Stef Ziev is a former TV executive turned certified life and executive coach and author of the book, The Choice Is Yours: A Simple Approach to Live and Lead with more Joy, Ease and Purpose. Since starting her coaching practice in 2007, she’s worked with thousands of professionals, executives, leaders, teams, and organizations in the fields of entertainment, law, marketing, financial services, engineering, talent delivery, and accounting at companies including the New York Times, Google, American Express, NBCUniversal, Viacom, Pearle Vision, and many more. She’s appeared on NBC’s Today show, ABC’s Good Morning America, On with Mario Lopez on iHeartRadio, and various shows on SiriusXM. To find out more and stay in touch, visit www.stefziev.com.
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
When I was ten years old, I went to sleepaway camp for the first time and went back every year until I was 24. Throughout those 14 summers, I grew from a camper to a counselor to the assistant director, which was my first, full-time job out of college. I believe this experience at camp laid the groundwork for my career as an executive and life coach.
After two years in that role, I chose to leave and travel aimlessly across the U.S. with a friend from high school, and three months later I landed in Los Angeles where I got my first job in television. Six years after that, and just two months before the world would change on 9/11, I moved to New York City where eventually I got hired as the vice president of development at the Oxygen network.
A few years into that job, I was up for a huge position at another television network. To prepare, I went to a career counselor to help me strengthen my resume and my interview skills. Just before our third session, I got the news that the position was no longer available. That information brought me an unexpected sense of relief.
I said to my counselor, “Y’know if I could do anything, I would facilitate personal development workshops.”
She responded, “Why don’t you become a life coach?”
“I don’t know what that is,” I said in earnest.
Six months later, I was secretly enrolled in a program where I was getting certified as a life coach while I was still working full-time at Oxygen. Sixteen days after receiving that certification, I chose to leave and start my own coaching practice.
I would say the rest is history, but the truth is that three years into my coaching career, I failed miserably. At age 41, my business was bleak. I had almost no clients, no prospects, and no money. With my tail between my legs, embarrassed, ashamed, and devastated, I moved in with my parents. I got a job I hated to pay my bills, and 18 months into it, I got fired.
Then… I had a fortuitous opportunity to pitch an idea for a segment to the Today show that I called “Coach Me If You Can,” and they loved it! I was a featured expert and coach on that show for an entire year. The experience catapulted my confidence, which impacted and elevated my business. And though there were many more hills to climb and valleys to navigate in those beginning years of my business, I am deeply grateful for each ebb and flow, for it has informed and led me to where I am today.
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
There’s not just one, instrumental person who I can name. I feel incredibly blessed to have a team of people including teachers, friends, colleagues, clients, and family, throughout my life who have been and continue to be angels along my path. Sometimes they are people who are close to me and other times they may be strangers who show up for a moment with a message to help keep me aligned with my vision. I feel strongly that life is a classroom and everything and everyone provides an invitation to learn and develop. The choice to do so is in our hands.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
Three words: Revenue Stream Document!
Unfortunately, I was not given this advice, or more accurately, this tool, until after I failed in my business. However, the second I learned about it I used it to restart my business, which was a game changer.
I am not a math person, or a natural entrepreneur, so this bare bones revenue stream document* that I was taught provided a simple way to create financial goals and map out realistic fee structures that set the foundation upon which I could, and did, build my business. I still use this exercise at the start of every year to outline my business and fiscal goals for the following twelve months.
The advice that accompanied this tool was that the desire to help people does not alone build a business. It may sound obvious, but when I first started out, like many people, especially women, I just wanted to be of service. I didn’t have a business plan. I had no idea what I was doing. And I started my practice before the rise of social media and when coaching was not well known, so the resources were slim and I felt alone.
Having a financial plan ultimately allowed me to live my vision and be of greater service to even more people. The same is true for you. Financial health is part of overall health. Honor that, know your value, and allow yourself to give and also receive what you’re worth. You and your service matters!
*I learned this from my friend, Carissa Reiniger, who is the founder of an amazing company called Silver Lining which helps small business owners build profitable, sustainable businesses.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
I believe effective leadership begins with effective communication, which is sadly lacking today in our world where speed and efficiency is king. As a result, things get lost in translation or are not fully or clearly expressed, This causes harmful consequences including splintered relationships, diminished productivity, and deeper divisions.
One of the agreements in the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, is, “Don’t Make Assumptions.” Instead, Ruiz says, “Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”
I work with leaders across many industries and effective communication is the area that we focus on most. Taking the time to practice empathic and active listening, to reflect both inside and out, to seek to understand through inquiry, and to communicate in a way that the other person can hear and digest, are all parts of this skill set that are worth learning, developing, and honing. This is what elevates and positively impacts our leadership and our lives.
As a business owner, and also a coach who is committed to holding my clients to their highest and best, what I know to be true, is that when I communicate with intention, kindness, empathy and efficacy, even when it may be uncomfortable, a greater connection is always created, a new bridge is built, and a new path is revealed. This is what I seek to expand in the world everyday.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
1.Turn your "Chores" into "Choices."
2. Action is the antidote to fear.
3. Don't let perfection be the enemy of good enough.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
I’m wrestling with how to answer this question. The simple answer would be tactical, but honestly, there are a thousand resources when it comes to best practices to build a strong network, all of which you can easily Google, which I encourage you to do.
For me, though, building my network has always come down to three things:
1) Authenticity: Always be and express your unique self.
2) Generosity: Know that you have gifts to share and value to provide and offer it.
3) Choice: Give yourself permission to choose to ask for what you want and be open to receive it
When you implement all of these aspects and align with your truth, your confidence, horizons, and opportunities will expand. You will get out of your own way, because you understand that you have nothing to prove, only something to contribute. And you will feel the excitement of inviting people to support you in that process.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
1) You’ve checked IN before you check OUT: You’ve taken the time to reflect on your mindset and taken personal responsibility to own where you may be contributing to your experience that has led you to your choice to pivot. You have communicated effectively with the appropriate parties in an effort to address and transform that which is not working. And after intentional action and thoughtful consideration, you acknowledge that pivoting is the best decision for you.
2) Your greater purpose is calling: Your purpose is what drives you. It’s your fuel. When you’re living and giving from this inner truth you feel full. When you’re not, you feel depleted. If you feel your current job or business is draining you and you know you are ready to take the leap and bring your vision to fruition, then this is a sign that it’s time to do so.
3) You have set yourself up for success to make this choice responsibly: You have the means and/or the opportunity to support yourself to make this choice. For example:
a) You have a new job in place.
b) You have enough money in the bank to feel secure until you get a new job.
c) You have a business plan and funding in place to start or pivot your own business.
4) You’ve lost that loving feeling: If you feel disconnected and uninspired because the work has shifted, you’re not being valued or utilized to your fullest potential, the workplace is toxic or you’re no longer aligned with the mission of the company, those are all signs it might be time to make a move.
5) There’s no opportunity to grow: If you know—and it’s been confirmed—that there is no path for you to develop further in your current role, company or your business, then it makes sense to think about your next step.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
My dear friends Ben and Jerry 😉.
And, I also have a strong belief in and have built a practice around the Universal Law of Abundance, which says that there is an unlimited source of everything we need and could ever want. When I align with this truth, I am free, open, and unattached to the outcome, and things begin to move. When I’m operating from fear, lack, and doubt, that’s when business tends to slow down. I believe that what we focus on expands, so I do my best to mindfully choose what I want to create vs. what I don’t in every moment and stay in action that’s in sync with my choice.
Another thing is, I think of the cycle of business as the ebb and flow rather than ups and downs. It may be semantics, but it feels different energetically.
With that, I’ve also learned to enjoy the ebb as much as I do the flow. I like to use that time to take a breath, go on vacation, or to reflect on my business and create new goals. I feel as grateful for the ebb as I do for the flow, as I know that it's part of the process and the flow is on its way.
In all of these cycles, I stay connected and committed to my purpose and take action, no matter how small, to keep inspiration high and mighty.
And, sometimes I still partake in the sweetness and comfort of my friends Ben and Jerry. (I am human.😉)
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
Even today, 16 years later, a part of me questions if it would have been a better and smarter choice to stay at my job in television and build my coaching business on the side. This would have allowed me the time and space to save more money, create a business plan, learn from my mistakes, take more risks, and ultimately build something more stable and sustainable from the onset.
And… another part of me wouldn’t change a thing.