Coach Interview Series: Otto Siegel

by Brandon

Otto Siegel

Master Certified 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 Otto Siegel. Otto is an ICF-accredited Master Certified Coach (MCC) and founder of Genius Coaching. He is based in Phoenix, Arizona.

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

Otto: I’ve been a coach full-time since 2002 and before that, I had a corporate career as a training manager. My real roots are in education. I was a high school teacher in Biology and Chemistry in Germany and Brazil.

I came into coaching through an interesting side door focusing on highly intelligent misfits, I call them. Bright students who just have a hard time in life. They’re bright, smart, sensitive but they just cannot get their acts together. They fail at school because school is too boring. I became a specialist because I grew up like that. I stumbled into this phenomenon because nobody offered anything to them that could actually satisfy them outside of school.

I devised a program. My first was a coaching program in 1986. No coaching was even on the horizon. That led me to focus on these highly intelligent people that have difficulty in life. I jumped on coaching when I moved to the United States, of course. It was the perfect fit for what I had to do. I did Corporate Coach U and then I became a Master Certified Coach in 2007 because I wanted to go all the way and I believe strongly in the value of coaching.

I discovered these highly intelligent misfits have no age limits because the same phenomenon shows up later on in life. They call it a mid-life crisis. They still did not find what they are supposed to do on this planet. I always tell my clients: you have two birthdays. One is when you were born and the second one is when you find out why. That’s when the deeper calling hits you. And if you suppress it then you are just not going to be happy. Yes, you can have a job to make ends meet. They can make a career and make lots of money, but you just sacrificed something of your own personality.

Versus when you are in your game, so to speak, you are in your element every day, your reality changes. You get more done in less time, you’re more efficient and you just come with a vitality that is contagious. People will recognize you as an expert over time. You can’t wait to learn more in this area. You can’t wait to deepen your coaching skills and proficiency but you know what your specialty is in the world of coaching. And that’s a key to my success.

NCA: Can you describe some of the hallmark qualities of what you’re describing as the highly intelligent misfits? Can you describe some of the typical personality traits of these individuals?

Otto: Frequently they suffer from depression. They easily get labeled with all the labels you can have — OCD, ADD, ADHD, all the behavioral traits — because the behavioral side of them just shows this mismatch. And as a coach, you can train yourself to read those signals. They just don’t know why they are so unhappy. They’re supposed to be happy but they’re just not. These are the symptoms that become over time more and more intense. That’s why eventually they develop psychological symptoms like real depression.

Once we figure out what they’re good at and love to do and find an outlet of practice, then all of these symptoms disappear over time. Like I said, it’s not even age related because it can show up at any time in their life. “I wish I would have. I wish I would do this.” And the wish has to come to reality and that’s when the coaching comes in.

I always tell my clients: you have two birthdays. One is when you were born and the second one is when you find out why. That’s when the deeper calling hits you.

NCA: In your work with your clients, what is the most rewarding aspect of that work and also, what is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

Otto: The most rewarding is simple: Success stories. I just love when people break through and find who they are and can’t even phrase it in simple English.

For example, yesterday I had a client who is just 8 years old that graduated, so to speak, from one of my early childhood programs. At the end, I have a huge whiteboard in my consulting room and he went up to this whiteboard and drew himself in life size, just as big as he is. When he came in for the first time, he drew a tiny, little, 3 by 3 square inch picture on this huge wall. That means that’s who he was at that time. The drawing is a life-sized portrait and really detailed. That was the big breakthrough. These are the moments that I thrive on. I thrive on success stories.

The most challenging aspect is when people try to prove to me how small they are and how stupid they are and how they cannot do what they are supposed to do. Some of them are very smart so they use a lot of language to describe that to me, to describe their smallness. And if they insist in their smallness and say “Oh, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do” and another excuse, another excuse — that is painful.

At one point I needed to say, “Okay. Do you want to live or do you want to die? What do you want to do? Do you want to live a miserable life just making ends meet or do you want to have a fully developed life where you can express yourself, make lots of money, have time for vacation, and really stand on your own feet? What do you want? Where do you want to go?” I can only do the life way with you, I cannot do the self-defeating way. I cannot do the sabotage coaching. I call this entity their inner terrorist.

Some professionals call it negative self-talk. For me, it’s not enough because these nagging voices in our heads are vicious. They take energy. They behave like a parasite. They suck the life out of us over time if you let it.

Part of awareness work is to make them realize that this actually exists. To hear the self-talking in the brain that’s not even true — it’s your terrorist. And then it develops over time with sensitivity. “Who has the mic in my brain? Is it me? If it’s me then it’s something uplifting because I am born to live. If it’s not me, then my energy goes down. That’s the sad, anxious, small, boxed-in and helpless victim.” Once we have this distinction, then we can actually coach.

NCA: Can you talk about any mentors or teachers or trainers that you had in your experience becoming a coach who was the most vital to your success and in what ways did this mentor help you reach the point that you are at now?

Otto: I had several mentors along the way because mentoring is crucial for me. I still have a coach I pay. She is in my payroll every single month because the value of coaching is ongoing. I never will stop being coached. That’s the first thing.

Two women stand out. One is Marcia Reynolds, one of the first presidents of the ICF. I met her personally in Phoenix. She opened my eyes to what coaching really is. As the president, she had the vision. I needed the vision and the detail for me to go to get it to click. So I hired her right away as my mentor to show me the ropes, because I believe in shortcuts. That was the first breakthrough.

The second one was in my preparation for the MCC exam. I thought I was so prepared, all my ducks in a row, all my theory was complete and then there was this oral exam on the phone for 20 minutes. And I did so well, I thought. [laughing] And then I got this letter in the mail, “We regret to inform you that you didn’t pass the exam and the reason being the oral part.” For the first two weeks my ego was throwing a fit. I didn’t want to see this stupid letter and blah, blah, blah. Then my life partner told me “Hey, did you see there’s a phone number on this letter. Do you want to call?” I said no. It took me another week.

Then I called and the lady picked up on the other line and I said, “Okay. I want to find out why.” And then “Congratulations!” she said. I said, “Why?” “You are the only one who called.” [laughing] And then I said, “I want to know what happened.” She said, “Yes, I happened to be your evaluator. You talked to the right person. But instead of answering your question, let me play the tape for you. Do you have 15 minutes to listen?” So I listened and then she said, “Did you hear it?” I said, “No.” “Okay. Let’s listen again. This time, I’ll stop when it happens.”

So she replayed it and she stopped. “Did you hear it?” “No.” She said, “You were very tricky because you know the cardinal sin in coaching is giving advice. You put your advice in a question. On an ACC level, I could have let you pass. But not on an MCC level. I said, “Okay. Now I’ll ask you a question. Can you mentor me how to listen?” And then she said, “Let me think about it.”

The next day she calls back and said, “Here’s the program.” 12 sessions. Need to record 3 coaching sessions, every week you send them to me. You need to record our coaching session, you need to listen to them at least 5 times per week and then let’s see if you can change this habit of not listening deep enough because that was the underlying cause.”

This was hard because I’m an extrovert. I’m a talker as you can hear. [laughing] She said, “Okay. You need to stop interrupting people before they go deep. You need to let this happen. Let them show up on a deeper level. That’s where the changes are. If you cannot stop, chew on a pencil.”

She saved my career as an MCC.

I’m radical in coaching. I tell my clients, “Don’t change, just be more of who you are.”

NCA: What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody in the very early stage of their coaching career?

Otto: Get a mentor as soon as possible because mentoring means shortcuts. It sounds like you’ll pay a lot of money for a mentor. In reality, you pay a fraction of what you lose in income otherwise. I like all the online study courses and I like to read, don’t get me wrong, but mentoring is a shortcut. I found my niche just by working with a mentor.

I had to create my niche — it didn’t exist in coaching. We only have 76 coaches so far certified in my technology. I invented my own methodology and wrote a book about it.

The second advice I would give is to try different things because the coaching tools apply in so many different variations and so many different fields. I worked as a career coach for a while. Yes, I did. Just to make ends meet. And as you go, you know what’s not for you in coaching and what is for you.

Don’t forget what your deepest passion is. My deepest passion was and still is education and education is so much beyond school. Education is a big, big, fertilizer for my coaching.

Find out what you’re really passionate about. If it’s artists, find artists to coach. Absolutely. If it’s putting a band together, or if it’s expressive arts that you like to do yourself — the challenge of producing a canvas that makes sense — whatever it is, marry it and combine it with coaching.

NCA: You mentioned yourself that when you were younger, you were identified as one of those highly intelligent misfits, right? It’s no surprise that you would be rooting for your clients now because in a way, you see part of yourself.

Otto: Yes, because I know their pain. I know their pain in detail because I went through it myself. And that goes both ways. On one side, it gives me the credibility in my own bio because I’ve been there and the second thing is they trust me. The third thing is I know exactly where they come from, what area to tap into. I’m radical in coaching. I tell my clients, “Don’t change, just be more of who you are.”

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