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Interview with Executive Coach, Whitney A. White

Whitney is the creator of Take Back Your Time and is an experienced hands-on coach for high achievers.

Graham sits down with Whitney to talk coaching, careers and avoiding burnout.

I'm really excited this week to be joined by Whitney A. White from the United States who has a coaching practice based in Washington DC, but today she's joining us all the way from Chicago.

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Graham: Whitney your website says that you proudly boast about setting joy above everything else and that you proudly live life on your own terms. What do you mean?

Whitney: I'm sure this sounds absolutely crazy in today's age with us being so busy, so many responsibilities, and so much on our plates. But I do the things I want to do. I go after the priorities that are important to me. I enjoy my life. I travel, and I spend time with loved ones and friends. I read. I watch the TV shows I want to, and at the same time, I push forward on my business goals and I run a successful business. And so, I reject the myth that I have to choose one or the other; choose to be happy and filled with joy, or choose to be successful in my business. I choose both.

Graham: Wow! I wish we could all do that every day. Whitney, you are a coach - and I do want to talk about your coaching practice - but above all else, you're also an entrepreneur. What does that all mean? How did that come about? What's the background to that?

Whitney: I actually started my journey in entrepreneurship when I was a little kid. I grew up in a very small town in the countryside, in rural South Carolina, and I started a tutoring business when I was in elementary school. So, I was basically getting good grades, I was getting all A's, and I started to help younger students. With their homework and their parents would pay me to tutor them and help them get A's in school.

And so that was my first taste of entrepreneurship and since then I kind of had that entrepreneurial bug. That sense of, wow, I can have an idea and I can bring it to life and I can help people. I can come up with something that's beneficial to someone else and they will pay me for it, and I can make my own money, which was really exciting as a kid. I can have some independence and I can see an impact on the things that I enjoy. So I actually ran that business from elementary school all the way until I graduated from high school and went off to college. And by the time I went off to college, I was making several thousand dollars a year as a kid. I had dozens of clients, and so I learned a lot over those years as a kid.

As an adult, I started my career in management consulting. I was advising Fortune 500 executives and CEOs, and I was working in a big company. At that time I was working at Bain Company, which is an international consultancy, but I still always had that interest and curiosity about entrepreneurship. So, a few years later, I decided to start my own innovation firm to be able to advise small business and startup CEOs in a similar way to what I'd done at Bain for big companies. I saw an opportunity to do that with smaller companies, and so really over the years, since that time, that was 11 years ago that I started my innovation firm, Afara Global - about five, six years ago, I saw a need with the actual leaders and executives that they needed more than business advice. They needed development for themselves. They needed professional development. They needed personal development, and they needed coaching, and that led me to start my coaching practice Whitney, A White.

Graham: And does that compliment your innovation business as well? Like they still rub along together now?

Whitney: Absolutely. It compliments me because often I might work with a client on the innovation side and see where there are needs for their team. So for instance, there are times when my team and I at Afara Global will have a client that's looking to launch a new product or grow an existing product, but there are some gaps in terms of those individuals on their team who they're looking to lead, who they're looking to step up, who they are seeing as the folks who really have to carry the baton. And those individuals need the right type of support so that they can develop and step into those roles and fulfil them at a certain level. And so that's where Whitney, A White Coaching is able to come in, and either they're working with me or a team of coaches to help that team get to the level where they need to be as well.

Graham: It's almost the classic definition of executive coaching, what you've just described. It's exactly what we see in our practice and all the years we've been doing it; you're working with the organisation and it's the acceleration of the capability of the individual that coaching brings about. Obviously, if you do it as a collective with a bunch of executives at the same time, the dynamic effect on the organisation is compound, isn't it?

So, as a coach, and as an innovation organisation, what would a typical client look like? What sort of person, what sort of organisation?

Whitney: Really, we work across industries, but what stands out is that they have the desire to innovate and go outside the box to try different things. So, because I have this innovation mindset and this background and innovation, I really do approach things in a certain way and my entire team does because we set kind of the standard of here's how we go in and here's our approach.

And so everything is always about what works. It's always very data-driven. We're always very big on testing, and so there are times when an organisation might know that they need coaching, but they may not be as familiar with some of the approaches or as familiar with what the options are in terms of working together.

So for us, we really come in and we're excited to be able to get our hands dirty; observe the teams, be the fly on the wall, be able to do those surveys and assessments and really hear from everybody to understand what the needs are. And then we're going to come up with a customised set of approaches and solutions for that team. Sometimes that means that we're working with certain leaders. In the organisation, because we say based on what we've seen, these are the folks who are needed to be the change agents. These are the folks who set the tone. If we work deep dive one-on-one sessions with these people and we get them moving in a certain direction, then the whole team's going to move in that direction.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are times when we work with the entire team. We'll come in, we do retreats, we do workshops, and we work with everyone on the team. And then there's a whole array of options in between. But typically, we're either working one-on-one with a group of key individuals, or we're working with the entire team in a bit of a higher touch way, where we're doing the workshops and the retreats over a shorter period of.

Graham: I certainly recognise how important it's that the client and the coaches are open to change and open development because a coach is just a facilitator. We can't make people be something they don't choose to be. We live in very strange times, don't we? There's been an awful lot of unusual things happening around the world and around our economies in the last two to three years. Are you as a coach seeing any emerging themes? Is this something that you are bumping into more frequently than perhaps you used to?

Whitney: Absolutely. I will say that in the past couple of years we've seen more and more burnout. We've seen more and more frustration where team members and leaders are feeling like they are stretched very, very thin, where they're feeling like not only are they stretched thin at work, but they're also stretched very thin at home, and everything is blending together and they're finding it hard to really handle the things they need to in their personal life, frankly, and yet also show up the way that they need to and the way that they are expected to at increasingly high levels at work. And so it's actually one of the reasons why, in the past couple of years, we've seen increasing demand for my signature program Take back your time. So we're helping organisations, we're helping their teams. We're helping executives really get into the nitty-gritty and understand, you know what, what are my biggest priorities and how do I focus there? How do I cut through the noise of all the other things that are draining my time, that is pulling away my attention? And how do I make sure I set up the right systems, the right structures, so that everything can happen, everything gets done that needs to get done, but I am not careening towards a cliff of burnout?

Graham: I absolutely mirror that. Certainly in the last two years since the return to work since the pandemic, it's been absolutely clear that burnout in all of its different forms is a rising subject, and perhaps more encouragingly, people are more prepared to admit it. They're prepared to say, this is becoming an issue for me. Can you help? and then obviously you can do the things you can do as a coach to help them work out what their priorities are and get the balance back into their life, both in terms of work and in terms of home, and it's definitely right that my experience mirrors yours - that this is now a subject that's not taboo. This is now a subject that people are prepared to own up to - to focus on, to want help with. And certainly, we've worked hard on a mental fitness program that we've been working with and it's become very popular. It's become very practical. It's become the sort of solution that a wide variety of our clients tap into, in addition to the more goal-orientated, goal-focused coaching programs.

Whitney, what do you enjoy as a coach the most? What's the satisfaction for you in being a coach?

Whitney: I get so excited and feel so rewarded when I see clients achieve big transformation, big change. When they come into those first sessions with us, and this happens, whether we're doing a workshop, whether we're holding a retreat, or we're doing more traditional executive coaching one-on-one - We have a set of exercises that we do essentially to get started. And a part of that is really casting a vision, a very clear vision across all the major parts of their life because we really do come at it from a holistic standpoint to make sure that we're not only looking at work (because what's outside of work can impact work). So we set that holistic vision and without fail, clients always look at it and they say, okay, yeah, this is what I want, but get real. There's no way I can have all of these things at the same time. There's no way I can do this and that and this. It's not really possible.

They always feel like it's not possible for them to accomplish the things that they truly want. I get so excited when months later or a year later, depending on what it is they set out to do, they look back and they're like, oh my goodness. I can't believe it. I'm actually doing those things and I get excited not only because they're actually doing the things they want to be doing, but they're also showing up the way they want to at work. They're showing up the way they want to in their personal life. They're taking better care of their health and their wellness. Not only am I excited about that, but I'm excited because now they can actually accomplish whatever it is that they want if they've got the right support and the right tools.

what can happen over time, and I see this with so many talented professionals, we are pulled in so many different directions day to day, and we can feel overwhelmed. We're in the rat race, and we start to question, Is it me? Am I the problem? Am I not able to take care of everything because there's something wrong with me? Is it that, you know, I've lost my edge? I'm not as sharp as I was before?

I had a client yesterday say 'I'm not the 20-something that I was before'. So we start to think, is it me? Is there something wrong with me? But no, it's, as you evolve in your career and as the world around you changes. You'll need different tools, different approaches, different resources, and so when they have that accomplishment, they are not only having that transformation at the moment, they are also realising I can do anything I want. I simply need the right resources, the right support, and the right tools.

Graham: We certainly work encouraging clients to work on fairly audacious goals for the program. Be brave. Aspire to greater things. And you're right, looking back towards the end of a program, you sometimes have to pinch yourself and get them to pinch themselves as to how far they've come and the life they're living now compared to the life they were living before. You are almost reminding them of dark days, which is a little sad, but it's, it is quite incredible. The program can do so much for different people if they choose to go with it. They've got to want what they've agreed they're going to work on, and they've got to want to work with you to achieve it, but when that happens, when that magic comes together, it is really, really fantastic.

How, how do you keep your practice fresh? How do you keep things new and innovative for you and for your clients?

Whitney: I think my innovation background is what really influences that the most because from an innovation standpoint, I'm always super curious, I'm always looking at the data, always trying to understand What is the new or the most pressing pain point? What is the issue that folks are facing? What are the biggest challenges that are most pressing in that particular moment?

One of the things that we are really big on in my coaching practice is that when a client is done with a program, they're not done with us in terms of support - They are still a part of our community. We have a private online community where clients are able to interact with one another. In there, there's a process that we teach all of our clients who go through take back your time, or who go through our corporate coaching programs where they can do something we call regularly scheduled maintenance.

This is a monthly process where it's a checkup that they can do and they can always share that back with our team of coaches, and we will always give them feedback on that. They could have worked with us years ago, and we always will give them feedback and give them pointers and support them on an ongoing basis.

That also helps us because we can understand how needs are changing, how needs are evolving, and new things that are coming up for our alumni - people who've completed the program. So we keep our finger on the pulse of what's happening within our alumni community and in the industry more broadly.

What we're able to do, because we're so close to those alumni, we can identify new needs. And what we do is the same things that we did for previous programs, we will do the research, we'll do interviews, we will test curricula, and then once we see, okay, this works to address this issue that's popping up for people, we will roll out a pilot and then we will expand on that new program. So that's how over the years we have added additional programs.

Graham: From your experience both as an entrepreneur and with an innovation business that's moved into coaching. What advice would you give to somebody who's perhaps listening or watching this, who's thinking about becoming a coach, who's thinking about perhaps a career pivot or something - What tips would you have for them?

Whitney: I would absolutely say start with your 'why'. Why are you driven to coach? Why are you driven to that other profession if it's not coaching? Whatever it is that you're excited about, that you're interested in really tapping into that. Why? Because anytime you're making a shift as far as career profession, there are going to be many challenges. And so being really rooted in what's the motivation? Why am I driven to do this? That's going to help you on those challenging days to be able to remind yourself of why you wanted to get into this in the first place.

Secondly, I would say get yourself a community of folks who have been there; folks who have done that, folks who really understand some of those key lessons learned that will help you so that you don't make certain mistakes, right? So many of your listeners, Graham, are here because they know that you are so experienced as a coach. You are an expert coach. They want to learn from you. And so that's exactly what I'm getting at. Whether you're listening to a podcast like this, whether you are in a mastermind with a group of other coaches, whether you are simply friends with people who are in that space - Get yourself a community where you can share challenges you're facing, successes, but also hear from people who really have been there and they have the experience they can share.

Graham: Yes, that's definitely a great tip - making sure you're doing it beacause you've got energy and drive and desire, and then surround yourself with people who can help you.n That's definitely a great tip.

Your practice, as I said at the beginning, is based in Washington DC, but do you work mainly in the states? Do you reach further abroad than that? What's your international profile as it were?

Whitney: I work with clients all over and it's actually one of the benefits of technology that, that we've had from the early days of the coaching practice. We've had clients, obviously, in the states, we have clients across Europe, we have clients on the African continent. We have had clients in Latin America. So we're really fortunate that we're able to work with clients across the globe on the virtual side.

When it comes to in-person, maybe I attract clients who like to travel, I'm not sure, but sometimes I'm traveling to clients for those retreats, for those workshops. And I also host retreats and workshops in different locations around the world. I actually spend most of my time when I'm not in the US, in Western Europe, In Italy, I've had events in France, and I have clients in the US who, even though they're not based in those countries, love to come.

My American clients also like to come and, and be in those wonderful places. And then I have events in the US as well. And what I've seen by having such a broad range of clients all over the world and having clients interact with one another is that it's such a benefit to the clients because they get to be a part of a community with individuals who are leading business in different parts of the world. They get to expand their network with individuals all over the world, and they get to learn about business culture in many different places. It's also fun for me because I love to travel and I love different.

Graham: Yeah, me too. we should compare notes. I mean, I've got clients in Chicago and California and Texas and Beijing and all over Europe as well as all over the UK. We could probably save ourselves a lot of air miles. It's true. I really enjoy the international dimension. I think it helps me as a coach, I think I learn from being exposed to multi-cultures. I think that's really good for me. I think I bring something to them in that context. I, I absolutely endorse everything that you say - you can absolutely coach very, very effectively now with today. Digital technology, there's no doubt about it. But I do also like the face-to-face. I do like the one-to-one arrangement where you get to shake hands, you get to talk, and, and it seems to be as effective or if not more effective face-to-face, But you still can be very effective digitally I find.

We're coming to the end of this edition of The Coaching Conversation. It will be rude of me not to enable our clients or our audience, at least to reach out to you. How could they find you?

Whitney: They can find me at Super easy. They can come here and you guys can find out more information on our programs and also join my email list so that you can find out whether I'm in your neck of the woods with an event. Maybe come see me in person or if we've got any special digital events that you can attend, but absolutely visit us at and sign up for my email list - Don't worry, we won't spam you. We only send emails and we have something special going on!

Graham: Whitney, thank you very much for your time today and have a really fantastic Christmas and New Year.

Whitney: Thank you so much, Graham. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a wonderful new year. Thank you. Bye-bye.


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