Coach Interview Series: Keith DeVore

by Brandon

Keith DeVore

Executive Leadership Coach

Our main objective here at the National Coach Academy is to enable aspiring coaches to reach their full professional potential. One of the most effective ways to educate students about the world of coaching is by offering them a window into the world of real, practicing coaches and showing them all the different ways coaches make a difference in the lives of their clients.

We hope today’s interview adds another insightful glimpse into the dynamic world of coaching.

Today we are interviewing Keith DeVore. Keith is an Executive Leadership Coach based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

NCA: Can you describe your coaching practice and the kinds of clients you typically work with?

Keith: I have worked in local government for the last 10 years and I’ve been a professional coach for about 3 years now. The clients that I try to reach out to are primarily executives within local government — whether that’d be city, state, or county. I haven’t had any federal employees but I’d absolutely be willing to work with them, as well.

I’ve worked for three different local governments. That’s really where my expertise is — understanding how influential coaching can be to executives within local government. I’ve had probably about 10 clients in three years. I just keep growing my coaching practice and trying to get my name out there to really focus on that niche and how I can better improve the lives or the struggles or the challenges of executives within local government.

NCA: Given the niche that you occupy in coaching, how would you say coaching executives in local government differs from a more general coach who is coaching the general public? And second to that, what are the most typical issues and challenges that these government officials face?

Keith: The few clients that I’ve had who have not been executives, that’s really where they want to go. They were not in leadership positions at the time and they were looking for perspective on how they can better move up the ranks and acquire skills or training or certifications where they can then be leaders within the organization. Their primary challenge was they were stuck in a job that they didn’t see any potential for movement. I work with them to remove obstacles, make suggestions, and talk out what their strengths were so it would put them in a position where they could feel confident to make the move upward.

The majority of the executives that I’ve talked to are really trying to position their organizations for the future. For the last decade, executives, city managers, and directors have been trying to better their organizations with limited resources. A few that I’ve been fortunate to coach can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They were a different generation than the folks that they’re handing off the keys to, so at this point, they really want to set up their organization for the next decade and for the next generation. That has been a key concern.

We’ve talked about succession planning and implementing coaching within organizations and “coaching the coach.” Their question really is “How do I take that powerful influence of coaching and implement it throughout my organization? How do you implement a coaching type of culture throughout an organization?” And it all goes back to strengthening employee engagement and studying organizations in order to be successful going forward in the future.

It’s the Imposter Syndrome. We all feel like we have to be 30 years in some business or have some level of success before someone’s going to listen to us. But what I realized is that is has nothing to do with me as a coach. It has everything to do with them.

NCA: What kind of certifications, degrees, or training did you need to complete to become a coach — specifically a coach in your niche?

Keith: When I started learning about this, I was really interested in leadership. Before I knew anything about coaching, I was reading all these books from all of these influential leaders and one of the names out there that I resonated with was John Maxwell. He had been a leadership guru for 40 years and he’s still going strong. He’s got over a hundred books. I read as much as I could from him and I learned he had a coaching, training and speaking program. I took that to my boss and said this is something that I can be a part of; it’s something I think I could bring back to the organization.

I actually have a certification in coaching with the John Maxwell Group. I had over 30 hours of online courses that took me through every step of the way in becoming a coach. Part of the practice is trying to go out and work with others. They actually had online sessions that showed you in-depth coaching sessions where the participant said it was okay to have this video recorded just so others can see what’s going on. It was a very rigorous course and then after finishing that, I eventually became certified.

Fortunately, a lot of people know about John Maxwell when I talk about it but it’s not considered under the umbrella of ICF. Sometimes it’s looked at as not being the correct credential however I was taught all the right things with coaching and I continue to read up and study on it. That was my path and I thought it was great. I’ve been fortunate.

Part of that program is a guy named Christian Simpson who runs all of the coaching sessions for the John Maxwell Group. I was able to talk to Christian and he’s been a mentor to me. He’s been a coach for 20 years or so.

What I’ve found, though, is that the best thing for students to do is to actually get out there and coach. In my opinion, anybody can coach somebody else. It’s really about getting in there, getting to practice, understanding that coaching is really about asking the right questions — getting to the heart of the obstacles and the challenges and the struggles for that particular individual or for that group and then breaking those down for them and working through it.

There was a famous tennis coach in Canada in the 90s who was interested in coaching and he did an interesting exercise. He brought in ski instructors who knew nothing about tennis. And he told them to ask his players five specific questions — questions like “When you hit that ball, what felt good about hitting that ball? Was that a good shot or a bad shot? Why was it a good shot or a bad shot?” And he found through the study that these ski instructors provided just as much progress for his tennis students as himself — a tennis instructor for 20 years.

He wrote about this idea of asking the right questions to make the unconscious conscious and to make people realize what is right, what is wrong with whatever they’re doing. That has really been a great part of my education. Just get out there and do it. Don’t worry about being credentialed or feeling misplaced, because as you get out there, you’re going to learn the right questions to ask your clients and if you’re really coming from a space where you want to help them, then they’re going to see results, which is what coaching is all about.

It’s the Imposter Syndrome. We all feel like we have to be 30 years in some business or have some level of success before someone’s going to listen to us. But what I realized is that is has nothing to do with me as a coach. It has everything to do with them. I’m trying to get out there and say I understand this space, but unless I’m providing results for them, it has nothing to do with me. It is hard. I struggle with it still.

A lot of coaches I’ve met who have 10 years experience in this industry, they still struggle with it because they don’t have twenty or they haven’t coached the CEO or whatever. The people I think who are the most successful are just passionate about helping people in their space. They gained that clarity from just doing it. Just doing the work and helping people.

NCA: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your career and on the flip side of that, what is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

Keith: It’s seeing that light bulb go off or “Oh wow, I can do this.” Or “I didn’t think about that but yeah, I am comfortable doing that.” Really seeing their strengths shine through and then aligning those strengths with the different action plan that’s going to take them to where they want to go. I think even before they see it, I see it. That’s the most rewarding.

Often times it’s interesting that I don’t see the results directly within those 2 or 3 months but I may see it 2 or 3 months later and they’d shoot me an email and just say, “Hey, just so you know, this happened or that happened.” To me that’s the most rewarding. Just to see all of the light bulbs going off in the participants and then gaining the confidence or the clarity to take their life in this direction or take their organization in this direction.

On the flip side, the most challenging part is the slog through that process. I tell each and every one of my participants to be wary of the middle innings. If it’s a 10 or 12-week course, by about the 4th, 5th or 6th session, it might start to drag a little and might start to seem like more of a chore than the excitement of the beginning. In my experience, you get through a lot of the hard, heavy lifting, and the enlightening phase in the first few weeks and in the middle they do tend to drag. People are then sometimes not coming with as much enthusiasm.

From everything I’ve heard, that’s completely normal. I tell them that even if you think that you’ve seen these results within the first three sessions, it’s really important to continue this path even though that energy may not be as high. I think that’s the biggest challenge — continuing to keep the engagement and keeping the energy high in the middle of the process.

This is a 2 to 3-month journey where we’re making the unconscious conscious and setting the client up for success, and even though they may not be feeling it in session 6, this one will be very important for when we reach the end goal or session 10.

As a coach, I want to help them right away. I wish I could go in and in one hour I could help all of my clients, but just like being a personal trainer or a psychiatrist, it’s just not how it works. And some of the results and the powerful accomplishments of our clients, we don’t even see even through our 3-month session. We might have to wait 3 months down the road or 6 months or reach back out to them and just say “How’s it going?” to hear some of the successes that can be attributed to the coaching session. I think those two things really are the most challenging. Not necessarily seeing immediate and impactful results as I would like to see and slogging through the middle innings of the coaching practice.

Why do you want to go forward and be a coach? Who are you trying to help? What after the end of a 5, 10, 20, 30-year coaching journey would you like to look back on and be most proud about in your practice? […] Continually trying to find that, I think, is going to keep you going even through some of the tough times.

NCA: Can you think of a mentor who was the most vital to your success as a coach and in what ways did this mentor help you thrive in your career?

Keith: I have to say it’s Christian Simpson. I would say everything that I’ve learned has been through Christian’s teachings through the John Maxwell program. Even when I think of John Maxwell, I think of Christian Simpson just because that’s who I saw every day for 2 months when I was going through the program.

Christian’s was really a great story for me. He was working for a big telecom company and they had a really poor onboarding program that he took to his boss and said, “You guys can do a better job of getting people in here and getting them on-boarded and involved in the organization.” And they said, “Okay, well, show us how.” And so he wrote training for onboarding and through that, he knew that coaching was for him.

I have a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration. I had never thought of coaching but as I went through the process, I was like, “This is really what I like to do. This is really what I enjoy.” Just hearing his story and all of his teachings, I think he’s been the number one. Even when I’m coaching, I picture him and hear his words still. Even without him being a close personal friend or someone I see at all, he’s still the number one person for helping me get my coaching practice going.

NCA: What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who is just starting out in their coaching career?

Keith: I would just say to try to find your true north. Who do you want to help? If you were to develop a tribe of people, what does that tribe look like? Some people are passionate about career development. Some are passionate about relationships. Some are passionate about leadership. Whatever your motivation or incentive is, I would say try to find your true north.

Why do you want to go forward and be a coach? Who are you trying to help? What after the end of a 5, 10, 20, 30-year coaching journey would you like to look back on and be most proud about in your practice? Who did you help and what was your internal motivation? Continually trying to find that, I think, is going to keep you going even through some of the tough times.

Coaching is great. Coaching is the best. But there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to just go out there and get a coaching job. Your 401(k), your health benefits — you have to go out on your own. You have to be independent or you have to sell to your organization that you can be a coach. It is a struggle. Everybody loves to coach. I think most people struggle with the business side of coaching and so you need that internal motivation to keep you going through learning about networking, websites, and finding your niche.

You have to know inside: Why are you doing this? Why are you pursuing this? Who exactly do you want to help? Do you want to help a hundred people? Do you want to help a thousand? Who exactly is it that you want to help? And I think that’s been my biggest source of clarity.

My true north is trying to help government employees — primarily executives — and trying to help them be more engaged. Be more inspirational and wanting to show up for work and wanting to do more for people. That’s my true north and that would be my first piece of advice. Get very clear on who it is you want to help and why, because that’s what’s going to keep you going through the disappointments and the struggles.

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