Amos Szeps – Executive Coach

By PeopleLeaders | People Leaders Podcast

Amos Szeps - Executive Coach

It’s always interesting chatting with other professionals in our field and this discussion with Amos Szeps is no different.

I learned some new turns of phrase that I know I’ll be using more in the future. Phrases such as: Empathy with edge; Disagree quickly but not personally; Choose meaningful problems and more.

With 20 years of experience in leadership and leadership coaching under his belt, Amos has a lot to share.

Episode Highlights:
  • [02:20] Empathy with an Edge
  • [04:35] Disagree Quickly But Not Personally
  • [05:25] The Biggest Challenge for Leaders in the Modern Workplace
  • [08:04] Common Issues and Challenges Leaders Seek Coaching For
  • [09:49] Creating Meaningful Work in Hierarchical Organisations
  • [12:45] Imposter Syndrome and Its Detrimental Impacts
  • [15:32] How to Give and Receive Feedback
  • [18:13] Enhancing Feedback for Greater Effectiveness
  • [19:58] Coaching Someone on Giving Feedback to Their Boss
  • [21:37] What Leaders Need to Do Differently to Manage Hybrid Teams
  • [24:06] Choose Meaningful Problems
  • [25:18] How to Contact Amos
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NB: This transcript has been AI generated and may contain some slight errors. Please judge our efforts accordingly 🙂

Jan Terkelsen: Welcome, everyone for another People Leaders podcast. I'm really looking forward to this. I'm going to have a discussion with Amos, who is a really experienced psychologist and master coach with the International Coaching Federation, which is the highest level of coaching accreditation available. So we are in good company.

Amos's specialist areas are CEO and top team coaching. And even though this year, it's really about the new and emerging leader. I thought this was gonna be a really interesting discussion because new and emerging leaders are always looking at growing and thinking about the future.

So from that perspective, they can see what CEOs and what top senior teams are really looking for in their leaders, new and emerging, to actually step up into an area of leadership.

Now, Amos has recently returned to Australia, so lucky us, with his family after 10 years working overseas. And he's been very fortunate to work for extended periods with influential individuals in the political and media arena in the UK.

Now his style is bold and transforming and really relational. And Amos applies a really relentless focus to delivery of outcomes, which most people are really after.

However, what he does do really well on top of that, is ensuring that the process of that remains spontaneous, human, and fun. And who doesn't like fun? Cause that's when we start to open up. And a client recently described him as empathy with an edge. That's his approach.

So welcome, Amos.

Amos Szeps: I might just leave now, Jan.

Jan Terkelsen: Hey.

Amos Szeps: That was a great intro. Yeah, I, I don't, I don't think I'm gonna be able to live up to that, but thank you.

Jan Terkelsen: Well, let's just see.

Amos Szeps: Let's see.

[02:20] Empathy with an Edge

Jan Terkelsen: I'm sure we will. And I really like that description of empathy with an edge. And can we just start with that? Because a lot of people talk about empathy, and I think just having those two as a counterbalance, can you tell me why that's important and how you see it done well?

Amos Szeps: Yeah. I mean, I think it's fundamental, actually. It's funny that you start there because I think in leadership, in teams, in high performance as a parent, there's this tension, isn't there, between creating a supportive environment and a place where people feel safe, and like you're on their team, they can say whatever they like, and they can mess up, and you've got their backs.

But also, there needs to be a level of stretch there, and there needs to be a level of challenge. And there needs to be a level of discomfort even outside of your comfort zone for anyone to grow, whether it be a leader, a team or a child.

And I find that to be the constant art is like, cause I started 20 years ago doing, and the first 15 years of my career, I was pretty much just working with teams on the psychological safety bits, building trust, collaboration. And I enjoy that.

I'm a warm fella, and I like people getting along. But then I got exposed, about eight years ago actually, to really senior teams. And I was struck by the atmosphere. And the atmosphere was not harmonious. I'm talking about high-performing teams.

They were, they had to be on their A game. They were sitting upright, they were leaning forward, and they knew that they had to be at their best because you were gonna hold me accountable if I wasn't.

Jan Terkelsen: Hmm.

Amos Szeps: And you were gonna try to make me the best I can possibly be. And likewise, we disagreed quickly and not personally. All that good stuff.

And so I think empathy with edge sums up a lot of things. I try to develop a really strong bedrock of trust and relationship and humanness, if you like, but I also like to punch and to say stuff, which people are not gonna hear outside of that coaching context.

[04:35] Disagree Quickly But Not Personally

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah, absolutely. And I love that that phrase you used is disagree quickly, but not personally, because that's what we have seen with high-performing teams is that they really can have those robust conversations and then move on.

Amos Szeps: Yes. And it's just like we never, we never question that we're not shoulder to shoulder looking in the same direction. We just say, "No, I see it completely differently. I, I understand where you're coming from. You're saying this. I see it completely differently."

And it's just light, and it's fine, and we disagree. And then what are we gonna do? I could say, who's got the best idea? Let's figure it out.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And it takes a degree of self-awareness to be able to do that. And that's why I think understanding self is the most important thing that leaders can do. Because then they know what to dial up and dial down.

[05:25] The Biggest Challenge for Leaders in the Modern Workplace

Jan Terkelsen: So what do you think is the biggest challenge that leaders in today's workplace climate have to deal with? Some of the big ones.

Amos Szeps: I mean, I think it's what all of us are struggling with at the moment. Maybe I don't wanna speak for everybody, but certainly, everyone in my world is just the pace of change. It's just, it's just, one thing after another. Both of us live near the beach, Jan, and it's like one wave after another. You, you get knocked over, and you get up, and then it knocks.

And, and so as a leader, that's kind of amplified because you're dealing with complexity. You're dealing with lots and lots of different levers and lots and lots of different people, personalities, and options.

And trying to find a way of coming up with a strategy that makes sense, and that will make sense in three months, in an environment that's constantly changing is tricky.

And what worked up until now, for a lot of leaders, and I'm talking, I think something really changed around sort of COVID, and the world changed, of course, but a lot of leaders were successful up to that point and now they're just looking at the toolkit going. It's just not working anymore. I dunno what it is. These were working before and these tools are no longer working. So what do I do now?

Jan Terkelsen: Mm.

Amos Szeps: You know.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. I think people also got a taste of autonomy, like not having to come in to be able to do their work away. And, a lot of leaders were able to lead by physically seeing people and having that walk around and things like that.

So it actually did have to open up another skillset for leaders. Yeah, absolutely. And, and to your point about the pace of change, strategy now isn't relevant in three months' time. That's where this opportunity of diversity and having those robust discussions come into it. So if you are hmm,

Amos Szeps: Agility. Sorry to cut you off. But you know exactly, exactly that, it, it, nothing stays the same anymore. You can't sort of what you did six months ago is not gonna work. So you have to be an expert at adapting.

I keep thinking of Madonna. She reinvents herself, right? Or she did through our generation. And, and, and leaders almost have to be like that.

It's like, okay, three years in, what am I gonna? Who am I gonna be this year? How am I gonna, how am I gonna dial my essence up in a particular direction or dial a particular aspect of me down to fit the circumstances now, because everything's changing so quickly?

[08:04] Common Issues and Challenges Leaders Seek Coaching For

Jan Terkelsen: So let's kind of pull the curtain back in the coaching, right? So what are you seeing in your coaching that leaders are coming to you for, like, what are their issues and challenges? What, what is it that they're actually looking for?

Amos Szeps: So a lot of it is related to culture, and that you talked about autonomy. I mean, people have more autonomy now. People have had a chance to reflect as there's been, there's been an awakening in a way, hasn't there?

And so, leaders are basically facing cultures which are not engaged in the way that they were. They're not retaining people the way that they were. People aren't in ruts. They're kind of, they've risen outta the rights, and they're looking left and right. Oh, I've got options here.

And so, in a sense, they're just they're coming to people like myself, I think, and going, well, if the economy is not looking great, and if inflation's not looking great, and you could list off another 10 things like that, to be worried about, how do I strengthen my culture for what's coming?

 Now what do I do? How do I, what does that even look like in this modern age? And particularly the new and emerging leaders. So those frontline leaders, first-time managers or a couple of rungs above, generally sort of like, what would they be, 30, 35, that kind of age?

Jan Terkelsen: Hmm.

Amos Szeps: I don't engage them because most of the, most of the people that I'm coaching are about 55 or even 60, and they lived through a different world. And there's definitely, it definitely feels like there's a cultural gap between those generations.

[09:49] Creating Meaningful Work in Hierarchical Organisations

Jan Terkelsen: Absolutely. Because even now, when we are seeing how open young ones are, like even young leaders, like they share so much more than perhaps their older counterparts. And they are a lot more impatient. They want things to happen sooner.

And when we've got working in these monoliths, like these big organisations that have to actually go through all this hierarchy, it really is stifling for people who want a meaningful input. They want their work to be meaningful for them. And so, as a leader, how do you do that?

And again, like you were saying, it's a new skill set. So if we are thinking about it, we know that there is a problem around culture and how to engage, et cetera. What are some of the skills you think that leaders need to be thinking about and dialling up?

Amos Szeps: So, I think they need to be great coaches, but I would say that, wouldn't I? Because I think coaching is a superpower, and I don't think you need to be a coach to have good coaching skills.

I think, I mean, what do people want? Especially the younger generation as I understand it anyway, is, and I've got younger members on my team, who I was just having a debate about, actually, I'm sort of thinking about it. Maybe I'll share it with you.

Butthey, they wanna be listened to. They wanna be understood. Like they wanna, they wanna have someone there who is genuinely interested in who they are, what makes them tick, what their passions are, what their dreams are.

And look, the best way of engaging an individual or, or a group of people is to figure that out and to find roles that allow them to express themselves, and achieve their dreams, and express their individuality within that role in such a way that it's got an organisational benefit.

I mean, if you can line up your personal motivations with an organisational motivation, then that's the way to do it. Now, how do you do that at scale? I mean, that's how do you create a culture where at the top you're creating a hundred leaders or a thousand leaders who are all skilled at doing that? That's a very different place to work.

Jan Terkelsen: Hmm.

Amos Szeps: In fact, I think this is hearsay, but you'd have to check this, but I think Canva. You know Canva, the organisation?


So I think they've actually done away with the word leader, and they actually have replaced it with coaches. So they have coaches. Yeah. Yeah.

Jan Terkelsen: Well, I mean, just being a coach. There are so many skills in that skill set. And I remember doing my coaching accreditation like, oh God, nearly 20 years ago or something now. But the top three were listening, questioning, and the ability to acknowledge. And whenever we run a leadership course, they're the three top skills.

Like we've got about seven key communication skills, but they're the top three. Because most people don't know how to listen.

Amos Szeps: Sure.

[12:45] Imposter Syndrome and Its Detrimental Impacts

Jan Terkelsen: And it's something that everyone can start to do more of. It's just that we are not taught how to listen. We are, kind of, like just talking until someone stops, and then we can kind of like say our thing.

Like it really does take a lot of energy and intention to listen deeply. And if you are an extrovert and someone says to you, "Gee, you're a really good listener." Like, take that as a real big tick. You've obviously been working on yourself.

Yeah. Okay, so, what I often hear, especially for new and emerging leaders, is this thing called, and even senior leaders really this thing called imposter syndrome, where they don't think that they are good enough.

And so there are certain perfectionistic behaviours that then are displayed because of that. And as we know, that can lead to some really detrimental impacts on the team. Do you come across that at all in your coaching?

Amos Szeps: Yeah, I was, I'm coaching someone, well, two people at the moment who have used that terminology. I find it one of the most difficult things, if I'm honest, to coach around cause I think it's fundamental, and you're bordering on kind of going into therapy to address confidence issues or imposter syndrome.

So I kind of, it's, it's not, I'm open to suggestions around this, but, but one of the ways that I found it just, just very simple and pragmatic is to, to ask, to explore with them how they would be behaving different if they if they were, were confident.

Not, not like, not full of bluster, not not the person who's beating their chest and look at me, but, but genuine deep groundedness, that that really rock solid sense of self.

I ask them, what, what, what would you be doing differently? What would you be doing less of? More of? How would you be approaching this situation? And really just get them to sort of paint that picture and imagine themselves doing that.

And they may actually come up with some actions from that place that they wouldn't have come, they wouldn't have thought of otherwise. And so then you've got them doing things, behaving in particular ways that they wouldn't otherwise. And in a sense, you start to feel confident if you're doing those things.

So rather than going back to childhood and sort of doing all psychoanalysis, I think that's like a fast-track way. It's a bit of a cheat but, I do think what you build up is you build up in a set of experiences and successes that in your head and you and, and, and the more that builds up a bank of things like, this is who I am, I'm this type of person.

Even if you don't always feel it, it's like, well, the behaviour seems to indicate that I'm that person, so I must be.

Jan Terkelsen: Hmm.

Amos Szeps: You know.

[15:32] How to Give and Receive Feedback

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. Yes. You're applying the proof point. That this is actually what someone who doesn't have imposter syndrome would be doing.

The other thing about that is you're inviting people to give themselves feedback and, and maybe that's another step is if you think you are an imposter, get feedback. So find out the impact that you are having on others because then, again, you are getting another tangible piece of data for you to work with.

And so, from that point of view, have you got any suggestions about how people can, I don't know, ask for feedback or even give feedback?

Amos Szeps: Yeah. I mean this is fundamental, isn't it? And, and I, I agree with you around the feedback point. It's probably worth saying too that I think a lot of people who think they have imposter syndrome maybe actually just have an accurate self-perception, and maybe, maybe, there, there is a gender difference here, I believe.

So, you hear about imposter syndrome a lot more in women than you do in men. And women, I think, is established tend to have a better, more accurate self-representation than men.

We don't often hear about people coming to coaching and saying, "I've got a completely unrealistic confident attitude about myself. And I need some coaching to have a more realistic."

But actually, there's probably more of them. And maybe that's we should be doing more of that as opposed to just, but that's not a matter.

So feedback, how to give and receive feedback? So, I've done a lot of this, and I start, I did sort of executive assessments, which was terrifying when I was young. Oh my God. And you're sent into this room to someone who's 20 years older than you, and you've gotta give them this feedback saying stuff they've never heard about themselves.

Jan Terkelsen: All right.

Amos Szeps: And I just sort of, through trial and error and some pretty big errors, came up with a couple of things. So one is always, ask permission first.

Jan Terkelsen: Mm.

Amos Szeps: So Jan, there's some, there's some stuff which I've noticed, which which I kind of wanna share with you, but I don't really know if you want to hear it because it's, it's, it's, it's, it might be tough, it might sting a bit. So if you want, I, I just won't share that bit.

 Almost take it away and just leave it hanging and let them say to you, "No, no, no, no, no. I wanna hear it."

Okay. Okay. Okay. So that's one part.

The other part is you have to have positive intent. If you feel in any way that you are, there's something off in this relationship. You're judging this person. You don't really like them. It's not gonna land well. You have to love them. You have to want the best for them.

Jan Terkelsen: Hmm.

[18:13] Enhancing Feedback for Greater Effectiveness

Amos Szeps: And, and if it comes from that place, then again, it, it, it would likely be received in the, in the right way. And then, of course, the simple one would just be specific.

So make it about behaviour, as opposed to the person saying you are lazy. It's not gonna go down well. But saying, when you leave the meeting 10 minutes early each time, the impact on, what do you think the impact on the team is? What do you think they think of you? And have it be a conversation, too, as opposed to just a one-way diatribe.

Jan Terkelsen: Hmm.

Amos Szeps: And then, at the end, ask them what they got from it. So I think it's light, it's just a conversation, it's with positive intent and you ask permission.

Jan Terkelsen: I love that.

Amos Szeps: There's also a skill to receiving feedback as well, which is basically just don't take it personally. Because most people give feedback terribly, just know it's gonna be, it's gonna be delivered terribly. And just assume positive intent. That's all you can do. Just like, thank you. That's all you say.

Don't, don't even respond. Yes or no. I disagree. I disagree. Don't. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah, lovely. Because as a feeler, when we say don't take it personally, we'll take things personally. That's what we do as feelers. However, when we know that people like just to have the highest, I don't know, thought about the reason why people are giving you feedback. And I love that just thank you is enough.

And, often Michelle and I, if we are doing a workshop, this is my twin sister who, we're in business together, sometimes I'll say, "Oh, can I give you some feedback?" And she'll, "Well, no, not today."

You know what I mean? You've gotta be ready to receive it, so there.

Amos Szeps: Don't feedback all over me. It's like, when you, it actually feels like that sometimes. Like you just if you're feedbacking all over me. Go away. Stop.

[19:58] Coaching Someone on Giving Feedback to Their Boss

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. So have you ever had to coach someone who wanted to give their boss feedback?

Amos Szeps: Absolutely. I do that all the time. It's part, it's part of the process, actually. So the process is, that, I mean, we encourage that the boss is involved, that actually the boss attends session two or session three for the coachee to share with them what they want to get out of the coaching program to get feedback. But also to really transform that relationship as well.

And even if you see this person every day when you've got a coach, third party, in a conversation sort of facilitating, it's a very different thing. People sort of almost see themselves through somebody else's eyes, through an independent person's eyes, and they behave in a different way. They'd be more vulnerable, sometimes mostly more authentic.

And so the opportunity there is really to transform that relationship and have it be a two-way conversation about how to maximise that relationship. And then we get the boss back at sort of session six, seven to review the progress, to discuss what, what the gaps are, the remaining gaps And and next steps.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah, I like that. I like that involving them in the whole process. Because then you can really understand how you are going to meet those expectations. And one, and also the opportunity to share what is going on for you. If, if, if you needed to actually give feedback to your boss having a third party there, I think that's a nice, safe way of doing it as well.

Amos Szeps: Yeah, exactly.

[21:37] What Leaders Need to Do Differently to Manage Hybrid Teams

Jan Terkelsen: Some people, they've got that support. So, we are talking about the different working environment and people wanting more autonomy.

What we are finding is people are working more and more from home, and organisations culturally have to contend with, do we have a blanket policy or do we do it person-by-person. And this is what makes a culture as well the decisions that they make.

What do you think leaders need to do differently to manage a hybrid team?

Amos Szeps: Look, I, I, I can only speak to my experience Jan, as a coach and as a team coach, which is, a blend, a blended approach. I mean, I, I, in my personal experience, it's not one or the other.

I would feel uncomfortable working with a team if it was all virtual. So if it was, say, three, two-day workshops over a year, and I work with teams all over the world, so I work with teams in the US and the UK. And sometimes, two outta three workshops I might run virtually.

And then, but at least once a year, I think it's really important to get 'em into a room for two days and, I mean, everybody knows it's just, it's a, it's, it's a hassle. It's costly, but it's different. It's just different.

So I I don't think anything can replace that in terms of what I do. And, and, and the nuance that you get from being in a room with somebody. Complexity, but but geez, what an amazing thing to be able to coach people from our houses who are in America or in England or whatever.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah, I know. I, I've found over the years, though, one of the most impactful coaching sessions I had was over the phone, where we didn't even see each other, or anything like that. It was just total deep listening.

And so, but yes, I, I think you do have to have a breadth, especially if you're leading other people and things like that. And then sometimes you just have to pull out skills that you normally would use face-to-face and then ramp them up.

Like really notice the body language, notice what's in the background, have a conversation with that, checking in with them, those, and that's what we found during COVID. The teams who still did the check-ins still kind of like ran their meetings and connected were the ones who really were able to navigate COVID.

So one of the, what is one of the best pieces of advice as you've been given, and how do you apply it?

[24:06] Choose Meaningful Problems

Amos Szeps: What is the best piece of advice I've been given? I've been given so much good

Jan Terkelsen: advice.

One, one of the best.

Amos Szeps: Okay. So I think, my, my lovely old man who is sadly fading away with Alzheimer's,


Amos Szeps: which is very sad, but he was very, very wise and,and he, he, he used to say that life's full of problems. So stop. Don't ever get into that trap of trying to eliminate problems from your life. Just choose really good ones, Amos. Because if you're gonna have problems, you may as well have really good ones.

So, among those he would call kids, kids are a great problem to have. A wife is a great problem to have a long-term partner. A career that's difficult, but you love it deeply. You care about it, and it's, it's, but it's hard. That's a good problem to have.

Suing your neighbour because their tree is leaning on your fence, maybe not so good. And I thought that was very good. So,

Jan Terkelsen: I love that. It's just looking at it from a different perspective, and as coaches, that's what we're always inviting our clients to do, isn't it? Like, broaden that perspective.

[25:18] How to Contact Amos

Jan Terkelsen: So Amos, if people wanted to find you, where would they, if they wanted to start a conversation or find out what you're doing, what's the best place?

Amos Szeps: So I'm actually, I actually run a large coaching practice in Australia called Peoplemax. And, I, I've been talking as, as a, as a, as an individual coach today, but we've got over 40 coaches across Australia and New Zealand.

And, we do loads of different stuff from women in leadership programs to resilience workshops, to culture change to leadership developments, team stuff, so that's kind of my, my day job.

And I don't do a whole lot of coaching anymore. But, if we, if people wanna get me, what's the best place, probably peoplemax.com.au or amosszeps.com.

Jan Terkelsen: Beautiful and also LinkedIn. So you've got, I know you've got a LinkedIn profile as well.

Amos Szeps: Yeah, yeah,

Jan Terkelsen: I tapped on that. Yeah. Great. And we'll put that link in, in the notes as well. So is, to round off this conversation, Amos, is there anything else that you would like to share before we wrap up?

Amos Szeps: No, I just wanted to say it's lovely to meet you, and it's always good to have these conversations. I find it really energising. I was at the end of a long day, and I was like, coming onto this, had my cup of coffee, and I'm like, I've got more energy now than when I started. So

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. Lovely. Yeah. And thank you. And it's always good to hear another coach to see how similar we are, but the way in which we execute is gonna be very different. And so we are gonna be attracted to different clients, and clients are gonna be attracted to us.

But, our whole premise is to, like, see the best. You know what I mean? In people that we coach and have that intent, which, which I love. I love the whole coaching fraternity.

So it's been a pleasure. It really has. Amos, I really appreciate it. And yeah, we'll stay in touch.

Amos Szeps: Thanks very much, Jan.

Jan Terkelsen: Thanks, Amos. Bye.