Drive Your Career By Forging A New Path With Ed Evarts

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What happens when a major disruption happens in your job? Continue to drive your career by forging a new path! Take a look at today’s guest Ed Evarts, the founder and President of Excellius Leadership Development. Ed was laid off from his corporate job at the age of 48. He never imagined his life outside of the corporate world. But getting laid off drove him to launch his coaching business. The secret? Ed shares to Tony Martignetti that it’s all about having a mindset of conviction. Tune in and let Ed’s story inspire you to pivot!

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Drive Your Career By Forging A New Path With Ed Evarts

Ed Evarts is a certified team and leadership coach, business strategist, and founder and president of Excellius Leadership Development. Ed has worked with clients such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Johnson & Johnson, and Biogen, helping firms and mid-to-senior level professionals succeed in their industry and achieve higher levels of performance, visibility, and self-awareness.

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Ed Evarts. Ed is the Founder and President of Excellius Leadership Development, a Boston-based coaching organization. He works with successful leaders to increase their self-awareness so they can manage themselves more productively. He also works with successful teams to ensure that their time together is as productive as possible.

With smaller organizations going through pivot points, he helps them to plan strategically and purposefully for success. Ed is also the author of the book Drive Your Career: 9 High-Impact Ways to Take Responsibility for Your Own Success and Raise Your Visibility & Value: Uncover The Lost Art of Connecting On The Job. He is also the host of Be Brave at Work, a weekly show in which leaders share their stories about bravery or the lack thereof in their careers and the impact that choice has on their career progression. He's a very busy man. Welcome to the show, Ed.

Thank you, Tony. It is great to be here.

We're looking forward to learning about some of the stories that brought you to this place. You've been able to help so many amazing people in your path but I'm looking forward to taking you back, seeing where you came from and how this person in front of me has been shaped.

I hope my stories can inspire and influence people. I'm not sure that they will, but hopefully.

Let's start by just looking at some of the pivot points in your story. What were the things that shaped you? Maybe you can start anywhere you want as far back as your childhood if you'd like but you can start wherever you want in your life that you feel foundational to shaping who you are now.

There are a couple of pivot points that I would share that I think are meaningful. The most significant pivot point is when I was let go from Iron Mountain in 2008. At that point, I thought I was a well-liked and well-performing corporate individual who probably would still be there if a decision wasn't made to release me from employment.

Prior to my release, the island I was on continued to get a little smaller. It was inevitable that my position would be eliminated, quite honestly. Up to that point, I always saw myself as a corporate employee going to work Monday through Friday, 7:00 to 7:00, 6:00 to 8:00 or whatever crazy hours we were working. I was doing emails on Sunday nights, which became the new half workday in anticipation of Monday morning.

On June 1, 2008, I found myself not employed. There are worst times to be let go from a company than the beginning of summer. I took the summer off to think about what I wanted to do next. I was 48, which is a critical age in respect to opportunities and looking for my next role. I quickly decided that I did not want to go back into corporate life.

I thought, "Maybe now this is an opportunity that's being presented to me to do my own thing." To take the 20 to 25 years of experience that I had built dealing with people, working in human resources, solving problems, navigating issues and doing all of the work that we did, that I observed and flipped it, now bringing it and helping others.

I spent the summer networking with individuals. I was the worst networker ever. When I worked at Iron Mountain, I was not a member of any organization. I was not a member of local organizations like NIHRA, SHRM or anything. I was a blue-blooded worker, so I was totally focused on the organization. I can still remember when I left Iron Mountain, I went to a networking meeting.

In that meeting, there were 25 HR leaders who had also been reduced because this was 2008 and we had the economic collapse or downfall. Guess how many people I knew at that meeting? Zero. I did not know any of them. I went home to my wife that night and said, "I'm in big trouble because there are 25 HR leaders and I've been in HR for twenty years in New England. I did not know one of them."

Bring your life experience and use it to help others. 

I networked with as many people as I could. I started to build my networking skills and by September of 2008, I made a decision not to look for a position at an organization but to focus on building my own practice. That's when I started to kick in and do all of the work that I needed to do but that was a huge pivot point for me because I've now been doing it for many years.

On the day it happened and the day the individual who would release me from employment did so, that was the worst day of my professional career. I had never had that happen. I was surprised that it happened. It was incredibly negative. Now I look back and this is why I consider it to be a pivot. It was the best day of my professional career because if I had not been kicked out, I probably would still be there.

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I talked a lot about what's called flashpoints, the point that ignites you on your path. When I think about the way you described that, it's hindsight. You look back and say, "If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be where I am,” but I get the sense that the emotional experience that was didn't feel like a flashpoint. It felt like an emotional down point that you probably put your hands up and said, "I don't know what I'm going to do next." Take me more into the emotional state that you were in. Not that I want you to conjure up bad emotions but tell me what was going through your head at that point?

I'm happy to share it because I hope people will learn from the experience. There's the technical side of what happened, which is, “How am I going to find my next opportunity?” I wasn't even thinking about finding my next opportunity that day but my performance review was not delivered on time. It was behind schedule and my boss kept saying, "I'm working on it."

Finally, I got a call one day saying, "Ed, I'm ready to deliver your performance review. Can you come by my office at 3:00 PM?" I did, went in, sat down and this individual said, "Ed, quite honestly, I have not written your performance review. I'm here to share with you that we've made a decision to eliminate you from the organization."

It was a very brief conversation and history. This individual presented me severance package and asked me to think about it. I went off to think about it. I'd been working at another location at the time, not in that building. On the drive from the meeting I had with my boss to my office in another building, I called my wife. I did start to cry because it was just such a devastating announcement.

This company that I had been with for almost ten years, with whom I had a great work experience and loved in many different ways, was kicking me out the door. There was this conflict of, "No, I love you but we love you and we don't want you here anymore. You have to go." I drove back to my office. My wife said, "Why don't you come home?" I said, "No. I'm not going to collapse and fumble. I'm going to go back to my workplace, finish up the day and then I'll come home."

I went back to my other office and the boss I was reporting to at that point came in to see me and said, "Ed, I obviously spoke with your boss. That person let me know the decision that had been made. I'm sorry to hear it. If there's anything I can do, let me know. I've got your back. I'll attempt to make this as meaningful but non-eventful as possible over the next couple of weeks."

An HR leader at the organization ended up leaving. My boss came back and said, "Ed, can you take that person's role and we'll extend your tenure from December 31, 2007 to June of 2008?" To which I said, "Yes, I will." It's income and now I had time to think about what I was going to do next because I had no idea what I was going to do next, “Was I going to look for a job? Where do I go? What do I do?”

I took that opportunity and made an error emotionally to apply for the role I was temporarily filling, even though it was reported to the boss who had just released my employment, so it was a little bit of a conflict. I didn't get that role. In hindsight, it was painful but I thank whomever that I didn't get picked for that opportunity because I might still be there. Personally, it was extremely emotional for me, especially an individual like myself who takes a lot of pride in the work that he does and gives his best shot every day.

I don't get up, look in the mirror and say, "You're going to be terrible." I get up every day and say, "Have a great day and do the best that you can." You then find out that decisions get made that you have no influence or control over. I'm happy to say for anybody that is impacted by this type of a decision, which happens more often than ever in our history, where positions are eliminated or restructured. You may dip into the Valley of Despair but you will come back out, I hope, stronger and better than ever.

There's an element of that. It's not like, "Buck up, little camper. It's time to move on." You have to feel the feelings. Let them deal with the emotions because if you brush it off and say, “Everything's going to be shiny and bright in a few weeks. Just let it happen,” you have to go through those cycles. There's despair but at the same time, there is a silver lining to everything. It happens maybe for a reason. Maybe this is a good jump-off point to, “What's next?” How did you embrace this next step in your journey which is, "What is the next step at that point?"

It's a great question because I do consider myself to be a classic example of a successful transition from corporate to consulting. A lot of people plan it and I have a couple of colleagues who, while they were working, they started to build an independent practice with the plan of leaving but when they left, they already had business. They could transition and maybe not enough business to keep the lights on but it was enough to get started.

Give your best shot every day. 

I was cold turkey. I was planning on working there and then went in one day and was told, "You're no longer going to be here." I started from scratch. I had no clients. I had little training. What I did have was 25 years of what I consider to be solid corporate experience and working with people to help them be more effective.

I'm also a great student. I've observed all these different environments, whether it's finance, legal, real estate or technology. I knew enough to be dangerous without knowing all of the details. I said, "I don't want to go back to corporate. I need to do my own thing, and I had to do two things." One, I had to start my own business regardless of what I was doing. Whether I was doing lawn care or whatever, I had to start my own business. Also, I had to decide what business I was going to do.

Quite honestly, there's another irony that happens in corporations around the world, which is, you don't know what people think about you until you're leaving. That's when you start getting emails or people stop by and say, "I hear you're going to be leaving the organization. I want to let you know that you were a huge impact to me at this organization. I can still remember a couple of conversations we had a couple of years ago that got me back on the right path and I appreciate that."

We don't share this stuff day to day with each other. We wait until they're leaving and then we started laying all this on them. I got a ton of feedback from people who loved that I was there but most of the feedback had to do with what I would call coaching, conversations about what they were experiencing and how they could experience it a little bit differently. Coaching for me became a very easy decision. I didn't want to do training. I didn't want to do recruitment or all the other HR disciplines that are out there. I wanted to do coaching.

I started to network with colleagues. I still remember a good friend who said, "Ed, I think I've got the first person that you could speak with. This is a coach that came to an organization. He's a great coach. Give him a call." I did. I met him out in Westboro. I can still remember the hotel, room, restaurant table where we sat and talked.

We talked about the career he had been on, and he was more in the third base of his career, heading toward home and retirement. He had a lot to share. He gave me a couple of names and that was one of my early networking lessons to always leave with, "Whom else can I talk to?" I always kept going and going. By the end of September, I said to myself, "Ed, there's no reason why you shouldn't do this, and why you won't be successful."

It was that mantra that kept me going over the next 5 to 6 years from 2008 to 2012 or 2013, that, “There's no reason you can't be successful.” It took me a while to make the income that I needed to make and I think there are three levels of income that consultants make. One is any income, just to show that you can earn something on your own.

Two is income to keep the lights on. Your expenses and income are equal. You're still not making a profit but you're not losing money, and then three is profit, where you're not only are you making money but you can now save money. Those, to me, are the three levels that people venture to be on and it took me five years to get there. At no time did I ever say, "I don't think this is going to work. Keep it going, Ed. Keep making it happen. There is no reason why this can't work." I'm happy to say that it's working and I hope it'll work for another year or so.

This whole aspect of believing in yourself and deeply telling yourself, "This is how it makes it possible," is by having that mantra or that constantly reminding yourself that this is how you want to be in the world. Saying it in present tense and owning it creates it. There's something beautiful about that.

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I agree with that mantra, “Owning it does create it.” You've got to stake your claim and say, "I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that." A quick example, a podcast. When I started that, I never did a show. I am not a seasoned podcaster. I started from scratch but I said, "If I'm going to do a show, I'm going to do it well, professionally and keep doing it."

My model is three years of hosting shows. It'll either flounder and not materialize or something good might come out of it. Regardless of that, whatever it is that I do, I'm always going to be proud of. It's taking that claim, owning it, just sticking with it and knowing that as I know your show will be and as I hope my show will be successful and enough people listening to it to learn some valuable lessons.

There's something that you said earlier that I wanted to bring back up. It was about when you started to get out there and develop a coaching business. You had conversations with people and you started to learn more. It's around allyship and learning from other people. I feel that's something that resonated with me because it's how I've approached my coaching business. It's getting to know other people and see how they've done well and learn from them. Not see people as competition per se but more of a collaboration. It was just standing on the shoulders of giants. Do you agree with that concept? Tell me what you think.

I think of it a little bit like golf. No colleague can show you how to play golf but everyone could show you one little thing that they do that, when you add it all together, produces a great golf game. I'm by no means a great golfer but most of the people that I played with have shown me 1 or 2 little things that if I do a little bit differently, it can have a much different outcome. I think that's so true and in anything that we do, we are not in this alone. We do need to stand on the shoulders of others and look to them to help us be more successful.

We can learn something from everyone that we meet. I consider myself a student. I've had meetings with presidents of companies and executive assistants. There have been times when I'm driving and going to be meeting the executive assistant, I'm saying to myself, "What am I doing? What am I going to learn? Is this a good use of my time?" It is. It turns out to be an incredibly insightful or productive conversation. That's been true 99% of the time.

When I started this practice of building my own business and focusing on coaching, there were two particular areas that I looked at. One is what I did and that's the technical side of coaching. I went to a school for coaching and I continue to learn. I will always be a student and my goal is to be an expert in coaching. Whereas in my HR career, I was a generalist and be an expert in a multiple number of areas. Now I want to be an expert in coaching.

The second area is how we do it. That's the reputation and the image that you create beyond what you do. This is true with most of my clients, as well as we focus on self-awareness, which is, "What you do? Are you an expert attorney? Are you an expert pharmaceutical engineer? Are you an expert manufacturing leader and then how are you doing it? What are the ways that you inspire, lead and connect with others?"

I think only other people can help you see that vision more clearly. I encourage everyone to build a network of folks that you can work with, whom you can call from time to time. People call me. I call them, "I've got this situation. I'm thinking about a couple of options. I wanted to run them by you to see what you think." What a great experience to have that type of relationship with others.

Just the way you explain it, it resonates so much with how I want to be in the world and how people I resonate with. They come from that place. I think that's why you've ended up in the seat. Here is something slightly different. What about the naysayers along your path? Have you run into people who have said like, "Who are you to be a coach? Who are you to be coaching me?" How have you dealt with your critics?

This is a hard part for most consultants, regardless of what you do but especially in a service industry where you're people to people because I don't get picked for every coaching engagement. My ego would love me to always be picked because who wouldn't want to work with me. I've got so much to offer. We're going to have a great relationship, yet you don't always get picked and 80% of the time, you don't know why you didn't get picked.

They liked somebody better or connected with somebody better and you're like, "What didn't I do or what could I have done?" Initially, in the first years, anytime I lost an engagement, it was like a stake in the heart. It was painful. It was like, "What am I doing wrong? How do I get better?" I would talk with colleagues and we even would polish or work on interviewing skills, selling skills, marketing skills or whatever it might be.

Now only through experience, I want to be candid and honest. It always hurts a little bit when you don't get picked. Especially when I think that I had a great interview and that I could help this person, in my mind, we are connected, "I can't wait to get started," and then I hear back, “They didn't pick me.” There's always still a little bit of a tang but it's not the same tang that I experienced early on.

Those are the only naysayers that have existed in my career. Coaching, fortunately, is surrounded by people who are yeah-sayers. It's always about, "Make it happen. Stake your claim and go for it. Create what you envision." There are not many naysayers, even if they are naysayers, as we're talking about this.

I don't know that there are people who pick someone else to work with. Ultimately, that's good news because you do want people to interview multiple coaches and you do want them to pick the person they feel they can work best with. If I'm not that person, so be it and I hope the person you picked is a person that could help you deeply in respect to making great progress.

There's no reason why you can’t be successful.

There's a certain aspect of early days. There was maybe an attitude towards coaching being like a fix that you're fixing someone who's bad. Now it's being embraced as a place where you can take someone who's good and make them amazing or opening up possibilities where someone's not seeing them. I like the way you say that it's more of, "We're just opening up possibilities for people to work with coaches in general," and you want them to end up with a coach, whether it's me or somebody else. That's the opportunity here. I think that's great.

You bring up another topic, which we may or may not want to talk about, which is, "What type of clients are you presented with?" I would consider to be a successful leadership coach in the New England market. I'm still presented with two types of clients. I'm presented with people who are successful, who are looking to have a different type of impact in the organization and need help outside their spectrum because they only know what they know. We need new ideas and new perspectives to help them. They're looking to grow and be more successful in their organization.

I'm also presented with people who are in trouble. These are people who, due to their behavior, not what they do, so I'm not helping them be better lawyers or pharmaceutical engineers. I don't have that technical expertise. How they're doing it, the way that they're interacting with others and the types of influences they're building with either their direct reports, peers or board of directors is not what the company hoped it would be. They're looking to help them.

I will always work with those clients once I meet them. If I believe that they hope they can do differently, if they believe that they can have a different type of profile to positively influence their outcome, I will happily and joyfully work with them. If I think they're doing coaching because they have to or because everybody is and I'm one of everybody, so I'm going to do it. It's more of a tactical or mechanical experience. I'm probably not going to work with them because for them it's not a matter of them wanting to be coached.

They're getting coached because it's a process and everyone's getting coached. I'll get coached. It's not a winner of a model. Even folks who are in trouble deserve the opportunity to work with somebody to help them find a new path that can help them be successful but they have to have that belief that they want to do that.

It's about that mindset of, "Do they have a desire and a belief that they can change in order to engage with a coach that can help them or guide them to go there?"

I have four things that I have developed over time that I believe need to exist. One of them is that the person has to want to be coached. I'm sure you have worked with people who are great clients. They're totally into it. They do all their homework. They never reschedule a meeting. They are totally into it. They tell you success stories and how they're modifying their behavior to be more successful.

Those are the people that we love to work with. All leaders need to be coached. It sounds self-serving to say that, but all leaders need somebody that I can work with who's objective and confidential to help them see the world as others are seeing it to build their self-awareness. Those types of people, if they believe that is of value to them, are great to work with.

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They'll extract a lot of value from the process because they're coming in with the desire to see that there's another way.

It's like, "Why wouldn't you want to be coached? Why wouldn't you want somebody who can help you see things subjectively and provide you the choice?" One of the downsides of being a coach is I can't tell anyone to do anything. I'm not their boss so I can't say, "You will do this." What I can do is help them identify choices, encourage them to make a choice and if they make a choice, that's fantastic. Life is about choices and if they can make better choices for themselves, their likelihood of success is greater.

I can go so deep into this conversation because obviously, we've got a passion for this area. I want to take us back. You've had an amazing journey in this field. What I want to try to summarize is maybe three lessons that you would want to share with someone who is maybe just been laid off or who is going through maybe traumatic work change or transition. What three lessons would you give them to help them through this process?

The first lesson would be to get it out. Find somebody that you can talk to and share what you're feeling. I liked earlier how you talked about feelings versus the tactical experience of what was happening. There's a tactical side to getting let go and there's a severance plan, outplacement and all this stuff but it's not something that doesn't happen often.

I can still remember early on in my corporate career, layoffs rarely happened. The IBMs of the world never laid anybody off. It's not something companies did. Any day of the year, a person can get laid off. There is no timing or expectations for that. This is happening a lot, especially now in the pandemic world that we're in. A lot of people are getting furloughed and laid off. The first thing is you need to think about and identify whom you can talk to get it out. Your likelihood for making progress will be better if you just get it out and say what needs to be said.

It could be mad, angry, frustration or whatever it is that you're feeling. It doesn't help you to keep it in. The second thing I would say is to sit down and look at your financial situation because your decisions are going to be largely driven by your financial situation. Different people have different financial situations. Oftentimes, clients that I work within career coaching, the decisions they make while they're on severance is much different than the decision they make when their severance ends.

When their severance ends and now they don't have income, they're now in this, "I'll take anything,” mode where before they had a little bit of state declaim arrogance around, "This is what I'm looking for." You have to have a sense of what your financial measurements are so that you can ensure that you can navigate through this process effectively.

The third thing is swinging the bat, which is talk to everyone and anybody about what it is you want and want to do because the more you talk about it, the clearer it will become. Some people just want to keep doing what they're doing. If you're an accountant at a firm and you lost your job, you're going to look for new accountant roles. That's fine. Other people might say, "It's interesting that this happened because I had a spot where I'm thinking about doing different things. Maybe it's time to look about that."

Oftentimes, interviewing and networking aren't about interviewing and networking. It's about practice. We all need practice on how we present ourselves, come across and how people interact with us on a regular basis. If you're not practicing and saving it all up for that big interview, you go in and drop the ball because you just weren't prepared. It's because you didn't practice enough. Get the emotions out. Ensure that you understand the structure that you're working in, especially financially and then practice who you are and what you want to do. Those are three things that would help anyone who is in transition.

What I thought of as this muscle memory they have to build. It's like you're training until that day when you have to go into the game.

This is a quick story. I know we both do podcasts and interview people who are professionals and experts. I would say 50% of the time, I ask the person, "Give me your 30-second bio," and they fumble because they don't do it enough. These are professional people who are out networking all the time. You would think they'd say, "Ed, here it is." It's something that you need to do and say on a regular basis, even for people for whom this is important. If you don't say it enough, even though we have it in your head, when it comes out of your mouth, it doesn't come out as well as you would have liked.

Only other people can help you see your vision more clearly.

One last question for you and this was one I always ask at the end. What book is the most profound impact on your life?

First off, you are a good book recommender. I read one of the books that you had recommended called, The Fearless Organization, which I loved. I love Amy Edmondson's work and I love this concept of a fearless organization. I am a huge book reader. I would say I have had a book in my hands almost every day. It's due to the first books I read.

I started to read mysteries when I was a young teenager 14, 15, and I started to read Agatha Christie mysteries, and I started to read books like Robert Ludlum, who at the time was at the peak. Because those books were so good, that's what turned me on to reading and now I'm looking for more of those types of books. I want to have that same feeling that I had when I read a good Agatha Christie mystery or a good Robert Ludlum book.

There were a couple of books he wrote that, to me, I wish I could read again, not knowing I'd ever read them because I want to have that same experience. Anytime you read a book twice, for me, it's always a letdown because you're just much more knowledgeable of what it is that you're about to read. I'd love to say it's some type of brilliantly written business book and I have read a number of great business books. I would go back to when I was 14 or 15 and one day I decided to read a book. Many years later, behind a great brick wall is a bookcase filled with books, both mysteries and business books. I still continue to read them.

First of all, I want to thank you for sharing your story, which was truly amazing to know. All of your insights were profound and helpful. I know people will get a lot out of this. I want to give you an opportunity to share where people can find you.

You can go to my website, which is Excellius.com, email me at Ed@Excellius.com or if you're bold enough, you can call me at (617) 549-1391. I get back to people right away and certainly would be thrilled to speak with anyone that wanted to reach out.

Thank you so much, Ed. It's a pleasure having you on the show.

Thank you, Tony. This was terrific. Thank you so much for your time.

I also want to thank the readers for joining us. We can't do this without you. I appreciate you joining us.

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About Ed Evarts

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Ed Evarts is the Founder and President of Excellius Leadership Development, an organization focused on coaching mid-to senior-level leaders and their teams in business environments.

With over twenty-five years of innovative leadership and management experience, Ed possesses the ability to build awareness, create action, and deliver results.

Known for his business acumen, his ability to resolve complex human relations issues, and his enthusiastic, accessible and responsive style, Ed partners with managers, leaders and business teams to explore clarity and communication, and traverse conflict and change.

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