Episode 4: Helping people enjoy working with you

Join Dr. Sarah Andreas for an interview with Nicole Coustier. https://aureliancoaching.com/about/

You will learn:

How to get unstuck.

How to help people enjoy working with you

You can learn to be a better manager


Sarah Andreas: Today my guest is Nicole Coustier, and she is the founder of the Aurelian Coaching. Where she teaches achievers to successfully juggle significant personal milestones along with professional ones, and confidently navigate mid-career pivots to new roles or new industries. Welcome, Nicole.

Nicole Coustier: Thank you so much for having me.

Sarah: Absolutely. What I'd love for you to do is tell our listeners what are you doing, what are you up to, and give us some insights.

Nicole: Yes. I am in the middle of business building right now. I started my own firm Aurelian Coaching about two years ago, and this is coming out of a 16-year corporate career in leadership and management. The company that I helped build got acquired, so happy day, but I knew I didn't want to work for a big multinational firm. At that point, I decided that I wanted to take the one aspect of the job that I had that I loved the most and build that out and do that exclusively in my coaching firm.

Sarah: Wow, and so, what was that part?

Nicole: This was teaching other people how to be good leaders, be good managers, how do they manage their entire career. If they get to a point where they feel stuck, how do they get unstuck, how do they make good decisions about their next steps in their career when honestly by the time they're mid-career, they're probably feeling really restrictive, and there are a lot of other personal milestones that are happening that they feel they can't make a pivot away from and I help them navigate through that.

Sarah: That's awesome. It sounds like that's super exciting?

Nicole: It is. I love the work which is why this is what I wanted to do when I was at corporate. The thing that drove me the most and gave me the most satisfaction was helping my people decide what was really their passion, what they wanted to pursue. I never pretended that I expected them to stay at corporate working under me forever and ever amen. It was really about what are you trying to accomplish? What would give you a lot of satisfaction for the time that you're here at the company, how can we facilitate that and make that happen for you? I got a lot of really high employee satisfaction scores, a lot of people really enjoyed working there and really performed so well when I took that approach.

Sarah: I love that. I love that approach. It sounds like you were really about helping people fulfill their potential whether their potential was with your organization or outside. There's a lot of times I think people don't realize skills that you have for your job, if you get really good at them, they can transfer to other industries and other skill sets.

Nicole: No question. Part of what I felt like my role as a manager was to help the individual employees surface what those were. For however long you're with the organization, whether it's two years, three years, five years, whatever it was, how are we going to surface what you do best, what you enjoy best? It's the intersection of all the ideals. This is a learning process and how do we make the most of it and unearth what really gives them a lot of passion and joy and satisfaction and capitalize on it.

Sarah: I love it. It sounds like you've been pretty successful in your career and you've enjoyed some opportunities as a leader. Can you tell us about how you got started?

Nicole: Yes. I started, if you really want to go way back, it was a part-time job when I was in college. It was one of those things where I got a data entry job working for the state of California in their epidemiology department. I just wanted to have some extra cash, but it was the first time working and I got exposed to such cool things, and then I just started to get mentored by one of the state epidemiologists there.

She took me under her wing and she just gave me work that MBAs were doing. She said, "Here, why don't you try this? Why don't you try that?" Then it just mushroomed from there. I really sought opportunities not to move up the ladder but just to feed a sort of intellectual curiosity about things that really, really spurred a lot of my own personal professional growth. Then I just found some of the opportunities coming my way.

Sarah: I love it. I especially love that you found a mentor to help you grow and develop. I know a lot of times especially women when you're looking to find a mentor most the time you don't find female mentors.

Nicole: Yes. She was a gem and it was just so refreshing to be in her presence day in and day out working with her just a few hours a day. It was a part-time job but there is an element to mentorship that is not just, here, let me tell you how to do things or here, let me give you this opportunity. It is just being in their presence watching them work, watching them think, watching them operate, and you absorb so much of that and learn so much from just being an observer. It was a wonderful opportunity.

Sarah: Super cool. What would you say was your biggest leadership lesson that you had to learn as you were growing and developing into the professional you are today?

Nicole: The biggest lesson and it was a tough, tough lesson to learn, was that I had to find my own way of doing things. I've been blessed with a few wonderful, wonderful mentors who had very different work styles. In the younger part of my management and leadership career, I thought the way to be successful was to mirror them.

I'm going to emulate the way they do things, they found success, so I'm going to do it that way. Where there were instances where their approach felt really uncomfortable for me, I was stuck. I didn't know what to do and a lot of times it felt like I was failing. There was one particular situation that will always stand out in my mind where one of my mentors, it just really encouraged me to be very aggressive. It was a client meeting, it was a high-stakes meeting it was one of my first opportunities to lead everything completely on my own and being aggressive did not feel right at the moment.

Instead what I did is I did a lot of diplomacy. I had sidebar conversations with all the stakeholders, those one-on-one interactions felt a lot more comfortable for me rather than the big meeting and standing up and pumping my fist and all this other stuff. When I got back, I was, "Scolded" for not being aggressive enough and I was told, "Look, you got to be more aggressive on this." I felt so deflated, it was so hard. What ended up happening was I got a very positive outcome out of the whole experience, and actually, it was even more positive than the client and the team had hoped for and anticipated. That lesson taught me to be true to myself and that was a long hard slog to learn that.

Sarah: I love that you made the point that it was a long hard slog, and I would like you to tell us a little bit more about that. I think a lot of times when one of my soapbox things that I like to get up on is we have this idea that leaders happen overnight, that they're the knight and shining armor. One minute, they're struggling and the next second like literally, three seconds later they've mastered whatever it is. I think a lot of emerging leaders and young professionals have this mindset, "Well, if I don't get it in two minutes I'm a failure."

Nicole: Well, I'll answer that question from two different perspectives. The first is that when I started out in management, I sucked I was a horrible manager [laughs] and I know because the people that I managed were very unhappy. They were very unhappy you know that thing that you hear about people don't leave companies, they leave their managers yes they sure did. It took a lot of reflection and making a decision. If I want to be a good manager, then that has to be a priority and how am I going to do that.

Part of it these are the other part that I'd like to mention is that there is a level of experimentation that comes along with this. Rather than success and failure when I got to the point where I was willing to experiment, experiment with myself and experiment with other individuals, then I got to a better place in terms of mindset and when I say experiment I was open about the fact that I was experimenting. I told people I want to try something new, I want to get your feedback on this what if we took this approach instead.

I wasn't experimenting behind people's backs and trying different things and seeing how it all played out I was trying to get them on board and when they heard that well okay we're going to try this, it also reset expectations about how they were approaching the whole situation and it was more of a partnership exercise than anything else.

Sarah: I love that. What advice would you give young professionals who are really just like, "Hey, I want to move to the next level in my career and I feel like I'm stuck and I'm not sure what I need to do I just want to grow and I don't feel like I'm growing," what advice would you give them?

Nicole: I think that there are a couple of things, one is that a lot of times when people say I don't know what to do I really push back on that a little bit and I say that it's a very comfortable thing, this is part of my tough love. Let me put a little bit of a disclaimer out there, it's going to be tough love leadership here but a lot of times when people say I don't know what to do or I feel stuck, I feel that is a very comfortable place to be actually. It is almost an indulgent place to be and what I would recommend people do is say or ask themselves but if you did know what to do what would it be.

Or if you had to coach somebody else on that exact taught if your best friend came to you and was like I don't know what to do a lot of times people suddenly they have an opinion about what to do. I would just challenge that and I would say the answer is probably not going to be perfect but you probably will come up with an answer and that'll give you a springboard to at least take some action and move forward.

Sarah: I love it that's such great advice, why big picture things are you working on as you're taking your career and your coaching business to your next levels.

Nicole: I think the one thing that I'm really interested in is helping people network a little bit better and more authentically folks who have about even as much as 10 years of work experience under their belt, there's this underlying assumption that they should really know how to network by now. It's very hard for people to find mentors, guidance, cheerleaders on networking. The irony about networking is the whole purpose to build our community and it's a very isolating exercise, you have to go out and meet these people or build connections and it just feels so isolating.

I'm looking for ways to develop a community what I'm calling a skills incubator. I'm based out of Silicon Valley and Northern California, and people have this concept of product incubators and idea incubators well I want to develop a skills incubator and I want to create a safe space where people in mid-career can hone their networking skills and the express purpose is not to just network with people but to really learn what is the science of networking, what's the rationale behind why some of these activities work.

Do you go to networking events is that going to have all life for you or do you do one-on-one engagements and just build a tribe in a community where we can support each other at learning these skills, learning what levers have the greatest torque for you in actually getting ROI out of networking and doing it in a really authentic way that feels comfortable for you and your style. That's kind of next on the docket for me.

Sarah: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today and to share a little bit of your knowledge in your leadership lessons and I wish you the best of luck with your new endeavors and your new projects that you have going on I think it sounds like it's going to be super exciting for you.

Nicole: Wonderful. Thanks so much for having me on it was such a pleasure I really enjoyed it.

Sarah: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Leadership Snapshot and if you'd like to hear more podcasts that are very similar to this please make sure you subscribe so that way you know when a new podcast comes out. All right, embrace your journey and I'll talk to you next week.

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