I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Roush. Kimberly is the founder of All-Star Executive Coaching (www.allstarexecutivecoaching.com), which specializes in coaching C-level and VP-level executives from Fortune 100 companies to solo entrepreneurs. She also is co-author of Who Are You… When You Are Big? Roush, a former national partner with a “Big 4” public accounting firm, brings more than 30 years of business experience to her coaching including extensive work with C-suite executives, boards of directors, and audit committees. She recently launched a program called Back In the Game (BIG), which is a 12-hour group coaching program for executives in transition. Roush also is a keynote speaker and leadership facilitator, and is a Charter Member of ForbesSpeakers.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was a Partner at KPMG, LLP and got promoted in a national role. The role essentially was to have the Firm’s financial statement auditors and IT auditors play nice together! It was a huge role and, frankly, I felt out of my league dealing with the highest levels of Firm Leadership. So, I hired an executive coach to help me with leadership and influence. Long story short, over time he helped me see that the part of my job I loved was all about coaching, developing, mentoring and particularly challenging and inspiring people. I had tons of opportunity to do this in public accounting, but to a certain extent, it was a voluntary side job. So, in November 2007 after 22 years in public accounting, I took that partner hat off my head (my trophy) and set it aside to start All-Star Executive Coaching. The rest is history. I now just pinch myself every day knowing this is what I get to do.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I think when I was starting out in public accounting, I was so serious, any mistake I made was not funny at all to me! When I started coaching though, I might have been a little aggressive thinking I was going to hit my run rate in client load in 4 months! I wanted about 15 clients at a time and I was going to get four clients month one, four month two, four month three and four month four and be off to the races! Did I mention it was late 2007 and early 2008? Yeah — that didn’t happen. I found myself remarkably resilient though and never faltered on my path. I realized because I was running so confidently towards something (rather than away from public accounting), I had the fortitude to stick to it. I often use this analogy with executives I meet who are contemplating a career move or who are in transition and contemplating something entrepreneurial to have them really test their intentions. What are you running towards?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Without question, it would be MY executive coach, Allan Milham. I remember when I was just contemplating coaching and I brought it up to him, but I was fearful I would insult him. I had him on a pedestal. I said, ‘But who am I to think I can do what you do?’ He snapped right back, ‘Who are you to think you can’t?’ He reminded me that it was the part of my job I loved. He said, ‘You’ve just never been formally trained as a coach. Imagine if you had the added tools!’ I realized our greatest strengths come so easily to us that we don’t put a value on them. We just assume everyone has those gifts. After all, I had been addicted to hard work! I had thought the harder I worked the more successful I would become. I thought the more difficult the assignment I took on, the more valuable I would be to the Firm. In hindsight, I realized I took on every role nobody else wanted — and it fed my ego! Allan helped me see I could have my income tied to my gifts rather than to drudgery. So, I started taking coaching classes in January 2007 and was well on my way to being certified by the time I left. Of course, my husband is the other person I am immensely grateful for! He’s supported me in too many ways to mention.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I have to laugh at this question, because I SO didn’t get it for so long. If you had asked me my purpose in public accounting, it would have been something like, ‘to protect the investing public with audited financial statements.’ LOL. Then I went to coach training where they spend a lot of time helping you discover your own purpose so you can help others find theirs. When I started my company, my tag line was ‘Coaching business leaders for professional excellence, fun and fulfillment in work and in life.’ I believe it is the triple play of success because you can be professionally excellent, but if you are not fulfilled and aren’t having fun, you won’t likely have many followers. I am a firm believer in knowing what is meaningful about your work and working hard and playing hard. I now say that, ‘I get to witness people’s magnificence emerge.’ That is the purpose of my work.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
In the early 2000’s, Enron and several other companies failed and Arthur Anderson (AA), one of the BIG 5 at the time, also collapsed. After the initial rush of all the other Firms trying to pick up AA’s staff and clients, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act came out and the profession soon became regulated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). This meant big changes in our profession and in the way we audited as well as years of what seemed like endless overtime. I had the opportunity to head up the IT involvement in financial statement audits in the western region and created a dedicated practice. We focused first on that professional excellence I mentioned earlier throwing a great big challenge out to the team to design, create and execute consistent standards, practices and training. They rose to the challenge and did so beautifully (with limited oversight since I also had another role within the firm which consumed most of my time.) I knew it needed to be sustainable though too. I created a work / life balance program where each individual set exercise and life-style goals every week and then reported on whether they achieved them. People were assigned on teams and they competed. In hindsight it was another great big challenge I threw out to them and then inspired them to go for it, and coached, developed and mentored them along the way. They learned to stop waiting for someone or the Firm to give them work / life balance. Work / life balance has a different meaning for each individual every week. By taking the time to define it every week and then claim it, I taught them to have an empowered mindset and find ways to achieve what they wanted vs. feel victim to circumstance. The Firm had put in program after program over the years with no success. By empowering each individual to define it specifically each week, they figured out how to make it happen. And they never missed a deadline!
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I did. I mentioned I was in two roles in the western region and the other role was the Western Region Professional Practice Partner for Advisory Services, which meant I had to review and approve every new client and every new engagement for 34 partners. I had to have special approval from the Firms Governance Committee to be appointed to the role since I had only been a partner four years vs. the requisite five years. It was a huge feather in my cap.
After a year or two in the role though, I was asked to step down and take on just the IT audit role. It was a huge blow to my ego. I met a mentor I had within the firm for lunch in NYC to talk about perhaps leaving the firm. He was the head of the Firm’s IT Audit and Advisory practice. He offered me the national role on the spot at lunch that day. I was blown away. I learned the power of having someone believe in you. It really took leaving public accounting and setting my ego aside though, to develop that belief in myself not from an ego standpoint, but from really knowing your own value and following your passion. My passion now in many respects is believing in others and helping them believe in themselves and that is what drives me.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think it is to stay in a resourceful state of mind and to see the opportunity in the challenge. When you’re in a positive, resourceful state of mind, you allow others to do the same. It brings hope allowing people to operate out of hope and possibility rather than fear and doubt. Psychologically, science has proven that.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I think people have two core needs. They need to feel seen and valued and they need to feel like they belong. There’s a lot of talk about psychological safely in the workplace these days and I think these two things go a long way to create that. In times of change, people often fall to feeling like a victim or acting like a martyr. I don’t use those terms with any judgment. We all fall into those mindsets from time to time. When we feel like a victim, we believe we are powerless. When we perform like a martyr, we tend to think it’s all on our shoulders, we have to control it all and all the success or failure is on us. That’s a heavy load and a lonely existence. On the other hand, when we are in a resourceful state of mind, we don’t feel like life is happening to us. We know we can change, adapt, grow, figure it out. The key is to get people out of fear and doubt and into a resourceful state of mind.
You’ve probably heard that when you believe in people, they often exceed their own expectations of themselves and yours!. Showing your team that you believe in them will help them be even more creative, resourceful and innovative. They will be inspired, motivated and engaged.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be truthful, transparent and vulnerable while also spending some time talking about the upside. I believe everything in life is the story we make up about it. We can make up good stories or bad stories so we might as well make up good stories! For instance, when I had to let people go in public accounting, I’d often start by asking them how they thought it was working out — was it all they had imagined it would be? — were they happy? Most of the time, of course, they weren’t. By the end of the conversation, I’d have them coming to the conclusion that what was to come was, in all likelihood, going to be a better fit for them. They could focus on the story that they were let go or they could focus on the story that they were set free to move on to what they were meant to be doing. I ultimately knew in six months I’d see them with a great big smile on their faces because I believed in them and that they deserved to be happy. This just wasn’t the right fit for them and that was OK.
So much of the story we communicate to others is based on the story we are telling ourselves. I host a program called ‘Back In the Game (BIG!)’ for executives in transition. They can make up a story that the situation is unfair, that they are going through identity theft without a company and job title to follow their name, that they will never land. Or they can make up a story that this is just a long overdue career coffee break, a chance to perhaps make a career right turn, a chance to get into something even better. The latter story will undoubtedly have them landing faster and not just a job, but more likely, the right job!
In any situation, check the story you are telling yourself first.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
How can a leader NOT make plans when the future is so unpredictable? You’ll have to remain agile and you may need to change those plans over time but failing to plan is planning to fail. Build contingency into those plans. Play the ‘what if’ scenarios — and be sure to add in the ‘what if we are wildly successful’ scenarios too. Challenge yourself and your team to think BIG!
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Find the good. In every challenge lies an opportunity. What we focus on grows. If we focus on the problem, the uncertainly, the fear — we will have more of that. If we find something positive to focus on, that will grow too. Create an upward spiral of positivity vs. a downward spiral of negativity. I’m not saying ignore the difficulty of the circumstances or to put on your rose-colored glasses and go into denial. I’m saying focus on what you can control vs. what you can’t. Acknowledge the situation, reset and focus on what is possible and what you CAN do. Science has proven that when we are in a negative state of emotions, we cannot be creative, resourceful and innovative. We don’t connect well with others and it’s all about our own survival. When we shift that, we gain access to the logical and reasoning parts of our brains and are more empowered to respond with facts and logic vs. react out of fear and doubt.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Freeze and Wait it Out — It’s easy to go into a mode of thinking we are powerless — that there is nothing we can do and so therefore we do nothing. Challenge your assumptions if you are in this mode. Is there really nothing you can do? Ask yourself, ‘What CAN I / we do?’
- Make Brash Moves — This is dangerous too. This is the ready, fire, aim scenario. Action feels better than inaction, but is it the right action? Ask yourself, ‘Is this action being driven by fear and doubt and insecurity or is it being driven by hope and possibility?’
- Shrink Out of Fear — So often we think the safe route is to become ultra conservative — cut costs, become super lean. Sometimes that is the right answer and sometimes, this is the exact time to take some risks. Ask yourself, ‘Am I shrinking to survive or am I shrinking to position myself to thrive?’ Maybe it’s the perfect opportunity to strategically shrink, resize, realign, refocus — just don’t do it out of fear.
- Miss the Opportunity — When everyone else is freezing, fighting or shrinking, it may be your perfect opportunity to emerge stronger than ever, to reposition yourself or your company for the future. Look for the opportunities, brainstorm ideas, rethink what is possible. Perhaps a pivot will make your future better than ever.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Play it forward! I love the book, ‘The Go-Giver,’ by Bob Burg and David Mann and it’s a philosophy I’ve used in my coaching business from day one. Our natural tendency in hard times is to be a Go-Getter — just work harder than anyone else. When I started my business in 2007, I knew I’d build my business by networking. I was meeting executive after executive who were in transition and these were bright, high-caliber people who just happened to be unemployed. Maybe they couldn’t think of affording me when they were weighing my services against their mortgage payments, but I knew that if I helped them in a time of need and ‘played’ it forward that I’d be planting seeds of good karma. I partnered with another business owner and began offering a free 12-hour group coaching program called Boot Camp for Executives In Transition. We have continued to offer it for free every month for the past 12 years in both Southern California and then in Northern California and have served over 2,500 executives actually giving all of them a copy of ‘The Go-Giver.’ Helping others takes the focus off you and brings out the best in you and everyone else. This program has built my coaching presence and I have had a 100% referral-based business for years. During COVID, I realized a greater need and began offering ‘Back In the Game (BIG)’ on a national basis and the Boot Camp is what positioned me to be able to do that.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Step Into Your Most Resourceful State of Mind — I believe this is the number one career asset of every leader. In my book, ‘Who Are You … When You are BIG?’ I help people see the power of being able to step into this mindset on demand and to begin living their lives from this mindset. It comes from within — from your strengths, values and gifts and therefore is always available to you. It’s a choice we make every moment of every day and when you are in that resourceful mindset, everything is easy and effortless. Most of all, when you’re in that mindset, you give permission to others to be in that mindset too and there is a ripple effect. It’s game changing. By really examining who you are when you are BIG (and writing a BIG statement), it makes this resourceful mindset easier to step into and allows you to live your life with deliberate intention.
This question is one my coach asked me after I stepped out from being a national partner in a global Firm with resources at my fingertips and became Kimberly Roush, solo entrepreneur. I was feeling small! He helped me realize that I hadn’t left an ounce of Kimberly Roush at the Firm. Every bit of me was still here — my strengths, my values, my gifts, my experience, my accomplishments, my personality. He asked me, ‘Who are you when you are BIG?’ and had me write out my answer for our next session. The rest is history. I’ve gone on to ask that question to literally thousands of people and have them write out a BIG statement. I’ve seen the power of that question to transform people. I’ve gotten to see their magnificence emerge.
Meet People Where They Are and Then Empower Them — I think one of the most important attributes of a great leader is emotional intelligence. I can’t just tell you my point of view without considering yours. I can’t move you from point A to point B without starting at point A. Get curious, listen, refrain from judging — meet them where they are and acknowledge the validity of their thoughts, feelings and emotions. It’s only once people feel seen, listened to, and understood that you can begin to challenge assumptions together and move them to a more resourceful mindset. In our Boot Camp, we acknowledge that they might feel like they are going through ‘identity theft.’ We empathize with their situation. We acknowledge they may be feeling unsure of themselves or their future. We set the stage for the possibility that transition can be a positive experience. Then we have them tap into when they have thrived in their career; we help them challenge those negative voices; we have them articulate who they are when they are BIG. They leave feeling empowered and connected. The same strategy works for all the leaders I work with in companies and with their teams no matter what challenge they are facing.
Drive and Thrive — Two days into fanaticizing about enjoying the little break COVID was providing (despite the fact that my largest client put my services on hold on day one), I was on a call with The C-Suite Network where they announced their COVID motto of ‘Drive and Thrive.’ I immediately realized I had an opportunity to seize. So often I’ve wanted even more time to work ON my business instead of just IN my business. During COVID, I’ve recorded my audio book, I’ve had professional speaker videos produced, I’ve revamped my websites, I’ve launched Back In the Game, a national monetized version of our popular 12-hour group coaching program, and I’ve completed numerous administrative projects that have been on my to-do list for too long. I’m better positioned for the future and a lot less stressed.
Pivot When Needed — Sometimes putting your head down and working harder on the wrong things isn’t the right answer. I like to help people take ‘heads up’ time — time to be strategic. It’s time to assess whether what you are doing is going to get you the results you want. Rapidly changing times require us to do this more often. Building it into your regular routing is critical to staying on track. Obviously working with my coach in public accounting was a huge ‘heads up’ experience that changed my life. I still work with him today to make sure I take that heads up time each month.
Allow Yourself To Be Vulnerable / Ask for Help — Nobody is meant to go it alone! Nobody is meant to know it all — besides, who likes a ‘know it all!’ My coach’s favorite question for me when I am stuck and struggling with something is, ‘What would make it easy?’ I’m usually working away on something by myself, thinking I ‘should’ know how to do it, or I ‘should’ be farther along, or I ‘should’ stop procrastinating.’ I’m a huge extrovert. Sitting alone doing something new by myself is torture — almost a guaranteed formula for being stuck. I might throw out a few snarky answers to which he will respond, ‘What else?’ and then usually it’s something like, ‘I don’t know — maybe having someone to bounce my ideas off of.’ Gee, do I know anyone like that? Of course, I do (like those 2,500 executives who have attended my programs!) And not only that, they would be honored to help me and contribute. It would probably make their day to be of service. One of the laws of The Go-Giver I mentioned earlier, is the Law of Receptivity — Being open to receiving. I like to ask people, who are we to deny that gift to someone else! It’s giving and receiving at the same time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘There are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful states of mind!’ This is a core concept of Neuro-Linguistic Programming which I like to say is ‘emotional intelligence on steroids.’ My not feeling like a leader among the leaders of the Firm, my feeling small when I stepped out of public accounting to start my business, the identity theft of executives in transition, or the hopelessness of people during times of change are all just unresourceful states of mind. Stepping into your most empowered mindset changes everything.
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