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These Four Phrases will Make you A Better Leader

4 min read.


Lois Payne Lois Payne



Employer Branding

Want to be a better leader? Why not listen to some free advice from a professional leadership coach?

According to his bio, Adrian Koehler is an LA based “No BS coach for restless and relentless Founders.” His extensive experience spans from critical care nurse to executive director to his position now, coaching business leaders and entrepreneurs as co-founder and senior partner of Take New Ground. He’s also a powerful speaker who doesn’t mince his words.

Whether it was through running medical clinics in Haiti and Pakistan, guiding billionaires’ investments in non-profits, or helping life sentence prisoners to rediscover a sense of meaning, Koehler has always had a leader’s mindset.

He notes this is “probably because I was troubled at a young age. My internal life always seemed more complicated than others (I don’t think that was the case, but I could see the complications.)

“As a kid, I got straight A's, was the quarterback of the football team and in the Student Council - all that shit. Externally, I could pull off a good game, but internally, quite troubled. So the idea of leadership, especially in leading oneself, that was always almost a need of mine because I wanted some sort of internal peace, that's for sure. So it all came out of kind of a wound if you like, a deep desire for meaning in my own life.”

Here are some of the leadership expert’s top principles to inspire you to get real, take accountability and up your game as a leader.

1. Fierce Advocacy

There’s a common perception that leaders need to have sharp elbows to succeed in the treacherous scramble to the top.

But Koehler disagrees.

Despite how it sounds, being a fierce advocate is not about aggression for the sake of gaining power. It's about finding and intensifying your unique strengths to act in the service of others.

“In my family, I was too serious,” Koehler recounts, “too psychological, too philosophical, too intense, whatever. And I found that in a coaching context, it was perfect because we're here to get things done. We're here to have the most honest conversation you've ever had. So my intensity was a gift. And I thought, ‘This is great. I get to be myself and it's not weird. I get to be as brash as I want to be. And as loving as I want to be. And I tried to do both. I call it fierce advocacy.”

Helping the people you lead is even worth sacrificing your perfect image for, according to Koehler. When it comes to coaching his clients, he puts everything on the table and makes a solemn commitment – “I may be wrong some of the time but I'm going to be honest. And I'm willing to be a fool to help you get the kind of breakthrough you want to get in your life.”

2. Hug the Cactus

No, it’s not a new DIY form of acupuncture, this prickly practice is all about acceptance. Accepting yourself, more specifically, by getting real and taking a magnifying glass to your shortcomings.

And anyone who has had an honest conversation with themselves knows that it can be painful - like, hugging a spiky succulent painful.

But if you can grit your teeth, breathe through it and keep your mind focused on the payoff, it’s all worth it, according to the expert.

“If you embrace your flaw, it becomes less powerful that's for sure,” he notes. “But if you stay in a shame conversation about it, you're going to hide it from yourself and other people, even though they already know. I tell all my leaders, once you have a revelation about yourself, you're the last one to that party. Everybody else knows.”

It's a disquieting thought, that the inadequacies you’ve tried so hard to bury have been in plain sight for your peers all this time. Then again, if everyone is aware of your flaws, what do you have to lose in being open about them?

You may not be able to hide them, but you still have the option to free yourself from shame and emerge a lighter, more deliberate and truer version of yourself.

Koehler believes you then have two options:

1. Make a conscious and deliberate effort to improve the flaw.
2. Create a team that excel at what you struggle with.

Because ultimately, no one can be good at everything.

3. Vital Competencies

Your first thought of vital competencies might be hard skills. After all, being the absolute best - the most capable, knowledgeable and accomplished - at what you do is the only way to be a great leader, right?

Except that’s not strictly true.

As Koehler explains, “It’s not like you have to have the perfect credentials to be a leader – it’s usually the one that has enough guts to stand up and point in the right direction and enrol people in that - whatever it takes. Sometimes it’s just about listening really well.”

Referring to his coaching at Take New Ground, he continues: “Our work is always around the relationships in the room, which seems soft, right? Communication, handling conflict, they’re soft skills, but we call them vital competencies because when you can communicate what you think and generate possibility out of conflict, then nothing can get in your way.”

When clients work to master their vital competencies, the results are emphatic, Koehler claims.

“There's always a breakthrough in connectedness, for sure. And if you get that straight, creativity goes through the roof, as do resiliency and alignment. Out of that, new results are limitless because now people are taking action and actively trusting one another where they thought they couldn't. They thought they had to make the best of a shitty situation, but now they can reinvent it.”

4. The Shit Sandwich

One thing Koehler’s leaders love to do is complain. When they’re not complaining about themselves, they complain about others. How other people aren’t doing things their way, or the way they should be doing them.

These complaints, he says, are “typically the fruit of unhad conversations.”

Reasonable, perhaps, but avoidable. Because energy zapped in complaining about a situation is far better spent in having the “unhad conversation.”

“We call it the shit sandwich principle,” Koehler explains. “See, problems come to us like a shit hors d’oeuvre, and who wants to eat a shit hors d’oeuvre? So, we send that back to the kitchen and it comes back as a shit sandwich. Send that back and pretty soon you have a shit buffet. That's the natural outcome of not dealing with things when they're small.”

There are plenty of reasons why we avoid conflict. If we don’t speak out, we stay safe, we stay correct as no one can challenge our viewpoint; we run no risk of upset, unrest or embarrassment.

But there’s a catch, says Koehler.

“Setting up a culture based on agreements is risky because then we’re tied. The promise of agreement binds us together.”

Meaning as soon as a disagreement inevitably rears its head, all hell breaks loose. So, rather than programming a culture that’s ready to implode, the coach suggests shifting your mindset around having difficult conversations.

“In my world, a broken commitment is a cry for help. It’s not about punishing somebody. Just go inquire, like, 'Hey, what's going on? How are you?' People love to talk about others not being accountable, but they haven't set the system up where accountability naturally happens.”

In a nutshell

Adrian Koehler’s "No BS" approach to becoming a better leader is radical self-acceptance, mastery of vital competencies, a commitment to uplift others and open communication. Embrace these principles to transform your leadership style. You, and those you lead, will be all the better for it.

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