Curtis in Pisa, Italy
(Check out the “Leaning Tower” between the two domed buildings)
Part 2 of 4
In the previous post, we learned a little bit about Curtis and his background. In this post, we’ll be looking at how he got into coaching and some of his experiences and insights with leaders and organizations.
Geoff: Let’s fast forward to today. How would you describe what you do now? I’ll take that question from the great movie, Office Space, “What is it that you’d say you do around here?”
Curtis: Ultimately, I alleviate suffering. That’s what I do. In lots of different forms, but it really comes down to suffering.
Geoff: Do you see a lot of suffering in the world?
Curtis: I certainly do. I also see a lot of joy and happiness and love and beautiful things, but people are usually not coming to me for that. They’re usually coming to me because something’s not working or they want to develop a different skill set.
Geoff: How long have you been coaching—actually making a living at it?
Curtis: Actually, making a living at it? 19 years, making a living at it.
Geoff: Before that, what were you doing that was allowing you to live and coach?
Curtis: I ran a small printing company. I was a middleman between the end user and the printers. This was the day before you had all these computer programs where you can do all your self-printing. So, I ran a small printing business which allowed me the flexibility to service my customers but also begin to develop my client base in coaching, which was great.
Geoff: What kinds of clients have you worked with? Are there typical kinds of clients? Are there certain jobs, professions, niches that you work with?
Curtis: No, there isn’t a niche that I work with. I’ve worked all over the world, from union electricians to the chairman of an international law firm to middle managers to husbands and wives.
Geoff: Do you see any commonalities among them?
Curtis: They’re all suffering with something, for the most part. The chairman of the law firm was like, “You know what; I’ve been chairman now. I can’t go back to just being a regular partner. What do I do with my life?” Do I know the answer to that? Of course not. But I can be with them in a way and ask them questions and have them shed their own light on their own issues.
There’s a family-owned business that’s doing the generation three to generation four transition; that’s always the tricky one. How do we keep clear lines of communication?
I think another commonality is lack of effective conversations. One of my coaching teachers who you’re familiar with, Julio Olalla, and I’m going to paraphrase him badly, says most of the issues in companies and amongst people, I would say, is either a lack of conversation, not having a conversation, or they’re having the conversation badly. That would be a commonality I would see. Even if it’s a conversation with myself. I’m either not having it or I’m having it badly.
Geoff: You’ve had some great influences in your career and your coaching. Could you talk a little bit about two or three of them and tell me a little bit about what they meant to you.
Curtis: Not that they were going to be a part of my coaching necessarily, but Martin Luther King, Jr. was a huge influence on me. I was going to school in Atlanta, and Atlanta was where his funeral was held. His commitment to nonviolence as a path has shaped me forever. So in that regard, Gandhi as well. Martin Luther King was right there. That’s huge.
Werner Erhard, the founder of EST, was also a big influence in me. I think the biggest impact he had on me was being responsible for my own experience, no matter what.
In terms of coaching, Julio Olalla was my guy. He’s the reason I really got into it because I studied with James Flaherty for a couple years. It was valuable and I appreciated it, but a friend of mine sent me a tape of Julio’s at a conference that he was leading and it just struck me like a bolt of lightning. That is how I want to coach. That’s been it ever since. So that was 2000.
Geoff: I had the same experience in 2004 and that’s how I got to know you – through Newfield Network, Julio’s organization.
Curtis: Julio not only brought coaching but also getting different perspectives. Like watching a foreign film, going and living in other cultures, which I had already done, but now looking at it from the perspective of how does this culture see the world differently than how my culture sees the world? And the world of dance and play and not taking yourself so seriously. I was a serious young man there for a while. He brought lots of different colors to the palette. I’m grateful for him, very much so. Great teacher.
Geoff: You work all over the world. Would you make any distinctions in the leaders you’ve worked with by size of organization or geography?
Curtis: There’s always differences in cultures; but because everything’s gotten so global, it’s not necessarily the country culture that’s really running the show. It’s the corporate culture that’s running the show within whatever country they happen to be in. That’s one of the issues with multinational corporations that they have to deal with – how do we overlay or engage with the local culture from our culture, and vice versa? Some are better at it than others. That’s one challenge that I see in geography.
The other is, the bigger the organization, the greater the disconnect between management and the actual worker.
Geoff: How do you see that play out?
Curtis: Just to give you an example: In a supply chain, there’s the guy who’s in charge of the warehouse. He knows that he needs to have x amount of y product available at all times. But somebody at headquarters has decided that no warehouse can have more than x percent of any particular product at any particular time due to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So they come out with these fiat, global standardization things that are supposed to streamline operations that are, when it gets down to the local level, are completely counterproductive.
Geoff: Are they aware that this problem exists?
Curtis: For sure.
Geoff: So what do you see the companies do, especially the folks at the local level? What’s their strategy for dealing with this breakdown?
Curtis: They hedge.
Geoff: Why do you think that is?
Curtis: Because they’re not being heard. If they push it up , which is rare because they don’t want to have a career-limiting move (which it could be perceived as), most of the time, even if they do raise it to a higher level, it’s not going to go anywhere because their boss or their boss’s boss is reporting to headquarters. And that’s what they’re getting assessed on: “Are you meeting the metrics that we put forward?” rather than “How is your organization doing?” It’s a challenge. It’s a real challenge. At the local level, the local warehouse managers all kind of play Three-Card Monte with their product levels so they can stay within the structure but also do what they need to do. It makes no sense.
In the next post, Curtis will continue to offer some observations and insights into the leaders and organizations he’s helped, the “big question” no one thinks about, and some of what he considers his success stories.
© Geoff Davis 9/6/19