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Episode #164
Gisele Garcia Shelley

How To Reach Your Potential In Consulting

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For consulting to be rewarding, it must always focus on what really needs to be done, even if it means facing your problems, going through various obstacles, or getting out of your comfort zone. Michael Zipursky sits down with the principal of The Glenbrook GroupGisele Garcia Shelley, to discuss consultation from the eyes of someone with a history major, as well as how to deal with imposter syndrome and how to reach your potential in consulting. Gisele also shares useful tips on how to make interviews with clients more worthwhile. By connecting with someone in a much deeper way using the right words and questions, exceeding expectations is possible.

I’m here with Gisele Garcia Shelley. Gisele, welcome.

Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Gisele, you are an executive coach for senior leaders and their teams. You’re the Principal of The Glenbrook Group, which you’ve been running since 2001. You work with companies all over the globe focusing on fast-growing mid-sized businesses and the Fortune 500. Besides that, you also serve and work as a keynote speaker, panelist research and facilitator. You’re doing a lot of different things, which we want to get into, but I’d love to start with is your background. You have a Bachelor of Arts in History and French. How did you go from a Bachelor of Arts in History and French to where you are? Tell us, what was the transition or what it looked like from the time that you got your bachelor getting into the consulting world?

Thank you, Michael. To give you a couple of bullets, I lived in Europe, which would have been my senior year in high school. I remember thinking with all hubris aside that I came up with the best idea possible that nobody else was doing that I was going to grow up and be one of these people who helps people communicate cross-culturally. I was convinced that nobody had done that before. That was the context I went into college with. The context that I got out of college with, I lived again abroad in college, is that I came out of school in a recession. Three thousand people were applying for two positions and so forth. I ended up as a compensation analyst for an insurance company in New York, which is different from who I am and what I tend to do. I got a job.

If you pretend you have any answers, there's nothing that you'll be able to do. Click To Tweet

What I found though is that there were these renegade women in long flowing skirts who were doing this thing called organizational development. They were working with teams. They were coaching executives at this company I was working at. They were making enough money that the company couldn’t shut them down, but not enough money that it was something that they said was one of the key pillars of what they did. Fast forward now, that company has been sold. That is the core element of what that company specializes in is what those forward-thinking women were doing back in the ‘90s when I was working with them. They were the ones who and I believe that it’s important for people to have sponsors, mentors and surround themselves with those. When there wasn’t much work as a compensation analyst in the insurance industry, I started being the intern briefcase handler. I’ll do anything extra for you and started accompanying them on incredible work. That’s where I got into from History and French into the work that I do now.

You mentioned that early mindset or belief from cross-cultural and that you would be this connector helping maybe European companies, brands, people to enter the American market. Is that what you were thinking, Europe to US type of connection?

I don’t know. I think I realized and especially living as an American abroad that when I had friends, many of them spoke English and their families did not. They’re all the older people. I started looking at how people communicate and that the likelihood that what I’m saying is what you’re hearing is challenging. I started noticing and being a real studier of individuals in groups and how they connect. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I got into grad school and started studying group dynamics and the whole practitioner piece of being an organizational development person, that’s where it all started to come together.

Do you think that kind of curiosity and interest played a role in your success? I’m asking because still to this day, I think I have a similar mindset. When I went over to Japan, I set up one of the branch offices for our consulting business at that time. I worked with some big organizations over there. That was the advantage that we were bringing is we are working with Japanese companies that wanted to get their products and services into North American markets. In the case of Panasonic, for example, they were already there, but they want to launch new products or be more successful.

We were helping them with that, but I was this naïve, twenty-year-old something young man applying what I thought I knew and what I had learned. I think what helped myself and the company to be successful was exactly that curiosity that I had and listening to people and studying them. I’m wondering if you feel that was also something that if you look at where you are now, influenced your success or was that a little floating idea that didn’t take you anywhere.

CSP 164 | Reaching Your Potential


In the work I do to build high-performing leaders, there are two foundational behaviors. One of which is difficult for leaders to consistently demonstrate and emulate and that’s curiosity and receptivity, especially not much when you’re saying something I agree with, but mostly when you’re saying something I don’t agree with. The level of curiosity and people talk about growth mindset and interests. I think the other concept is, it sounds like in your example that you were willing to not be right which a lot of people are not willing to do. It’s like, “I’m not saying I’m right. I’m even getting curious about I don’t even know.” That’s what happens.

I don’t think you have to travel to have that mindset. I know it’s hard to talk about travel in a pandemic. That’s one of the ways that we can get outside of ourselves and take on some of these behaviors that coaches, as well as leaders. Leading through a pandemic, if you pretend like you have any answers, then there’s nothing that you’ll be able to do. That’s been one of the powerful things over the pandemic is everybody has said, “We don’t know what we don’t know because we’ve never been in this.” That’s been one of the beauties I think of that.

I think about a lot of consultants who are in situations where they’re talking to clients or prospective clients and they don’t see eye to eye with them, especially in a case where the client says they want to do something or they don’t want to do something. The consultant is afraid inside. There’s fear that if they say something to the client that maybe the client doesn’t agree with, that it might not look good upon them or the client might get angry or they’re going to lose the business. What I’m also hearing you say is like, another way to look at it is potentially not a boat that you’re going against what they’re saying or disagreeing. It’s more bringing some curiosity. I’m wondering if you have any feedback on what consultants should be thinking and doing when they are speaking with other prospective client or an existing client, and they don’t see eye to eye with them. They truly want to add value and serve, but they are afraid or they’re conscious. They don’t want to step on their clients’ toes or go against them. What are your thoughts are some best practices around that?

I can’t even think clearly of many clients who ask for what they need. They say, “I want this. I want my team intervention to look like that.” With all due respect, over 98% of the time, what they’re asking for is not what they need. The fear that you’re talking about is I relate to it, especially in the earlier part of my career of wanting to do things right and wanting them to like me. When I let go of all of that, that’s where I started getting effective. I had a CEO hire me because he said I was the only person who told him the truth. For several years, he’s been looking for a coach and he called all of these fancy high-priced experienced coaches.

Keep gathering data so you can respond to the needs of your clients and coach them better. Click To Tweet

He’s a big personality. He’s well-known in the marketplace. They kept telling him what he wanted to hear. He even sent me an email that he sent to his team. I looked at the email and I said, “Can I offer you some observations about how you might have tweaked it 10%?” I gave him the feedback on the email. I gave him feedback when we were talking about like, “Have you thought about this? That’s why he hired me.” It’s important for coaches and leaders, it’s not that there’s no humility. It’s a fine line. It’s a tight rope between humility if I don’t have all the answers and I’m not saying I’m right. It’s like the iceberg above the waterline, they’re getting 15% and there’s the 85% below the waterline that they’re not seeing. It’s imperative that we stay and we keep gathering more data so that we can respond to what they need and then coach them to get there.

You mentioned that you went through this in the early years. It was much harder to give that transparent feedback or say, “What you’re asking for isn’t actually what you need.” What do you do to start shifting that? What changes did you make either in your mindset, some specific talking points, language or actions that you start to use that helped you to make that shift where you became more confident and ultimately that helped your business?

I work in three areas. I do one-on-one executive coaching. I help build high-performing inclusive executive leadership teams. The third area is around women’s leadership, which is a bold leadership program for women. I conducted some research on what are the biggest challenges they get in women leader’s way. I am not giving answer to your question. I’m giving you the context. There were two main answers. Myself, was the first answer and the organization, bias and so forth is the second answer. Of the first answer of how I get in my own way, self-doubt was number one. It’s like imposter syndrome for the majority of everybody who answered the questions. People always ask me, “Do men experience imposter syndrome the way women do?” I’m going to interrupt myself and ask you, “Have you ever experienced self-doubt?” Have you ever experienced like, “What will they think? I’m not sure.”

I can’t compare and say that I know what a woman feels, but I can tell you 100% that I have had it. Every single successful person that I’ve ever spoken to has experienced it and not once, but multiple times as they reach different levels. If you’re going to be successful, you’re going to be continually growing and challenging yourself, which means you’re going to be questioning yourself throughout that process.

The data suggests that 70% of the population experiences imposter syndrome. A high performing inspiring leader, it’s almost a version of 100%. It may occur differently in women. We can go into the differences between men and women, but the bottom line regardless of gender is that I write a lot and I talk about the vicious voices that are running the show. If you’re feeling doubt about telling this CEO of this big company who has all of this brand recognition in the marketplace, that you have some feedback for him.

CSP 164 | Reaching Your Potential


This client did ask me, “What do you recommend?” I said, “I recommend we start with executive coaching.” He said, “I would like to do the team alignment work as well.” I said, “Not yet, we need to start with the coaching and then we’ll check in after about three months and we’ll see where we’re at for when your team is ready. We need to stagger it.” He said, “Okay.” At some level, it would be easy for me to listen to the vicious voice. I do a lot of work around teaching people how to turn down the volume of the self-doubt critic and how to turn up the volume of the other voices. That’s one talking point is being aware of who you’re listening to and being careful not to believe everything you think.

Number two is to be willing to step out of your comfort zone into identifying, “I have a lot of practices and processes that I do to coach clients and for myself to jump out of my comfort zone.” In order to do that and even if I’m a little bit nervous if I know that the right answer and if I truly believe in my gut that what this person needs is this and not that, then I’m going to have to say it in six words that changed my life. When my mother told me, it’s like, “What have you got to lose?”

If you’re willing to not listen to your voices or listen to the right voices, if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone and if you’re willing to say, “If I put myself out there and trust that I’m saying the right thing,” and this person says, “No, I still want to do this,” then do I have a client? I wrote down a couple of best practices and one of them is that I work with people that I like and that I can align with. We have a simpatico and can create a partnership. If I’m saying this and they’re saying no, then there’s data in there of like, “Do I even want to be working with this person?”

I was speaking with one of our clarity coaching program clients and his business is going well. Things have been taking off for him. He’s not in a position where he needs new clients now or even for a few months, but what he’s realized is that there are certain types of clients in certain types of work that he’s not enjoying as much as he used to anymore. He started to identify that there’s a certain type of client and a specific stage that does create a lot more excitement and fulfillment for him.

Always be aware of whom you're listening to, and be careful not to believe everything you think. Click To Tweet

We talked about the importance of, you want to start making that shift, focusing and getting clear on your criteria so that as you have new opportunities coming to you, that you’re saying yes to only the ones that are the right fit. You get clear about what is the structure of how you engage and you don’t deviate from that. Either the client needs to fit into your structure or you’re essentially ensuring that you’re only taking on the clients that you feel good about. You don’t want to take on a client or an engagement that you’re not going to enjoy or you’re not going to have the culture of the value alignment because you’ll look back and regret that. That’s good advice.

In a way to operationalize that somatically into embodying it is to remember that inspiration comes from Spiro to breathe life into. With any request and tasks that you’re doing, you’re either breathing life into yourself or you’re doing the opposite, you’re sucking it out up. Everybody knows that there are clients that you get an email and you’re so excited, you’d wake up on a Saturday morning and start working on it. You’d do it for half the price that we even negotiated because we were excited about those clients. There are other clients and I have had my fair share where they’d paid me a boatload of money and it has been like, “I got to talk to this guy again.” When you’ve been doing this long enough, you can start to differentiate what inspires me and what is better for me to send off to somebody else.

You built up a successful business here and I’m sure people are wondering, how did you go about doing that? When you look back on everything you’ve done from writing, speaking, doing studies, collecting research data and all that kind of stuff, what would you say has contributed the most? What are the top couple of actions, strategies or tactics that have been most beneficial, helpful and effective in generating new leads and inquiries of your true ideal client?

There are a couple of things. One is a great exercise that I did and I’ve recommended it to a number of people and they’ve said, “That was a lot of work.” I said, “It was a lot of work.” If I had to pick one and there have been several, is that I went through this process and when I worked at Merrill Lynch, I was the internal head of benchmarking at the time. I’ve always been interested in benchmarking and interviewing people. That is one of the relevancies of being a history major. It’s like, “Why liberal arts is like synthesizing information and writing about it.” I started to do a benchmarking study. I interviewed three different demographics, women leaders, male executives and HR professionals.

I asked them all the same questions. My original target was ten people and I ended up interviewing over 50 because the interviews were interesting and helpful to me. The last question I asked in every interview was, what’s the most useful takeaway you had from this conversation? Every interview that I had, they took something away too. It’s a win-win. I wrote up that benchmarking study. It’s on my website. What it did is it allowed me to not only see what the gap is, but I also was able to take all the years of consulting and coaching to create what I call the BOLD leadership framework for leadership. I took everything I’d already been doing and started to organize it into this bold context.

CSP 164 | Reaching Your Potential


It’s not that if I were coaching you as a one-on-one male executive, I would still be using the same tools, models and mindset work that I do in a group of women leaders. It’s not a different content, it’s just a different delivery mechanism. I did the research. I came up with the model and then I went back to the people that I interviewed, not all of them but most of them. I walked them through the data and got their feedback on that.

In that process, I was then able to start to get very clear on my ideal client, which I struggled with because the good news about being multi-dimensional is also the biggest challenge because it’s very hard to focus and find a niche. I struggled with that for a long time. That study helped me. I got my first keynote and that’s where all the speaking started coming from. Speaking is like a snowball. Once you speak once, then other people start finding you.

I understand you’re having these interviews and conversations. You’re collecting the data. That’s helping you to identify opportunities and the gap in the marketplace, which then lets you get clear about who your ideal client is. How does that lead to your first client? Was it one of the people that you spoke to? Was that someone who said, “Can you come and speak to our group?”


It was from one of the conversations that you had that created an opportunity for you. Were there others of that initial group of 50 that said to you, “Can you coach us or work with us on these things as you were going through the data with them?”

Speaking is like a snowball. Speak once, and other people will start finding you. Click To Tweet

I’ve never had to market. I always say, “We don’t market, we tell the truth.” I could have gone back to a lot more people and developed a lot more work. I had so much work that it was harder for me to keep up with all the people who loves that.

How did that work come? Was it from the conversations you were having and taking those same 50 people through the data? Where are the clients coming from?

I always had a lot of clients but mostly clients for me are referral. I stay very connected. A lot of coaches get in a six-month, twelve-month mindset. We’re partners for life. I’m not one of those coaches who gets a badge and shows up for three years and feels like I’m an employee at a company. We do great work in a short period of time, we add, they get a promotion and they call me or they get let go. I help them and I coach them through that time or somebody from a team goes to another company and they call. The referral piece is key.

The people within the benchmarking study, you can tell who’s lit up. At the end of many conversations, they said, “When you’re done with your research, come speak about this.” It’s very imperative for coaches who want to never market to become very good speakers. You can be a great speaker virtually. You don’t have to only have a live platform. I took a class that was incredibly powerful and I learned the secret of how do you run a session that inspires people. There are a couple of secrets, but it’s not that hard. If you’re good at speaking, then you can connect back in with the people you interviewed.

CSP 164 | Reaching Your Potential


For any expert, advisor, consultant and coach, development of content and sharing of ideas whether that’s through webinars or in-person and writing your books, these are all very powerful steps to take, to build that authority and to create a lot more business. How did you get those first 50 people? Was it people that you already knew? Do you ask for referrals to reach those people? Do you reach out cold to any people? What did that process look like?

It’s about jumping out of your comfort zone. The first conversation I had is that I didn’t even know what my questions were. I picked a very safe client who I remember exactly where I was. I was in New York airport and he was flying in, he’s already a client of mine and I started with two questions. By the end of the hour, I had asked him about ten questions. I asked him, “Do you have anybody else you think who would be useful for me to talk to?” At the time he said, “No.” I thought of other clients. I started with people who were safe people that I knew in my network.

I have a colleague who I suggested he do this process. He started with his best friend’s brother who worked at a company that was in line with his values. He had been wanting to work at this company. He’s like, “Who do I know? Curtis’s brother works there, therefore I’m going to talk to him.” You don’t have to have a list of 50 people. My target list was ten. I started with 3 to 5 and at the end of every conversation, I said, “What was the most useful takeaway for you about this conversation? Can you recommend somebody else for me to talk to?” It was like the snowball process.

You’ve shared some powerful principles for people. This idea of imposter syndrome and not being afraid to confront or challenge something that maybe you don’t agree with for the betterment and service of your client or those in the community that you’re serving. These are all important lessons. This idea of acceptance that when you bring a lot to the table, it’s hard to find that area of specialization. We see so many of our clients go through this as well, where they bring so much to the table. It’s counter-intuitive because most will start thinking, if I say no to all these other areas and only focus on one or two, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to have less opportunities, but it’s the exact opposite. By getting more focused, it allows you to make everything more effective and efficient because you’re not juggling as many balls at one time.

Speakers who never want to market themselves must become very good at their job. Click To Tweet

Before we wrap up, I want to make sure that people can learn more about your study that you’ve done and learn more about your work. There’s a lot that you have to offer and we’ll have to look at doing another round here where we can go into other questions that I had for you around leadership, productivity and performance because that’s the area that you do specialize in. Where’s the best place for them to go?


I recommended everyone goes and checks out Gisele, her company and the work that they’re doing. The studies and content that they’re putting out because it does look to be very valuable. Regardless of whether you consider yourself to be an executive coach, consultant, advisor or strategic thinking partner, there’s a lot of value in here for many of us. I want to thank you, Gisele, for coming on here, sharing a little bit of your story and lessons learned along the way.

Thank you for having me.

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About Gisele Garcia Shelley

CSP 164 | Reaching Your PotentialGisele leads a team of organizational development and coaching thought leaders who work with leaders to thrive personally while unlocking the potential and results of others, their teams, and the Enterprise.

Gisele founded  The Glenbrook Group, Inc. in 2001 to help leaders and organizations become the best version of themselves. She has always been passionate about helping leaders be their best selves as they lead, live, love and parent.  Her coaching has inspired hundreds of senior leaders in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia to unlock their own and their team’s full potential, igniting productivity, presence, and energy to create exponential results across their teams and organizations.

She leverages her internal leadership experience at Merrill Lynch and her 25 years of experience working with senior leaders and their leadership teams to quickly get to the heart of the matter, ask ‘the’ question that solves the problem and creates the breakthrough, and identify simple yet profound followup actions have clients consider her an invaluable partner with whom they partner in key transition point over the courses of their leadership careers.

In her coaching with executive leadership teams, Gisele is consistently seen as someone who builds trust and creates massive impact through skillful facilitation and is known to be lovingly provocative, caring and authentic while also being no-nonsense and powerful, enabling her to create immediate breakthrough and lasting impact.

Her focus on women leaders is based on her research study “Challenges Women Leaders Face in the Global Workforce,” which forms the basis of her BOLD Leadhership Program. Her work has continually demonstrated that unlocking women’s potential not only elevates business results and drives key talent being retained and advanced, it also empowers and liberates them from their biggest challenge that gets in their way.

Prior to founding The Glenbrook Group, Inc. in 2001, Gisele worked in organizational development and Human Resources roles at Merrill Lynch, Charter Oak Consulting Group, The American Quality Foundation and The Hay Group.


Gisele is passionate about spending time with her husband, two teenagers and two dogs hiking, biking and being outdoors, preferably in the woods. She loves to do yoga, go to Boot Camp, sail, and spend time with good friends enjoying great food.

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