001

Table of Contents
 
Title Page
Copyright Page
Acknowledgements
PREFACE
Introduction
A.I.M.: Achieve, inspire, make a difference
From the C-suite to you: The origins and history of A.I.M.
Starting on the road to A.I.M.: My experience
Where will your own journey end?
 
PART I - Why A.I.M. Matters
 
CHAPTER 1 - Making the Choice
CHAPTER 2 - What Makes People Happy, Really?
 
Learning from the example of happy people
Is happiness attainable? What the research tells us
Can things make us happier?
Moving forward through the A.I.M. method
 
PART II - The 10-Step Process
CHAPTER 3 - (Un) Willing and Able? Starting Your Journey through the A.I.M. Process
 
Starting the A.I.M. process: Getting it all out . . .
Six steps to capturing, understanding, and moving forward
Jack’s and Barb’s stories: A new beginning
Your result: A foundation to move forward
 
CHAPTER 4 - Mapping the Four-Dimensional You
 
The windowpane exercise: Looking inside yourself—from the outside!
Creating your own windowpane
Decade review: Looking back to move forward
What you have accomplished
 
CHAPTER 5 - Sketching Success
 
Knowing your skill/talent portfolio
Conducting your own exercise
Making a “future options” list of what you want in your career and/or life
Developing your own future options list
You have identified your dreams
 
CHAPTER 6 - Reviewing What’s Important
 
Moving forward with your own story
 
CHAPTER 7 - Cashing a Reality Check
 
Choosing the right “reality banker”
Finding your own reality banker
Moving forward from your reality check
 
CHAPTER 8 - Asking the Hard Questions
 
The FIVE key questions you need to ask NOW to save grief LATER
Keeping your momentum going—some tricks and tips
Completing your own questions
 
CHAPTER 9 - Road Mapping Your Options
 
Research: The starting point for all your options
Networking: The misunderstood technique
 
CHAPTER 10 - Filling Up Your Toolkit
 
Your tools
Opening your toolkit and beginning to network
 
CHAPTER 11 - NET Growth: Networking, Exploring, Transforming
 
How you can make it happen: Networking, exploring, and transforming
Moving forward to “A.I.M. in constant motion”
 
CHAPTER 12 - A.I.M. in Constant Motion
 
Why give back?
Moving up the A.I.M. pyramid
Serving as an inspirational example
Practical tips for inspiring and making a difference
Our journey together is over, but yours continues
 
PART III - Wrapping Up and Looking Forward
EPILOGUE - A.I.M. in a Shifting Market
APPENDIX - Further Reading Recommendations
About the Authors
Index
Index of Case Studies

001

Acknowledgments
Jim and Alex would like to thank their respective spouses, Lynne and Karen, for their support, encouragement and patience.
Jim offers a special thank you to all of his clients whose trust, experiences and feedback have made this method possible.
Alex would also like to thank his family, especially his sister Sandra, whose sun porch overlooking the Bay of Exploits served as a writing studio for many of the chapters in this book. He owes a debt of gratitude to Robin Chetwynd, the visionary CEO whose belief in coaching allowed Alex to first work with Jim Carlisle, a journey that ended many years later with the publication of this book.

PREFACE
How Coaching Changed My Life—and Can Change Yours
by Alex Gill
 
 
Ten years ago, I was living two lives.
My outward life, the one my family, friends, and colleagues saw every day, seemed to be going pretty well.
I had been out of graduate school for only four years but was already the communications director for a large and respected nonprofit. The team I led was made up of smart, committed people who were a joy to work with. I managed a sizeable budget and was able to do very creative things as part of my work. We created advertising, awards shows, and glitzy events. We implemented some of the first e-commerce websites in the nonprofit sector. We changed how the organization marketed itself and how it listened to its supporters. I was one of the organization’s media spokespersons and regularly appeared in newspapers, on the radio, and on TV. To top it off, I had just gotten married and was looking forward to building my professional and personal life.
To an outside observer, this was the latest chapter in an upbeat story. A person from a modest background gets a good education and rises quickly to a senior position, with many more steps yet to climb. Recruiters were already calling to talk with me about new, more senior jobs at other organizations. The sky—it seemed—was the limit.
There was only one problem.
In my inner life, that few people saw, I was deeply unhappy.
At the end of the workday, I would linger in my corner office over a pile of paper that never seemed to get smaller. The work I was accomplishing gave me less and less satisfaction. When I came home, I would talk with my wife about the problems at my workplace—friction with the board, volunteers, other employees, and competing organizations. Whenever I talked about what I did, all I seemed able to do was complain.
I was turning into someone I did not recognize or respect. When I stepped back and listened to myself, I heard a person who was whining about what was happening to him, but who did not have a strategy to address the very things that bothered him. Looking at myself from the outside, I was beginning to hate who I saw. I was the type of person who should know what to do, who had always had a path and a purpose, but I now lacked the courage, conviction, or knowledge to make a change. What changes could I make? Did I have what it took? Could I afford to take the risk—to do something that might cost me the position, the salary, and the status that many other people seemed to want and value? Other people seemed quite content with the type of job that I was having trouble enjoying—what the devil was wrong with me?
I was stuck in a rut and I couldn’t see a way out. Then, I met Jim Carlisle, and he became my executive coach.
Jim Carlisle was part of an overall change we were trying to achieve at my organization. One of my responsibilities had been to set up and oversee an organizational change process. The change team I established considered several ways to improve the organization’s operations. At the top of its list was to bring in an executive coaching program for the CEO and the department heads, such as myself. So, in 1999, just at the time when I was secretly despairing about my life and what I could do in the future, I chose Jim to be my coach.
If the truth be told, I didn’t really think that coaching would make that much of a difference in my life. I thought I would learn a few new things. Perhaps I would improve my management skills. Maybe Jim could tell me how to be a CEO one day. When we first met, I remember that my expectations were not exactly high.
When I first saw him, Jim struck me as a likeable, affable guy. Tall with graying hair and glasses, he looked a little like what you would expect a casting director to send you if you said, “I need a CEO in his mid-fifties.” Unlike many of the CEOs I had met, however, Jim was different. Instead of a “take-no-prisoners” approach that involved competition and command from the start, Jim simultaneously managed to convey openness and discipline. You knew he was serious about what he was doing, but he was open to talking with you about what was on your mind.
Settling into the guest chair opposite my desk, Jim spread his hands expansively and said, “Well, tell me about yourself.”
I started by describing my current job, going on to give him the standard biography I would have recited to any business colleague. My modest family origins, the universities I had attended on scholarships, and the jobs I had held. Then I returned to my current job, beginning to catalogue all that I thought was wrong with the organization and what I had to do to fix it. It was, I thought, a pretty compelling story that anyone would want to hear and would be able to understand.
Jim stopped me in mid sentence with a smile and a friendly wave.
“No, no, no . . . we’ll get to all that,” he said. “But first, tell me: What is it you really want to do?”
I was a little taken aback by that question. Wasn’t he listening to me? Hadn’t I just told him about what my organization needed, about my quick rise to my current position? Wasn’t this exercise just supposed to give me some new tools and skills to be a better executive? Perhaps he had not understood me?
But as we talked more, it became clear that Jim understood me all too well. With his practiced eye, he had seen through the story I had put up like some Potemkin village. By the end of that first conversation, I admitted to Jim that I wasn’t really sure if I had ended up in the right place, or if the direction in which I was going so quickly was a direction I thought would make me happy.
In the days and months that followed, Jim had me work through a number of exercises that we will share with you in the pages of this book. I summed up my life story, decade by decade, highlighting those things that I thought had brought me to where I was. We addressed my work challenges, putting them in an entirely new perspective that made me more effective. I began to map out some directions to explore further, meeting with others both inside and outside my field to talk about their lives and their work.
When I met others and talked with them, a new world slowly began to open up. I started to see my current job as just that—my current job. The struggles I was going through, the things I worried about that denied me sleep at 3 a.m., were just part of the most recent chapter of a book that was not yet complete. In the stories I heard from other professionals, I began to see limitless opportunities that I had not even begun to think about. There were very challenging and interesting fields that I had never heard of, places and issues that allowed people to grow and prosper, but most importantly, they could do so in a manner and at a pace determined by them.
When this realization sank in, things began to go much more smoothly at my job. I found new ways to approach issues that had stymied me for weeks. I became a more productive member of my management team, bringing some of the new perspectives that I was learning outside the organization to bear on issues on the inside. At home, I relaxed more and stopped complaining so much about work. I also started to sleep through the night, as the worries that had kept me staring at the ceiling didn’t seem so pressing anymore.
As Jim and I worked through my path, we met in the woodpaneled library at his condo building. Over coffee, I would tell him all that I was learning about my job and myself. Jim, in turn, asked probing questions that helped me to better understand this information and use the new perspective I was gaining to climb out of the rut in which I had found myself. Through months of work, I went from someone who was skeptical about what a management coach could do, to an enthusiastic convert who was ready to address any challenge and overcome it.
This new mindset could not have come at a better time. As anyone who has worked in a changing environment knows, just because you feel you are on the right path does not mean that the world will organize itself around you. The world can change on a dime, and this happened to me when a new board fired my CEO and suspended the work of my change team. As the chief champion of change, I found myself at the receiving end of a polite conversation about what it would take for me to move on to another employer.
Had this happened a year previously, I would have been devastated by the rejection of an organization to which I had committed so much time and energy. The potential loss of my position, with its accompanying status and salary, would have knocked me for a loop. While I was surprised and disappointed, the work I had been doing with Jim in the months up to that point now paid enormous dividends. In the comfortable confines of Jim’s library, I remember calmly facing him over the coffee table and saying, “I’m ready to move on, I’m going to make this work for my benefit.”
A few weeks later, with a severance package in hand, I began contacting those people I had met through my outreach to discuss where “neat” things were happening. Where could someone with my skill set and appetite for change begin to make a difference? These contacts quickly led me to a senior position at another challenging organization, where I helped build a $5 million nonprofit from the ground up. Two years later, after another unexpected CEO departure, I found myself, at the age of thirty-three, stepping into his position to help the organization survive a time of turmoil. In the positions that followed, I grew as a person and never stopped putting the principles of A.I.M. into action.
Today, I run my own firm, which helps dozens of nonprofits improve their community impact each year. I work on very interesting and socially relevant projects for an ever-growing roster of clients. I have flown around the world to talk about community building, environmentalism, and social marketing. I also teach at an innovative downtown university where the students are a joy to teach and my fellow professors often remark on my enthusiasm for my work and life in general. My friends and family constantly note that I seem happier and more motivated as the years go by.
This did not happen because of some exceptional piece of luck or some superhuman ability or intelligence on my part. Far from it. I was not an exceptional person who was one out of ten million. I was someone who happened upon a method—the A.I.M. method—that helped me to determine who I was, what I would be happy doing, and then put me on the path to achieving it. It happened because I put those principles into action with the help and guidance of a coach like Jim Carlisle.
Before A.I.M., I was just an ordinary guy with a problem that many, many others have had at some point in their careers. I was unhappy. I was becoming bitter. I complained about my job a lot. I knew I was in a rut and couldn’t figure out what to do about it. I felt powerless, unfocused, and alone. And I wasn’t able to see a way I could make things improve.
That was my starting point before I began the A.I.M. process. And the end result speaks for itself, just as it speaks for the experiences of the dozens of other people you will meet in this book. Their experiences—much like mine—show that my situation is a fairly common one and also that, given the right method and encouragement, ordinary people can achieve great things.
After Jim and I ended our coaching relationship, we continued to stay in touch. Meeting over breakfast every few months, he and I would share our concerns about life. We grew to be friends and, as we did, I began to tease him about sharing his approach.
“Jim,” I would say every time we met, “when are you going to write a book? There are millions of people who are where I was. They are unhappy and they need a way out. You should really share the A.I.M. method with them.”
Jim brushed off my comments for years until one day, totally unexpectedly, he mischievously replied, “Okay. I’ll write a book if you will write it with me.”
What could I do but say yes? That exchange, over a coffee and breakfast, began a journey that ended with the publication of this book.
With that slice of my story, I hope readers can appreciate how A.I.M. changed my life—and how it could help you to change yours. Despite having busy and productive lives, Jim and I have taken the better part of a year to write this book because we believe strongly in helping those who need a way out. Every day we see people who would benefit from taking charge of their lives and moving forward to achieve, inspire, and make a difference.
If you see a bit of yourself in my story—or in the dozens of stories we will share in this book—read on. I hope your journey will be even more productive and rewarding than my own.
Enjoy the book!

INTRODUCTION
What Is the A.I.M. Method All About?
Only can change my life. No one can do it for me.
—Carol Burnett
 
 
Welcome to the A.I.M. method. You have joined my co-author Alex and I on a journey where, if you are willing, we will take you through a series of steps that can change your life.
That is a bold statement with which to start a book—but here are some bolder ones.
You have chosen this book because, while you may not have realized it, you are playing a part in two very troubling issues. First, you are one of millions of people around the world who, to some degree, feel stuck, unmotivated, trapped, overwhelmed, and unhappy. This silent army doesn’t show up in opinion polls or demonstrate in public squares—but they are out there, staring at their ceilings in the middle of the night, running through their lives in their minds, and wondering why they can’t sleep. They often lack the words or direction or context to do something about it, blaming themselves, their workplaces, their families, and others around them because they just can’t get it right. The many reasons people feel this way are not immediately clear to them. They don’t see that workplaces have eliminated entire ranks of managers who once used to mentor and counsel their employees. They don’t see that life has become so busy that it has diminished the role that friends and family used to play in helping them think through their challenges. They don’t see that a busier society that increasingly relies on electronic communication doesn’t create the natural time and space for self-reflection and honest talk about the important things. In short, they don’t see that everyone is in the same boat. They believe it is just their problem and, consequently, bear the weight silently and alone.
These people have vague, unfocused thoughts—perhaps as you do—that they should be doing something differently, something that would make them happier and more fulfilled. However, if you asked them what that “something” was, they lack the words to tell you. They might talk in generalities about a new job, a new relationship, moving to a new city, starting a new sport, or some other incremental change that they think might make them happier. They may even have tried to make those changes in the past, only to end up basically where they started—still unhappy and wondering why.
The second issue is an extension of the first one—and is even more troubling. If you are unhappy as an individual, and there are millions of people like you around the world, what does that mean for any impact you might make over the course of your life? If millions of people feel stuck and alone and do not think they are reaching their true potential—what impact does all of this unhappiness have if we add it all up? What example can legions of unhappy people offer to their family, their friends, their colleagues? What changes can they truly make in their workplaces or communities? What difference will they make with respect to the major challenges that face us all? The answer, unfortunately, is that they will probably not make a difference. They will either accept their unhappiness or only make small changes throughout the course of their lives when they could have taken steps to effect true change in their lives. They will find themselves in jobs or personal situations that are “just okay,” ones that do not challenge them to move forward, to become happier, and to become an example to others.
Now, imagine for a moment what the situation could be like if it was reversed. What would happen if we could help people identify why they were in their current, unfulfilled situations and then figure out what might make them happy? Imagine if we helped them identify options that could change their lives and supplied them with the concrete steps and tools they need to move in a positive direction. Imagine if, one by one, they found ways to feel more in control of their lives, more engaged in their jobs and personal lives, and, as a result, became happier overall. Imagine if, when they became happier people, they focused on helping others around them, giving back to their families, friends, and communities. What begins as a small change for individuals could become a bigger change that affects us all.
That is what the A.I.M. method is meant to do—to help people, as individuals, start on the path towards realizing their true potential. By doing this, it can help more people to care, more people to engage, more people to make a difference for themselves and everyone around them.

A.I.M.: Achieve, inspire, make a difference

The A.I.M. method, as the name indicates, has three parts. The “A” stands for “achieve” and answers that deep-seated need we all have for a sense of achievement in our lives, a sense that we have somehow faced an obstacle and overcome it. This feeling of accomplishment is not confined exclusively to a professional or career achievement, although the method is well suited to allow you to do that. Achievement can come in many forms—personal goals, milestones you never thought you might reach, or accomplishing something beyond your perception of your own abilities.
The first and most important steps of the A.I.M. method help you identify your challenges and move towards achieving them. But once that process is underway, you begin to move towards the other two portions of the method that are just as important. The “inspire” segment begins as you realize a sense of all the possibilities that you might take advantage of, through the research you conduct and networking with others. At some point, you will begin to gradually shift from someone who requires the help of others, to someone who, through your example, inspires others to begin the same journey. As you progress further along that path, as your network becomes fully developed and you begin to move in directions you never believed were possible, you will reach the final portion of the A.I.M. method where you begin to “make a difference.” Engaged in your life and in control of your own destiny, you are not only inspiring others through your example, but also are in a position to actively give back to those around you. People who are “turned on” to their own possibility, who can make things happen with respect to their own life, are often at the center of helping and inspiring others to make a difference in their lives. That is the final and ultimate stage of the A.I.M. method.
This end point may seem like a lofty goal that is a long way away from where you see yourself now. While there are no shortcuts, A.I.M. offers a proven process, laid out in manageable pieces that anyone can complete, which will start you moving through those three phases towards that long-term goal.
Through these three main parts, the A.I.M. method is a practical, 10-stage program that will help you turn your vague desire for change into a reality. It begins by helping you first look within, leading you through a few self-analysis exercises that identify the issue you will focus on, followed by an exploration of what you value, what has happened to you throughout your life, and an examination of your strengths and weaknesses. Armed with this information, we will then identify some possible options that may be a fit with your new understanding and, through a series of exercises, narrow these options down to a manageable number. Having identified your best options, we will then lead you through a process of research and strategic networking to explore them more fully, uncovering additional areas and new contacts that can broaden your understanding and make you a more resilient person. Finally, we will move from focusing on what benefits you, to what can benefit others, using your progress through the A.I.M. process as an example to people around you.
Ten Steps of the A.I.M. Method
002
This process has been followed by hundreds of CEOs and top executives. While it may seem straightforward, it is not. It is based on the following key interrelated principles:
1. Focus makes direction possible. No matter at what stage you find yourself in your career or life, if you can identify a manageable challenge and articulate what you have to do in order to address it, you are definitely ahead of the curve. Conversely, my experience with coaching clients has shown that people who cannot identify, with clarity, what they are trying to do are the ones who struggle, who are often stuck and more likely to feel helpless. A huge challenge is often insurmountable, but a definite objective you can do something about can put you on the road to change. This is why A.I.M. has, as one of its first stages, the identification of what you are trying to address through the process.
2. There is more to your life than your career. This is an often-repeated truism, which would not be necessary to repeat so often if people actually took it to heart. Of the many facets of our lives, the one that most clients want to talk about is their career. Yet we all have many intriguing aspects of our lives that affect who we are and how happy we can become—and the people who understand that are the most likely to succeed in following the process. This is why A.I.M. focuses on the four dimensions of personality, not exclusively upon a person’s career success.
3. Knowing where you came from helps you go somewhere. It is important to know what you have done in the past, why you have done it, and how those actions fit in the overall narrative of your life. My clients who did not understand this were often doomed to make the same mistakes, respond in the same way to the same types of challenges, and end up in a similar position to where they began. This is why A.I.M. contains exercises that help you review your history, identifying any recurring patterns and ensuring that you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
4. Knowing yourself gives you a base to move outwards. I have found that the clients I have coached who understand the previous principles and are able to take stock of their lives in a logical and objective manner, are the ones who are most likely to brainstorm valid options for moving their careers or lives forward. For this reason, A.I.M. insists that you conduct a number of self-assessment exercises before you move on to the later stages.
5. Others are essential to validating your assumptions. It is fairly easy for people to get wrapped up in their own self-analysis that may, or may not, be all that accurate. Those clients who were able to honestly check in with others who knew them to present their self-analysis and ask, “Does this sound like me?” were the ones who were most likely to successfully complete the process. This is why A.I.M. contains a number of stages that ensure that others outside of your process can weigh in on your assumptions.
6. Honesty about capacity prevents disappointment. It is fairly easy to identify a number of options you could explore, and we often rush to do so without thinking about the time, our commitments, or other factors that can influence whether we are able to really explore them properly. Of my clients, those who knew their limits were the ones who could narrow their focus to what really mattered and make manageable progress. A.I.M. contains a series of steps that force you to ask hard questions about whether you are capable of making change happen for this very reason.
7. Preparation before action. The A.I.M. method encourages you to conduct extensive research on the options you identify and helps you to create a number of “tools” that will help make your journey easier through the latter stages of the process. Human beings often want to act instead of prepare, but experience has proven that clients who take the time to think through and write down, for example, what they are going to say to a possible networking contact are the ones who are most likely to improve their odds of success. That is why the “action” part of A.I.M. comes so late in the overall method, and why people have to complete the initial stages in order to maximize their possibility of success.
8. Networking is more than meeting people. I am continually surprised by how misinformed people are about networking. While most coaches will tell their clients networking is important, their understanding of what it is and how to do it properly is often superficial and limited to the basic advice of “get out and meet people.” Unless you are very gifted in this area, the results are usually disastrous. The success of the latter stages of A.I.M. rest on strategic networking that will connect you with an ever-expanding group of contacts that can help you explore and realize your options.
9. The end is the beginning. Once clients have begun to attain the initial goal they outlined at the start of the process, many of them incorrectly see the A.I.M. method as complete. However, attaining your original goal is only the start. The true realization of A.I.M. comes when you make it part of your everyday personal and professional life, meeting others to build your support network, and actively giving back to those around you.

From the C-suite to you: The origins and history of A.I.M.

A.I.M. is grounded in a simple approach: What if we took the coaching method used by more than 500 top CEOs and up-and-coming executives to address their challenges and made it available to everyone?
In order to appreciate the value of this approach, let us first explain the profession of coaching and the origins of the method itself. While “executive coaching” is a relatively new discipline, it has always been with us in some form or another. The earliest kings and nobles had advisors at their courts that could offer them an informed perspective on the decisions necessary to govern. In aboriginal cultures, one of the vital roles that elders played was to serve as a source of perspective, traditional knowledge, and advice on important decisions. Even organized crime families made famous in Hollywood movies had their consigliore to provide the Don with advice and counsel that was at arm’s length from the family hierarchy.
The modern economy introduced a new aspect to this situation. As industries grew and became increasingly complex, the concept of “management” became correspondingly complex. And one of the expectations that managers took on was the responsibility for their employees’ well-being. Not only were managers supposed to encourage greater productivity as the workforce shifted away from the shop floor and became increasingly service (and office) based, but they were also expected to mentor and advise their employees, helping them develop and make a better contribution.
That expectation survived, more or less, until we began to rethink traditional models of corporate hierarchies in the 1970s. No longer were managers a given part of the structure—they increasingly became an endangered species as successive waves of restructuring redefined and flattened the corporation. Whether we called it “reengineering,” “right-sizing,” or another of a succession of popular terms, the result was the same. In a relatively short amount of time, we eliminated entire ranks of middle management and asked those remaining to take on more responsibility, work harder, and focus more on productivity.
While these new approaches resulted in leaner, more competitive organizations, something very important was left out of the mix. Managers across the modern corporation no longer had the time to quietly mentor their employees, talk with them, get to know them as people, and, over time, help them realize their career and personal goals. Employees were expected to absorb generations of knowledge either through osmosis or by taking occasional seminars or training sessions that they squeezed into their already demanding schedules.
Added to this time squeeze was the fact that corporations were no longer offering “jobs for life” to their employees. Employees at every level were now expected to move many times, often spending just a few years with any one employer. This decrease in tenure made it far less likely that any employee would develop the internal relationships necessary to learn the important lessons of corporate culture.
And this time crunch and lack of tenure extended all the way to the top of the corporation. Where CEOs and executives had once commiserated socially with their peers inside and outside the corporation and taken their time to learn their craft, the pace and expectations of the modern corporation allowed little time for such unstructured learning or informal mentoring. CEOs and executives became just as interchangeable as their employees and spent more and more of their time focusing on boosting quarterly results and increasing productivity at all costs. As one CEO remarked to me in the 1980s, “It’s produce or die these days, and you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of that.”
By the 1990s, companies were facing serious challenges. How to develop the next generation of executive leaders, when the current generation was too busy, too distracted, or too scared to talk with them? How could executives make the best decisions and contribute more to their organizations if there was no place for them to go for advice and help?
From this need, the idea of the external “executive coach” was born. If the corporate structure needed—but could not provide—the perspective and advice to help its employees and inform its senior decision makers, then they would outsource this function. This is why the 1990s saw the emergence of a new type of professional—the executive coach. Drawn from the experienced ranks of current and former executives, consultants, and other professionals, these coaches are equipped with the life and work experience necessary to provide the perspective that is lacking. And as consultants operating independently of the corporate structure, they also fit within the models of outsourcing that have sprung up as corporations shift non-core operations outside the corporation and access them on a fee-for-service basis. Executive coaches have evolved to a point where top executives now rely on coaching to improve their performance, just as top athletes rely on coaches to keep them at the top of their game.
While there are a lot of different ways to approach executive coaching, for me, a typical client relationship might evolve in the following way. Through a referral, a request, or a selection process, I would meet with a CEO or senior executive who was facing a challenge. In some cases, the challenge may be purely in the realm of the workplace: high performers who may be lagging and their superiors may want to help them; CEOs who may be going through a time of incredible change or stress and need someone outside the firm to talk with about the choices they have to make; or young up-and-comers in a company who may have exhibited some of the qualities that attract the attention of upper management, and they decide to offer them some personal development help.
In other cases, the driver to seek coaching advice may be largely personal: senior professionals who, while successful, may be experiencing a crisis of confidence and wonder whether they have made the right choices; executives who may have experienced repeated personal or professional setbacks and may want to work through options about where they can best apply their talents to make a difference; or executives who may have been unexpectedly terminated from their jobs and need help considering their lives beyond their former positions—or whether it is time for a life change.
In all of these cases, executive coaching has value, because it delivers something the most highly trained professional, the most senior executive, or the most self-reliant strategist cannot necessarily do themselves. And that “something” is an external perspective on their challenges, backed by experience and a professional framework that only an executive coach can provide.
You would think that when someone becomes a CEO or senior executive that they would be so well qualified, with such well-honed skills and strengths, that they would be able to tackle any problem or challenge successfully. Fortune 500 CEOs, you might believe, are highly qualified and motivated to get to the top—what help could they possibly need once they are at the top of their game?
I’ve heard these comments so many times. They rest on the assumption that successful people are somehow fundamentally different than you and me. There is one major problem with this assumption—it’s completely wrong. From my decades of work with senior business leaders, I can say that most of them are pretty much like you and me. Sure, they may be more successful, make more money, and have more responsibilities than most of us, but when you drill down to talk with them one-on-one, what you find isn’t surprising—they’re very human. They have their own anxieties, their own self-doubts. They have limitations and worries that keep them up at night, and they have their blind spots which are keeping them from realizing their full potential. This is where executive coaching comes in. No matter how successful an executive is—he or she can always benefit from an external perspective and a logical process to help them identify problems and act on them.
But what impact can talking to someone and doing some self-evaluation exercises really have? Can executive coaching truly make a difference in an individual’s life or in the life of a huge corporation?
Without a hint of exaggeration, I can say that I have witnessed people completely change their lives after a period of successful executive coaching. I have seen CEOs accelerate from bland caretakers to dynamic leaders, taking their companies in whole new—and profitable—directions. I have watched as executives who were in danger of stalling at a midpoint in their careers moved on to positions of true leadership, developing capabilities that they and their companies assumed they did not have. And I have seen others take a different (but no less rewarding) path, leaving a burgeoning and lucrative business career and embracing a new direction that has led them to live a much more fulfilled and open life.
In making these dramatic changes, these executives were each beginning a journey similar to the one I began more than thirty years ago. At that time, there was no A.I.M. method; “executive coaching” didn’t exist yet.

Starting on the road to A.I.M.: My experience

In the preface to this book, my co-author Alex shared his introduction to the A.I.M. method. He talked about not knowing why he was unhappy, but after meeting me and adopting my method, he was able to work his way towards independence and success. My own journey began before coaching had taken hold in the corporate world. What I learned through my attempts to deal with my own unhappiness led, many years later, to the stages that would become A.I.M. It all started when I gathered up enough courage to walk into my then-boss’s office in the early 1970s to answer a basic, but very dangerous, question.
I can still remember that late spring day. It was an office exactly like those occupied by other executives at the bank in which I worked at that time. There was some basic furniture, file trays, family pictures, an unremarkable view of a downtown street, and Walter—my boss—sitting across from me and asking a simple question, “What’s on your mind, Jim?”
I took a deep breath and said the words I had rehearsed in my mind countless times over the past few days.
“Walter, I’ve been here for six years and I’m really not happy. Sometimes, I wonder if what we are doing has any effect at all. I often ask myself if I can do this for the rest of my life.”
At the age of twenty-seven, walking into my boss’s office and telling him that I thought our work might be meaningless was probably not a smart career move on my part. With any boss other than Walter, I’m certain my move would have met with a few dismissive comments and relegation to a dead-end position in the company.
But I was lucky.
Walter was a rare type of executive which we didn’t see much of in the early 1970s. He was an enlightened man who believed in bringing out the best in his employees and taking a few risks along the way. He considered my statement, took a deep breath, and then asked me a question that changed my life.
“Well, Jim . . . what do you want to do about it?”
That question launched the most important process in my life—a process that continues to this day. Walter and I talked at length about my concerns. I left his office with a plan. I would take some time during my workday to meet with others in the field to learn what they were doing and whether my career path was comparable. I started with school friends and people I had met at conferences or business events. I called them up and, surprisingly, they were more than willing to meet with me.
My conversations revealed two things. First, the positions available at other workplaces were very similar to mine; therefore, if I wanted something different or new, it would involve a significant change for me. More importantly, I learned about an entirely new world outside of my workplace, a discovery that led me to later change jobs and begin a career that has been an ongoing exercise in self-discovery.
In the decades since then, I have had a remarkable career. I moved on from the bank to become an executive search consultant, working my way up to become a partner in a large international consulting firm. From there, I created my own business associated with a leading boutique consulting firm. I now head up an international executive search consortium, a position that sees me travel from Singapore to Paris to India and all points in between. As I have built my practice, I developed a growing executive coaching business that has given me the opportunity to meet not only a “who’s who” of corporate leaders, but also a wide variety of interesting people who are dealing with their own challenges, from high-potential managers, business students, almost-retirees, and other people’s kids. It was only when I made the shift to the consulting and coaching world that I truly consider that I began to fully live the principles that would become A.I.M. While Alex was fortunate to have a ready-made method to access, I worked my way through it over the decades, but greatly increased my happiness as a result.
This book is about sharing what I’ve learned in the last thirty-plus years with anyone who has ever asked if they can do better in any aspect of their life. The approach I will outline through the course of this book is one that I have used and refined with more than 500 people who started by asking the same question as I did.

Where will your own journey end?

Many of the clients I have coached over the years have asked me the same question at the end of the process: “Why didn’t I start this earlier in my life?”
I have seen staunch corporate types with latent entrepreneurial talents turn themselves into outstanding owner/managers. I have seen young people start to take charge of their destiny early in their job history. I have seen many people who began the process with low self-esteem who discovered that there was something special about them and went on to capitalize on that quality.
Once you have completed the A.I.M. process, it should lead to a lifelong method of continuous improvement that will lead you places you never could have dreamed of at the outset.
Now, let’s get going on your journey and make it happen!

PART I
Why A.I.M. Matters

CHAPTER 1
Making the Choice
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.
—Confucius
 
 
The man sitting across from me was obviously disappointed about something. His eyes, his posture, and the way he had introduced himself to me all conveyed his belief that he had failed at something. And his next words to me confirmed it.
“Jim, I was one of two candidates for CEO of this firm,” he said, gesturing at the office around him, both angry and uncertain at the same time. “And they chose the other guy. Now what the heck do I do?”
This was my first meeting with Joe, the president of a global services company. He had called me at my office a few weeks previously at the recommendation of one of his colleagues, to discuss executive coaching help. Now I was sitting across from him in his well-appointed office in the heart of the financial district.
Joe’s office told a different story than the one he was telling me. From its size and location—and the several staff who ushered me into the inner sanctum—he was obviously important to the firm. Tasteful art hung on the walls and a couple of smiling family photos were some of the few personal touches in evidence. Had he not begun to confide in me, I would have thought he was a man in command of his own life—a man on top of the world.
But I was not sitting in his office because of what I—or others around him—might have thought. I was there because he was grappling with what he saw as an inexplicable failure. It was my job to help him gain some perspective on his current situation—and move forward.
As I do with every new client, I began by asking him a few general opening questions. When I reached, “Tell me about yourself ” he really began to open up to me.
It always amazes me how this simple, yet powerful, leading statement unlocks so many doors with so many people. With Joe, his frustration and worry came pouring out. He told me about his disappointment at not being picked as CEO in a competitive process. He had worked for this company for most of his adult life, he explained, and now felt rejected by it and uncertain of his future.
I encouraged him to talk further about his life and his accomplishments. The story Joe related was typical of the many high-performing, high-achieving executives that I have coached over the years. He talked about his competitive nature and how he had always done well in sports. He spoke of his love for the outdoors and the pride he took in his family’s accomplishments. Joe related how his career path had been a steady ascent to the highest rungs of the corporate world, with glowing endorsements from his employer and respect from his colleagues.
As he trailed off, Joe looked at me, defiantly, as if to say that he couldn’t understand how he had been turned down for the CEO position, as that decision by his firm simply didn’t fit his pattern of success.
As is often the case with coaching, it was now my turn to challenge him a little with the pattern—and the conclusion—I saw emerging.
“Joe,” I said, “what you are really telling me is that this is the first time you have ever lost in your life.”
There was absolute silence in the room as he glared at me. It was obvious that I had hit a nerve. “You son of a gun,” he said, with a bit of a smile now coming to his face, “you are the first person who has got this right with me.”
With that, we were off and running.