Avoiding propeller blades, coaching & other matters
Business coach and author Chris Taylor talks to NZBusiness editor Glenn Baker about his new book and why every business owner, no matter what stage of their journey, can learn from it. NZB: Chris, congratulations on your first book. How did you get the idea for the book and its title? What’s the story behind […]
Business coach and author Chris Taylor talks to NZBusiness editor Glenn Baker about his new book and why every business owner, no matter what stage of their journey, can learn from it.
NZB: Chris, congratulations on your first book. How did you get the idea for the book and its title? What’s the story behind it all?
Chris: Well, the book idea had been bouncing around in my head for around eight years. I was part of a speaking association from 2013, surrounded by many speakers who were also authors.
I always thought authoring was something other people did. It seemed errant and fanciful and not necessarily the keystone for building a small business.
What also prompted me was a coaching session I had many years ago when my coach asked me to write down 50 stories about myself and 50 stories about other people. I got two thirds of the way through doing this, and then left it in a drawer and forgot about it.
The central idea for Avoiding Propeller Blades, Coaching and Other Matters is about life; screwing up and looking in the mirror at ourselves and hopefully learning. God knows I have screwed up in my life! ‘Avoiding propeller blades’ was an instinctive phrase that I put in my initial book prologue to my book coach Patrick Snow. My original ‘green as the paddock’ author thinking had 52, Am I Halfway there yet? as a title. An indulgent memoir wistfully looking at moving beyond the middle-age hump. One for the kids and grandkids primarily.
Patrick turned me around on that. He coached me to think about making the book speak to the hearts and minds of the reader as a ‘memoir with a message’. He loved the phrase Avoiding Propeller Blades and thought it was hilarious.
So hence, we ran with that.
NZB: You are primarily a seasoned business and life coach, in addition to now being a published author. What got you into coaching originally?
Chris: My first career was as an engineer for two decades. In truth I was a ‘peacock in a pen of owls’ in engineering I didn’t fit that mold. I am more interested in people than things and engineering did not feed my people-centricity. When I turned 40, I was divorced for a second time and I had itchy feet for a career change or at least to stop engineering for a period.
This was a weird and disruptive time for me. Divorce, career change looming, then my father died suddenly on my 39th birthday.
Quite randomly, I saw an opportunity to work with an organisation in business consulting. I loved the idea of working with people, helping them lift performance, and be part of something bigger than myself. This was all despite me having never run a business myself.
So that’s what got me into the crazy world of coaching originally, back in 2012. I write about career change (Chapter Karaoking Career Change) in the book.
NZB: The book has so many stories, 40 in all. How did you come up with so many stories and how did you choose them?
Chris: The stories are thumbnails from my random brain dump thinking in mid-2022. I revisited the idea of writing down stories from the coaching session a decade earlier. Initially I just wanted to write amusing stories that were self-effacing. Then the humour branched out to other areas of my life as I delved deeper. For example, being an immigrant to New Zealand from Britain and dealing with familial separation and guilt. Stories about my dad, Jeffrey, his fatherhood influence and style.
I went out to the park one summer’s day with my dog and I wrote down all these thumbnails for story titles. I took three highlighter pens to them as an initial rough sorting hat. That’s how it started.
I also had a bunch of stories which didn’t make the cut. These were perhaps a little bit risqué and Patrick thought best to leave out. Very wise. Also, ones that just were a little bit hollow and self-indulgent, mostly from school days.
NZB: Most people give up on their first book, for a whole host of reasons. Tell us how you kept yourself motivated in the process?
Chris: The motivation was quite easy for me, because I have the time and space to write. Plus, it was my first ‘rodeo’ so I had almost childlike naivety. I am very fortunate as I don’t work full time and am a father much of the ordinary working week (my wife works full-time and is the majority income earner). I was like a kid in a new play yard really. Exploring, creating and writing. I love storytelling, so writing life stories, with an underlying purpose, was quite straightforward. At least for this book.
I decided to use audio transcription for my broad-brush storytelling, which I found effective for getting large chunks of the story out first. I would go for a walk or to the park and dictate in to my phone. I found that flow of open air calming to speech-based storytelling.
At one stage I was getting up at 4am to create stories on my phone. My wife would give me sideways glances at breakfast, and ask “Are you alright, Chris?”
Never at any other stage of my life have I been so highly motivated to produce something that’s unique and creative in my own words. Motivation, at least for this first book, wasn’t a problem at all.
NZB: Marketers talk today about the target audience, ‘know your tribe’ and so on. Who is the primary target for your book?
Chris: I am in my fifties, so initially I thought it would be for my age group upwards. Perhaps career shifters, those approaching retirement, fathers, divorcees, and maybe men married to high powered net worth wives.
However, I have written stories in the book which perhaps will appeal to young people and teenagers navigating life or at least taking their first career steps.
I have been having conversations with various marketers, some of whom have conflicting viewpoints [about the book’s targeting]. For example, my book publisher and coach have differing philosophies on this. The modern convention, I think, is around the target audience, ‘who is your tribe’ and so on. And design your branding against your reader avatar, etcetera.
Patrick Snow said my target audience is “any human being with a beating heart and the passion for life”. Patrick is not a book marketer but has amazing authoring and publishing experience. So, I think the book does have broad appeal. Time will tell.
NZB: You say ‘implementation is everything’ in the book, what do you mean by that?
Chris: If we don’t implement knowledge in our lives and practices, they are hollow and meaningless. Unless we drive, deliver and implement thinking, particularly new thinking, we will just get the same results in life. And boy, have I not implemented over the years!
I know other talented people who have similarly not implemented, but the really successful people have doggedly and relentlessly implemented knowledge, skills and tactics to get to where they are today. Habits are extremely important too. Much of the readings over the past ten years in success and leadership say similar things. Being relentless, working hard and being committed. Yet also flexible to change tack as and when.
NZB: Describe one or two of your most memorable coaching clients. What made them memorable?
Chris: One guy springs to mind immediately. He was in his early 30s running a construction company when I worked with him around four years ago. I would describe him as an alpha male, smart and courageous. He played rugby league and was physically very strong and fit. He also had a beautiful underbelly of self-awareness and vulnerability and knew he wasn’t fully hitting his straps. He was also beating himself up with his inner dialogue and knew he wasn’t quite firing as he could. So, he walked forward. After six months coaching, I shook his hand because he was flying through the roof, the sky, the universe! He stands out for his courage and that underbelly of vulnerability was phenomenal and refreshing.
Another client was a female doctor who was challenged for an important exam. The exam’s conditions were very challenging and isolating. She had a tendency to overcomplicate thoughts and emotions and had debilitating judgement fears from those around her – that is, her bosses and the examiners. We worked together to break down her story of failure and ‘not being good enough’ and replaced it with positive affirming habits. She was brave, selfless and we built her energy and positivity on her strengths and beliefs. Oh, and she passed her exam!
NZB: There is so much social fear and anxiety around these days, what tips can you give for living a courageous life?
Chris: I believe that a courageous life is a full life. We all have fears and they can be watered in our head to a forest, or starved in a drought to a brown weed. It is up to us.
Fear is an internally manifested emotion and is quite natural. Fear is an internal construct or story that we create as humans. Fear can inhibit us from taking a step forward. Stop us from asking someone out on a date. Stop us from travelling overseas. Stop us from public speaking. The list is endless.
So, I suggest write down your own story of fear manifestation and then go to a nice green park, kiss goodbye to it and burn that piece of paper.
Chris Taylor is a coach and author. Contact him at 021708751, email: [email protected] or to learn more visit https://coachingchristaylor.com/ His book ‘Avoiding Propeller Blades: Making the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life’ is available now.