Dale Dauten article - Chicago Tribune (1999)


By Dale Dauten, King Features Syndicate CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JANUARY 17, 1999

 “It is always worthwhile to make others aware of their worth."  --Malcolm Forbes

I'd come to meet the master, to see for myself the man who gets $1,500 an hour as an executive coach. (Yes, that's two zeros, with a minimum six-month commitment to weekly sessions, paid in advance.) Mere hype? That's what I would have thought, except that I know two of his "players," and both give him credit for their sudden bursts of career success, and both have readily re-upped their coaching agreements.

I hadn't given any thought to what a $1,500-an-hour coach might look like--perhaps Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi, or, better yet, Yoda--but before me was a man who looks like a slightly smaller version of football commentator Howie Long: athletic, blonde, and with an intensity of gaze that would cause you to pick a different seat on the train.

The first time I met Steve Hardison, he showed me pictures of his grave site. And soon thereafter Hardison picked up a wastebasket and pretended to hugely barf into it, illustrating a point about intensity. This doesn't sound charming, and yet I was charmed.

The second time I met Hardison, for a formal interview, I asked what advice he had for those who would read this column. He offered this suggestion: "Forget goal setting. Where you're going isn't as important as where you're coming from." He wasn't referring to geography. In fact, the reason he keeps pictures of his grave site is to remind him that there's only one place he knows for sure he's heading.

He added, "The question isn't `What do I want?' it's `How do I serve?' or `How can I contribute?' Once an intense commitment to service is where you're coming from, you can ask the critical question, `Who would I need to be to really make a difference?' " In other words, you don't work on what you can get, but what you can be and what you can give.

Early in his career, working for Xerox, Hardison started to experiment with his "coming from" philosophy. He made his reputation as a sales rep by taking a return on a copier, even though it was against policy. He said simply, "If I lose my job because I took care of a customer, then I never had a job." The next day his boss' boss called him in. As everyone in the department waited to hear that he had been axed, Hardison heard this instead: "I wish I had more people like you."

At his next job, with Rodel Products Corp. (a key supplier to the semiconductor industry), Hardison again confronted management, announcing to the CEO that his attitude toward the sales department was "BS." (Hardison's attitude was, "Fire me? Big deal. Do more than you're paid to do and you'll always have a job.") The CEO reacted by saying, "Only two people have ever said that to me. I married the first; you're the second." And that's how Hardison became an "internal coach" at the company, and eventually came to be a personal coach.

Hardison insists that he's coaching for the joy of it, not for the pay. "This is sick, but most people in our culture are more committed to money than to anything else, so if I want to get them committed to change, I start with the money."

After spending several hours with Hardison, I understood how he would be effective as a coach: He'd ask more of you than you'd ever ask of yourself, then you wouldn't want to let him down.

There's something to be learned from that. We are surrounded by little tasks, handed out by little people. What if we sought out the opposite? Which reminds me of one of my favorite symphonies, Dvorak's Seventh. Dvorak wrote it in a horror of disappointing his friend and mentor, saying, "It must be something respectable for I don't want to let Brahms down."

Imagine what you might accomplish if a Brahms was waiting to see what you came up with, pulling for you.