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Todd Sullivan – Getting to Nine | Conversations with Coaches | Boxer Media

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Conversations with Coaches | Boxer Media

Todd is a Christian, husband, dad, athlete, coach, and 30-year veteran of the United States Navy. He’s held positions in corporate HR, been CEO of a start-up, and now co-owns a CrossFit gym and his own coaching business. Todd is an avid reader and loves spending time with his wife, Amy.

He has a real passion for making people and organizations better. His best days are helping others have their best day.

Todd knows that success comes from building and maintaining quality relationships. People want to work with, and do business with, people they like and trust. He believes everyone is a person first and a business partner or employee somewhere down the line – if we treat people like people, we can more easily come to good agreements.

I absolutely loved having Todd back on the show! We began by discussing the ins and outs of leadership development as technically-skilled people get promoted into larger and more significant leadership roles, and how coaching can really “fill the gaps” in acquiring the skills you need to lead well.

From there, we follow the conversation in some wonderful directions – it truly was hard to stop, we were having such a great chat!

To learn more about Todd:

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Kevin Stafford 0:00
Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the conversations with coaches podcast. This is a lovely occasion for me as I’ve begun to have part twos with a number of my favorite coaches that I’ve spoken with. And I gotta tell you, it’s it’s a, it’s a fantastic thing. It’s just selfishly greedily, it’s awesome that I get to do this and get to revisit with some of my favorite coaches and talk about what’s new and what’s hot. And what’s interesting to talk about. Anyway, I am extremely pleased to have Todd Sullivan back with me, you may remember that Todd is a Christian husband, dad, athlete coach and a 30 year veteran of the United States Navy. He’s held positions in corporate HR been CEO of a startup, currently Cohen’s CrossFit gym, and his own coaching business, which obviously we’re here to talk about today. Todd is an avid reader, and first and foremost loves spending time with his lovely wife, Amy. And as we just discussed, his kids and grandchildren. Now if you see a picture of Todd, you might be a little shocked to hear the word grant there. But it’s lovely. And he’s so happy about it. And we got to talk about a little bit offline. And I’m sure we’ll celebrate new life and expanding family a little bit here in our in our conversation, Todd, that’s a longer intro than I planned, but I’m just really excited to see you and have you back on the show.

Todd Sullivan 1:12
Kevin, thanks. I love our conversations and how natural they just they flow. And, you know, just this, this friendship that we’ve already started developing and are continually growing.

Kevin Stafford 1:22
It really does. It does feel like that doesn’t I mean, I know we’ve we’ve only interacted quote unquote, professionally, but in and a lot of times when we think of like the lines between personal professional blurring, that’s usually positioned as a negative. Honestly, I should only speak personally, but with my interactions with the coaching business, that blurred line is an absolute positive and is a 100% win, because precisely because coaching is so much about channeling the person on the professional together and connecting in deep and meaningful ways that manifest into every aspect of life. And so yeah, I guess, if you had told me maybe a year ago, that this would be these would be friendships, I’d be developing for a podcast, I might not have believed you. But it comes as no surprise now especially having gotten to know you a little bit. So yeah, happy to be friends and, and colleagues and sharing a podcast together today. Let’s, let’s see, let’s start actually, we’re talking a little bit about a particular, I don’t want to call it a plateau. But there’s a particular transition, that’s probably a better word, when it comes to leadership, especially in the corporate realm. But this can apply to all sorts of other areas. But we started talking about it in the corporate realm, where you’ve got people who have amazing technical skill developed over years, they’re excellent at all of their previous jobs. And at a certain point, they begin to get promoted into positions that do relies somewhat on their technical abilities and skills and experience, but also require more leadership skills. And, at a certain point, a person without any without any assistance. And this is where coaching comes in. Without any assistance, that person will be promoted into a job based on how well they performed at their previous job. And the distance between the skills that they’ve acquired and the skills they need to continue to move forward and to lead themselves and their team begins to change a little bit. And I feel like that’s where our coaching and particularly your coaching can come in. So let’s talk a little bit about that.

Todd Sullivan 3:15
Yeah, and, you know, I get it, we we see people that are really good, they’re technical, they, they understand the work. And so we promote them into, you know, leading a team. And so often we forget that technical is great. But having those leadership, those, those people’s skills, that ability to talk and listen, and to discern and to guide and to coach. Those are a different set of skills. And, you know, frequently we see, we will we’ll even see the loss of really good quality people because we promote them. But we don’t equip them. And so they go from being the best at what they do to mediocre oftentimes or worse at leading a team of people who are really good at what they’ve done also. So I think that approach of no do we need them to be technically savvy and good, although I’ll tell you, I think a really good leader doesn’t have to be the best technician. A really good coach doesn’t have to know that industry. We need to spend the time and investing in their people and their leadership skills, which aren’t always inherent to everyone.

Kevin Stafford 4:45
Yeah, it’s something that I feel like it feels both a little bit careless and maybe even a little bit lazy when it comes to like the the people who own and operate and run CEOs of top executives where they just expect someone to have these leadership attributes natural Like, it’s something that somehow it’s something inborn. And I’ve certainly met people who, in my life, they just, they’ve got it. Like, they just they have an understanding and an ability and a charisma and an empathy that just makes them I guess the phrase is born leaders, there’s a reason that phrase exist, they do exist. But I think I think that can be an excuse not to develop leadership, the way that we know it can be now we’ve, we’ve come far enough along that we do understand that this can be taught, you can be taught, no matter how introverted you might seem, or whether it be maybe you have a speech impediment that you struggled with, or did struggle with in the past, perhaps, shyness, whatever, whatever kind of human you happen to be leadership skills can to a large degree be taught. Now, you might never be one of those dynamic, quote, unquote, born leaders that’s just dripping charisma. But that’s not exactly really what leadership is, is it? Not really, I mean, it could certainly help.

Todd Sullivan 5:54
You have to have a stage with 10,000 people to talk about something to be a great leader. You know, I’ve seen several, just outstanding leaders that if you tell them, they have to get up constantly in front of a lot of people, you’re not going to get your, they’re your best out of them. But if you allow them to develop relationships, and understanding and knowing, and they have the ability to communicate really well on a small group, or a one on one level, and all of a sudden people feel, what they are bringing, and what they are eliciting and what they are hoping and dreaming for their teams. Those people are going to make huge impacts. And they’re going to make it in a, you know, in a small group are a one on one setting. And it may take a little bit more time, but they’re going to do it and they’re going to be effective, and you’re going to have a following for them.

Kevin Stafford 6:58
And I think it’s something that I know has helped it’s helped a number of people, myself included, is as you become more and more technically skilled, and whatever it is, you’re definitely skilled at, it’s important to remember that there was a point at which you sucked at it, no matter what, no matter how good you started, at that point, compared to where you got to very shortly thereafter, you stunk at that thing that you’re now very, very good at. And I think it’s important, it’s and it’s very, it’s a small, but very significant, very profound pivot to realize that leadership and connection and vulnerability and empathy are just like that, you when you start when you start taking it seriously, and you decide you want to get good at it, you’re gonna suck at it for a little while. And that’s okay. And in fact, what’s more than okay, I undersold that it’s actually a feature, not a bug, because not being okay, at leadership and connection and vulnerability is actually very, very important to developing leadership. Because you, you let you basically let people see you not be the best at something that you’re committed to becoming better at. That by itself is so inspiring. That already is leadership, I think.

Todd Sullivan 8:10
Yeah. So I want to tell just a quick little story on that. So back in 1998, I’m several 100 feet below the surface of the ocean on a submarine, and a message comes out that Chief Petty Officer Sullivan gets selected for a commission. And so you know, my, my department had my commanding officer wake me up at like, one in the morning to tell me, and, you know, I’m groggy and all that and I’m excited, I go back to sleep. And the next day, my boss who had commissioned through the same way, who had had my same job when he was enlisted. So Todd, you’re the very best submarine storekeeper I’ve ever met worked with. And I’m like, thanks. He’s like, you suck at delegating. And to be an officer, and to have all this added responsibility, you’ve got to get good at that. And this really long conversation that I’ll tell you about some time kind of ensued. But I realized like he’s right. And so I went through the process of teaching, and educating and training a junior in my division, to delegating to empowering decision making over the course of weeks, in this controlled lab of a submarine, right, and got really good at the things that I was told and confirmed by the senior enlisted on the boat. Because when I told him what he said, he’s like, Yeah, you do suck at delegating. And so he’s like, you’re a perfectionist. But all of those things helped develop my leadership and my ability to invest in others and to grow my relief and to realize that by me being good and having a way to do it isn’t everybody’s best way of being good. And having a great way of doing it. Man that that aperture widening that day was a catalyst of me getting to where I got to in my career.

Kevin Stafford 10:10
It, I love the way you describe that, that that aperture opening because it really does. It’s all it’s like you, you didn’t realize it, but you were moving through your life with blinders on. And all of a sudden, like your peripheral gets activated, and you see things so differently, but it’s all still the same, it’s the same as it was you just see it differently now and also see the role you can play differently and more dynamically. And that man, I throw this word around a little bit, maybe too casually. But that’s just magical. It really is.

Todd Sullivan 10:36
Well, it made me a better not only a better leader, but by seeing how others were going to do the jobs that I might tell them how to do really showed me that. And I use this equation. So the number nine, there’s many ways mathematically to get to nine. You might think, you know, five plus four is the best way, I might think three times three is the best way. But if we both get to nine, we can see that there’s a lot of really good ways to do something and not be stifled.

Kevin Stafford 11:12
I think I think that might be the name of this, this episode getting to nine. That’s a really elegant way to capture so much about what is what is great about coaching and leadership development and how what the results end up being and why those results are important and how other people can get to my Yeah, I love that getting to nine, that’s beautiful. That’s actually could be a decent book title. To be honest, it’s

Todd Sullivan 11:32
funny, because I’ve used that mathematical equation. Anytime I talk about expanding our ability to to pour into others and develop delegate and empower decision making. It’s not always our way. And there’s weirdos that do like 13 minus four is their favorite way to get right. So we have to embrace that

Kevin Stafford 11:53
beautiful weirdos I have, I have many beautiful weirdos in my life who Yes, I do not understand why they do things the way they do them. But I am in love with the way they do the things that they do. And I benefit greatly from that. And I I just hope that they get as much weird beauty out of my own ways of doing things as I get from theirs.

Todd Sullivan 12:12
And taking it back to coaching when you’re talking with somebody that is set in there, three times three, keeping with this. And all of a sudden their their senses realize that I don’t have to do it the exact same way every time because life isn’t the exact same way every time. If I expand my ability to do things, I can meet the best way to do it for the situation, every time, not trudge through the exact same steps every time and hope that I get the best situation

Kevin Stafford 12:49
I have, I’ll share a little tiny story of my own. This is a very, very, very tiny personal habit that I just kind of stumbled on and didn’t didn’t really realize it was a habit or anything that would be a value to me until I really kind of sat with it reflected on it. Even though I was benefiting from it in ways I didn’t really understand. And I’m still learning about. I have always for most of my adult life love to go on walks, when I was a kid, I would go on walks. But it’d be more like bike rides, I’d hop on my little BMX bike and just be out in the neighborhood all day until the sun went down and then come home for dinner, you know, back and back back in the good old days, I’m in my mid 40s. So I remember what that was like. So but in my entire adult life, I’ve always loved just going out for walks. And this is like parks, nature, neighborhoods, even like urban walks, I just loved being out. And in nature amongst people in the built world, in the natural world, everything I love it. And I would you know, develop these routes that I would get really familiar with that knew how long it took. So if I wanted to like squeeze walk in, like I know, I need some time I would have this particular route, like okay, I know how long that takes, I’ll back home in time to do X, Y, and Z, whatever it is. And so I’ve just been going through my life and then there would come these moments where I would just go a different way for some other reason. And I would walk down the exact same street going the exact same direction, but just on the other side was just on the other side of the street. And I would catch myself and like wait, what street around, I would just be and I look over it like oh, there’s that house. There’s that house. There’s that mailbox, there’s that brochures, that tree, there’s that dog and I would become conscious of the fact that I’m in a very familiar place. But I’m coming from just like one degree off difference. And it it sparked my consciousness I became more aware of my surroundings started going down the same street and in different direction. Getting the same kind of like oh, seeing things I had never seen before. It’s like I had no idea. That house had this beautiful shed alongside of it. That’s like painted this beautiful color. And look that classic car. I’d never seen that before. This person clearly cares. All these things jumping out different times a day. Different animals are out in the morning in the afternoon at night. Different people are out in the morning, afternoon at night the light comes through the trees differently. Obviously I’m bright I’m belaboring the point a little bit but you get my drift It’s like, so much was there that I just wasn’t seeing. And it doesn’t necessarily Well, actually, it demonstrates I’m gonna say this both ways. It’s not necessarily, these tiny little moments are not life changing, I didn’t have like, the starburst, epiphany and all of a sudden I see things differently about everything in life. But that’s actually kind of what happens cumulatively, because I have a commitment and a grown habit that I maintain, to even in my most well worn paths, just walking differently sometimes, knowing that something different is going to emerge. And it might not be something that changes my life, or even changes that habit, or even really changes anything in any way, I’ll just be that sliver more aware of where I am, what I’m doing and my existence. And that habit has, it’s the tiniest little habit, but it has had such a profound effect on the way that I think about my relationships, like doing things differently, with people saying something differently to them, listening to them in a different way. And it just it has this again, just like leadership, it has this beautiful cascading effect, where I benefit, maybe the least of everyone, because me seeing someone or something or some place, or seeing in some way differently, allows me to interact differently and maybe show something new to someone else that they can then see things differently. And it’s this this beautiful virtuous cycle. And you know, I also get to meet different cats and different dogs on different days on different streets sometimes. So it’s delightful, I love it. I love it. I

Todd Sullivan 16:29
love it. And you know, when you think about just the change of the view that the slight the one degree off, how many times have you had a coaching conversation, where by changing, you know, maybe not getting different things done, but doing them differently, or doing them in a different order, or of stacking your day differently, has been the breakthrough that somebody has needed because they were in a rut. And they had this very, that they stopped thinking because it was all so repetitive. And they asked the exact same question. You know, I read a book recently. And there was so much cool things in there about human action, but it was about make don’t don’t ask the same opener. Right? So don’t just say, how are you today? Say, Hey, you know, your, your glasses? Or the you know, whatever it is that’s different, or, you know, what, what has happened so far that has made this a great Thursday? You know, just anything that makes people answer differently instead of the exact same answer that you don’t listen to, and you keep going by. And so I think anytime that we can do those little things that change the conversation, that change, how we approach things, gives us a little bit of growth, and better and better communication in relation with the with the other person.

Kevin Stafford 18:08
Absolutely. And it’s really sometimes just that tiny difference, just for different sake, can I mean, can make all the difference, it can just unlock things in a way that you couldn’t have seen. And so that’s the thing that I love about it too, is it’s like sometimes you just do it, you don’t have to have an a full and complete understanding of all the effects of the thing that you’re about to say there, you’re about to do just have to have an understanding that sometimes just a tiny difference, can interrupt those patterns, help you or someone else see things in a way that hadn’t seen it before. And that could just be the key to unlocking some door that’s been closed for for years or maybe for someone’s entire life. And sometimes you just don’t know, sometimes you get to try to keep jiggle it and see if it works.

Todd Sullivan 18:48
Yeah. That’s a great, it’s a great visual for somebody to think about too, right? So because most of us like we can kind of picture something it helps that that you know, take hold a lot better.

Kevin Stafford 19:03
Yeah. Oh, man. Okay, I just looked up at the clock will be varied have been chatting online and off for about 30 minutes. So I should probably let you go. But I’m telling you right now, I’m going to do this again, I just love talking to you online and offline. So I do, I’m going to check out some of your your grandkids, your your fresh new grandkids, grandbabies pictures, I’m delighted to see that I’m also delighted to see that you shared that on LinkedIn too. And that’s it. That’s one thing I was going to say before we started recording, but I’ll just go ahead and shoot it in here. Now. I love how and how LinkedIn is still very professional. It’s still very much for professional networking. But it’s also not but and it’s also really grown as a relationship building platform in a way that applies to both personal and professional in a way that doesn’t like again, it blurs the line in a positive way between the personal and professional and allows real depth of connection and meaning to pass between people in groups in a way that’s still very organized and very healthy,

Todd Sullivan 19:58
I think. Yeah, well And I think what it one of the things, that was the first real personal thing I’ve ever shared. And people want to do business with people they like and trust. And if we only let them see us in a button down, and sitting rigid, and with my notebook in front of me, they see the business aspect. And that might help the trust in the book, man when they can relate to you taking some time off of LinkedIn, and emails and text, because you’re doing something that is monumentally important to you as a person, like meeting a brand new grandchild. And spending time with a two year old grandchild. Like, okay, you know, he’s a real person like he has, he has a real, he has things that are that are bigger than coaching and coaching is hugely important to me, but man, you know, that legacy and spending time and quality time and with, with my kids and grandkids? That’s, that’s up there.

Kevin Stafford 21:02
Yeah, that’s at the tippy top. And you’re also I mean, you still happen to be modeling the kind of personal family leadership and vulnerability and availability and prioritization that you want to instill in your clients. So it’s it. I mean, it really like again, like I said, it’s like normally Blurred Lines are a bad thing. I think in this case, it’s less of a blurred line and more, it’s actually just more clarity. Really having the blended, maybe blended line is better than blurred,

Todd Sullivan 21:27
I think, blended. I think that’s a great way of describing and I like that. I like

Kevin Stafford 21:31
that. I think I might have to read a little post about that.

Todd Sullivan 21:35
Unless you you know, copyright that I’m gonna borrow that one too.

Kevin Stafford 21:38
Just everything in my in my opinion, things like that are always bigger and better shared. Alright, Todd, thank you so much for being on the pod today. We’ll talk again soon here, there and everywhere. Just thank you. Thank you.

Todd Sullivan 21:51
Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate it. I appreciate you spending this time with me.

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