In the third episode of our new season of Love Life, Live Well, our host Emma Cartmell is joined by Zachary Ames, Founder & CEO of XYZ Leadership, a consultancy specialising in coaching, facilitation, program design and D&I training. Zachary is also the host of the Expand Your Zone podcast.

What do you love about your life or life itself?

It’s always an interesting thing to think about, right? There’s obviously some of these big grand moments that we have. I’ve been very fortunate across my career, well, born and raised here in Utah. I’ve spent about 10 years in New York and then four years in Asia. I’ve travelled, I’ve seen the world, I’ve gone and done big, fancy things and then there are days that the sweetness of life is just your dog’s paw sitting on your foot as you’re reading a book.

I think that for me it is finding those moments and the in between and the relationships and the people you’re doing it with is what makes life so wonderful. 

Do you remember to live well? What do you do to look after yourself?

I do my best. I think especially having gone out on my own from a corporate career was actually a big moment. Paris Wisher talks about the great resignation, she calls it the great reassessment, and I think I was part of that in leaving Singapore and leaving a corporate job really stopping and going, what is the life I want to live?

That all coincided with the death of someone close to us, my parents are ageing, they’re starting to see some of their friends go and other ailments, and it just kind of hit me that, what is it that I wanna do? So skiing is actually one of the really big ones. It is blocked out in my calendar and all of my clients know, basically don’t call me on a Friday, I will be on the slopes with my friends. I just recently got a small little house that I’m kind of fixing up. I got a dog. I’ve done all these things that I’ve wanted to do and at the same time, staying connected with my friends who are all around the world and still trying to find time to meet up and prioritise. 

Tell me about your podcast Expand Your Zone. What’s the thinking behind it and the role you play in terms of leadership? 

I found a lot of people, would hit a big milestone birthday and decide to throw themselves out of a plane and think, oh, here’s this big grand thing. Or I’m doing something so wildly different from myself, or I ran a marathon and know other people who have done so. But a year later you talk to them and they’re facing a challenge and they don’t take even the lessons learned from having done something big or they forget that that’s part of who they are or who they can be. Sometimes we just try to fill our lives with these things versus thinking about how do I connect them? How do I learn from them? And more importantly, what is all the other mortar or the tissue that is in between these bricks and these bones? So I think that to me it is really important to think of it a little bit more holistically.

Doesn’t mean don’t go do those things, trust me, I’ve done many big, wonderful, wild things, but if that’s all it is, it’s not enough. When I shift that over into the idea of leadership, or even just generally personal development, it’s really how do I find and push myself into different areas that I can then pull on something that I often refer to as bright spots.

Leaders will often call me and tell me that they’re having a problem, and it just seems so big and the team is not functioning. But I always have a difficult time believing that completely. It doesn’t mean that there’s not a problem, but itā€™s more that the team isn’t in complete dysfunction, complete disarray. So one of the big things I will often go and explore with them is where is the team working well, or what are the moments when communication is efficient? Or where do you see them? Brainstorming effectively, or whatever that thing might be, and then go and pull on that. And maybe it’s not right now.

Maybe it was three months ago, they were doing really well, but let’s go diagnose the positive. Let’s go understand the anatomy of what is an effective team. even amongst their current constraints and try to go replicate that, pull on the good stuff. All too often I think we think there’s a blank slate and we try to get a novel solution for every novel problem and the reality is the more we have to pull from the more tools in our toolkit, right? That’s the idea. Expand your zone, how do you go and get more of these moments and memories and experiences and lessons so that you can apply them because life is going to continually be changing and rapidly shifting.

If somebody’s in a position now where they are looking to move into their first leadership role, what kind of conversation would you have with them?

First thing I’d ask is, what about leadership is appealing? Why has your interest been peaked? Is it just because I think that’s the next best step for my career or I don’t know what else to do. If they’re just looking for general growth because of agitation, I find many times leaders are a bit blind to what leadership actually is. If that’s the case, we would have a conversation as to what and how much need there is for connection. I don’t need you to be the biggest extrovert, people loving person I know many wonderful, very introverted leaders but there is a massive human component to being a leader. If you aren’t aware of that and know that that’s going to become a big portion of your time, we would need to flush that out a little bit. The other big one I would talk about is, What do they think they can contribute in a leadership role?

What are the characteristics they’re bringing? What do they hope to learn through that? And the biggest one in terms of preparation would be to find moments where you can lead informally. Many organisations have ad hoc committees to go and build something or explore even a research topic. Larger organisations might have like a diversity and inclusion group, so maybe if you want to lead the women’s group and those monthly meetings or whatever it is, and find just little things to say, okay, this is what it feels like, and just like you try on the jacket before you buy, it is a great opportunity for people as well.

From that conversation, then what did you really enjoy about that? What was difficult about that? Are you still committed to doing that? And then where are the gaps? Then do a little bit of analysis around what it would take for you personally to feel successful and ready. You can then step into that position and tell your new manager this is what I love, or this is where I need some focus and attention.

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