Beyond Platitudes: Coaching for Real Transformation with Alisa Cohn

Ep.21: Beyond Platitudes: Coaching for Real Transformation with Alisa Cohn


Should you have more of a delicate touch when you’re working with high performers and top achievers while you’re coaching and mentoring them? And do platitudes have any place in our coaching and mentoring work that we do with clients? In this insightful episode of the upcoach podcast, host Todd Herman delves into the nuances of coaching high performers with the acclaimed executive coach, Alisa Cohn. 

Named the world’s top startup coach, Alisa brings her extensive experience working with leaders from successful startups like Venmo and Etsy, as well as giants like Google and Microsoft. The conversation covers the delicate balance required when guiding top achievers, the role of platitudes in coaching, and the transformative power of mantras in initial client interactions.

Alisa, also a celebrated author of “From Start-up to Grown-up,” winner of the 2022 Independent Press Award and the 2023 Best Book Award for Entrepreneurship, shares her journey from the corporate world to becoming a globally recognized coach. She discusses her approach to addressing complex people issues and her mantra of adding value in just 20 minutes.

With insights from her work with diverse leaders, including the first female minister of Afghanistan and the former Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Alisa’s wisdom is invaluable for anyone in the coaching or leadership field. This episode is a must-listen for coaches, entrepreneurs, and anyone interested in the art of effective leadership and coaching.

Episode quotes

The importance of avoiding platitudes in coaching and mentoring

So to me, so many coaches and people who do what we do express themselves in platitudes like, “Oh, my wise thing I’m going to say, “You’ve got to plan the work so you can work the plan or whatever.” And the problem with that is it just completely negates what it actually takes.

The nuanced, difficult step by step work of change that it actually takes for the people I work with, startup founders and other senior executives.

And I would just say they’ve already done the easy things. They’ve already done the medium things, the hard things really take that inner delicate inner work of understanding what’s in the way and using tactics and frameworks to get there, not just overarching platitudes that I think some people write about and talk to their clients about.

The delicate work of coaching

I think that you need to have a delicate touch often to be effective with people. So when I’m interacting with my clients what you might see is an arrogant startup founder.

What I see in the sanctity of the coaching room is someone who has topics that we both care a lot about imposter syndrome or somebody who has a confusion about what to do.

And if you push them too hard, they shut down or they overcorrect. So the delicacy has to do with, first of all, my relationship with them, my interpersonal skills with them. And second of all, how can they sort of calibrate their style without losing who they are? And that is the delicate work of coaching.

The role of financial background in entrepreneurial space 

I would say understanding the finances, but also understanding what it takes to run a business. So young entrepreneurs, when I first meet them, I’m like, “Well, how’s the business doing?” “Oh, it’s great. It’s up and to the right.” 

Okay. But how do you know it shouldn’t be more up and more to the right? What goals and benchmarks? What did you predict was going to happen? How are you kind of finessing or continuing to perfect your system and be able to forecast what’s going to happen? What experiments are you running? How are you scoring those experiments?

So, you know, the analytics and the metrics, whether or not they’re financial, I think that’s where I think my expertise comes into play as well to help people understand how they need to structure themselves as they’re building something which is kind of careening out of control.

The power of a mantra: Add value in 20 minutes

The one thing I want to share is that I created my mantra, which is “Add value in 20 minutes.” And when I’m meeting with a prospect, also with clients, with anybody, I always have it in my head. I’m here to add value. How can I add value to this person in 20 minutes? And that shows up in a lot of ways. Sometimes it’s asking questions that nobody else has asked them.

Sometimes it’s listening and really hearing the undertones of what they’re saying and then mirroring that back to them. Sometimes it’s actually sharing a practical tool that they find very helpful. One way or the other, I’ve been successful, but I’ve also served my clients by having this idea in my head about how I can add value in 20 minutes.

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