I started Next Level Executive Coaching on a Friday afternoon, August 31st, 2007. My position as station manager had been eliminated from the 2008 budget.
“Does this mean I’m not coming back Monday?”
“We’re taking the company car. You’ll need a ride home. You can pack your office.”
I’d gone from setting rookie sales records to general manager in 18 months. I’d earned rewards, raises and promotions over ten years of climbing the corporate ladder. Now I sat numb, in the passenger’s seat driving nowhere.
That moment forced me out of my comfort zone.
If there was ever a time to “go for it” and start my company, this was it. I reflected on my life’s journey, talked to my wife, family, and others I respected. I prayed. Then I embraced my passion: the development of people. After completing an executive coaching certification program, Next Level Executive Coaching, LLC launched in January 2008.
The Beginnings of My “People Skills”
This desire to develop as a leader has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My dad, Jim Laswell, delivered the message to me as a teenager that if I developed my “people skills,” I’d do well in life. Maybe he just wanted to make sure he wouldn’t have to drive me around on paper routes or drop me off at yards to mow. I got the message.
In high school, my buddy, Danny Walker and I started a “waste management” business. Back in those days people mostly burned their trash; we hauled the cans off and cleaned out their 55 gal drums of ashes. It was about the same time Waste Management, Inc. was going public in the early 70’s. It was dirty, but we made good money and happy customers.
College, Marriage, and Ministry
After depleting my life savings at Mid-America Nazarene College in Olathe, Kansas and still clueless what to major in, I returned home. A short stint as manager of the Neodesha office of Express Freight Delivery, a small package delivery company led to my first salaried job.
One of my regular customers, Prestige Products, hired me as an inventory control clerk of their cabinet manufacturing operation. Each department, every employee made a difference in production.
Raw oak tumbled off railroad cars and journeyed through the different stages of its formation into beautiful cabinets, all the way to shipping. When people worked together, we made art.
My passion for developing people really took off when I finished my Associate of Arts degree and married Rita in 1976.
We moved to Baton Rouge where I served as a full-time minister of youth and music before becoming a senior pastor. The assignments took us from Kansas to Baton Rouge to a few stops in Oklahoma.
Leading a volunteer, non-profit organization will teach you a lot about yourself, trust, and resolving a conflict. For almost 20 years, it was my life, and a valuable time.
People Skills in a Corporate World
In January 1997, I transitioned into the radio business, selling advertising on a Christian radio AM/FM combo in Oklahoma City. After six months, with a family of five to provide for, I embraced a new, money-making opportunity: news talk radio.
Clear Channel hired me as an Account Executive for their heritage news-talk radio station in Oklahoma City. By all reports, I experienced quick success and set a record for “rookie sales” my first full year at KTOK. In less than two years, they promoted me to General Sales Manager of OKC’s top-billing radio station.
How do you go from being “the rookie” on a team of seasoned sales’ professionals to being their boss in 18 short months? The sales team became my new “people lab”. It wasn’t so much about radio sales as it was about developing people. I learned how to manage in the business world where hitting your numbers mattered.
In February 2001, Cox Radio recruited me to their Tulsa market as General Sales Manager of their top revenue-producing, heritage news-talk radio station. After four years, I was chosen to participate in the Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises’ Executive Leadership Program.
That was when I first observed the impact of executive coaching. Cox had chosen my Market Manager/VP for a leadership development program. This distinct honor included an executive coach for a year. I marveled at his personal growth and the acceleration of his career path.
Then two years later, out of 80,000 employees Cox selected one other person and me from the radio division to participate in the same program. My first executive coach taught me to communicate directly, delegate work and release my perfectionistic bent. I developed new leadership skills. My performance improved. My career took off one year later.
Cox promoted me to serve as Station Manager of their Tulsa cluster of five stations. The “fast track” placed me in an amazing laboratory filled with opportunity to learn and grow. I noticed how people responded to influence, not commands. The more I served my general sales managers, the more they produced. I lived my life with purpose and passion. The six-figure income, company car, and benefits were all appreciated, too.
At the same time, strange as it may sound, something wasn’t working. My role changed and redefined over the course of several months. Things seemed different. In fact, I remember saying to Rita my wife, “If I worked as hard to build something for us as I am for Cox Radio, I can’t imagine not succeeding.”
Towards the end of 2007, the economy slowed down. Corporate asked for deeper cuts, more expense savings to offset declining revenue. I was in on the conversation, I thought.
Then came that fateful meeting with my VP/Market Manager. It only took a minute to realize the agenda had changed. My severance started the next day, September 1. The “fast track” dumped me out on the curb. What a ride!
A New Focus on Developing People
Once I got over the shock, I started making plans for my new business adventure. During a conversation with Steve Marx, the president of the Center for Sales Strategy, one of Cox’s consulting firms, he asked me a defining moment question: “have you thought about executive coaching?”
While I knew its impact, I hadn’t considered executive coaching as a career path. After consultation with my wife, I began researching certification programs. I only found one that was university-based: Sherpa Coaching. We pulled the trigger on a $10,000 decision, and I headed to Fort Worth and TCU’s Neeley School of Business for the 3-month program. I emerged in January 2008 with a new company, clarified focus, and the skills to develop leaders. Next Level began growing rapidly.
During the first six months, I continued to survey the market-place to determine what was the best path: a private coaching practice or working with other organizations? I’ll never forget a phone call with one recruiter: “If I were you, I would stay with what you are doing. Based on my conversations with executive coaches you are well ahead of most that go into coaching.” It was another confirmation that I was on the right track, the “fast track” at that.
Developing Self-Managed Teams and Leaders
Five years later Next Level continues to grow. I’ve refined my 1-on-1 Executive Coaching into an 8-month executive leadership engagement designed to help you become a more active, self-managed leader.
I’ve launched a team-based coaching program to unite 5-7 high-potential employees into a self-managed team.
And the sweet spot is serving as your partner. That’s when we do “Whatever it takes” to get results for you and your team.
Everyone I coach brings new lessons and opportunities for growth. To make them available to a wider audience, I’ve published two books, The Journey and The People Project.
Tap into a supportive and safe relationship where you’re free to discover the truth in your story, change your behavior, and improve your performance. No real and deep change occurs without relationships and trust. It’s time.
Accelerate your growth. Develop your “people skills.”
Experience the benefits of creating space to think and improve your performance.
I look forward to the day our paths cross,