This interview with David Ehrmann – an Executive Coach with AIIR Consulting – was conducted and condensed by Candice Henderson.
Q: Where are you from?
I spent my childhood in Brockton, Massachusetts, USA.
How has your background influenced your professional career?
As a big believer in the Ripple Effect, my family of origin, life experiences, friends, education and various leadership roles as a kid all helped form who I am and what I do today.
What inspired you to become a coach?
My call to serve others has been a constant value in my life. After college – where I studied interpersonal communication – I attended rabbinical school. My thought at the time was to be a chaplain within prisons. However, the rigor of rabbinical school (in particular, the commentary of Rashi) and my interest in contributing rather than continuing to study first led me to the public school system. I become a special needs tutor and eventually a high school teacher of Communication Studies. This was followed by many roles within corporate training and development functions, all of which dealt with helping people communicate more effectively. Ultimately, I decided to go off on my own as a coach and organizational consultant 20 odd years ago – and I haven’t looked back, nor have I any regrets about the path I have chosen.
What is your philosophy about human change, learning, and development?
I believe that many of us go through our lives thinking that ‘it is what it is.’ However, my belief is that with reflection, awareness, openness and support, each of us is able to identify a goal, build new skills, change mental models and achieve greater satisfaction and increase our contribution.
When you first started out in your work as a coach, what was one of your biggest mistakes, and what did you learn from it?
There are many things that come to mind – among them, my interest in linking my client’s story to my experience. The lesson I learned from this is that the focus of coaching is not on connection, but on client discovery. I needed to remain curious, to actively listen and create moments for my clients to ‘self-discover.’ While there are times when making a connection with a client based on a similar experience matters, making this kind of link is not the purpose or goal of coaching. As a result, I learned to ask myself the question, “For the sake of what am I about to share my story?” This personal mantra helped me learn that suggesting – or even worse, telling – did more harm than good. Instead, as a coach, I learned that creating a path for clients to self-discover was much more powerful.
What are your strengths?
Handlebar mustaches (kidding). But my sense of humor is a strength that creates a level of comfort. I am quite competent at staying in a mode of inquiry and do this by using well-developed listening skills. I am able to suppress my own reaction and help others to self-discover. I am timely, conscientious and committed to enhancing meaningful relationships.
How do you leverage your strengths in your coaching work?
By quickly building a trusting relationship, I learn what my clients have on their minds. From there, I help them change their vantage point and support them as they create and implement an action plan.
How do you practice what you preach as a coach?
Although uncomfortable, I intentionally put myself in challenging places. Most recently, I negotiated an agreement for a commissioned work of art. My role was to facilitate the agreement between a prickly artist and a self-assured attorney who was looking out for his client’s best interest. Although my blood pressure went up and down faster than the tide in Digby Nova Scotia, I was able to ‘bracket’ my emotional response to stay focussed on the negotiations at hand.
How has your coaching practice evolved over the years?
As my practice has grown internationally and my clients have become more geographically diverse, I have become increasingly more aware of the need to check my own assumptions. I am more reflective and, I believe, even more empathic.
What advice do you have for clients in maximizing the success of their coaching engagements?
Much like swimming, you need to get into the water. To maximize your coaching opportunity, I suggest that, you jump in rather than enter gradually. Knowing that your coach is there for support, safety and guidance is the key. Making bubbles and treading water isn’t the goal – life is too short for that. Staying in one place isn’t living. Rather, test new behaviors, build skills, and take action – this will help you maximize your contribution to the world.
Each month, Candice Henderson talks with a member of the AIIR Global Coaching Alliance about the unique challenges of being a leader and coach. To learn more about the AIIR Global Coaching Alliance, click here.