A lot of consultants are hired for their expertise in a certain field and their familiarity with specific subject matters or jargon, but one of the more underrepresented aspects of consulting is building mastery over oneself. Developing self-mastery in consulting is important because self-mastery is the one secret you can hold on to when you’re building up your business, whatever field you’re in. Joining Michael Zipursky is Mike Kitko, an executive self-mastery coach. Mike talks about helping his clients form a better idea of who they are over the time they get to spend with him, and how this makes a difference in the way they think and run their business. The phrase “Know thyself” is one that’s been uttered repeatedly throughout history, but you never truly understand what it means and what results it can deliver until you do.
I am with Mike Kitko. Mike, welcome.
Thanks, Michael. It’s great to be here. I’m excited to show up.
You are here and showing up is the first step towards success. You’ve got to be present and we’re both present, so we’re having a good start. Mike, your background is you’ve been managing high performing teams your whole career. You’ve got a strong background in sales, marketing, operations, and leadership. You work as a coach and from looking at your client list, you coach leaders who are business owners. They describe in the testimonials their work with you as life-changing. Your title that I’ve seen that you’ve labeled yourself is as a self-mastery coach. That’s an interesting title or way to describe what you do. Tell us a little bit more about what that means to you and what kind of work you’re doing with people.
I do a variety of coaching and consulting in that space, but some examples of what I would do is I’m in a corporate board room. I’m working with a team of executives to help them narrow in on a strategy and get clear about what they’re trying to achieve strategically from 3 to 5 years, understand the tactics, and where they’re going to need to do day-to-day. Also, I’m peppering them about their physical, mental, emotional health, relationship with their spouse, relationship with their children and how they’re handling themselves financially. It’s understanding how the human being is going to create the results that we’re looking at on the board because you can’t separate them. We try hard as executives. We try to leave home and we try to go to the office and live this separate life, but the world merge. As much as I’ll sit in a room and hold them accountable and help them hold themselves accountable for business results, I’m also making sure they’re showing up at a healthy place physically, mentally, and emotionally well. It’s going to show up in their results, whether they want to accept that and embrace that or not.
A lot of people might be wondering, isn’t that a dangerous line to cross? What if you say the wrong thing to someone and you’re bringing up family stuff and they’re not looking for counseling or therapy? They’re looking for help to grow the company. I’ve also seen this over the years working with clients that oftentimes, as a consultant, you end up being a bit of a therapist. It’s almost you get into a lot of conversations that have nothing to do with business and being able to listen to your client is what helps them. One of the factors that help them is to feel comfortable around you and see you as a trusted advisor, but for someone reading to what you shared and going, “That’s not why they hired you. How do you even bring that up?” What’s been your experience in making that transition or being able to cover both areas?As a consultant, you need to know what you stand for and make sure everyone understands what they're getting. Click To Tweet
How you enter a commitment is ultimately how you show up in a commitment. I wouldn’t walk into a consultation agreement and say, “We’re going to focus on the numbers.” That’s not what I’m about. As a powerful consultant, as a powerful coach, we need to know what we stand for and then we need to make sure everyone understands what they’re getting. Authentically, not trick them, not back them into something, not hold up a mirage and then surprise them. Help them understand exactly the value that they’re going to get from you. One of the words in a prospect call or when I’m in front of a prospect, I am not selling. I only try to serve and from that service, maybe they want more. I say, “We’re going to create extraordinary results because we’re going to get clear about what we want to achieve in the business and with the culture, but I’m not going to let you lose yourself.”
I’m not going to separate those two. If you want a business coach, I can go and find you one of those. I know a lot of them that are great, but that’s not how I want to show up. For the consultant or the coach, it comes down to what do you want to do with your clients? When you connect with that, that’s when you’re going to be energized. That’s when your passion is going to be overflowing. That passion, not only sells but that passion creates extraordinary results.
One thing you’re hitting on there, Mike, that is important is the setting of expectations. Often, people get into situations, whether it’s around scope creep or different issues in a project or an engagement with a client. Almost always, it’s because there hasn’t been clear communication between the consultant and the client. It has been dodging things or hoping that they don’t come up or didn’t address them because of fear that the client may say no. What gives you the confidence to say to a client, “If you want a business coach or business consultant, I’ll find you someone else,” because to some people, they know they’d like to do that. They know that it would be better for them to be clear about the expectations of what they do, don’t do, what their sweet spot is and their power and all that, but they’re not saying that because they don’t want to lose the business. They don’t want to lose the opportunity. What would you say to someone who has ever felt way before?
It’s a scarcity mindset and heart-set. What are you there for? Are you there because you feel like there’s not enough to go around? Are you there to serve, support and make sure that you’re connecting the most powerful as you possibly can with that prospect convert the client and show up with everything that you have for them or are you doing it for yourself? If you’re not showing up authentically and powerfully with all your enthusiasm and all your passion, then you’re under-serving them. That’s going to show up in your results. It’s going to show up in the new expansion of your business because you become radically referrable when you show up 100% of you. If I could tell a story, I had a private client. I worked with him on a private basis and he had some challenges in his life. After we were finished working through those private challenges, I said, “What’s next? Do you want to keep going?” He said, “I will.”
At that point, it was life-changing for him. He’s said, “I want to keep going.” I said, “What’s next?” He said, “I need you to come into my conference room with my other two partners. We’ve got some alignment issues. We put together this agreement that was loosely based, but we were not on the same page. Can you come in?” By the way, I’m a former Marine veteran. That’s going to show up in the story. When I walked in, my clients were sitting on my right and his business partners across the table. I started introducing myself, “My name is Mike Kitko. I’m an executive coach. I’m a speaker. I’m an author.” Probably within the first 30 seconds of introducing myself, one of his partners says, “What makes you creditable to be here and why should I listen to you?” I said, “What’s your name?”
He told me his name. I said, “You didn’t even allow me the respect and the dignity to introduce myself without undercutting me, without disrespecting me and without challenging me. The questions that you asked, I was going to answer that within my introduction, but you didn’t even give me the courtesy to finish my introduction. Here’s what I know, my client told me, you guys have a problem. I know you have a problem and I know how to fix it. Here’s what I also know. You don’t know how to fix it. You’ve got two choices, either you could raise your level of respect and allow me to help you because I’m not being paid to be here or you can keep slapping like your lips and disrespect me and I can walk out and leave you with your problem that you know you can’t resolve. What choice are you going to make?” At the end of that session, that guy invited me back the next month. It’s about showing up authentically and showing up as yourself because if you’re lying to them, if you’re not showing up as you, you’re under-serving them and you’re just telling them of goods that they don’t know what they’re getting.
Where does that come from? I sense that there’s going to be people reading this going, “I would love to be able to do that but I can’t get it up from my stomach.” That means that my stomach is turning when I hear you say that, Mike. Did you read certain books? Did you attend certain training? Is this from being in the military, growing up in a certain type of environment? Where does that level of confidence and showing up in that way and being so straight and direct? Why are you able to do that?
I think a lot of it has to do with my Marine Corps background. I was a leader in the Marine Corps. You’ve got to show up and I have people’s lives in my responsibility. It wasn’t about telling people what they wanted to hear, it’s about making sure they understand what they need to hear and presenting that to them. I shrank from that. I was an executive leader in Corporate America for sixteen or so years. I lost myself in those roles where I wrote a book called The Imposter In Charge, where I started showing up as an imposter because who I wanted to be wasn’t who I presented or who I was wasn’t who I presented. I kept shrinking from those things, always out of a sense of self-doubt and fear. After my whole corporate career collapsed because I was so scared to be myself, I rebuilt my life and that’s when I stepped into my consulting and my coaching business. I vowed at that point, to never be anybody but my true, authentic self. Some will, some won’t, someone’s waiting and who’s next?
Mike, you talk about on your website something that you’re very open and vulnerable about some challenges and tough times that you’ve had in the past. You mentioned at one point you were suicidal. You’re an alcoholic. You’re over 300 pounds. That’s tough to get out there. I would imagine putting that out and being so transparent with it, a lot of people wouldn’t do that because they think that they’re a “professional.” They only should show strength and not weakness, yet what I’ve seen in my experiences in talking with others is that the more vulnerable and open that you are, the more that you attract the right kinds of people and it’s good things happen. Can you share a little bit more of what you were going through at that time so that people could maybe resonate or understand where it’s coming from? I’d like to know your thoughts on why you decided to share that and what happened as a result? It is a bit of a three-part question. I’ll guide you through it there. Let’s start with the first, what was going on at that time for you?
I am an alcoholic, 300 pounds, suicidal and I completely lost myself in my corporate career and my marriage. My wife was in chemical addiction. My wife and kids were being abused because inside I was in so much turmoil and distress. I was abusing myself on a daily basis. A lot of that stems back to my childhood. There was some molestation. There was some physical, mental, and emotional abuse there as well. I was running from that my whole life and it’s going to catch up to you. I tried to avoid it. I tried to outrun it. It didn’t happen. I lost two executive positions in about twenty months. At that point, there was the president of a company that I worked for and he says, “If you don’t get fired once when you’re an executive, then you’re not an executive. You’re not a professional.”
When it happened once, I was like, “There we go. I got my check in the box.” When it happened the second time, I was like, “Something’s wrong and I don’t know what it is.” At that point, the second time I was unhirable. I was unemployable because, in twenty months, I had two terminations. No one would have me. I was forced to figure out what do I want to do? Who do I want to be for the rest of my life? I did a thousand things a day in Corporate America, but there are only two things that I ever loved and one was developing people and developing teams. I did them. I resolved at that point that I’ve already done it the way I thought it was supposed to be, where you make it hard, you sacrifice yourself, and you sacrifice everything for income. Since I had nothing left, I had no income. I had no family. We were on the brink of divorce and everything collapsing. I dialed to live fully out for the rest of my life and just be me.
If I could go a little deeper into that. Maybe there’s someone that is going through something similar reading this. What was that turning point for you? What got you to that place where you decide, “I need to make this change and I’m going to go for it.”There are moments that give you the chance to decide who you want to be for the rest of your life. Click To Tweet
When you have a loaded gun in your hands, getting ready to put the barrel in your mouth, it’s life-changing. You have two decisions to make. When you’re at that point, it’s a fork in the road. Am I going to do this and all these problems will go away or if I don’t have the courage to do this, I’m acknowledging that everything that I’ve ever learned about life is all garbage? I’ve got to wipe the slate clean and refigure this whole thing out because I am not going back to the life that got me here. At that point, I figured out that I had nothing figured out and I wiped all of it clean to the point of I hired a coach. I started working on my addiction. I started working on my physical state. I started working on my mental and emotional issues from trauma. Months later, my wife started to attack me because I was making all these changes and we were both in a beautiful addiction together. She didn’t like the fact that I was resolving my addiction and she saw me moving through and she started attacking. I filed for divorce from her and after I filed for divorce, the next morning she came down and said, “I’m in. How do we make this work? Let’s do it.”
That’s when we started putting our marriage back together and our health back together. That’s when we stopped abusing each other and our children. That’s when our life started. When you look at our life now, we’re business partners. It looks nothing like it did years ago when we were going through it. Life looks completely different. Our whole life shifts and I get to decide who I want to be for the rest of my life. What didn’t work for me was doing things everybody else’s way through things that I was taught. My father taught me making money and work hard. Man is going to take money to try to take everything away from you. All of those things. My dad loved me dearly, but he taught me a lot of painful lessons, that the world was dangerous. I realized that was all the garbage that I had made it so. I wiped the slate clean. We started rebuilding back from authenticity because lying and covering up all the pain I was in never got me anywhere. A few months later, I started working through all this. I was in front of a group of about 250 entrepreneurs and I said, “My name is Mike Kitko. You don’t know me, but years ago, I physically, mentally and emotionally abused my wife and kids just about on a daily basis.” There’s my garbage.
Mike, I want to thank you for being so open here and sharing this. It means a lot to me and I think it means a lot to everyone that’s reading. Why did you share this? Why not bury it and move past it? Why is it important for you to tell your story, even though that story is a tough one and a personal one?
Everyone’s suffering in their own way. The difference is most people are walking around pretending that they’re not and hiding it from other people and that’s making them feel even more broken than they are. When I stand up in front of an audience and I express my garbage, it makes everyone else feel normal in their skin and their soul. As a coach, that’s a great thing because people know when I’m coaching them that I have the experience. I’m not just teaching from a textbook. I’m teaching from real-life experience and I’m helping you understand what I’ve already learned so you can avoid the same pitfalls and the same battles that I experienced. As a consultant and as a coach, it is important that everyone must understand what they’re getting and it’s important that they know that they’re going to get this authentic peace and that when they have an issue, when they have a challenge, they’re not broken because of it. We all have it. We’re all experiencing it and they’re not different. They’re not broken because they’re going through some challenges.
When you made this shift and you said you stepped out of it. You’re working on making these improvements. Things are starting to come together. You’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. You decide to launch your business. You get in front of 250 entrepreneurs. Take us back to that year in terms of building your coaching, consulting business. At the early stages, how did you go about getting clients? What was the first thing that you did once you ventured out into the zone of Mike Kitko coaching consulting? How did you go about winning those first few deals?
To clear it up, I’ve been on this journey of life reinvention for years. I’ve been in business for a couple of years. I was taught this cool technique to get my business started. He’s a local guy. His name is Josh. He’s awesome. I’ll call him my sales coach, but he won’t take credit for that. This is when I was first starting, but not for me. Maybe it will if someone is starting their business. We’re sitting across from the table and you expressed interest in working with me and you say, “Mike, I want to work with you. What is it like?” The question that got me started was, “What are you looking to invest in yourself? How much are you looking to invest in yourself?” When they give you a number, you can design a package and you can design a program.
Why did you say that would not work for you now?
I have programs and packages. It’s more, “I’ve got options, but here’s what your options look like. Pick one that works best for you.”
How are you getting in front of someone? For someone in an early stage, who doesn’t have a pipeline yet and isn’t having as many conversations as they would like. What were you doing to get in front of a potential ideal client?
Go and find local networking groups. Go and meet people and talk to people. I joined the local coworking community and I would show up at the coworking meetings and they got to know me. They started referring people to me. I didn’t do a whole lot of referrals back then, but it was a matter of sitting down and having one-on-one and connecting and serving powerfully from the shoot. Even back then, when I’m sitting with someone and I’m sitting there sipping on coffee, you couldn’t tell if they were a family member. You couldn’t tell if they were a friend. You couldn’t tell if they were a prospect. You couldn’t tell if they were a client. They all look the same because consulting is not something I do for work. It’s literally how I show up in life because I’ve turned my passion into my business. There’s no separation, there’s no distinction. Tuesday looks like Saturday and Saturday looks like Christmas day. There’s no difference. It’s who I am. My kid asked me a question and I’m going to start coaching, they hate that. I’m going to start coaching because I have this passion that trying to get out, trying to help everyone understand that life doesn’t have to be as hard as you’re making it be.
That was the early stages. You’re going into networking events. You’re having conversations. You’re trying to add as much value as you can in terms of serving and providing coaching. It sounds like maybe there’s even a bit of free coaching initially, a session with people getting into deeper conversations so they could experience what it was like to work with you. I got a bit of sense of maybe that was happening or no?
I would talk to anybody at anyplace anytime. In the grocery store lines, at the library, at the coworking shop, sitting down. I heard this guy telling this cool story at a coffee shop and I got up from my table when I was getting ready to leave. His name is Sean. I said, “Sean, I heard your story. I would love to sit down and hear more. Would it be okay if I picked your brain one time?” He said, “I would love that.” I sat down with Sean and we arranged a meeting. For 58 minutes of the time we were together, he talked. Every time he would ask something about me, I’d say, “I talk about myself all day long. I want to hear more about you. I’m interested in your story.” He kept talking and at the end of the conversation, I probably spoke for two minutes that was including me saying, “No, I speak too much about myself.” He said, “This has been awesome. We need to do this again.” I was with that guy for a year. Be interested, not interesting.Your consulting can't be all about you. Be interested, not interesting. Click To Tweet
How did you transition that conversation with him, saying, “We should do this again” to “I’d be happy to, but that’s how I get paid?” How did you transition to client engagement?
There’s a time and a place for that and you have to use your intuition. In this case, I came back. The next time we spoke, he started asking me what I did and I started expressing what I did. We started talking about what it would look like to work together. There is a time and a place for everything. It doesn’t mean you always need to be out for the dollar. Planting seeds and watering them will create all the dollars you need.
That’s such an important lesson. We talked quite a bit about that in different episodes with guests and even with our coaching clients in the community. Planting seeds are critical. People are often looking and judging their success based on what they’re doing, but what they don’t recognize is what you did months ago is creating what you’re seeing. You’ve got to plant seeds. You’ve got to keep playing them every single day. It doesn’t matter if your business is going fantastically well or every day is dreadful. You need to plant those seeds because that’s what’s going to create the future for you.
Every single conversation that you have is a seed.
Mike, what are you doing now? Fast forward, many years of working the business, building the business, what is your marketing look like? How are you going about building your business and attracting new clients?
I jump on cool podcasts. I launched the book, The Imposter In Charge. It was published in October. That is the marketing in and of itself. I’ve hired an operations manager who’s constantly looking for speaking engagements and podcasts. You’ve got to know your zone of genius and mine is speaking. It’s about connecting with that inner genius that you have inside. What I like to tell my team because I’ve got a team of four, is when I’m talking, we’re making money. Their job is to get me in front of people and talk. I go out and do my own networking and meet people, but when we get in front of people or a crowd, it creates all the business that we can handle.
You have a team of four. What are the rules of those people?
I have a developer, who’s constantly working on developing systems that allow us to create new offerings to be able to do all the behind the scenes, the infrastructure.
Are you talking like a web developer, stuff on your website and things of that in nature?
Systems in general in terms of client intake, taking payments and feedback systems.
Are they full-time or part-time contractors?
They are a part-time contractor. It’s heavily weighted towards my business. I’ve got an operations manager, who does a lot of support elements. What she does mostly is going out in the world. When she was in corporate, she was constantly looking for speakers to come in her place of business and she knows what the marketing packages, what the speaker packages that are going to catch people’s eyes. She knows the language. Also, my wife is my business partner and she interfaces with our marketing teams. She interfaces with our publicist and she does a lot of public-facing interaction with our vendors and sponsors.The secret to getting in front of your ideal clients and putting content out there is knowing yourself. Click To Tweet
You put up a book, what are you doing to get the book out there? How are you leveraging the book to generate new business and get greater distribution?
I do podcasts and speaking engagements. I had a guy reach out because he finished the book and this was the value of social media. The guy had read my book and he saw me promoting it on LinkedIn. After he was finished reading it, he said, “I finished your book. It’s time to meet.” We met and we came to terms at the table. He said, “I need more of this.” I’m not a low dollar coach, but when you’re finding the right people, they’re completely willing to invest in themselves. I love the whale clients, not minnow clients. At the end of that conversation, it was a two-hour conversation where I gave tons of value. Not only had he read the book, but I reinforced that with being at the table and he saw the energy, the intensity and the passion. I questioned them and challenged them. I started breaking down some of his excuses. Ultimately, he saw what it was going to look like to work with me and he said, “How can we do this more?” I laid out an option and he bid it up.
Another thing that I noticed here is you do blog a lot. It seems like almost every week. I don’t know if it’s you or your team, but you’re getting content out there a lot. This is an area that people have a challenge with. I think people understand the value of putting content out there, putting and developing your IP and making sure that you’re getting it in front of the world and getting in front of your ideal clients. A lot of people simply make the excuse of they’re too busy. They can’t do it. They’re not good at it. There’s some reason that they can’t, yet people like yourself and others are putting out content consistently. What’s your secret? What’s your process of getting content out consistently?
It’s knowing yourself. Understand what your gifts and your talents are. My team, their whole role in life is to allow me to stay in my lane. That’s why I pay them. My lane is speaking and I also write content. To answer your question, I do write the blog. I don’t edit them because I can’t edit them, but I can crank out a blog post. I can crank out an article. If my operations manager said, “We need it. We’ve got an article for a magazine.” I can sit down and crank out a 1,400-word article in a matter of no time because I’ve got topics that are constantly on the brain. I’ve got a list of topics that are already developed. It’s connecting that and making sure I know what I’m doing in certain spaces. Content delivery and content creation are my spaces.
At what point did you decide to start building the team? A lot of people hesitate to bring on a team member or even to hire a part-time contractor because they see it as an expense. They see it as taking money away from them. They decided they’re going to delay doing that until more revenue is coming in. Where were you in terms of revenue or growth or what was the stage where you decide, “I’m going to bring someone in here so I’m not doing all this myself?”
Let’s say way before I needed her and way before I could afford her.
Why did you do that?
A good friend of mine told me, who owns a very successful consulting business, he called it The Universal Law of The Assistants. First of all, when you hire an assistant, you’re telling yourself that you’re the real deal. You’re worthy of having an assistant and you have a business. Second of all, that person should be able to generate revenue. They’re not an expense center. They’re not a call center, but they’re a revenue center. The third is that you have to start cranking up the engine and you have to start making some money because you’ve got another mouth to feed. The Universal Law of The Assistant says that when we hire this person before we need them and before we can afford them, it creates momentum and creates motivation and it works.
Mike, I want to thank you so much for coming on here, sharing a bit of your story and journey, and being open. I do appreciate it. I want to make sure that people can learn more about you, your work, your book and everything else that you have going on. Where’s the best place for them to go?
You go to MikeKitko.com. On my website, you can connect with my book. I’ve got multiple offerings. I’m launching a membership and a mastermind. There’s private coaching on my website. There are plenty to choose from. Connect with me. There are also places to schedule time on my calendar. If you want to sit down and jam and have a conversation, I would love to connect.
Mike, thanks again for coming on. I appreciate it.
Michael, thank you so much for your time and thank you for your audience.