April 6


Building Better Leaders with Deborah Crowe

By Mimi MacLean

April 6, 2021

better leaders coach Deborah Crow
Deborah Crowe executive business coach

Deborah Crowe, Executive Business Coach

Are you trying to juggle it all? Finding it hard to be an effective leader? Building better leaders is the work of executive business coach Deborah Crowe. Her clients are high-level company leaders who want to strengthen leadership and stress management skills. Her experience working in rehabilitation and case management has given her a “heart-first” approach. In this episode, she talks us through what compassion and heart mean in coaching business leaders, the power and importance of a morning routine, and why we should ditch work-life “balance” for work-life integration.

Find Deborah Crowe


Episode Contents

Transitioning from Rehab to Leadership Coaching

Photographer: Bruno Nascimento | Source: Unsplash

Mimi: Let’s just get started with having you just tell us a little bit about yourself.

Deborah: I have been an entrepreneur for 31 years in May. Spent most of my time out of the gate in the med rehab world as a disability case manager. I would have clients on my caseload from all walks of life, injury, trauma, stress, and I did that for 21 years. And then I realized it was time to get out of that sector. And I transitioned into coaching, because I was tired of seeing people broken, stressed, and not being able to get back to life or sometimes back to autonomy.

I knew it was time to get out of that generalist space and get into a preventionist space. So for the last 11 years, I moved out of med rehab into coaching.

Mimi: That’s great. Tell us about your coaching business and who you usually work with.

Deborah: My coaching business, there’s a little bit of a story if you’ll entertain me sharing it. The last five clients that I had on my caseload, Mimi, were on short term disability claims for stress from work. And unfortunately, they all landed up on a long-term disability claim, and then they landed up in hospice because they became palliative.

Mimi: Oh no.

Deborah: And that was a big shift for me. I held all their hands and I made a promise to them not knowing if, when, what the outcome was going to be that I was going to do something about this, and that’s where I realized I was in such a generalist space. And I thought the only way I’m going to change things is if I get in the preventionist space. That’s why I moved into coaching. And I’ve stayed working with, depending on the sector, anyone from being a team lead right up to the executive team, as well as the C-suite leaders.

Those are my primary coaching clients that I’m currently coaching.

Mimi: Okay, good. When they hire you, what are they bringing you in for?

Deborah: They’re bringing me in for multiple things. It depends on the language and what you’re asked to do. But the case manager in me shows up probably first and foremost before the coach. They are super lonely at the top to most people’s interpretation. They have no one to talk to. I’m going to say almost all of them that I’ve worked with have had some element of health problems because of the stress. Kind of a serendipitous moment. They have a strange relationship, either in a marriage breakdown or with their children or grandchildren.

It’s Lonely at the Top

Deborah: But I think the biggest thing for them is the loneliness. And I think since the onset of COVID, just the unknown of leading in volatile times. Depending on the sector or geographically where they are, a lot of it… They don’t come with a set of questions. Part of it evolves just from the conversation when we start talking if they’ve had a coach in the past or they’re looking for a coach. But a lot of times they just really need someone to be that external bird’s-eye view looking in to listen, because it’s not our role as a coach to give advice.

It’s our role to listen and implement different tools and strategies for their arsenal to be better leaders than they are. And I like to focus on heart-centered leadership because I think leadership has always been taught academically in a different way. And I think now that we’re in these uncertain volatile times, I think there’s a better approach to heart-centered leadership.

I think many leaders have either become complacent and are no longer working because CEOs have had time to exhale and pause and look at everything with COVID, so there’s been a lot of positive that way. But it’s also given opportunity to really align with your teams because we’re all on Zoom now. It’s just a much different insight and a much different approach since the onset of COVID. There’s more touch points. They need more time to talk, even if it’s for a quick 15 minutes. It’s been a much different shift with the onset of critical managing of things.

But overall, again, they don’t come with the kind of coaching one-on-one manual. Every leader I’ve met has had different needs. It’s certainly a personal relationship.

Building Better Leaders Through Heart-Centered Practices

Deb Crowe host of Imperfect Podcast
Deb Crow’s Podcast

Mimi: Well, I love this, because I feel like there’s so many things that we can unpack and kind of dig through to help, because a lot of my listeners are CEOs or entrepreneurs starting their business, right? So they can almost… This is the time where they can create their company culture, and they’re doing it, like you said, in an environment that’s not typical. What would you recommend? There’s a couple of things I want to talk about.

Mimi: The first one I think is like company culture, like you were mentioning, and creating a leadership style that is heart-centered. What would you recommend if someone was coming to you clean slate and how to do that?

Deborah: I think we need to do what I like to call a self-audit, because you can’t figure out where you want to go until you have a baseline of where you are right now. So I have a list of qualities, heart-centered leadership qualities, we can share with your listeners, and I always ask them to pick their top three. What are your top three out of 20? What are you good at? What are you great at? What are you excellent at? And then more importantly, what are the next three that you really need to work on?

I think the top two things that I hear from all CEOs around the globe is they want to be better listeners and they want to be more patient. I think impatience is probably the biggest imperfection that most leaders bring. Just because people don’t realize, my background’s in neuroscience, from the time you wake up in the morning until the time you go to bed, on a conscious and subconscious level, on average, 35,000 decisions.

When you’ve got multiple things coming at you in different timelines, again, depending where you are dealing with different time zones, different business, at the end of the day, these C-suite leaders, they’re people. They’re no different than you and I, Mimi, and there’s only so much we can do in a 24-hour period.

Mimi: Right. And it’s true because I think people who are generally leaders or CEOs or entrepreneurs, they think very fast. For them to slow down their thinking and decision-making to make sure everyone’s kind of onboard and going with them is really hard for them to do. And they’re also crunched time wise, so they don’t have the time to sit down and talk. So that’s good. You had mentioned that the health is an issue of a lot of the people that you coach because of stress.

Help with stress

What tools do you usually recommend to help them de-stress or get their life to a point where it’s not affecting their health, but their job?

Deborah: That’s a great question, and it’s something we normally talk about right at the onset of our coaching relationship. I’m a yoga teacher. I’m a big proponent of getting silent. It doesn’t have to be meditation. It can be whatever that is for you. Because when we get silent, it allows leaders, especially at that level, to have clarity. Because a busy mind is full of chaos, a mind of clarity is ready for whatever is going to unfold in the day. We often talk about, how do you quiet your mind? What are some strategies?

It’s usually getting uncomfortable doing something they’ve never done before to get comfortable with adding something new as a different modality into their routine, but they see the benefits quite quickly. So again, it’s personal, because not everybody wants to exercise. It’s not on the fun list for everybody, but it’s talking about the pros and cons. It’s almost taking the conversation of business acumen and transferring it into their personal life and saying, “Okay, let’s break it down as if we’re looking at a business situation.”

I think when they have an opportunity to have someone frame it in that way and they know it’s just a free flowing dialogue, there’s no judgment, what’s going to work, and have the ability to start something. Even if you’re going to have what I call fail forward, that’s okay. At least you started it. We know you don’t like it. And then it’s my role as the coach to have other things to pull out of that toolkit to say, “What about this? Let’s try this.” And at least we have them trying different things. . Most CEOs are really open and welcoming to quieting their mind.

Deborah: And again, it’s matching that personality and knowing what meditation is going to work for them, how long can I at least start as a baseline to work on that. And I always tease them, because I find C-suite leaders’ love language, so I always remind them that:

The word silent and the word listen share the same letters. And when they want to be a better listener, getting silent is one of the ways to do that.

Mimi: That’s great.I do know that meditating is a very good way and yoga, if you like yoga, and even walking. It’s just figuring out your outlet, right? It’s all about building better leaders. One of your specialties I was reading about is the work-life balance, especially being a mom and having children. Can you speak to that as far as what you recommend, especially for women, because most of my listeners are women and many of them have either families at home or parents, older parents, that they have to take care of. Just responsibilities outside their job.

Mimi: It’s not even a job, right? It’s their own company that they don’t ever turn off because it’s a 2487. So being able to manage that switch of 24/7 and their family life.

Deborah: I liked the term work-life balance from about 2008 until about 2016, and then I realized we needed to change the word balance and switch it to integration. Balance is like perfection. They’re intangible realities. So as a busy working mom, I used to travel, raise two children, married, aging parents. No different than anybody else out there. The key is you have to implement some self-care time, and that doesn’t mean the bubble bath, the bottle of wine. People think that work-life integration and self-care are things.

Building Better Leaders is Developing Mindsets

Deborah: They’re not things. They’re daily mindsets. When you put yourself first and do what you need, your day unfolds very beautifully and you’re able to handle anything that comes your way. If something doesn’t go your way, you’re also able to handle it in a much better way, because you’re able to have a logical mind before an emotional mind. And that’s another big unfolding. But when you’re exhausted, tired, fatigue, not eating well, not getting a little bit of exercise, and we talk about that busy mind, all those other things have opportunity to creep in.

Work-life balance, I want to kick that to the curb, that languaging. Work-life integration. Self-care has to be the foundation. And then that leaves room for everything else to appear as it should. You have to have boundary management, because we can’t be 24/7. I can tell you in yoga, yoga means science of the mind. We are not meant to be human beings who have a focus or a primary function of doing, doing, doing. We have to stop and be. And that’s where all the magic happens. That’s where we become better listeners.

Work-life integration is a whole lot easier when that takes the forefront of responsibility in your own life every single day.

Mimi: Yes, that’s very good advice. It’s interesting. You’re just making my mind kind of going, because there’s just so much to talk about and kind of really get in there with just how it’s so hard for women to do it all, right? And I always say you can’t have it all at the same time. You have to balance it. And like you said, you can’t balance it. It’s kind of like one’s on and one’s off. As I look at a lot of friends who do have businesses and are moms, and even with my children and myself, I feel like the phone is the huge distractor, right?

It’s so much obvious when you’re looking at somebody else looking in and you’re like, “If you just put the phone away, you’d have a lot more time because you wouldn’t be distracted by pinging.” What advice do you give to people about the phone?

Managing boundaries

Deborah: It’s similar to my last answer. It’s self-care is part of putting in boundary management. That’s not just for people. That’s for technology. And with artificial intelligence, I mean, they are so tapped into our psychological profiles, what we look at, how long we scroll. We still have the ability and the opportunity to turn the phone off. And I try and have my clients do it at least once a day. Turn the phone off. Put it in the drawer. Today is family day in Canada. Today’s a perfect day to take a reprieve. We don’t have to be on all the time.

Deborah: And it’S funny because I say to my clients, “You never let your cell phone battery die,” and they laugh, “but you’ll allow yourself to get to an emotional and physical fatigue where you’re no good for no one. Why does the precedence land up being for your cell phone and not yourself?” It always lends a great opportunity, Mimi, to have an open conversation. Nine times out of 10, people get into such a mode or a habit, they don’T even know they’re doing it until someone external says, “No, you’re actually doing it. You’re never off your phone.”

There’s more apps and more AI coming, and I think it’s a really scary time. I’m all for technology. Don’t get me wrong. I think it has its time and its place, but I think like anything else, it’s addictive and it needs to be managed, and we really have to police ourselves.

Growing the Coaching Business

Deb Crowe - coach for building better leaders
Deborah Crow, Executive Coach

Mimi: That’s good advice. I love that. Can you talk about… I’d love to go specifically about your business and being an entrepreneur. Once you decided to have your own practice of coaching and kind of go for leadership coaching, how have you been able to find clients and has that been difficult? Is it word of mouth? What are you doing to market yourself?

Deborah: I came from the medical rehab world of 21 years, and I worked for both across Canada and the U.S. On a consultancy basis. So my network was really large. When I decided to make the transition, it was no different than when I started case managing. I started, and I just started getting the word out. I have done blogs. I’ve done interviews. I’ve done podcasts. I just have meaningful conversations and I don’t get attached to the outcome. And over 11 years, my coaching practice has just organically grown.

I’m at the point now where other clients refer me, or a lot of times I’ll get in and work with either the CEO or the COO and we do some coaching. And again, we unpack so much, especially during a six month period, which is my normal programming that I do, and the CEO sees the benefits for other departments, other executives. Once I’ve been into a company, I land up working with multiple executives and sometimes doing some group coaching with their team. It hasn’t been like one specific strategy. Like you, I started a podcast last May.

I had a podcast six years ago when I had written in a collective book series. I think it’s a number of things, but always having meaningful conversations and letting people know what I do and what I offer and just staying in that lane and continuing the conversation, because sometimes I talk to executives and I might not coach them for a year or two. So you never know where a conversation is going to lead to get clients. And the podcast has really been a great outlet for me talking about imperfection and heart-centered leadership around the globe.

Deborah: Again, it’s needed in this critical time with COVID. And I’m now coaching in five countries just from having meaningful conversations like you and I are doing right now.

Trying different growth strategies

Mimi: That’s great. That’s wonderful. Now, are you at this point only doing one-on-one, or are you in going to start doing more like online programs? How can you scale your business being one person?

Deborah: Well, I’ve done a couple of things. I started the Women’s Self-Care Conference in 2018. I had created the model when I closed my case management practice, but I just… My gut just said it wasn’t the right time. And then in the spring of 2018, I thought now’s the time. I did that in 2018, and then we took it across Canada in 2019. And then last year, we were doubling it. We had a large sponsor. It was just a really exciting time, and then COVID. I took some time to really think about it. I decided the 1st of April to cancel it.

We were 70% sold out on the presale, which was exciting. And I thought, how can I change this? I did take the content of the fifth conference, and I did put that into an online course. And I have taken cohorts through that course with some coaching. And then I’ve done a lot of talks on remote readiness and healthy habits while working at home, because a lot of people are working at home, and I bundled that. I’ve done a few different things with the online course, and then I also have a shorter version of my coaching program for groups as an online outlet.

So trying to have different modalities for the coaching based on different questions that have come up during COVID or having to change strategy because we can’t be in person. Those are a few of the things that I have had to do. And it’s been incredible because everyone is at home and these are some of the strategies that everyone’s needed. Because I think in the first six months of COVID, it was really overwhelming, but I’m seeing a whole different transition of people and how they’re feeling now with this second wave being at home.

I think that human connection is missing so much. So trying to have the foundation back to anchoring self-care, looking after one’s self. You can look after your family, even though we’re all asked to be stay at home and be safe, and then still show up as a coworker, a team lead, a manager, a leader, an executive, whatever your position is, but still know that you’re doing the best that you can with the time that we have, with the technology and the tools that we have. It’s a long answer for that question, but it hasn’t been one specific thing, Mimi.

Characteristics as Indicators of Success

Mimi: That’s perfect. What would you say is the… If you were to name one characteristic that makes an entrepreneur or a CEO successful, what would it be – building better leaders?

Deborah: Personal experience or just my overall what words would I give you?

Mimi: Yeah. What words would you give me as far as maybe just from you seeing people that you’ve worked with? I always look at people like, okay, you’re in high school. I love this question. Someone had posed it to me once. You’re in high school and you look around at your class, and you’re like, “If you had to pick out one person who’s going to be the most successful, who would it be and why? What’s that attribute or what’s that characteristic in that person that’s going to make them successful?”

Deborah: I think answering that now in my fifties, I’m going to say it’s the underdog that nobody thought was going to do anything. Because I can tell, I know from high school, some of the people that weren’t in the limelight, were just silent people who are now silent leaders, and the ability to have resilience, tenacity, and grit for sure.

Mimi: Oh, that’s great. I agree with that. Those are good characteristics. And then my final question is, if you were to give any advice to an entrepreneur right now, what would it be? Either you as a person, as an entrepreneur that started, or as somebody who advises and coaches entrepreneurs.

Creating a morning routine and more

Deborah: Two things. You have to have a solid morning routine and you can’t waver from it. It’s the foundation of your day. It anchors everything, your physical being, your emotional well-being, your mood, your outlook, what you’re going to get done. And I think the other thing is I always have long-term goals and short-term goals. And I celebrate the beginning of each day and look at what’s to come, what’s going to unfold. But I always take 15 minutes at the end of the day and I just sit at my desk in silence to look at what I did get done.

Anything that didn’t get done gets moved to tomorrow with no guilt, no shame, no remorse. Interruptions are always going to happen. Life is always going to happen. Accidents and trauma never scheduled in. So that ability to ebb and flow, but celebrating the end of each day, celebrating the end of each week. And then on Sunday night, I always look at my schedule and I still print it out and put it on my desk. I love technology, but I still love to hold paper, but I like looking at what I’ve accomplished every week and I celebrate the week.

Mimi: That’s a great advice, but I’d love to go back because everyone talks about this and loves to hear about it, is the morning routine. What is your morning routine, or what do you recommend as a morning routine for somebody?

Deborah: I’ve never wavered far from Robin Sharma’s morning routine. I love his model of the one hour, of the 20, 20, 20. It’s easy, and it’s doable. How I add my flair into it is I wake up and before I even get out of bed, I meditate for 10 minutes. Because when you grab your cell phone, your amygdala, the middle of your brain, is going to go from zero to 100. Allow your body that gift of awakening to a new day and not going into full-on thinking. Just allow yourself 10 minutes. That’s it. And then I do 20 minutes of movement.

Again, depending on the season in Canada or what I feel like doing, it could be the elliptical. It could be running, walking, yoga. Whatever I feel like doing, that’s what I do. I then sit. I was gifted the Five Minute Journal when I turned 50, and I’ve been doing it for almost five years. I just sit with a nice cup of coffee. That’s that silent, have my gratitude time, and then I look at my day. And in the last 20 minutes, I just sit and really visualize what I’m going to have the day unfold like for me.

Then I continue with a normal routine of breakfast eating. That 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM, sometimes almost to 8:00 AM, that’s when I do my best work. If I’m going to do any high cognitive thinking, it has to be done before 9:00 AM. But that 5:00 to 7:00, that is the sweet spot. That is the secret sauce. And when I come out of a meditation, I always set an intention before I meditate if I’m trying to think about something or I create all my own content. What am I working on? What message do I want to convey? I always have the answer when I’m done meditating. It’s so powerful.

Mimi: That’s amazing. I love that. I love that because people do love to hear about morning routine. I love yours. That’s great. You get up at 5:00 AM every morning.

Deborah: I do. Disclaimer. With COVID, it has slipped to 6:00. Not every day, but usually between 5:10 and 5:45. I’ve allowed myself a bit of a 45 window, but I naturally do wake up at 5:00 because I’ve done it for years.

Mimi: And what time do you go to bed at?

Deborah: 10:30.

Mimi: So you don’t get much sleep?

Deborah: I usually sleep 10:00 to 5:00, but I just find… I’ve been doing yoga for so long too. I’m a good sleeper and I’m a deep sleeper. I’m an Olympic sleeper is what my kids call me. I’m really lucky. A lot of women really have difficulty sleeping and I don’t. And I think it’s another thing for your listeners to hear. When you go to bed, technology, TV, all that stuff before bed, it’s not your friend. It’s your foe, because your mind is not shutting down from the day.

Then your head hits the pillow and you start thinking about everything else that you coulda, woulda, shoulda, didn’t do. You got to go to bed with nothing. You got to go to bed with clarity. It’s the end of the day. Did the best I could. It’s time to sleep. I hit the pillow, and I’m usually out pretty quick.

Mimi: I love your advice. Deborah, where’s the best place for people to find you?

Deborah: Everything’s on my website, debcrowe.com, and has an “e” on the end. Just means I’m Irish, Mimi. That’s it.

Mimi: I’m Irish too. Moriarty was my maiden name. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

Deborah: Oh, thanks for having me.

Mimi: Thank you for joining us on The Badass CEO. To get your copy of the top 10 tips every entrepreneurs should know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips. Also, please leave a review as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. Email me at mimi@thebadassceo.com. See you next week and thank you for listening.

Where To Find Deborah and More About Her Businesses

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