In this episode, Antonia Bowring joins us to talk about transformational coaching, leadership, and personal and professional growth. Antonia is a Highly Credentialed Consultant, elected Top NY Coach in 2021, Strategic Facilitator, Sought-after Speaker, and Author of “Coach Yourself! Increase Awareness, Change Behaviors, and Thrive.”
S: Welcome to all of our “Becoming Your Best” podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host. This is the Becoming Your Best Leadership Show. We have a special guest with us today. She is a highly credentialed, top New York executive coach. She works primarily with founders, C-suite executives, and leadership teams. One of Antonia’s areas of expertise is helping neurodiverse leaders create the necessary scaffolding to leverage their gifts and maintain their focus. Welcome, Antonia Bowring.
A: Hi, Steve. Thanks for having me. Thanks for all the kind words.
S: You bet! Been so looking forward to this. And before we get started, I’d like to give you a little bit more of a background on Antonia. She is a frequent speaker to companies and groups on topics ranging from mindfulness, ADHD in the workplace, and communication best practices. So, I’m really looking forward to hearing about her experience, her life lessons; she’s going to be a great resource here for us today. We welcome our listeners; it’s always a delight to be with you. And, you may not be aware, but just by being here, you add so much to the show. We can just kind of feel your energy. Her articles to the Forbes Coaches Council are widely read, and The American Reporter named her as one of the “10 Leadership Coaches to Watch.” So, in addition to coaching, Antonia has a vibrant strategic facilitation practice that includes facilitating the CEO Forum in the East Coast of UCLA Anderson School of Management. So, she’s done a lot more, excited to have you here. Antonia, let’s just jump right into it. Tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you.
A: Oh, boy! Okay, I’m gonna keep it brief. Basically, I have had—before I started coaching, which was a decade ago—I would say three buckets of career. One bucket was in international nonprofit work. I worked in microfinance all over the world. A second bucket was in management consulting. And then a third bucket was in leadership positions in primarily large nonprofits, culminating in opening the office for a nonprofit based out of California. And that led to a beautiful pivot, which was, that the organization went, let’s say, bankrupt. Nonprofits don’t really go bankrupt, but that’s the idea. And then, I was at this real pivot point. What do I do? I was exhausted; we had done everything right. But the organization in California controlled the money. And I made the pivot to coaching because I really felt I want to be able to have agency—an important word for me—over the success or lack of success of what I do. And that led me to coaching, and as we like to say, the rest is history.
S: Well, that’s terrific. Well, that’s a lot of experience. And I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like a really great failure to help us succeed in the future.
A: 100%. And it’s helpful to be fired at least once in your life.
S: Yes, okay. Well, tell us about your book, Antonia. I’d love to hear all about it. How did it come about? Why did you write it?
A: Well, the very short answer is, I wrote it because Wiley, my publisher, called and said, “Do you want to write a book?” And I said, “Sure.” But more seriously, the reason why I wrote this book—and it’s called “Coach Yourself: Increase Awareness, Change Behavior, and Thrive”— is, at the end of the day, I am very interested in democratizing executive coaching. And executive coaching is expensive, and only a few people get to benefit from it. And the need is so great. In this complex world we live in, the need for coaching is even greater than it ever was. So, this is my attempt to democratize coaching and create a kind of DIY coaching toolkit.
S: So, I am very interested in this subject. And I am sure that many of our listeners today are also interested in how it can help lift all of us because not only do we gain through coaching processes, but of course, it can help lift others, and everybody wins. So, what is transformational coaching? And what are the things that make that work, Antonia?
A: Steve, I want to ask you a little question: Where did the word “transformational” come from? Because I’m just curious. We’re in sync here. But where did that word come from?
S: Well, I know what it means to us. There are different ways that we can have a relationship with people, and also experiences in our own life. I know, it’s not limited to this, but we like to think of it as being transactional, which is just checking through the list, just doing the basic things that are needed, versus transformational. And that is, the purpose of our association is to be at a better place, to live well, to inspire. So, that’s kind of what it means to me. Good question.
A: So, that is a very beautiful question because this book can be completely read as transactional — not completely, but a lot of it. How do you get better feedback? How do you delegate better? How do you build cohesion in your team? How do you structure a vision exercise? But at its core, what I’m interested in is transformation. And this is the kicker, and you know this and I know this, I can show up as your manager and I can do it all wrong, in terms of skill and technique. But if you know that I care about you, that I’m coming from a place of both humility, kind directness, and a learning mindset, and wanting to know you as a human being, and having the tough conversations even though we all want to avoid them, even if I don’t do it quite right. That’s what’s important. And so, underneath this book, which is a lot about skill building, is, I want to help you evolve into the playful, passionate, purposeful, heart-centered person that you can be as a leader. That’s my real mission.
S: Some people know that one of my professors in college was Stephen R. Covey. He had a giant class, I think there were 800 in his class; big class. This is before, of course, we really had on-demand courses or online courses that didn’t stream; you are there in person. And he actually became a board member for our company for 17 years. And I joined his board for five years and then was associated with him professionally as well, and we had such a great time. And one of the things that he loved saying—he had said about me, but he had said about other people too—he says, “It’s really hard to criticize someone that’s always working on improving.”
A: Wow. It’s so awesome that I’m pulling out my little index card to write it down.
S: Oh, well, that’s a good one. Thank you. Well, you’ve talked about part of transformation actually is having some constructs or some framework that people can learn. So, like you alluded to, the growth and being your best, becoming your best, is a mindset but it’s also a skill set. So, I can imagine, maybe some of these frameworks that you’ve talked about, that have been helpful for you and your clients, are part of that transformation. Do you mind talking about a couple of those?
A: I would love to, but I want to make sure I got this quote: “Really hard to criticize someone who’s always working on themselves.” Is that it?
S: “Who is always working on trying to do better.”
A: “Trying to do better.” Okay, good. I would might add, “trying to do and be better.” Oh, beautiful. So, the book is divided into sections. And the idea is, I’ve been doing executive coaching for a decade; there’s about a dozen, 11 or 12, frameworks that I use over and over again. So the idea was, “Well, let me put them in a book, let me jiggle-jaggle them a bit to make them friendly for someone who picks up the book and reads it themselves.” So, what I want to say is, these frameworks, I have used hundreds and hundreds of times with clients. So, the first section is what I would call lift-off frameworks. At the beginning of an engagement, these are frameworks that I often use. One is, I start every engagement with the vision exercise. And then there’s a beautiful framework about the actor-spectator. Are you an agent? Or are you just kind of reacting to what’s coming your way? That’s kind of part one.
S: Good, very nice. That’s a great way to start. Nice.
A: Thank you. And then there’s one more in there. And then part two is all about communication. What are best practices? We all know what they are. But we can never hear it enough. Best practices of communication. And then I go through a few frameworks that are about communicating better. I think we might jump into one or two of those: COIN, the communicate far, the communication funnel. And then the third section is what I would call the basics of good management. And I break it into four buckets. And then I talk about leading teams and building a cohesive team. And then the final section is on habits. So, you go through your coaching engagement with yourself; you increase your awareness about something, you think about and put into practice some behavior changes. How do you solidify that and bring it into the future? And keep it front of mind? That’s through habits. So, that’s the structure of the book.
S: Let’s just talk about COIN, for example. What is COIN? What’s the purpose of it? How is it helpful to a person or a team?
A: So, COIN is, I would say, of all the frameworks in the book, and this one comes up over and over and over again. And it’s also super helpful for neurodivergent clients. It’s kind of like a checklist. The idea is this is a little framework in your back pocket that you can keep in mind when you are having a critical conversation. And by critical, what I mean there is that emotions can run high. And when emotions run high, sometimes we have an amygdala hijacking; our prefrontal cortex goes to sleep, and emotions can take over. And that is a really important awareness. And super helpful to have a little framework in your back pocket to bring you back to being centered. The framework has two pieces. One is, how do I prepare for this conversation? And that’s knowing about yourself: do you tend to lead with heart, with a kind of softness, or do you tend to lead with a car, kind of hardness or sharpness? They’re not good or bad. We all have different personalities and characters, what’s our awareness of how we tend to lead or enter those kinds of conversations? So, let’s be aware, you need to dance between the soft and the hard in a critical conversation; you’ve got to hold your ground, you’ve got to remember why you’re having it, you’ve got to remember what you’re trying to achieve with it. But you need to let the other person in; you need to have empathy, you need to be curious. So, that’s part one, preparing your mindset.
A: And then, when you have the conversation, that’s where the acronym comes in: COIN. And that stands for Common purpose, Observation, Inquiry, and Next steps. Could not be more basic. But can I tell you how many C-suite executives are like, “Ah, I forgot one piece of that, hard, tough conversations.” So, you’ve got to practice it. So, why don’t I just say what they are real quick, and then you can dig in, Steve, where you want me to go further? First, common purpose: Why are we both here? How do we create a positive intent? How do I create a miniature in-group between you and me in this conversation? We do that through an alignment on something we care about. “Steve, happy to be in this conversation with you today. We both really care a lot about your professional development at this company.” Oh, is the basic piece of feedback as well. Then we talk about observations: not “Steve, you’re moody,” or vSteve, you’re inconsistent,” or “Steve, you always wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and the team knows it.” Those are judgments and values, and it’s observations. So, if I had a video camera, and I was following you, Steve, what would I hear and see? We want it to be factual. And then the main part of it is inquiry, a dance, back and forth, that involves open-ended questions, that involve sharing perspectives, that involves really listening to you, and how questions, what questions, not binary ones. And then it ends with “N,” next steps. So, always some future-directed, “Steve, let’s check back in next week, when you’ve reviewed the documentation I shared, and let’s finalize it together.” That’s it. Super simple, but not only easy to put into practice.
S: So, basically, in the book about coaching, you have these types of different frameworks that can help people build their skill set, along with their mindset, to become the very best type of leader that they can be, lifting and inspiring others. So, that’s how they coach themselves, huh?
A: Exactly. You got it. You’re my new spokesman.
S: So, Antonia, can someone coach themselves? How does that work?
A: I get asked that question a lot. And I would say, categorically, fundamentally, yes, you can coach yourself. Maybe not quite as far, because it’s so valuable to get out other perspectives. And I think there are ways you can do that, even if you’re coaching yourself; we can talk about that. But, absolutely. For me, this is much more kind of going right back to what Stephen Covey said to you: “Are you on a personal and professional journey to be the best you can be?” If you’re on that journey, you can coach yourself.
S: That’s so refreshing, too, when people are just humbly working on trying to be better. Isn’t that awesome?
A: Yeah. And it never stops, right?
S: It never stops. You don’t get too old for it, that’s for sure. I’m curious about something. What have you seen, Antonia, in terms of mentoring programs and coaching programs within a team, or a family, what seems to be the best approach in setting up a mentoring program or a coaching program? What’s your observation, your experience that you’ve seen?
A: That’s a complicated question in some ways. I think it’s very different if you’ve been coaching the leader, and then creating a team process. Sometimes that works really well. And sometimes, if there isn’t enough trust, the group is too fragile for that; there’s not enough trust. But, I think, at the end of the day, what is most important, and I think we don’t do well here, there’s always the off-site or the workshop, and everybody gets all excited, “Oh, yes! And we learned, and it was great.” And then there’s no follow-up. There’s no continuity of the learning as a group, which feels really awkward, sad, and uncomfortable for a lot of team members. So, I try as much as I can, when I work with a new team, to say, “I’m only going to work with you if there’s a commitment to continuing this work.” And it doesn’t have to be me, by the way; you might have an HR representative, you might have a chief of staff. It’s conversations. It’s taking what we said we would agree to as team norms, and tracking how we’re doing. It doesn’t have to be an executive coach doing that work. So, to me, the key is this continual pathway to build on the awareness and the behavior change, and that learning loop. And that’s how you move forward.
S: So, really being partners in the whole growth process is kind of what you’re saying, with accountability and follow-through, and doing it in the spirit that you talked about earlier?
S: Do you have a coach yourself, Antonia?
A: Yes, I have a coach and a therapist. That’s one of the best parts of executive coaching is, there’s a lot of me-search, not just research. I think it’s really important for a couple of reasons. One, I try different modalities myself because I want to be able to at least present them to clients: EMDR therapy, tapping, all kinds of other things. I want them to know, there’s an array, a lot of somatic body work now. And I have a coach. Right now, my coach—it changes—is a master coach in the area of ADHD. She’s like a guru in this. And I just learned so much from how she shows up in our coaching sessions. And I think if you’re a coach, you have to have a coach.
S: I love it. All that means, Antonia, is that you’re just hungry, you’re learning new ways, you’re not getting set in your way, and that you’re open for growth and using your imagination. And this is what leads, this is what stimulates our minds, and gives us hope for the future. Because the world is changing so quickly. And the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.
A: I feel that very strongly with conversations about different generations in the workforce. And I feel very strongly that I have a huge amount to learn from Gen Z and millennials. The playbook has not been written. There’s so much we need to be learning and sharing intergenerationally too. As someone who is moving to that phase of life where I’m considered more an elder—it’s even hard to say those words—I’m really aware of how much I have to learn from younger folk.
S: That’s what gives us hope as the leader. So, congratulations, I love that spirit. And while your book is a really wonderful message for a lot of people because I noticed you talk about ADHD, and you’re just talking about the different generations of people. So, how do you see it applies at these different levels? What advice do you have at different levels?
A: Vis-a-vis ADHD or vis-a-vis the frameworks in the book?
S: Well, for example, you single ADHD out, what’s your message there?
A: Well, the message there is that my next book is going to be about ADHD and leadership. And my editor said, “Well, you better write a chapter about ADHD in this one.” That’s true. But I will tell you, the reason why I singled it out is, there is a huge amount of pain, shame, and negative narratives related to folks with ADHD, and I have an adult diagnosis of it. And I work much more with neurotypical clients. But increasingly, I work with neurodivergent, primarily ADHD leaders. And I wanted to include it in the book for a couple of reasons. Number one, I care a lot about the issue and I wanted to give it visibility. And number two, while this book is not written for folks who are neurodivergent specifically, frameworks are unbelievably helpful because of impulsivity and emotional dysregulation and things like this, because they give you scaffolding. And that can be very helpful for folks that tend to lose focus quickly or have less working memory. So, that’s another reason. And then the third reason is, I just think there’s a lot of stories to tell, and we’re moving in that direction but we got a lot more work to do.
S: I love your focus and the fact that you recognize people at different areas of life and different times in life, but the principles apply across the board and how can they be applied to bring the best out in them. Well, we are at the end of our interview today. It has been so great. So, what final tips would you like to leave with our listeners today?
A: My final tip, I have two. One is that whoever you are, you are enough, just as you are. And from that place, you can grow, develop, and pursue your purpose, passion, and playfulness. But right now, whoever you are, you are enough. That’s the starting point. And then, my second final word would be: please buy the book, and please review it on Amazon. Really easy to find: “Antonia Bowring Coach Yourself” on Amazon. I would love to get these messages out there to more people.
S: How can people find out about what you’re doing?
A: Well, they can certainly find me on LinkedIn. They just need my name, Antonia Bowring. They can buy the book on Amazon. They can find me at my website, ab-strategies.com. And if they are particularly interested in ADHD, I am having a ton of fun on TikTok, posting every day: AntoniaBowring963, with tips, tricks, thoughts, and musings about ADHD.
S: Well, thank you, Antonia Bowring, for being a part of our show today. I’ve loved some of the nuggets and really gems that you shared with us. We wish you all the best and the lives that you’re touching for good.
A: Thank you, Steve, and thank you for all that you’re doing and the community you’re building and nurturing.
S: Well, great. Well, best of luck. And to our listeners, thank you for joining us today. It’s always a privilege and an honor to have you with us. We wish you the best. This is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best, signing off.
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