In this fascinating episode, Les McKeown Founder and CEO of Predictable Success, shares how he went from Chartered Accountant (CPA) to serial entrepreneur to startup incubator to one of the highest demand coaches in the US today.
Along the way, he identified a pattern that every successful business (and nonprofit) follows. One that leads every leader to the single biggest barrier to growth.
Hello, everybody Hello, and welcome to one of our very first episodes of the secrets of the high demand coach. And as I was working on this project getting ready for the show, thinking about who I’d love to have on the show, the very first name that came up every time I sat down to the make a list, or if I was doing my thing and coming up with a list in my head, the first person every time was my dear dear friend and mentor, les McKeown, who is with us here today.
And so Les, I’d love to just open up for those of you who don’t know you, I don’t know how that’s possible. But some people might not know you. And I’d love to just hear a little bit of your story, how you got into coaching, why you got into coaching and what that looks like today?
Well, let me say right at the outset, for all of our viewers who got here, by doing some sort of a keyword search, I’m not les McKeown, the ex front singer of the Bay City Rollers
that has haunted me all my life. I’m the other one. So let’s McEwen founder, CEO predictable success author of predictable, predictable, predictable success. And it’s synergist to scale and do lead. And basically what I do is I help people grow their business.
Awesome. Excellent. And I know from our history that you spent some time as a CPA or the the British equivalent of that, how did you decide to make the shift from that that CPA role into coaching consulting, like you do now?
That was always I think the through line for me, Scott I, I, I started training as a sea, chartered accountant, actually, for two reasons. One was I was from a dark blue collar family. And it seemed to me probably a good profession if I wanted to actually just earn some money. So there was that. But also I had a fascination about business I was a really weird kid never wanted to be a fireman didn’t want to be a pilot, didn’t want to do any of the other gender normative or non normative things I just had to sort of was fascinated by the thought I was fascinated by business. As it turns out, no, though, to look back in retrospect, I was fascinated by people dynamics by offices. And what was happening in them was really just a way in which I was sort of vaguely seeing that. And my very first ever mentor, wonderful man called Jim Johnson, still amazingly alive. I don’t know, I must be like 300. But I told me if I wanted to get a good understanding goals, studied better be a lawyer or an accountant, and I chose being a con. So when I was doing that, and qualifying and then for the first few years when I put my own shingle out unpracticed it was really as a as a sort of a way in to get to work with then businesses for profit businesses, which mostly what I was involved in these days, I do, at least as much work well, that’s not quite right. But somewhere between a third and a half my work is with not for profit.
And the more that I worked with businesses, the more I got, just transfixed by what was going on. And I was very fortunate in my timing. I started all of this right at that peak of a massive drive I mean a huge drive towards launching indigenous businesses in the UK. Because we didn’t have any we were we were a branch UK, I was living in the UK, with a branch economy of South Korea with Daewoo nautical star organizations, LG and the US. So Ford caught a cold we’d lose 15,000 jobs and a plant that leads or somewhere like that, and there was this huge drive to launch new businesses.
I got involved in that by advising people helping them start up, I got a good reputation for that people started to ask me if I’d be interested in joining them being like, CEO, interim CEO, just be on their board, just be on the funding team. And over a space of about eight years, I basically got to cherry pick six or seven really good opportunities every year. And so I arrived at age 35 having launched our help launch party to businesses. And as as you think you’ve heard me say many times, even a dumb Irishman. And believe me, that’s what I am, begins to see repetitive patterns when you do something that often and that’s what, that’s what grabbed me was just seeing these early stage patterns.
Excellent. So let’s fast forward a little bit now. So your chartered accountant, you’re working with businesses love business in and out, have, for some reason launched this massive number of organizations and you start seeing patterns emerge. And if we kind of fast forward a little while, tell us about how that ties into who you work with now even mentioned just a moment ago working in the nonprofit world, which I think is rare for folks to split that fence working both in the for profit and nonprofit world, what ties that all together? Who do you work with? And what’s the most important work that you would say you do with them?
Well, what ties us together is that that work that I just described, really, at that point, give me essentially just a couple of development points, then there, what are the two first stages in the predictable success, lifecycle, early struggle and fun. I later work with larger, but still fast growing organizations made me realize this this life, this was a lifecycle, this wasn’t just a couple of stages you had to work through, there’s actually seven stages in the and it looks like a, an arc is have you logged the ball up in the air, three growth stages, three decline stages, peak stage, predictable success. And I spend after the period, I just talk to you about essentially 20 years, just groping my way towards that model, because I wasn’t making anything up. I was basically trying to clear the brush to see the shape of the thing that was actually there. Hi, do as I thought at the time businesses grow and start to decline, why do they start to decline. So we arrived at 1999, moved to the US spend another few years proving what I believe this model to be with very, very large organizations, fortune 100 organization, right to book predictable success, launch it.
And then I started getting emails and calls from people who are working in not for profits, who are buying the book, although I’ve written exclusively for a business audience, loving it. And then that’s a moment of, you know, Homer Simpson slap that borrowed. Of course, I’m just talking about groups of people, any group of two or more people trying to achieve common goals. So it can be an organization of any sort of for profit, not for profit doesn’t really matter.
At that point, I sort of got agnostic from the point of view of what I was doing, because it started having developed this model, I really was burned out on on just, you know, launching my own businesses over and over again, I always had a heart for teaching. And so I started to do that started to consult with people using this whole model. And as I just mentioned, the not for profit, faith and cause based organizations that came to me, I did not go to it, because I was not clever enough to realize that at the time, but by 2010, those types of organizations started contacting me. And I started to get to speak at non for profit, non business events. And we have a huge and very avid following in the nonprofit world.
That’s great. Excellent. Now I know lots about your predictable success model is one of my favorites. And we don’t necessarily have time to go into it. So we can give some folks and resources on how to find more about the model. But what if you were to kind of boil it down? What is the problem that that model solves?
That What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, essentially, which is the title a very good book by Marshall Goldsmith. But what everybody thinks, you need to get right to grow an organization is usually trapped in what are essentially secondary, in fact, probably tertiary level things like, you know, defining your market, getting your pricing, right, you know, all all the stuff, that’s the day to day stuff, because that’s what we’re dealing with every day.
In fact, the biggest single barrier to growing any organization for profit or not for profit, is recognizing that the very leadership skills that you need, that you you can’t, you can’t do without, to get through the early struggle space, for example.
They are right for that time, and you can’t and shouldn’t do anything else from time to talk about what they are. But you can think about a hard drive and visionary founder. But that builds synapses that you that most leaders get locked into. And then when the business or organization changes, their leadership style doesn’t change, whatever. And therefore, they get trapped by their own success, reaching for the toolkit that solve things back then, but isn’t solving anything here. So and in the end of the day, I do a lot of stuff. But mostly it’s focused on the four inches between leaders ears, yeah.
Fantastic. Now, one of the things that I know from being in the coaching space from work with a lot of others from being a CEO myself and trying to grow a business is that we try lots of things that don’t necessarily work. What are the things that that especially in this context of what got you here won’t get you There? What are the things that you see your clients trying before they ultimately decide to hey, we can use less as help.
The thing that they try most is more. We we grew really successfully for years by just saying yes to everything, and somehow making it work. So let’s do more of that.Things are getting, you know, we seem to be losing our touch here. So we amp up the volume. We try to not just repeat but amplify the things that that got us here.
So for example, saying yes. Saying yes to anything is absolutely hugely important to get out of early struggle, and can’t get too picky. And fun. You want to say yes to everything, because you’re sort of in a monopoly game that you know, at first go run the board, we buy everything. That’s what that’s like. So that’s all good and right. But then a point comes, it’s a growth stage, we call Whitewater, we’re actually gonna get very strategic undisciplined about saying no, and that’s really tough. I mean, they’re they’re visionary founders, that I know, who can’t get the word out.
You know, we got to find other phrases and terminologies to get them to do that. So that’s a classic example is that, you know, one of the things we do very early, not very early on, but but relatively early on in most of our businesses is we build a series of myths and legends, because we say yes to everything. And then someone make it happen in the summertime making it happen bit. We do incredible things. I mean, we really do, we punch way above our weight. And those myths and legends are perfect and right for the time. But they then they turn into repeated performance expectations. And we’re now working in an in an environment, it’s way too complex. For us to use those myths and legends as actual repeatable tools. There are always lessons to be learned from them. But you can’t just keep doing that. And so the ability to just get disciplined about things is one of the hardest things for a successful visionary founder to do.
Yeah. Okay. So that brings up an interesting point. You mentioned a successful founder, right? So these aren’t necessarily folks that are our most of us would see as struggling. And one of the kinds of negative connotations I’ve seen in the market or with with founders is this idea of if you get a coach, it’s because you’re, you’re either not capable, or you got something wrong, or it’s, it’s almost like you’re fixing something that’s broken, but we’re talking about really successful people. So one of the questions that I have for you, and that I asked a lot is, in your opinion, who needs a coach, and why?
Anybody that wants to develop, you know, and grow their own business or grow their own leadership skills? And you know, as far as the y is concerned, it’s just that none of none of us are lacking a large area of what we don’t know, we don’t know. So, leaders have got a higher quadrant of things that they know, they know, than most other people, because that’s self awareness as a leader is an important thing. So here’s something I really know, I know, maybe I really know marketing rebel, really, maybe I launched a coating business I used to build on I really know that. Maybe I really know how to motivate people to be I really know how to spot a market opportunity. And then there’s a bunch of stuff that you know, that you don’t know.
So like, I don’t know, you know, maybe there’s a leader sitting around somewhere saying, you know, we’re getting into murky waters here. And I know, I don’t know enough about the legal side of this. I don’t know about and I know I don’t know about. That’s not really where the where coaching comes in. There are a lot of other ways to solve that you can hire somebody who does know about legal, if you want to probably the worst solution, you can become a legal expert. But you know, you know what, you just find a way to fix it. Where we all need coaches is because there’s this huge area that we don’t even know, we don’t know. And when you think back on any highly tough year,
it’s almost always because you got hit by something you didn’t know you didn’t know. Because if you knew about it, and it still caught it that’s on you. Right? Even if you know you don’t know, if you’ve been going around for a couple years thinking I really should know more about the legal implications of what I’m doing. You don’t do anything about it. Now while I’m you get a lawsuit to put you out of business. That’s that’s on you. You knew you didn’t know about it, you didn’t do any of that. But when something comes that you didn’t eat, what and what a good coach will do is help you really narrow down to what you don’t know you don’t know, side of things, by for example, thinking through the implications of making decisions by thinking through the way in which you’re making decisions. So that’s where I think coaching becomes most helpful is just having a guide to the parts of the map you haven’t been on before. Yeah, that’s such a great
Good point, I remember again, as I’m leading company, biggest company, you know, I’d ever been part of leadership and is the one that I’m leading right and, and just like totally making up as I go, I had the unfortunate benefit or curse of doing that in my mid 20s, which I think made it quite a bit worse. And I remember, you know, it was very, very resistant to hiring a coach at first and the very first coach, I hired a dear friend, he’ll be on the show here soon. But he, we were talking about whether or not it would be a fit. And I remember telling him, I’m like, I know what’s around this corner. I don’t need help with what’s going on right now. I’m sick of getting blindsided. Because like, every time we figure out what’s in front of us, there’s something else behind it. And I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. And to, you know, to be honest, the best tool I’ve ever seen for seeing around those corners is the predictable success model that you created. It does such a phenomenal job at not only explaining what’s going on right now, but giving us foresight into what’s coming. So as it’s, it’s obvious that that’s a big part of what you do and how you do it in the work that you’ve created. It’s easily one of the greatest benefits I’ve experienced, using the model and walking others through it phenomenal.
Now, I’ve worked with lots of coaches. And I know that one of the things that coaches coaches are really good at giving advice, right? Coaches are really good at seeing clearly in other people’s businesses, they’re not always the best at seeing clearly in their own business. And oftentimes they can forget to work on their own business because they spend all their time helping others work on theirs. So question… How do you fight that and to what’s the big thing that you’re working on from a growth strategy for you and your business? If you put your CEO hat on with us for a moment?
Let me take your first question first. There’s a saying in Scotland. The cobblers barons are the last shod. Cobbler–person to make shoes, barons–kids. So the shoemakers, kids are the last ones to get shoes. And it’s certainly the case that whenever I was a chartered accountant, for example, I was terrible at filing my taxes. It was it was dangerously bad, not because of any ill intent. But just you know, spending all day every day helping other people do that the last thing you want to do for yourself. And you know, there’s there’s a similar thing, where when you work in the world of coaching, I do a lot of consulting a lot of public speaking and other things. Coaching is probably about half my life.
And I did a very cheesy thing some years ago, which is I invented a Alter Ego, another personality. He has a name, and I picture him. And I’ll be actually he and I check in a couple of times a year and I’m on an overnight flight to the UK pretty much right after we record this interview. And I’m in a season where I need I need to talk to Jim. So I talked to Jim. And that that might sound stupid, because how can you coach yourself, first of all?
And secondly, given all that I’ve just said, Don’t I need to be talking to somebody who’s, you know, been in parts of the map that I haven’t been to? Yes, I do. And I’m very fortunate that and this is one of the great blessings of being a coach for a period of time and building your client base. They teach me that I learned about the parts of the map I haven’t been to working with my class because just I’ve been parts that haven’t been part two I have. What I need Jim for is to remind me of my Northstar, keep me focused on what I’m here to do. It’s so easy, particularly as a dedicated solopreneur, there’s me and an assistant you may hear from the mailman comes during our interview here. And that’s it.
And it’s very easy to lose sight of your priorities and get involved in busy work. I can sometimes stand up at the end of the day, feeling I had a really good productive day and then realize all I’ve done stare at screens and move things around. I haven’t really done much in getting me closer to what my personal mission is.
That leads really into the answer to your second question, which is I you know, I love the interpersonal interaction that I have with my with my clients, whether I’m consulting or coaching with them. And I can’t imagine me ever not doing that I’ll probably die with my boots on. But I also want what I’ve got because I actually agree with you I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I didn’t make this stuff up. I uncovered it and it is incredibly powerful. I want to make it available to as many people as possible. So a combination of getting the message out digitally on On Demand type materials is really one part of that focus and
The other is working with other people, other coaches, through largely through you, to get that message out and to help other people be able to use the predictable success model as coaches that expands the footprint and the impact.
Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate the transparency with it. The honesty, with it, I think it’s really powerful. It’s a great exercise.
All right, I’d like to shift gears kind of one last time here as we get close to the end. And it’s in many ways the moment we’ve all been waiting for. But the show is called the secrets of the high demand coach. And I know from our relationship that you meet that criteria in every way, shape, and form. And I’d love to hear what what would be if you were to boil kind of your expertise down to one thing that you could share with our audience today, what would be that one secret that you would share with them? With regards to helping you often these are founders leaders, but helping them to grow their organization faster and freer than ever?
Well, I think there are two separate things going on here. One is what will help me grow my coaching business fastest. And the other is what will help me be the best coach I can be. And the two can diverge a little bit.
The best way to grow your coaching business, which is this strict question that you asked me is to be the best coach you can be. And then add a lot of time. Just, you know, I’m fortunate, I mean, what I’m about to say, to be sitting here, I’ll be 66, week after next. And I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years. And that’s, that’s one of the reasons I’m successful. I’ve just been doing it for so darn long. And always trying to do it to the best of my ability. However, that that’s of no help to somebody who’s at the other end of the 40 year tunnel.
So what I would say is the mechanics of keeping yourself focused on being the best coach you can be, are, first of all, don’t ever coach somebody to get the check. One of the things that I that I tell all my coaches very mercenary point is, you will get the best possible coaching from me if you pay all my fee upfront. Because then I have no, I have no dog in the hunt. You’re not getting it back. So I’m gonna try not to be more helpful and honest to you when we come to the tough part.
Second thing is always go to the balcony, by which I mean. Always abstract, one level up. After you’re done every coaching interaction you have, there’s a pattern in there somewhere. So you want to spend some time thinking, “Where did I hear that before? Where would that thing that we talked about fit in a bucket? Is that a communications issue that maybe a lot of leaders are always trying to upgrade.” There’s a leadership writer called Ron Ziegler and he talks about going to the balcony, that you’ve got to be there dancing, doing the thing, but you gotta be able to get to the balcony.
And the third thing I would say is, and I learned this belatedly is, I guess, one way to put it is, you know, always put your own face mask on before attempting to help others. You just got to look after yourself. I’ve been a better coach, I’ve probably been the best. I’ve probably done the best work of done in my life in the last five years. And one of the reasons for that is I got my nutrition and my health in the shape. And that make a huge difference. Huge difference.
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for being on the show. Now I know some of our listeners would like help with, you know, understanding what stage they’re in what that means, understanding why what worked isn’t working anymore. How can folks connect with you and learn more about you and the model that you’ve created? Just go to https://www.predictablesuccess.com/scottie. And then there’ll be a free chapter from either Predictable Success or the Synergist, just whatever floats your boats, and links to contact me in every way possible, LinkedIn, Twitter.
There’s a direct form there, which if you’ve got a specific question coming off of our podcast, it comes directly to me. I don’t have anybody intermediating that and you’ll get a response directly from.
That’s great. I think we can explain that your assistant that may make noise at the mailman is your dog blue. So I don’t think blue will be getting in way of folks trying to reach out to learn more.
No, I’ve tried pasting opposable thumbs on his eyes to see if he can type but he can’t.
Excellent. Well last, thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for our friendship. It’s been such an honor having you here and I wish you the absolute best.
Thanks. Thanks, everybody.
Want to learn more about Les’s work at Predictable Success? Check out his website at https://www.predictablesuccess.com/scottie.