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Finding Your True Self

By Daniel Ladue | Photos by Jessica McCafferty

More than 2,500 years ago, “Know Thyself” was inscribed upon the temple of Apollo in the ancient Greek town of Delphi. The advice is no less relevant today. True knowledge, especially of oneself, probes the deepest structure of the self.

Knowing oneself is at the root of the work that life and career coaches Dr. Wouter Rietsema and Tom Bull, do on a daily basis. In order to grow in life, knowing who you are and why you do what you do is essential in the process of moving forward.

Rietsema and Bull are highly qualified, but come to coaching from different career paths. Rietsema spent years as a vice-president at CVPH where mentoring and coaching became part of his job. Bull’s background as a counselor segued perfectly into his new role. Both men did their training through the Co-active Training Institute, an intensive year and half program that certified them to be life coaches.

For Rietsema, coaching is the perfect retirement job. He’s been at the helm of this new career for about two years and has forged a niche with people he calls “accidental leaders.” It’s estimated that 20% of the American workforce either retired or quit their jobs during the pandemic. This “great resignation” from the workforce at that time has resulted in a huge shift in leadership. He refers to them as “new leaders.” Many of these people were encouraged to move into leadership positions, but didn’t have the skills necessary to excel. “Everyone wants to get better,” Rietsema said, “but often they don’t know how.” For many, knowing how to lead people is a missing component. They may know their job well, but learning how to listen, how to negotiate, how to say “no,” or learning how to have a difficult conversation is tough. These are not skills that are usually taught in school, and may not be easy for many people.

Every organization, be it AT&T or Dollar General, needs good leadership. Good leaders motivate, inspire, guide, and teach others to become better. A good leader creates a vision for others to follow with a goal they believe in. Leaders set an example to bring about positive changes in the world. As part of leadership development, they seek to gain the knowledge and skills that will help them in decision-making as they lead others down a path where they can accomplish incredible feats together.

Individual leadership coaching is extremely helpful and often necessary, especially for new senior leaders and leaders who are struggling. To drive broad organizational change, leadership development is best undertaken as a top-down strategic imperative. A good coach works with leadership teams to understand their individual and team opportunities to develop as transformational leaders in a transparent and supportive manner.

For Rietsema and Bull, the goal of leadership training is to help their clients understand themselves. What are your values? What is important to you? What do you care about? Why is that important to you? What is it that you want to accomplish? What holds you back?

For Rietsema, a typical client is a middle manager or senior leader who may have sought out coaching or had it recommended. What is most important is to start with who the client is and then work to develop skills that are authentic to them. Engagement is normally twice a month and can often run for four to eight months.

A great deal of time will be spent helping clients to get to know themselves. A person may be full of emotions they are not aware of. If the individual grew up in a home where conflict was not allowed, then knowing how to resolve conflict situations is an unknown and likely quite frightening. If a person knew how to make changes, they would have already made them. When fear and anxiety get in the way, they impede the ability to lead well.

“Coaching is really designed to pull out the leader that lives inside everyone, but has been covered up by experiences, covered up by self-limited beliefs, a variety of emotions and ways we’ve experienced leadership from others in the past,” explained Rietsema. He knows. Many years ago, he was moved into a leadership role, but had no idea how to lead. As he said, “I’ve walked the walk and want to pass that life experience on to others.” Good coaching is all about building relationships, and developing a good relationship with yourself is the first step.

For Bull a usual client is anyone in a leadership position. That could be a CEO, school superintendent or principal, middle manager, director, or vice president. These people are often well qualified, but lack the expertise to be a leader and likely can’t get out of their own way.

Bull is often brought in to be a keynote speaker for an organization or school district. About 60 percent of the work he does is in a group setting where he works to cultivate a team’s talent. This group experience develops emerging leaders and equips staff members with principles and practices for managing challenges, building healthy work relationships and contributing to a sustained positive and thriving culture. The remaining 40 percent of his work focuses on coaching executives, superintendents, and other C-suite professionals to move from “head leaders to heart leaders”, emphasizing personal and professional growth and strengthening and developing the relationships with them and those they lead.

At the core of Bull’s practice is what he refers to as RUTH: Respect, Understanding, Trust and Honesty — a powerful guide for determining the quality of relationships with one’s self and others. When these are integrated into one’s personal life or workplace, people move forward with integrity, empathy and compassion.

RUTH is just one of the principles that are at the root of Bull’s work. He spoke at length about love. While we don’t usually think of love being present in the workplace, he is referring to the agape form of love that identifies with the interests of the neighbor and requires no expectation of reciprocity. “Love expands,” he said, “and fear constricts. Love creates unity and fear creates division.”

At times, it’s necessary to use a leadership assessment tool. The Leadership Circle Profile 360° is sometimes administered to evaluate a leader’s management skills, attitudes, influence, overall effectiveness, and other key competencies. This assessment feedback gives the leader greater insight into how s/he is perceived, including strengths and current limitations in their overall leadership effectiveness.

Change isn’t easy, especially when it comes to looking deeply within ourselves. But change is possible, and men like Tom Bull and Wouter Rietsema can help in the process.

In William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Polonius, counselor to King Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, utters one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes: “To thine own self be true.” Any life coach would agree that no life coaching can be done effectively unless the client is authentic and true to self. Wouter Rietsema and Tom Bull will do their best to draw that out of any leader. You may want to give it a try.

Dr. Wouter Rietsema

Tom Bull

70 Brinkerhoff Street

Plattsburgh, NY 12901

518 523-2978

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