At Austin’s American Grill a few years back, I had lunch with then CEO of Otter-Box, Bryan Thomas. During his tenure, he helped take Otter from a small start-up that made it possible for hardy Coloradoans to be serious extreme sportspeople, who are tech-sporting geeks too —- to a company that serves tablet and smartphone owners worldwide. Otter Products is now worth over a Billion USD, has multiple sites and over a 1000 employees. How did he do that? What was his vision? His particular obsessions, he told me, were customer service and culture. Service and Service – External Service (customers) and Internal Service (culture). That captures most everything doesn’t it? Strategy, communication, executive presence, fun, implementation, and emotional intelligence skills can all be understood as part of external and internal service.

So, what is required to support this focus on service?

After a time he asked me about what I do too. My response: When a leader is hitting on all cylinders, great at strategizing, organized, able to delegate, successfully managing life – at home and at work – gets things done, what’s the one thing that person still cannot do for Himself? Herself?

Most leaders don’t consciously have an answer for that. The very most extraordinary leaders however, know this:

No matter what business skills and leadership maturity s/he has, one cannot effectively be one’s own Sounding Board. What does a sounding board do?

A wonderful piano player recently explained to me that if we placed two Steinway Grand Pianos side by side on a stage, one with a sounding board, one without…. the one with a sounding board will sound like angels crooning, spirit on the air, magical and musical. The one without a sounding board will sound dead.

Leaders are like that. The one with a confidential excellence coach will lead powerfully, getting more done, more quickly – with a team that achieves more, more quickly – and with greater joy.

The one who has a confidential thought partner, external to their business team, external even to their family, will soar. The one without will become part of the grey masses in time, their own light lost in the fog.

An exceptional leader I sat with over wine once explained that he would no more proceed in his executive and board roles without his confidential thought partner, than he would attend a board meeting without his pants. I asked him why? He said, “The one thing I can’t do for myself is be my own sounding board.” “Just being able to talk to my strategic advisor (executive coach) knowing that she won’t let me get away with staying in fear, hiding out, blame, or any other kind of victim space, holds me and my conversations with myself to a higher standard. I say the most insightful things when I speak with her. I see things in a new way. I create possibility – and then she knows I’ll go and execute. And I do.”

These wise words stuck with me. Even the best coaches I know have a coach. I do too. There’s a reason for that. As I thought about the wisdom of having someone who does not call me ‘boss’ be my sounding board, I thought about how this applies in parenting too. I have three teenage boys. They get the best advice from mentors outside the family. It doesn’t matter that those mentors say literally the same things I do – their voice isn’t my voice. I’m the mom. My voice can’t be heard the same way someone else’s voice can.


Where do you need a sounding board in your life? Someone who doesn’t call you boss, or dad, or mom, — or even spouse?

Click here and send me a note about your sounding board. What do you use your trusted confidant for? What do you get from that relationship? I’m interested in your experience….


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“ Lisa Hale’s approach to coaching is authentic, grounded & wonderfully heart-centered, without any New Age fluff. At the same time it is clear, focused, and strategic.

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