Executive Coach Showcase: Kevin Johnson


Have you ever met someone you immediately felt comfortable with? Someone you were convinced had your best interests in mind from the start? That is the way people experience Kevin Johnson. They find his presence calming, his warmth comforting, his authenticity compelling, and his desire to make the world a better place inspirational.

Kevin is a talented executive coach and a prolific author. We were very fortunate indeed to have lured him into our group of extraordinary coaches at CPI Twin Cities! And we were fortunate to have found a moment in his busy schedule to interview him about his coaching work and philosophy. Here are his answers to our questions.

Why did you decide to become an executive coach?

I became a coach because I believe that helping one leader succeed in his/her role can impact a large part of the organization, and that allows me to make a positive difference in the working lives of others. I enjoy coaching and empowering leaders to build alignment, resolve conflict, increase engagement, improve effectiveness, and create a healthy and productive workplace.

What is your area of specialty as a coach?

I focus on creating internal transformation leading to sustainable external behavior. The goal of this is often to improve relational and managerial effectiveness.

Do you believe that leaders should operate from their authentic selves or conform to the expectations of the culture?

I would hope there is alignment between the authentic self and the culture of the workplace. If not, there is a question of fit. We should all be in workplaces that recognize and celebrate individual differences. This invites us to bring the best of who we are to our jobs. Authenticity breeds innovation.

Conformity allows us to work effectively with others, but it should never mean automatically thinking or talking the same way.

What do you believe are the most pressing issues of leaders today?

From my perspective, the following issues are pressing for leaders:

  • Motivating and liberating employees: We are coming out of an era when employees were made to feel expendable. Many are weary and jaded. Leaders need to help employees get back on board and reengage. They need to convince their employees that they are valued and have a stake in the success of the organization.
  • Returning to long-term goals: As we come out of the decade of change, it is important to focus on communicating new vision, creating longer-term strategy, and aligning resources with critical activities. This direction will allow employees to stop spinning and to become more productive.
  • Developing hi-potential employees: We’ve been talking about the changing workplace for years. Now it is really happening! Organizations need to select and groom new leaders to build or rebuild and sustain growth. In addition, the Millennial generation of workers is eager for development. They are likely to leave if not given career development opportunities.

What is your coaching philosophy?

I believe that coaches should approach their clients as equals because we are all on a journey. We each have our own path and struggle in different ways. It is my role as a coach to help my clients clarify their thoughts in order to understand what may be holding them back and then to encourage appropriate risk-taking to move forward. This allows for growth and transformation.

I also believe that coaching should reflect the unique business context. Leaders need to evolve to be effective in the context they work in. There is no “one size fits all” model of leadership effectiveness.

What values inform your work as a coach?

As a coach, I value openness, partnership, and authenticity. In addition, the following assumptions shape my behavior as a coach:

  • Change is a desired outcome of the coaching engagement
  • Both the participant and the coach will practice intentional vulnerability so that learning can take place
  • Anything is possible – human beings are capable of enormous growth, change, and adaptation in order to be successful

Can you tell us about a recent coaching engagement?

I recently worked with a client inside a manufacturing company who had an aggressive communication style. His approach left his supervisor feeling continuously challenged and caused his coworkers to pull away from him. He had created unfavorable impressions within the organization. Feedback from others indicated that he was unlikely to advance in his career at the company due to his communication style.

In order to generate insight, I worked with my team to conduct a leadership assessment. During the assessment feedback session, the client recognized both his strengths as a leader and his derailing attitudes toward himself and others. He had come to believe that aggression was required in order to get things done while choosing to ignore the long-term consequences of this communication style. With insight gathered from the assessment, we designed a development plan that focused on practicing alternative behaviors as well as implementing various learning strategies. These behaviors included the following:

  • Focusing on being present with others in order to hear and read them
  • Pausing and listening instead of plunging ahead
  • Controlling the tendency to be provocative (i.e., raising voice) to evoke a response
  • Communicating options instead of telling people what to do
  • Bringing others along and not pacing faster than they could understand

The coaching engagement lasted six months and was highly successful. Feedback from the client’s supervisor and team members indicated consistent improvement in communication style. In addition, we learned that the candidate was promoted not long after the engagement ended.

When not coaching leaders, how do you spend your time?

I love watching the moon and stars through my telescope, photographing nature, playing with Sophie, my Shetland sheepdog, and walking around the lakes of Minneapolis with my wife. I also enjoy coaching our own three grown children through their career adventures.