I’m delighted to share a Q & A with John Amaechi OBE
John Amaechi is a psychologist and high-performance executive coach. He is also a New York Times best-selling author and a former NBA basketball player. He is also a senior fellow at the Applied Centre for Emotional Literacy, Learning and Research. John’s story is fascinating, and you can find out more about John Amaechi here
1. Your story is inspirational, and its great you are sharing your story and inspiring others to be the best they can. What drives you to do what you do?
I am really fortunate that, despite a sometimes difficult path from childhood, I had an inspirational Mother who instilled in me this idea: “The most improbable people, in the most unlikely of circumstances, can become extraordinary”. At the same time, my Mum was clear that this wasn’t some inevitable outcome of ‘positive thinking’, but rather born out through a process marked by personal introspection, exquisite planning and an ability to “take a hit” through the overly-regular failure points that mark any really successful person’s journey.
I think it’s evident that many people didn’t grow up in environments where they were told they had real potential whether by parents, teachers or peers. They weren’t told that when a strategic, personal plan and a pragmatic (even if improbable) vision is paired with high levels of focus, effort and execution, they can achieve beyond the wildest dreams of their doubters.
I love the idea that for some I might be able to provide a flawed, but striving example of my Mother’s philosophy with enough experience and psychological expertise to help them be more aspirational, higher performing and content in their daily lives.
Equally, a large part of my coaching practice is working with people who hover at the cusp of their own personal best and are looking for additional insight to nudge them over the top. I am fortunate again here to have had numerous coaches in sport and academia who have played that very same role for me. To be able to deliver results in these key areas makes me feel like I am making up for half a life spent in the not-so-noble pursuit of putting a ball in a hole as an NBA player!
2. What do you think the hardest challenge is for people who have a big dream?
Structure is one of the big challenges: most people – especially with a new or recently-evolved big dream can see so many ‘shiny bits’ that are related to the best outcome but they are often distracted by the glimmer and attend to each as it strikes their attention, rather than creating a plan of attack that includes all the key components but in some kind of rational order.
Equally, many people become intoxicated by their big dream, by a vision of a future they want to inhabit and find themselves distracted from pressing, functional details by that ‘big picture’.
Perspective is really important when looking to charge towards a big dream or future ideal, and for me the first steps of any quest – especially for the more improbable big dreams – is not charging off gung-ho, but instead purposefully pausing to establish where you are currently, the personal assets, liabilities and previously experienced self-sabotages that might inhibit the journey. At APS, we call this process a “Pragmatic Self-Assessment” and is exactly the process that climbers planning to conquer a new mountain or athletes looking to break through to the Pros or win a specific competition, do before setting their plan of action. It’s such a key step, but easy to miss in the enthusiasm to venture forth and conquer our dreams.
3. The Network is centred around leadership and people management, what’s the single piece of advice you would give to a leader or CEO?
There are many to pick from, but I will go with this: Leaders often fail to recognise their interpersonal impact, this is not to suggest they don’t realise they’re the ‘boss’ or that they have a huge responsibility for an organisation, but rather they forget that everything they do has a magnified impact. One of the most powerful transformations in our leadership – and one with great reverberations for those who follow us – occurs when we embrace the perspective that the title of leader alone makes us a giant.
Giants have magnified the impact. I’m 6’9” and I see this daily. Our every word, action, even a stern glance – incidental or otherwise – has greater consequence.
Giant’s whispers are shouts; our outbursts, explosions; our praise, rocket fuel – being a leader means never forgetting this.
If you remember you’re a giant in every moment and treat the world around you like it’s made of tissue paper, you’ll be less likely to rip it… less likely to do accidental damage and be more successful on your own, and your organisation’s ultimate goals.
4. Diversity is high on your agenda, what would you say to business owners who aren’t factoring in a diverse workforce?
If you think inclusion is a fad or a tool for placating the ‘PC brigade’ you are missing the point. Completely.
Organisational inclusion is not about being “nice” or “kind” to this group or that; rather it’s about creating a culture, including its various leadership strata, that is tuned to a performance mindset where individual uniqueness – a cognitive heterogeneity, not the “1990’s Benetton Advert” protected-classes kind of diversity – is seen as a 21st century business prerogative. Organisations are better suited to compete when they create a culture where the vast majority of candidates in this increasingly multi-national, diverse workforce can come to work and perform unencumbered by fears that who they are will create a challenge within the organisation. Where employees know that their accent, skin colour, family situation, non-traditional academic background won’t impede their progress despite their ability to perform technically, they perform better. Research from multiple sources talks about cultural inclusion in it’s broadest forms being strongly correlated with increased employee engagement and workplace pro-social behaviourist the workplace, this can only be a good thing. To forsake this gain for want of a few amended and consistent leadership behaviours at every level seems churlish if not the antithesis of the high-performance leader.
5. For you, who is the most inspirational person you know, or have met and why do you consider them inspirational?
It may be cliché, but it’s my Mum. I think from what I’ve said already it might be clear why, but to illustrate in part, let me add this: when I was a child and my Mum spoke to me, I realised early on, that it felt to me exactly like those clear summer days when you close your eyes and face sunward and it feels like the sunlight is lighting up your head. Talking to my Mum was like having the warmest, most benevolent sun illuminating my brain, I’m not sure I have a more poignant compliment than to say that even though she’s been gone for decades now, I can still close my eyes and feel her warmth.
6. You’re a renowned speaker and performance coach, what would your advice be to someone who wanted to become a coach or a better coach?
Repeat this mantra: “It’s not about me, it’s not about me, it’s not about me!”
It can be tempting when you become competent and then expert as a coach, to think you are the originator of answers, the arbiter of right and wrong, to jump to solutions on behalf of your clients in moments after their sentences begin. We can end up not really mindfully listening, instead, we rationalise that we are allowing our ‘superior brains’ to work on their problems as they speak. Even the most humble, accomplished coach must wrestle with this and avoid the temptation to show our cleverness like a face-to-face agony aunt, disseminating wisdom in column inches.
Being a great coach is, in part, about personal vigilance against some of the “short-cut” or “showing off” temptations that naturally come with experience and knowledge – to allow our clients real agency over their accomplishments with us, so that at the end of the process we as coaches are redundant, because the processes for growth have been nurtured to germinate and flourish within the client, rather than remain with the coach.
7. How best can our readers get in touch?
As an organisation, we are actively working to engage more with people on social platforms. I am personally active on twitter at @JohnAmaechi, and my organisation posts videos and articles by me and colleagues that may be of interest to some on @AmaechiPerform, our Instagram page, our YouTube channel, Medium, and Facebook
I’m always glad to converse with new colleagues or clients via my office, we can be reached via our website. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts, challenges, ideas and questions!
Thank you, John!
You can look up John Amaechi here: