Monday, June 1, 2009

Jennifer Sertl

Jennifer Sertl is an executive coach based in Rochester NY. She has had a big impact on our publication, not only in coaching Joseph but also in suggesting that we put the Impact in VIP. Her thoughts inspire both of us and certainly will get you thinking, and hopefully acting, whether you are a CEO, out of work or anywhere in between. Especially poignant to me are her thoughts on battling the recession found near the end of the piece. There is some great content here from our conversation. Check it out! - Ben & Joseph

Early Influences

People with challenging early lives have been given a gift. Whatever you survive is your greatest gift to the world. My mother is schizophrenic. She was hospitalized for the first decade of my life. I became conscious of it when I was eight and remember spending time playing ping pong and drinking chocolate milk with crazy people every weekend when visiting her. In retrospect, I realized at that time that reality does not lie outside of us. Every person experiences reality. I got really good at putting my reality aside and taking on the reality of those in the hospital. I would be able to get in and out of character very fast.

My most embarrassing moment was when I saw my mother on a bus when I was in college and I did not acknowledge her. I was going to the University of Colorodo in Boulder and people did not know anything about me other than that I was somewhat attractive and very smart. Being smart was very important to me. If people could see me as sane then they would not know I lived with insanity. I now feel physically embarrassed that my mother was living on the streets and that I was more concerned about me than her.


I started out studying psychology and realized I did not enjoy the chemistry classes. So I went and studied existential philosophy and English. When I was 19 I read Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. There was a statement that stuck with me; “We have an imperfect but positive duty to seek our own perfection and happiness of other people.” That was the bible to me. All of a sudden I had my true north. I started making judgments if I would do something based upon whether it impacts my perfection or increases the happiness of another person. If the answer was no, then I would let it go.

It was lovely to have clarity on how to make choices at age 19.

Love and Early Career

I fell in love with a competitive ski racer. We went to Oregon to the Mount Hood Ski Academy. I taught English and he was a Ski Instructor. For two years of our life we lived in Portland Oregon.

We moved here to Rochester, New York in 1994. At that time we were living at my husband’s family’s house. The economic situation was like it is today. I had trouble getting a job and ended up working for a temp agency doing long distance phone service from 7pm to midnight. I noticed that I did not like how I was treated as a phone rep. I was probably not the only one who was smart and just collecting a paycheck and was treated like a monkey. However, I was very excited to be working.

Bigger, Better Things

It was very clear to me during my childhood who had the power. It was a survival strategy that I developed early on. I learned the rules of engagement at my job and within three years I was part of the management team of a two hundred person call center. I knew that the only way to fight the system was to be excellent in the system and then to be asked, “How did you do it?” I don’t do anything but perform, and with my performance let people become curious. Then I teach.

Then I went to Blue Cross Blue Shield and was a staff development coordinator for 1,000 employees. I helped design core competency models which are used to design hiring and firing. If you don’t hire and fire people for the culture that you want to create then you will have to constantly retrain and will not have the culture that you desire. You need to hire and fire people through the same filter. The culture is to the employee what the brand is to the customer.

I realized that I would be pigeon holed as an HR executive if I stayed where I was. Companies are still doing HR for legal reasons and not strategic reasons, which is pretty sad. This is not where the power is. I wanted to be where the power source was. So, I quit to start my own business.

The first business I had was Customer Service Alliance. We did employee and customer service satisfaction surveys and strategic intent. I then joined the group called TECH, now called VISTAGE, which runs CEO roundtables. I joined to become more sophisticated in my consulting design, and became a chair of it. This was great because I had an imagination that it would be great to work with CEOs. I saw them as having great intelligence and elegance.

I ended up running CEO roundtables for five years. The CEOs would spend a full day once a month with me all together and then two hours individually. They paid $3,000 a year for the network and whole experience. Part of me was disillusioned, but also excited by the experience when I realized that they are just human beings and they come with the same ethical dilemmas, crises, deficits and gifts as anyone else.

My greatest gift is holding people accountable. It is amazing to see how so few people hold others accountable at higher levels. Two years ago I chose to change my company to Agility 3R (Resilience, Responsiveness, and Reflection). I am doing more executive coaching and with a co author in Israel I wrote the book Strategy, Leadership and the Soul. It is about how you create designs and brand from the inside out. It is a book about accountability. We finished it in December of 2008 and are now working on having it published. Things take time so you have to be patient.

Impact and Presence

I have chosen to be impactful. I deliberately chose a practice of impact. When you are that kind of person, wherever you go you are a magnet. I met my co author Koby Huberman when I was invited to a conference in Nice, France. My talk was entitled "If you want to change the world, change your life." I also met Peter Collins who started the Global Business Network and is the editor for Doubleday Books.

Why did I mention that?

Because, it is usually when you have no agenda that you create deep relationships that will make a big impact in your life. I get really sad and scared when I see so much mechanistic sales and networking going on. I have been lucky enough and have had enough intent to connect with people at a world class level. The game I am playing is presence, to really kick the ball that is in front of you. You need to be able to kick it with elegance and with design.

I ask people, “What is your DNA?” If we can watch Cold Case and actually find out who is involved in a murder then we must conclude that we leave an imprint wherever we go. The question is, “What imprint are you leaving?” My invitation is that you shape it and name it. What is your experience and what is the experience of those who are with you? When are you the most pleased and proud and honored? Take that answer and ask if every day you are living up to it. Mine are wisdom, grace and impact. So for the last three years I have analyzed my actions in that framework, in that “brand.” I am giving others access to my brand experience and have to be very careful about who touches it and how.

What are your long term goals?

I feel complete with everyone in my life. Before I die I would like to see the book published. If I were to die today the only thing that would make me sad is that the book is not out there. In terms of my goals, I want to get more able to live up to my own expectations of myself. Also, I would like to touch one million people before I die as a coach, presenter or through the book.

I am hoping to start leveraging Skype. I think we as adults learn best through peer learning. I would like to create a Skype environment with 16 people from 16 countries and spin off leadership academies. This would be a global leadership academy. Leadership is an ongoing process and it takes a lifetime to master it.

I would be proud to be invited to the Economic World Forum or to TED Talks.

Where the Recession Came From: Low Curiosity

I do not have an MBA. I have no intention of getting one. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal pondering how people who are so educated could have created such a crisis. Often, when you are educated, you become a bit arrogant.

My husband is a competitive bass fisherman. He places really well in big lakes but not in lakes like Canandaigua where he learned how to fish. Our interpretation of this is that when you are familiar, you go by memory, you go by the past, and you don’t pay attention to the current situation. When you have a curious mind, you have presence and you make wise decisions. People get educated and they often lose caution. You need to live on a level of “I don’t know” at all times. There is an element of caution that will allow you greater access.

Planning your Life

I have this concept called 200 watts. You have 200 watts a month and can use it wherever you want. I look at things in 90 day blocks and build capacity in for learning, strategy and for presence. Input is to put more information in. Strategy is when I need to make decisions. 15% of my time is input, 15% of my time is strategy by design. The rest I commit to presence. Companies that I work with have that type of approach as well.

If you are only spending 8% of your time with your customer and 2% of your time creating, you are making a mistake. You should spend 30% of your time with your customer and 20% of your time looking at how you can change what you do. The rest of your time is spent on your delivery mechanism.

How to build a close community inside of an organization

Our brains are hardwired to need adrenaline in batches. Without it, we would be catatonic. When companies have an enemy outside of the business, the alignment process accelerates because their adrenaline has a clear target. Companies that are having trouble with solvency are not cat fighting. They are pulling it together inside because there is a real threat on the outside. Leaders who understand the physiology of behavior can design outlets for that behavior. The enemy will be inside without having an enemy on the outside.

Please define customer focus for us.

Normal painters or construction builders will build a facility. They will never leave a document that would have a swab and paint number and additional door knobs with a knob number to make it easier on the home buyer. Think about who you are serving and understand every other aspect of their lifestyle. Then you can design your business from their perspective around what would be valuable to your customer. Customer service is having it done on time and making sure there are no cigarettes butts in the parking lot. Customer focus is anticipating issues. It is being proactive instead of reactive. If you travel to a different country you see how well you are treated. People will Google me before I arrive... in a hotel that I am only staying in for one night.

*Recession Advice*

I went to a job fair recently and my heart went out to them because I saw that these people were not prepared for the challenges ahead of them. As a generation X person, I never felt I was working for someone. I always felt that I was working WITH someone as long as there was reciprocal value. I grew up in an age when people were free agents looking for a place that provided reciprocal value in money or in learning. There was a symbiotic relationship. Those people who have agility have found a way to continue to create value, or have found where the power was in order to continue to stay safe.

Those who have been laid off did not create value for those in power or were unable to create a new job where they were able to create value. They need to take responsibility right now. This happened to them because they did not make wise choices. They missed a game change and were not able to play. One must make sure to not continue to play the same game they have been playing but just harder, because the rules have changed. It is a different game. Own that you do not understand it and that you need to get some help.

Be with people who are thriving. You have no time to be around people who are not thriving, because it brings you down. You can let your muscles know that there is hope. A coach said to me a while back to make sure that you are the lowest IQ of the ten people that you most spend time with. Too many people are the highest number.

Actionable right now: Make sure you are developing three skills at all times. One is related to your core current practice. Second is a macro environmental skill, as an example: Systems thinking. The third skill is leadership or personal knowledge. Rate your development of these skills on a scale of one to ten.

Final Thoughts

You two have shown what is possible in creating connectivity. The reader’s job is to take what you have given and create innovative ways of creating value for their network and using it towards their goals.

Jenn can be reached by email at:
Her writing can be found at: