Today’s guest is Frank Wagner, a superstar from the consulting business. Frank’s career in leadership development started in 1976 when he received his PhD from business school at UCLA. He is one of the top businesses coaches in the world.

After five years working in the university setting he became a consultant working with corporations and non-profits. Frank is also instrumental in a strategy called stakeholder centered coaching.

Frank is a colleague of Marshall Goldsmith and regularly works with him on helping executives around the world learn what it takes to be a top leader in their organizations.

Some of the things you will learn today:

  • What is stakeholder centered coaching and how it affects your overall perspective
  • How important is effective leadership to achieve your goals
  • We talk about accountability partners and why it is so important
  • and more…


Narrator:        Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.

Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.

Josh:                Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at The Sustainable Business.

I have to tell you something. Today, you are in for a huge – and I mean, huge treat. We don’t often get what I consider a superstar from the consulting business but today we have a superstar from the consulting. His name is Frank Wagner. Frank’s career in leadership development started in 1976 when he received his PhD from business school at UCLA .I will give him my condolences for that. After five years working in the university setting he became a consultant working with corporations and non-profits.

The thing that I find really just incredibly why I call him a superstar is working with Marshall Goldsmith. And if you know who Marshall Goldsmith is, he is one of the top businesses coaches in the world. And Frank is also one of the top business coaches of the world. From what I understand, Frank is very instrumental in a thing called stakeholder centered coaching.

I’m going to bring Frank in right now so he can speak with us and start off with stakeholder centered coaching.

Hey, Frank, how are you today?

Frank:              I’m very good today, Josh. Boy, thank you for those kind words. God, you also sound like my father. I mean, he would also give me condolences for UCLA since he was a New York City boy and was very disappointed that none of his children went to the east coast for schools but no. Yeah, I’m a westerner. But remember what’s the good news about attending UCLA, back in 1972, when I started the PhD program, one of the other two other people besides myself, had started in our particular part of the business school was Marshall Goldsmith.

Josh:                Oh, really?

Frank:              So a singularly lucky event from my part.

Josh:                So you’ve known him for a really long time then?

Frank:              Yeah. I mean, I knew him when he had hair, anybody who’s just seen him now so. Yeah. You, Josh, you and him almost were like twins so.

Josh:                Yeah. Well, I refer to myself a lot as formerly Hairy.

Frank:              Yes, yes.

Josh:                So there you go. Back in the ’70s I actually had hair down my back which [inaudible 00:02:42].

Frank:              Just so did Marshall.

Josh:                Yeah, but that was back when I had hair. And that was what you did back then.

So the reason I gave you condolences, why is that, because we’re working with privately held businesses, I tend to think MBAs are more dangerous in small businesses than they ever bring help until we re-train them and get them out of the unlimited resource thing that you learn in business school.

At any rate, let’s talk a little bit about what you call stakeholder centered coaching. What is that?

Frank:              You see, it’s a term we developed that was actually a more accurate description of our methodology. You see, when you think of the word coach and you can have a coach– what? We’re starting up, tomorrow evening will be the start of the Winter Olympics in South Korea and anyone you see competing there has a coach. So you think about coaching in athletics. You think about coaching in the acting world or the singing world. I mean, almost any music – anyone in a profession, who really wants to be good, typically has a coach. And that could be formal. It can be informal.

Our particular area is in the area of leadership because you also have to ask the question, “Coaching for what?” And there’s many good coaches for small business – small and medium business. And they’re helping with lots of different parts of the business. Well, ours is simply the leadership part of the business. “How important is effective leadership to achieve your goals?”

And stakeholder centered coaching is very different from traditional coaching, even in our field. Traditional coaching, it’s typically “about the coach.” So if someone’s going to hire a coach, “I want to hire this coach who’s got immense talent, and credibility, and success. They’re going to help me be a better leader.”

And, by the way, a lot of the most successful coaches have something called a big ego. And they do think “it’s about me”. So coach selection is get the right coach.

Josh:                Yes.

Frank:              And by the way, it’s a lifelong struggle for anyone to deal with their own ego. The  second view of coaching which became a little bit more– I don’t know, avant garde in the last 20 years, well, it’s really not about the coach, it’s about the relationship between the executive, the business owner or the leader and the person they’re coaching. So it’s all about the interplay in that relationship. Typically though, what did that mean was most coaching was taking place– you might say, in the closet, behind closed doors. Other people in the organization–

For instance, you have one of your business owners decides to have a leadership coach and they think that’s going to have some benefit for them. And then you have all the employees and the employees sees this coach kind of saunter on into the office, go into the boss’ office, they kind of close the door. And you ask these people, “What’s going on?” They go, “I don’t know.” “Do you see any change in the leader?” “No, not really?” But you see, that’s how coaching goes whether you’re talking about small business right up to one of the Fortune 50 companies. That’s very typical and is going on.

Well, Marshall Goldsmith, my good friend, he came up with a phenomenally different methodology. And it’s not about the coach. It’s not about the relation between the leader and coach. It’s about the relation between the leader and who that leader is leading and influencing. And we call these people the stakeholders.

So in our methodology, most of the coaching takes place between the client – our client, the business owner or the leader, and the people in the organization that they’re leading. And what we do is we’re here to kind of facilitate the methodology where the leader is relying on their stakeholders for both feedback on how they’re doing on their goal and suggestions on how they can do better on their goal.

And Marshall coined the phrase feedforward. So ours is a combination of feedback and feedforward in the way we operate. So we get a much larger part of the system involved in the coaching. And one of the main reasons for that is change is hard. I mean, everything we actually talk about, in our work, is pretty easy to understand, right, just not easy to do. And so, to make the change work, you get pretty much a significant number of people involved in the change effort to pay attention and to help.

And so, what we do in stakeholder centered coaching is we rely on helping the leader check in with their stakeholders. How are they doing on their goal? What they want to work on to improve as a leader. And actually use those people to help build the specific actions.

What do we mean by leader improving as a leader? Well, they’re improving in maybe something like delegation. They have a tendency to be a bottleneck in their own organization because they have to put their fingerprints on everything. So they’re going to learn to be a better delegator. Or they realize that, “Hey, I’m not the subject matter expert anymore in this business. I’ve got to rely on the people around me” so they need to become a better collaborator with their people, right? Maybe they work in holding people accountable. Whatever that is, that’s a goal.

Josh:                One of the things I think that is really interesting here – the way you coach versus other people coaching, is that it appears to me that you are treating your clients as experts – not yourself as the expert.

Frank:              Yes.

Josh:                And most consultants I know of, because you mentioned they have a huge ego, so they want to be the expert. But I have found, in my life, that the very best coaches, the very best consultants, the very best mentors all magnify the expertise of the people they’re working with than trying to be the experts themselves.

Frank:              You’re spot on, Josh. And you think about it, if someone wants to be– let’s just use the term “the better listener.” Who’s the best expert to be a better listener with that person and be that person? Right, they know what it is that either irritates them, bothers them or what they would need from the other person to be seen as a better listener. And so, why should we, as the outside people, say “we know what you need to do with that person.” Use the person that you want to be a better listener with.

Josh:                Yes. So that sounds perfectly obvious to me.

Frank:              Yeah. Yeah but remember, you did also point out the thing. You see, a lot of consultants and/or just experts believe that their value is in giving expertise.

Josh:                Right.

Frank:              And they often have been rewarded for it. So it becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy that this is how things should be as opposed to really stepping back and using common sense.

Josh:                Well, they may get rewarded for it but my suspicion is the results they get are not nearly as good as the results you’re getting.

Frank:              Right. And that’s a good point, Josh, I mean, because, really, anything that’s important has to be measured.

Josh:                Yes.

Frank:              And traditionally, coaching– at least, the type of coaching that we do, hasn’t been measured. And we actually measure results. And we measure it, not by “Does the coach think that this business owner got better?” And it’s not the business owner thinking, “Well, gee, I think, I got better working with this coach.” No, it’s the stakeholders through an anonymous online survey who actually give a score. “To what extent did this leader improve over a particular period of time?” so we get a numerical measure of improvement.

Josh:                And you probably have to have to have clients that are willing to take some pretty honest feedback to do that.

Frank:              Oh, yeah. What do we need to bring from the outside, if we go into an engagement? We’re the sort of, I think– maybe there’s more but I like to keep things relatively simple. I’d say there’s sort of three things we’ve got to bring. We’ve got to bring credibility. And that credibility is based on a certain level of expertise or at least bringing in a process, a process or whatever that is helpful to the client.

So you’ve got this credibility factor. You also have to have, in our world, a bit of confidentiality. So I mean, sometimes this stuff is rather touchy that you’re dealing with and you don’t want to break confidence. So if you’re told something in confidence, you better hold that confidence.

And the last thing is time. I mean, do you provide enough time? And I think one of the worst things that a lot of successful coaches do is they’re not available to their client. So you’ve got to bring that. But what does the leader need to bring? I mean, the person’s going to go through the change, they’ve got to have enough courage, right? They have to have enough humility and they’ve got to have the discipline to actually go through the stakeholder centered coaching process. And everyone isn’t ready for that.

Josh:                Let’s talk about discipline for a second because I think that this is one of the downfalls of being successful in anything that anybody ever does is having the discipline to do so. What is your opinion about accountability partners?

Frank:              Accountability partners is an identical word to what we call stakeholders. In fact, I was working with just the most wonderful human being – not a perfect human being but a wonderful human being. He, many, many years ago, was in Beirut with a friend and they were talking about the state of the world. And this is during the time of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. And they decided to do something about it. So they formed something called the EastWest Institute. They had one goal, that on side, either United States or the Soviet Union, would lift up a little lever and push a red button – sort of something similar to something that’s going on in North Korea right now.

Josh:                Right.

Frank:              And so, they had this goal to make the word a safer place. And John Mroz who was really the founder. By the way, he’s the one person who’s ever had Marshall Goldsmith as his coach. And then later had me as a coach. And when I was coaching him and we started to use this term stakeholder, he actually was a bit confused by it. And he didn’t use the word accountability partner. He came up with the term– “Oh, wait a minute.” Finally, he says, “Frank, I get it. These are my internal coaches.” I said, “Use whatever word you want in terms of this.”

Josh:                I like that term. I like that term a lot.

Frank:              Yeah. You see, accountability– you know, you talk about, “Well, who should be accountable?” Well, first of all, obviously, if you had to put into one person, someone’s got to be responsible and accountable for their own behavior, right?

Josh:                Yes.

Frank:              But also, if you’re part of that family, whether it’s the business family or the home family, guess what? You’ve got some accountability in there too, right?

Josh:                Yes. So where’s the role that you play with accountability? Do you help hold your clients feet to the fire or do you just fully expect the stakeholders to do that?

Frank:              Both. You see, ideally, it’s really– and by the way, I’ve never achieved my ideal. And this is just my point of view. My ideal is, ideally, it’s all about them. If the stakeholders truly take it on and act accountable. And the person I’m coaching does the same, I can literally almost sit in the background. And, by the way, why I’m looking at that as ideal is “Who do we want to get credit for improvement?” You see, that’s the problem with so much, the credit goes to the coach – the external person, outside of the system.

Josh:                Yeah, it really should go to the internal person.

Frank:              Bingo. But then the same token, that’s the ideal.

Now, you had a great question, Josh. What my role on accountability is I’m there to hold the leader accountable to check in with their stakeholders, to follow up with their stakeholders in a disciplined way, right? So I’ll be sending reminders to them. “You know, hey, it’s your week to check on your stakeholders.” And you see, we have this as a rule of thumb, a formal monthly check-in. And that’s about the right time frame. You don’t check in everyday. I mean, it’s kind of onerous, right?

Josh:                Yeah, I agree.

Frank:              Not even necessarily in a week, in a formal way.

Josh:                Right.

Frank:              But about every 30 days, like the next full moon. We kind of have the rhythm of our natural environment. About every month, you go to each of your stakeholders and you pretty much say, “You know, it’s been 30 days since I formally checked in with you. What can you give me in terms of feedback? How am I doing on my goal? What have you noticed?”

And then the second point is, “Let’s look forward. Let’s look into the future. Any suggestions you have for me for the next 30 days before I check in?” That’s the formal process. Also, informally, you can have check ins walking out of the meeting with someone. Where my job is to keep tabs of what’s going on. And maybe, for instance, right after an important meeting, have a quick five-minute phone call with the leader about “How’s it going?”

And so, I’m using myself as the conscience of the methodology and the plan. So that’s one of the areas I hold accountability. The other is you see we put our leaders to charm school. That is the one thing we bring in is we have very specific things to do and avoid or not do when they’re checking in with their stakeholders.

Josh:                Sure.

Frank:              And the methodology is very simple. They’ve got to go ask. They’ve got to listen. And they’ve got to say “thank you.” That’s what they do in their check ins. And by the way, people can do a very poor job at asking. They can do a very poor job at listening. And they cannot say thank you, right? So these are the kinds of parts of the process where we really kind of really have been crucial to the success.

Josh:                You know what I really like about what you’ve been talking about so far, Frank, is the simplicity of your program. And you were talking a bit earlier where I was saying– you know, I was giving you condolences for having a PhD in business. Part of the reason for that is because business schools teach complexity.

Frank:              Absolutely.

Josh:                And they take the simple and they make it complex. Instead of taking the complex and making it simple. So what you’ve just proven to me is that you are truly an expert at what you’re doing because you’ve taken a really complex topic and you made it dog simple so anybody can understand what you’re talking about. And in my experience, that’s the true sign of expertise is that real experts are so good at what they do, their whole purpose in life is taking what is really complicated and making it simple so people can understand it.

Frank:              Thank you very much for that compliment. And I do agree with you. I’m not sure I can give the proper reference. I’m going to say Einstein because I know one of the things Einstein said is, “Make things as simple as possible yet not simpler.” So you can, I guess, oversimplify. But I think, whether it was him or someone else, who made the point that when you first start doing something, you have a simple view of it, and then you keep adding those layers of complexity which, I guess, the academic world, that’s how they feel they get paid is to go to that point of making things complex. But then, at some level, in a field of study or expertise, you get that other side of the complexity and start making it simple again. But at this point, that simple view is dramatically different from that early simple view of things.

Josh:                Well, I’ll give you an example. It’s that I deal a lot with valuation for privately held businesses and I always to valuation people and say, “Okay, how do you value?” And they always say, “Well, we use a discounted cashflow model.” And I say, “Okay. Well, that’s really good. Now, explain to me what cost of capital means and how you come up with it.” I have yet to have somebody be able to do that.

And I say, “Well, here’s your problem. If you can’t explain that, how the heck do you expect a business owner to buy what you’re selling because the basis of your analysis is a cost of capital?” Now, a publicly traded company is easy to figure that out. But for a private company, they say your cost of capital is 30% to 42%. And I’ll say, “No business owner’s going to believe you because you can’t explain it in a way they understand it.”

Frank:              Yeah. Well, so you’re demonstrating to me, Josh, I have my field of expertise. Yeah, I’m clueless when it comes to what you just described. Yet, I’ve got to admit, I had the feeling that if I had to get in that area, I want you in the conversation.

Josh:                Well, thank you. I actually have come up with a way of explaining what cost of capital is in layman’s terms. And it’s actually four things. It’s, “Are you making enough money to have a good lifestyle? Are you making enough money to put away money for emergency? Are you making enough money to fund the growth of your company because no bank will do all of it? And are you making enough money to fund a retirement plan adequately?” When you add those four things up, for a surprisingly large amount of businesses, it equals what the cost of capital for that business is.

Frank:              Got it.

Josh:                So when you tell a business owner that, you’ve simplified the process for him so they’re likely to take some action.

Frank:              Right.

Josh:                And it’s the same thing that you’ve done. I used to be a “my way or highway” guy. I would scream at somebody every single day of the week when I was running my business and I made a lot of major changes but nobody noticed. Do you know why they didn’t notice? They weren’t involved in it.

Frank:              Exactly.

Yeah. And you see, that’s, again, the brilliance of what we discovered. And I will give a significant– most of the credit to Marshall is, you see, I thought [inaudible 00:19:29] we first started in this business, we thought we were in the behavior change business. So, Josh, I was coaching you. To me, success was you changing your behavior, right?

What we discovered is we are just as much in the perception change business in that you could change but the people around you don’t notice it. In fact, they don’t want to give up their old view of you even though they didn’t like the old view of you. So I’ll just use that example of, Josh, you yell and scream at people and you don’t listen and all this stuff. And then I work with you as a coach and you actually changed that behavior. They’ll say, “Well, the old Josh is on vacation. He’ll show up again.”

Josh:                Right. Well, that was the belief, believe it or not, for 15 years after I made that change.

Frank:              Yeah. But, you see, how you get people to change is like if you want someone to, for instance, not display anger, right?

Josh:                Right.

Frank:              Don’t get angry.

Josh:                Right.

Frank:              Well, you see, think of how it is when you go to someone who has been the recipient of your anger and you say, “Look, I want to get better at avoiding anger. I want to stay calm.” Right? And so, now, with what happens in our methodology is every month you’re checking in with me. “Frank, how have I done on staying calm, not getting angry?” First month, I probably didn’t pay any attention. It’s a kind of a wake up call. But if month after month after month with that discipline, you’re saying, “Frank, how am I doing?” And, by the way, every time– we’re not perfect, you get angry and I point it out to you. “Josh, you said you’re working on not getting angry. You just got angry here.” And by the way, this is what you say. And this is the “Charm School” stuff we put people through. You say, “Frank, thank you.”

Josh:                Right.

Frank:              It allows you to just stop.

Josh:                Yup.

Frank:              Completely lower your blood pressure. You say, “Let me handle this differently.” Now, who else is going to change in this relationship? The other person – their view of Josh is going to change.

Josh:                So, Frank, we’re unfortunately out of time on the podcast episode.

Frank:              I’m okay.

Josh:                And I’m going to bet people are going to want to find about how they can get in touch with you. And those of you who are watching this, we’re going to continue this on and I’m going to make Frank talk about situational leadership and you’re not going to want to miss that so find this Facebook Live broadcast which is at AskJoshPatrick on Facebook.

Frank, how would people find you if they wanted to get more information?

Frank:              It’s pretty simple. I was able to get in through a friend, early in Google’s beta of their email system so it’s just the word coach– because we’re talking about coaching. That’s what I do for a living. Anybody who sends me an email, I’ll get back to them.

Josh:                Cool.

And I have to say that you have been very generous with your time with me and I appreciate it.

And I also have an offer for you. I have just written my first book. It’s called Sustainability: A Fable About Creating Personal and Economic Sustainability. It’s pretty easy to get. You just go to I’ve got two free bonuses that come with it: (1) You get a free 20-minute conversation with me and (2) I’ve actually written an implementation guide for how to do the stuff that’s in the book. And I invite you to get a copy and read it and let me know what you think and write a review on Amazon.

This is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by today. I hope to see you back here really soon.

Narrator:        You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at, or you can send Josh an email at

Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.

Topics: leadership, sustainable business podcast, Uncategorized, coaching, executive coaching

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