Dr. George Vergolias is Chief Clinical Officer of R3 Continuum and took some time out to talk with The Industry Leaders about what all successful coaching businesses have in common.
What's your industry?
A hybrid between behavioral health, performance consulting and workplace wellbeing. We assist companies to be ready for disruptive events, manage those events in a way to mitigate negative impact, and maximize emotional and psychological recovery.
For people who don't know you, can you tell us how you ended up sitting where you are today?
My background is forensic psychology and early in my career I worked extensively with the legal system, courts, prisons and law enforcement. Over time, I began consulting on school and workplace violence issues, which in turn naturally led to my move to consulting on behavioral issues in the corporate setting.
I’ve had a deep focus in workplace violence for over 20 years, and after about 10 years I began to realize that I also needed to focus on psychological resilience to mitigate risk for troubled behaviors in the workplace. That led to my interest and additional expertise in fostering psychological resilience, primarily because living an emotionally healthy and adaptive life is the best antidote to the factors that contribute to violence.
I started at R3 Continuum 12 years ago and was drawn to this company because the value R3 provides in offering workplace solutions plays to my dual strengths of helping to mitigate behavioral risk while also improving resilience. Over that time, I was elevated to my current role.
What does your daily routine look like?
As Chief Clinical Officer I am responsible for the full array of clinical and behavioral services we provide across our continuum of offerings. I focus much of my time on the strategic clinical vision of the company, working in close collaboration with the executive team. This includes future-oriented projects many times, focusing on how we can continually provide real impact in the lives we touch through our services. I also spend considerable time solving challenging problems at a strategic, and often tactical, level.
I start my day early, often before 7 a.m. which I refer to as “my time” to focus on my work projects, emails and other deliverables. Much of that time is working on thought leadership content and output. Typically, by 10 a.m. various issues and problems start bubbling up and my role is to assist my team and other stakeholders in the company to find solutions.
There is an array of activities I might engage in, and each day is different. This may include meetings, outreach calls to key clients and providers, researching clinical trends and best practices, interfacing with Legal on medico-legal questions that arise, investigating complaints, assisting other departments as an SME, and an array of thought leadership content and presentations. Additionally, I spend a good amount of time consulting with high-value clients on issues related to behavioral risk and developing resilient workplaces.
What excites you most about what you do?
The fields of Psychology and Behavioral Health have come a long way in 100 years and have helped many people. Yet, in my opinion that has mostly been relegated to individualized focus on people’s private lives, and I believe there is so much more we can offer to workplaces to reduce risk and improve coping and thriving.
We spend at least 30% of our adult lives working, and when compared to sleep hours (another 30%) that equals the time we spend with family and loved ones. The challenge before us, and what excites me most, is answering the question –how do we build workplace cultures that not only support our most important asset (the employees), but help them thrive – and in a way that enhances their wellbeing and the cultures’ wellbeing, while still improving the financial viability of the company? We have come a long way in the past 20 years and have accelerated more so since the pandemic when it comes to mental health awareness, but we have much work yet to do and miles to go before we sleep!
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
I have a distinct memory of having just graduated from my doctoral program, and being fully “launched” as they say, when I met my graduate school mentor for coffee. I was lamenting how ill equipped I felt to go forward, how I felt totally unprepared and didn’t really know what I was doing. My mentor was much older, and he gave me a small smirk, and shared words that put things into perspective, “Half the world is pretending they know exactly what they’re doing, and the other half is trying to be just like them.” He explained that at each stage of our life journey, we’re constantly figuring new things out, and that curiosity and drive to learn and to grow is the key to success in anything. These were very affirming and supportive words to hear from a person I thought “had it all figured out.”
Many years later while watching a documentary about the ocean with my son, I learned how lobsters grow. They grow and push and push until their shell breaks; then they grow a stronger, harder shell. Then they do it again and again throughout their entire lifespan. This is a great analogy for personal growth. To break out of our shell is challenging and painful at times to be sure, but it is all a part of the process of growth, and I’ve come to learn it is also the core of resilience.
What's been the hardest part about the path you've taken and how would you advise someone facing a similar situation to overcome it?
There was no singular event for me, but rather a recurring theme that over time I’ve learned to carry better but has never truly gone away. That is my lack of patience to see impact and change. This is exacerbated by the fact that I am a driven person (cliché Type A personality) who also has ADHD. Taken together, when considering larger goals as well as daily tasks, my eyes are way bigger than reality allows for execution. My default mechanism is to want to see things change quickly as well as to get many things done in a short period of time. This came at a price of me feeling dejected or inadequate when I did not meet the high demands I placed on myself.
Early in my career I was able to compensate for this somewhat by just working harder and longer. As I entered middle age, as kids and family responsibilities came along, that no longer worked, and I had to be more intentional, focused and realistic about what I can and cannot accomplish in a short period of time. I still struggle with this, as my default mechanism remains and will always be there, but I’m more aware of it and can modulate it better.
Are there any well-known Books, Podcasts, or Courses that you credit your current success to?
I can’t say there is any one source or influencer that I can credit for my success, rather it’s a chorus of voices and inputs that have helped shape me over time. There are so many, but a few rise up. Anything by Tim Ferris (books, blog, podcast), who is the master at developing behavioral life hacks to maximize performance. Early in my career I found Tony Robbins to be particularly helpful in shaping productive habits. Jocko Willink is an ex-Navy Seal, who now consults on individual and corporate performance, has a great book called “Extreme Ownership” as well as a podcast. In general, reading autobiographies (and biographies) of various people I have found to deepen my perspective of their humanness, their challenges and how they persevered. Lately, I’ve been very interested in the work of Dr. Andrew Huberman (blogs, podcast) a neuroscientist at Stanford who focuses on brain function and neural plasticity.
As a general theme, I am always looking for ways to “tweak” my “system,” meaning both my internal state and my lifestyle to maximize productivity and happiness.
Have you ever used a business or executive coach?
Yes, I have on two separate occasions for different reasons. One was in my early career when I was launching my telemental health practice, and the focus was on your typical start up struggles. This was partly a strategic and largely tactical focus in the work we did. Many years later I pursued coaching again when I began to hit a lull in my career and a loss of passion in the work I was doing. This was mostly a focus on clarifying my values, wants and needs, and reigniting the passion for the work I want to do. Very different goals, but both times coaching was critical to my success.
It seems like there are a lot of people offering business coaching these days. In your opinion, is that a good thing?
I see pros and cons to this. On the one hand, the reach has expanded, and thus the value of business coaching has never been more clearly disseminated to the business community, which means more people can reap the benefits from business coaching. Yet, on the other hand I have a concern that this may dilute the quality and respect of the field as it finds its identity as a professional guild. The range of “coaching programs” is wide, from very robust programs from well-respected institutions to programs that lack professional and intellectual rigor.
People can sometimes confuse a coach with a mentor. Can you help us clarify the difference?
One growing pain in the business coaching field is there is no real consensus on these definitions. Differing coaching associations, coaching schools/programs and companies themselves use these terms with considerable overlap. To that end, I realize some may disagree with my clarification offered here, but I find these practical.
I view business coaching as a more focused and directed approach to helping someone master a series of skillsets or overcome identified problems so that they can succeed and thrive. Skill acquisition is a core component, along with understanding how one’s personality impacts execution of performance. As such, the coach does not necessarily need to be in the same expertise area as the recipient and at times may have very little in common professionally. As an example, over the course of his career Tiger Woods (to date) has had at least four swing coaches, each of them at different times to help him develop or improve a certain area of his performance (i.e., his swing).
Mentoring, by contrast, is more explorative, less directed, and broader in approach, where a more seasoned (oftentimes older) person who shares some commonality with the mentee, leverages their experience to provide support and help one develop more fully. Experience on the part of the mentor is more important, as well as some shared role or expertise, even if in a broader manner. This requires less direct guidance and relies heavily on the mentor’s lived and professional experience to help the mentee grow. The primary goal is overall development, not only skill acquisition. As an example, Mohammad Ali was a mentor to Kareem Abdul-Jabar (Lew Alcindor at the time) at a pivotal time when Kareem was navigating his sports fame amidst a backdrop of religious conversion and civil rights advocacy, at a time in our country when both were hotbed issues. Ali did not play basketball, but he was a famous Black sports figure who came before Kareem and used his (Ali’s) lived and professional experience to help Kareem navigate the same difficulties and grow not only as an athlete (work performance), but also as a well-rounded person (broader development).
For any entrepreneurs or executives looking to work with a coach, where are the best places to find a great one?
There are a number of online listings, and any search engine can bring up a long list of “business” or “professional” coaches. Yet, I would recommend for anyone serious about working with a coach, simply ask around to your colleagues, mentors and business associates. You may be shocked to know how many of them use or have used a coach.
What 3 qualities would you say separate a great business coach from a bad one?
Curiosity, Intellectually Steadfast and Disciplined, Humble Confidence.
Curiosity – must be irreverently curious, to seek new answers, try new solutions, and be open to new perspectives in the service of working with clients.
Intellectually Steadfast and Disciplined – beyond curiosity, we have to put in the intellectual work to know our subject matter areas, stay up to date on new developments, and analytically think about how they can impact clients for the better. Coaching and the process of behavioral change is a marathon, it is not a sprint. We can make rapid change happen but change for most of us comes over time. Doing the right things again, and again, and entrench them into habits that drive us forward.
Humble Confidence – this seems like a contradiction, yet it is not. A coach must be confident in knowing their space, sharing their expertise in a way that is helpful and impactful. We must own our expertise. Yet, we must do so with humility. At the outset of a coaching relationship, I often say to a client, “I am the expert on behavioral change, and I know my stuff, but I am NOT the expert on YOU! Only you are the expert on you, so we have to work together to bring our two areas of expertise together and promote your growth.”
Do you think someone can be a great business coach without having many years of experience?
Yes, I do, but it is challenging to do so without experience. There are people who based on any number of factors, most often early experience, just have a natural gift for the work and they seem to thrive in the role at a relatively young age. You may call them prodigies, and we see them in all walks of life, although rare. Yet, experience is what deepens and expands our understanding of the work. As another analogy, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were arguably two of the best natural talents in basketball of all time, yet they never stopped working hard to build on that talent.
What do you think the world of business coaching will look like in 20 years' time?
This is tough to answer currently, because I think the entire world of “coaching” (business, personal, professional, performance) is in its adolescence and trying to sort out what it wants to be when it grows up. Related to the earlier question, there is wide variability in definitions, programs and focus areas. I believe over the next 10 to 20 years, business coaching will evolve into a primary developmental pathway to grow, improve and thrive professionally. Larger companies with resources will embrace and offer coaching more and more as a means to attract, develop and maintain top talent. For professionals in companies that do not offer such, increasingly over time they will seek such out themselves in order to “keep up” and have the competitive edge that coaching can provide.