some positive, some negative.
A thought leadership position can benefit the move from operational CEO to Non Executive Chairman. David had no interest in writing books, but was keen to do outreach activities. He joined the board of a not-for-profit organization in the medical health arena. He was invited to be be a regular on a well-known, news-related television show. This significantly raised his profile. He took two further board seats of large companies. This positioning helped him make the mindset shift from single focus to portfolio player. It also ensured the right circles noticed when he made the announcement of his transition to Chairman and startups.
The next transition activity was a robust succession plan within the advertising agency. He identified two executives who had the skill set, drive and passion to step up into joint CEO roles. They were both positive about taking over the operational aspects of the agency. They began working with executive coaches to assist them in this process. David also began the discussion with his Chairman about his decision. They mapped out a plan for him to transition into the role of Non Executive Chairman within 24 months. The Chairman volunteered to take a less active board role.
We then began exploring the role that David should play within the start up space. He didn’t want to take on a CEO or other operational role in any one company. Instead he wanted to build a portfolio, working closely with startup CEOs as a coach. He wanted to ask the hard questions. He wanted to accelerate their growth and keep them on track as they scaled up. He preference was to invest into these companies, rather than consult to them. Their upside would be his upside.
He was comfortable working as an independent agent, as a lone wolf. Although he could see the benefit of teaming up with other investors when it made sense. He was suited to becoming an angel investor. He had significant net wealth at that point. His financial investment portfolio was diversified and included properties and blue-chip stocks. He could afford to allocate a few million dollars towards his initial startup portfolio. He was also of the mind that this was risk capital. He wanted to deploy his capital into companies taking bigger risks that had above average goals. He was mentally prepared for the fact that he may not receive a positive return on investment from this activity. It was to be a learning experience.
We worked closely on how to place him within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He began to get a feel for how he could determine whether a startup was worth looking at closer. He crystallized his Investment Charter. This set out his strategy for the kinds of companies, types of technologies, geographical preferences, stages of development and many other factors that assisted him make investment decisions. The aim was to ensure he was targeting the right kinds of businesses that could deliver him significant return on investment.
As he started doing meetings and due diligence on potential investee companies, we continued with his education in this area. The aim was to make sure that he was not making emotional investment decisions. It was also to ensure that he was able to draw on his significant business experience. He became comfortable that he could add significant value to the companies that he chose to invest in. He wasn’t keen to join a formal angel group. Nor did he want to become part of the herd that chased investments at pitch competitions.
Some of the companies that he was targeting already had angels circling them. In some cases he had a meeting of the minds with these investors. This was one way he was able to start growing a network of angels he was comfortable to invest with. He also reached out to senior executives were either already active, or wanted to get active, as angel investors. Within a matter of months he had four different informal networks that he was teaming up with.
David went on a three year journey from operational CEO to having a portfolio of board seats and angel investments. He has not only found his inner voice but is also singing in the shower again.
Adventure Capital: A Venture Guy’s Journey
Tom was the CEO of a large communications service provider. He had been in this role for six years, having worked his way there from inside the organization.
Similar to David, he reached a point where he no longer saw colors. Tom’s world became black and white. He approached me with the realization that he needed to make some significant changes in his life. He had worked with an executive coach for a number of years and so understood the power of coaching.
He wanted to explore how best he could get excitement back into his life. He had also become enamored with the entrepreneurial fervor that was sweeping the world. He initially sat on the investment committee of his company’s corporate venture capital group. He found that he enjoyed spending time with their investee companies.
His company had already created a succession plan and there was no need for us to revisit that. He was also well known in the business arena. He had a high profile thought leadership position that we could leverage. We could move forward at a fast pace.
Tom decided to make a clean break from his company. We explored the best positioning for him within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He didn’t want to operate as a lone wolf. He was more comfortable being part of a formal group that had significant track record and a brand name. He preferred to work with a group of partners from whom he could learn the ropes.
Through his corporate venture capital exposure he realized that he didn’t want to work with very early stage companies. He found this time in a company’s development frustrating. He was well suited to work with companies that had already reached product market fit and were experiencing rocket ship growth. For example, startup companies that were about to receive a significant Series A investment.
It became evident that the best place for him to play would be as a partner in a venture capital firm. He had discussions with venture firms that his company had done deals with. He got on well with some partners of these firms. He started receiving offers from VC firms. He chose to join a well-known firm. They were raising a new fund. This meant he could both participate as a limited partner in the fund and as one of the general partners deploying the capital they raised.
I continue to coach him in his position as a VC. There are many VC nuances he is finding a deeper understanding of – for example,
* the healthy tension between being an individual VC and a partner within a partnership;
* the potential for conflict between a venture guy and their investment companies.
* how best to coach portfolio CEOs – what kinds of questions he should be asking, what signs he should be looking for that they are on target and on track both operationally and emotionally.
Both David and Tom have not only stepped up through their transformations. They have also proven the power of having a virtuous circle by referring some of their portfolio CEOs to me and some of their former colleagues have also expressed interest in coaching.
1. Be aware of trigger signs that a transition is imminent. You may miss the signs and find yourself in a trough – it is significantly harder to catalyse a transformation the deeper you fall into a trough. Heeding the signs earlier is better. This ensures there is no urgency to your transformation journey.
2. Be prepared for significant change. Transformation is never linear and this organic journey may take you places you didn’t initially imagine. Go with that flow.
3. Be prepared to listen to your inner voice. You may have a tussle with your ego not wanting to let go. Eventually your inner voice will win out.
4. The world of startups is not for everyone. Nor is being an entrepreneurial investor. Go there for the right reasons – it resonates deeply with you, you enjoy creativity, you have the right risk appetite and profile. Don’t go there because you’ve read in a business or in-flight magazine how hot startups are or how much money you could make in the space.
5. Don’t burn bridges. Once you’ve made your mind up to transition, do so gracefully. Ensure the right succession plan is in place. Leverage your current position to create your thought leadership position. This will ensure you optimize your transformation trajectory. You already have a solid network in place, they want to help.
[Note: Names and situations have been altered for confidentiality reasons]