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What's Holding You Back? with guest Sian Lenegan

Sian Lenegan

Business Coach

For over a decade, Sian has uncovered the strategies and tactics that bring down barriers to create consistent, scalable business growth, whilst coaching business leaders to overcome their saboteurs to drive action, performance and profitability so that they can build a business that loves them back.



GRAHAM: Our topic this week is 'What's holding you back?', and I'm really pleased to be joined by Sian Lenegan. Sian mixes a lot of roles, one of which is coaching. She describes herself as obsessed with business success and a square peg and an entrepreneur. Well, I can't explain any of that, so, Sian, over to you. What's a square peg, an entrepreneur and being obsessed with business success for you?

SIAN: I guess the best way that I can explain it is just to give you a very brief history lesson. I've been in business for myself for over 15 years, although I can say that I made my first million before I was 14, but that is another story maybe for later. But I did start young. I had a very entrepreneurial dad, and he inspired me a lot. He used to say to me that small businesses were the foot soldiers of the economy, and I started to notice where business owners did well, families did well and communities did well, and I also saw the ups and downs of business. So I started to get obsessed with why some businesses are super successful and why some struggle and that led me on a journey of studying a business degree, doing the Goldman Sachs program.

I got coached by great people like Tony Robbins and Keith Cunningham and many others. I'm embarrassed to say how much I've probably invested in myself over the decades, but I love business. I love seeing what somebody wants to achieve and being pivotal in helping them to quickly join the dots on how to get there. So, I'm just obsessed with business and it's what I love.

GRAHAM: And what's a square peg?

SIAN: Well, I think that sometimes we start businesses in a drive for freedom, but sometimes we start a business because we can't fit into the corporate round hole or we can't fit into the business where we've been working or you're not allowed the freedom to do things in a different way. Often we go off and start our own businesses because that's what we're trying, we're trying to do something in a different way or do something new, or do something that gives us freedom. So, that's where that little analogy comes from.

GRAHAM: How did you find yourself becoming a coach? How did that unfold and what do you do now as a coach?

SIAN: I had an agency business and also started and exited a tech business. And after selling my business I thought, 'What am I going to do?'. I moved to Portugal, but a lot of my clients were still contacting me for the consulting work that I used to do, and I now coach business owners through things because I want to do a little bit less of the done-for-you stuff. It happened organically and I love it because I'm living this life of freedom and flow at the moment, but I still get to be involved in businesses because that's what I love.

GRAHAM: Yeah, it's an interesting thing, people looking inward from outside might think you are semi-retired. You probably work as hard as anybody does. It's just you're not doing any one single thing. You're doing a myriad of things. And certainly, a lot of coaches I speak to do exactly that, even if it's just different types of coaching that they don't appear to be on a treadmill, but they're still working pretty jolly hard from 80 hours a week to 30.

Sian, the subject today was What's holding you back? So with your coaching clients, what do you find that does hold them back?

SIAN: That is a really good question. I think there are two things. I'm going to answer this in two parts. I work with so many different clients. I have a multi-eight-figure business where I work with them on business plan activation, but I also work with agencies, tech businesses, and quite a few coaching businesses, and something that gives all of them heartburn is being able to create a roadmap for the business. And what I mean by that is the nature of being entrepreneurs. They're amazing at seeing things at 30,000 feet. They're amazing at seeing the vision and seeing where we're going. But what's quite difficult and challenging is actually taking that 30,000-foot view and coming down to 20,000, 10,000, 5,000 and getting them and their teams into action and seeing what needs to happen over the next 30, 60, and 90 days. So, one of the biggest things that are holding businesses back is having that roadmap and then also tracking the numbers.

There's the business side of it, but then there's the personal side of it because although I'm very much a business coach, I often have to get into the personal side of things and we all have invisible elastic bands that hold us back. Sometimes we don't even know that we are there, but we're trying to sprint and we don't realise there's this thing holding us back. One thing that I think the gurus and the industry put out there is this pressure to have your big 'why', a big compelling, 'why' that's going to pull you into the future.

When you don't have a big why, because let's be honest, some of us are just really passionate about not starving today, you don't always have a big why, and so when you don't have that, you maybe feel like you're not worthy or you feel like there's this external pressure to be a seven-figure business owner or to achieve that mega-deal. And actually what's holding us back is having clarity on what you want for your life first. I think that got a bit philosophical, but I think it just comes down to you first and knowing what you want.

GRAHAM: I think that's an interesting spin on a lot of things that I see with people that I coach. I coach like you, a variety of people in large organisations and small organisations, and I coach groups as well. But what you do see in terms of holding back in line with what you've just said is that there's a great big vision, How do I make it real? What do I do that brings everybody with me? And that can be a challenge as a coach because you're not there to give them the answer. You're there to help them find that answer. So that's something I do definitely see. Another thing I see, that you talked about is invisible elastic bands, and I absolutely relate to that. I can see people who definitely hold themselves back, whether it's imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, whether it's a fear of failure, call it what you will, but they self-sabotage effectively in a way that belies their overall independence, their ability to create a business of their own. And a bit like you, I understand passionately why people don't necessarily need or feel the desire to be the next billionaire and the next biggest tycoon- They just want to get through next month's end. They just want to pay the mortgage, just want to feed the kids and that's a reality for a lot of self-employed people. And if you are their coach, you have to share that reality. You cannot pretend that it's anything other than the reality of what it is.

So, coming back to your kinds of clients and the mix of clients, what sort of problems are they looking for you to help them with? What kind of challenges do you routinely find amongst different coaching clients?

SIAN: Often what they come to you with and what the real problem is are often two different things. A lot of the time people come to me because they want to get more clients, they want to make more money, they want more freedom, but they're the bottleneck in the business that they want to exit, and they don't really know what to do next. So there's quite a mix of things, but I always bring it back to What do you want?

On my own journey, I remember that I woke up one day with this big business with 21 or 22 staff and offices in the city, and I realised 'this is actually not what I wanted'. I wanted freedom. So that's where I always start with clients because sometimes when they say they need more clients, actually they don't, they just need to raise their prices.

Or sometimes if they say they wanna, you know, Revenue, actually they don't, they don't wanna work that many hours. Um, so it always comes back to dreaming of that ideal life and getting back to them and why they started their business in the first place. So that's where I always start.

GRAHAM: Do you have any specific tools that you use in addition to the challenging questions? Do you have any techniques that you use that unlock all of this?

SIAN: One of the things that I learned actually from an Amazon business case study was about creating a future press release. Whenever I start working with a new client, it's one of the first things that I get them to do. I get them to write a future press release dated 18 months from now, and I get them to go into what they've achieved and accomplished personally and professionally without the tyranny of how - I just let them dream. And then my biggest tool is listening. When you get that press release back from a client and then you ask questions and you start to dig in the right places, you let their subconscious unfold and get to what they truly want. I'd say that is probably one of the biggest tools. I love frameworks and I love taking things and making them simple - I could talk about that for a long time.

GRAHAM: It's interesting. I mean, there's a lot of psychology around positive envisaging if you think something it's much more likely to happen than if you don't. And if you can envisage success. If you can envisage going over the finishing line in a world record time, the chances are you'll be more likely to do that than if you see all these other people running faster than you. So it's an interesting perspective and certainly writing a future press release or whatever frame you want to use of how I achieve what I really wanted is a great way of unlocking the truth behind what they're really seeking.

And when you've unlocked it what's the reaction from your clients? Do they feel comfortable? Do they feel frightened? How do they feel?

SIAN: I love that question. There are two things. The first thing is once we've got real clarity around the goals and where they want to go, I love it when I see their reactions and they think, I'm allowed to do that.

I have one client, who wants to take Wednesdays off so she can spend Wednesdays with her kids and we've created the business so that she can do that. And you know, when she has that realisation I can do that. This is my business. I can design my life the way that I wanted, I just love that.

I have had one very extreme reaction to the press release where we did the press release and then we started digging into it. I have a little framework that I do, and this client got to the end of it and realised that he became a business owner because it was the expectation of his family- He finishes school, goes to university, gets a vocation, and starts a business. That was the path that was laid out and we got to the end of it and he exited his business because he wanted to pursue Broadway. That was mega, but it was amazing. Not all my clients have that kind of extreme reaction, but it's really important. I think we only have this one life and we have to use it all up.

GRAHAM: As an interesting parallel item, I had a very similar experience with a client. He was completely lost in his career; other than being unhappy with where he was, he didn't know where he wanted to go. We did some psychometric testing and it came up with a long list of proposed professions he could get involved in. I remember reading it and thinking, 'I can't show him this. I dare show him this?' But of course, you do, and he picked out the radio announcer. I want to be a radio announcer. And like all good coaches, I took it on the chin. I said, right okay, so what are you going to do next to be a radio announcer? So he said, I know this person and that person, and I know that organisation. I'm going to reach out and I'm going to do this. So when we got together a month later, he said, I've got my first interview and I'll start work in six weeks' time as a radio announcer on a small local radio. But it's just one of these crazy outcomes that you can't predict. Just like your guy wanted to go to Broadway. Really Quite amazing.

Sian, do you typically work in organisations or do you work one-to-one with individuals? What's your normal client profile?

SIAN: I typically work with business owners on a one-to-one basis, and they're typically small to medium-sized businesses. But, I do take on three to four projects a year with larger organisations with my business plan activation. A lot of the time big businesses have a business plan, but they don't exactly have the roadmap to get the team and get everybody rowing in the same direction. Those projects are quite intensive, so I only do a couple of those a year. So mainly one-to-one coaching with business owners.

GRAHAM: Do you find that when you've coached, say the business owner, they refer you to not only other business owners, but to perhaps other members of their team, senior members of their team, perhaps high flyers or does it only really stay with the business owner?

SIAN: Sometimes when I'm working with a business owner - because sales and marketing is my background and I love sales and I love teaching creative entrepreneurs and creative businesses sales process because often they feel really icky about sales and like they're selling their soul. So, a lot of the time if I'm working with a business owner and they have a marketing team, I'll sometimes work with the marketing team on marketing strategies, sales processes, and getting more conversions and referrals from their clients.

GRAHAM: I find often I'll start with the chief exec and then there'll be challenges, issues, and opportunities and they think you could help one of their Senior members, one of their support actors, and it tends to unfold and I really enjoy that because you get to see the organisation from lots of different perspectives and you also get to help the organisation on a wider platform, which means your impact, your accumulative impact is more and lasting. And I enjoy that as well.

Do you do any work in groups or is it always one-to-one?

SIAN: It's mainly one-to-one. I have had a couple of group programs and work in that way and often it follows a very similar structure, very similar tools and frameworks. But I do find that with the group programs, sometimes I'll offer a little bit more training to get everybody onto the same page with different concepts and frameworks or ideas. So sometimes I'll give them prerecorded videos on a strategy, and then in the group format, we then will hot seat or discuss that, but at the moment, mainly one-to-one.

GRAHAM: When you are dealing with clients, whereabouts are they?

SIAN: Most of my clients are in America and the UK. They're pretty split across the two.

GRAHAM: Do you find there's much of a cultural divide between say, the UK and the USA or do you find them really much the same?

SIAN: If I was to really generalise, I do think that American businesses are very open to coaching. It's such a normal thing to expect. Whereas many of the times when I work with UK business owners, I'm sometimes the first coach that they've worked with. That's a slight difference, but I wouldn't say it was significant.

GRAHAM: I definitely concur with that. For the clients I've worked with in America; it's much more commonplace, a bit like therapy. They're very much more used to it than we are, and yet in the UK, I think it's becoming more common, but it is less common and there is therefore a little bit of work to be done around explaining how it's going to work, how the program works, how it's really driven by them. I'm just a facilitator. I don't necessarily come along with a box full of answers. I've got some suggestions perhaps if they'll let me, but really it's about having them find their own way.

When we come back to the what's holding you back question and the self-sabotage. And we've mentioned a bit about the lack of a roadmap, the self-sabotage of lack of confidence. Do you find anything else that holds your client's back that you see on a more typical, regular basis?

SIAN: You mentioned earlier a list of things like fear of failure and self-sabotage and all of that kind of thing, but I'm seeing a lot of business owners have a fear of success. And it's quite a different dynamic. I'm working with quite a few clients at the moment where we've dug into what's holding them back. We've dug into the reasons and causes. Sometimes I think you have to find the root and you have to just pull it right out. And the fear of success is coming up in a lot of my conversations. And it's quite a different dynamic because I've got quite a few businesses where I've recognised a pattern, they reach a certain milestone, a certain level of revenue, and then all of a sudden something happens and something breaks or they do something and it comes back down again.

I think that breaking through that ceiling is sometimes quite difficult because I'm not always coaching businesses that are on the verge of collapse. I'm very often coaching businesses that've just reached a plateau and they stuck. It's a slightly different dynamic and I would definitely say that if you are in that position where you've reached a plateau and you're stuck, it's definitely time to speak to a coach, but if you're in a different space and place where you feel like you're on the brink of collapse and you feel like you're at rock bottom, then it's maybe a different kind of support that you need.

GRAHAM: The plateau piece - you see an awful lot. I see them working twice as hard as they were previously, just trying to keep the thing rolling and they can't work out why they can't get more success or they can't get growth or whatever the challenge is. But it's a very interesting scenario that because you do see that I've got this far and I can't seem to get any further, am I the right person for this? It's a really, really interesting situation and it does become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They do end up thinking if they don't get coach intervention, that they've done all that they can do and yet people can grow, people do grow and they can grow beyond what they've done before.

SIAN: They can, they absolutely can. Because you've already got some kind of track record of success. So there's an element that you know what to do. Sometimes what got you to where you are won't be what gets you to the next level. And I always say next level new devil because at your next level of growth, there'll be something else that comes along and there'll be a different quality of problem. So, having a coach who can help you and kind of work with you through those different stages of problems. Businesses are like children and I do not like it when people refer to their business as their baby because it's not, you should be thinking about your business as an investment - but if I may use the analogy very briefly - a business grows up through infancy, through the toddler stage, teenage years to maturity, and through every life cycle stage of a business there are different problems and there are different things that you need to address. Whether it's systems and processes or your marketing and pipeline, there are different things that have to be worked on. So, of course, having someone who can show you or guide you through those things is going to help you to get off that plateau.

GRAHAM: That's an interesting perspective. A lot of clients do seem to run out of steam at certain points, and all you've really got to do is to reinvigorate them rather than allow them to believe that they've self-limited. And there's no reason for them to do that.

Sian, it's been great chatting with you, getting another perspective on this coaching life and this particular subject what's holding you back. If our audience wants to reach out to you and find you, where can they do that?

SIAN: My website is so that's super simple. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn and connect with me. I'd love to have a chat with anyone and answer any questions and I just love talking about business if you give me half a chance.

GRAHAM: Thanks very much, Sian. Thanks, everybody and we'll see you again soon on another edition of The Coaching Conversation. Bye


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