Coach Interview Series: Sylvana Rochet

by Brandon

Sylvana Rochet

Certified Executive 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 Sylvana Rochet. Sylvana is a Certified Executive and Leadership Coach based in Santa Cruz, California. She is the founder and CEO of The Insightful Executive.

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

Sylvana: I run an executive and life coaching practice, and I typically work with first-time founders and CXOs who are usually in the startup world. They’re super smart and driven. They used to be the technical person who creates innovative products or services, and rather quickly they’ve found themselves in a CEO role.

I help them make that transition from being a technical expert to being the leader of a company. Their companies are growing very quickly, so some things are at risk of falling off the bus. I help them navigate that stage of hyper-growth with their new companies so they can prioritize and lead with clarity.

NCA: What initially got you interested in becoming a coach and what were some of the motivating factors behind that?

Sylvana: In my prior career, I was a leader of programs and teams, working in international development for the better part of a decade. I often felt in the dark about how to be a better leader because no training was provided in that regard. Luckily I did a lot of reading and I was invested in my growth, even though it’s not something that they teach you in your career.

I felt the pain first-hand of having to be a leader of humans while navigating kind of blind. I also was traumatized by so much crappy leadership that exists in the world. I’d had mostly terrible bosses (except for some great ones at a cancer nonprofit I worked in), and worked in companies with terrible CEOs, so I wanted to do something about that. I said, “There’s got to be a better way. People who are leading humans should be able to have the tools and ways to learn how to do this.” It’s not because they were bad people. It’s just that people aren’t taught this stuff.

The other factor that came into play is this: coaching found me as I was leading my teams and programs all over the globe. People are craving to be taught how to be leaders. People would pull me aside and say, “Hey, I saw what you did with our business partner over there when things got a little bit conflictual and I saw how you managed that. Can you teach me how to do that?” That was because I was training myself. I was reading books like Nonviolent Communication and Getting to Yes. Others saw me applying those skills and they would say, “Hey, teach me. I want to know how to do this.”

Before I knew it, people were sitting me down and saying, “You know you have a knack for this. You really should be doing this full time.” That kept coming back time and time again, and people started sending me their cousin, their boss, etc. Then people started throwing money at me saying, “How could I pay you for that advice you just gave me?” I would tell them, “Sure. That sounds great. I don’t know how much to charge you, so this one will be free but I’m going to start thinking about this.”

I think it’s great when coaching finds you because it tells you that you have a natural ability for it. Of course, there’s training that you’ll do and all of that, but it’s great when coaching lands in your lap because the world is screaming at you saying, “Please just do this.”

I never take it for granted. I pinch myself sometimes. I just can’t believe how amazing humans are at transforming themselves and their life and their environment.

NCA: In working with your clients, what would you say is the most rewarding part of that process and on the flip side of that, what is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

Sylvana: The most rewarding aspect of what I do is watching the coaching process transform people’s lives. It’s magical. I worked with a CEO a while back who said, “I don’t want to be a CEO because I’d rather be coding. I don’t like people anyway — they’re complex and they’re difficult and they’re emotional.” Through the coaching process, he discovered that that was a story that he was repeating from his father from years ago. He had seen his father get promotions and also talk about the challenges that he had in managing humans.

My client had this realization one day in one of our sessions. He teared up and he said, “Oh wow. I have been living in my father’s story. That’s not even my story. I don’t even believe it. I love people. I love my friends. I love being around people. I have been living in a story that was not even mine.” His leadership, when he had that realization, totally transformed. People would email me saying, “What did you do with our CEO? He’s different. He shows up differently in meetings. The way we’re experiencing him is different.”

To me, that’s what’s so rewarding about coaching. People start to show up differently for themselves and they start to show up differently for the world and then it creates these ripple effects. Imagine if your CEO is showing up fully authentically and aligned with what is important to him, how his senior team is going to show up for the rest of the company. It can affect thousands of people. It’s watching a single human transformation and having them move forward in life with ease and confidence and joy and then watching those ripple effects go down to entire communities.

I never take it for granted. I pinch myself sometimes. I just can’t believe how amazing humans are at transforming themselves and their life and their environment.

The most challenging part, honestly, is the business part of the business. I got into coaching not because I love running a business. I got into coaching because I love to coach and I would love to coach all the time in my work hours.

For young, beginner coaches, it’s important to be aware that this is a business. You are going to have to do marketing. You’re going to have to do business development. You’re going to have to put yourself out there. You’re going to have to do sales. You’re going to have to do so many parts of running a business that you may not feel are your forte. It’s going to take time and energy to learn to do those things.

But if you are not able to sell, then you don’t have a business and you don’t get to transform the lives of people. It’s a necessary learning curve that we all have to go through. That’s been my biggest challenge.

NCA: One of the most common challenges new coaches face is self-doubt. Some coaches call it Imposter Syndrome, where early on they feel somehow inadequate to take on the role of coach. What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who is in the beginning stage of their coaching career and dealing with these doubts in their mind?

Sylvana: There are two questions I would ask myself when I’ve faced imposter syndrome. One is, if I don’t feel qualified to be doing this or if I don’t feel like I’m worthy to be here doing this, then what needs to happen? What’s missing? Is it that I need to get trained in something? Is it that I need to maybe research my niche? What’s missing that would help me feel more secure? Because maybe I’m just missing knowledge and I feel insecure about that lack of knowledge.

So, go get the knowledge. Get informed. It takes a little bit of time, but go and research and learn until you feel confident that you know this thing that you feel unsure about. Until you know this thing better. That’s one.

The other one was a big one for me when I started because I knew that I wanted to coach in the C-suite but I had not been a CEO myself. I had been a leader of teams, but not an executive leader. I would say to myself, okay, so these CEOs are genius at making a revolutionary product. They have brilliant, technical brains, but they may not have the right tools to manage stress or to get clarity amid competing priorities. They may not know how to recognize their own signs of burnout. They don’t know how to give feedback to people in an effective way.

I would tell myself that although they’re really good at that technical thing that I know nothing about, I have something to teach them that is going to be so powerful in their lives and business. Something that they yet don’t know about. I have value to offer them in an area that I’m an expert at, and they aren’t. Then as I served my first few CEO clients, I got to confirm the value I was bringing to the table until, over time, the doubts disappeared. Today, I’m comfortable acknowledging that I’m adding value to my clients’ lives in important ways and that I’m someone whom they see as a trusted advisor.

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