A Silicon Valley CEO coach who's worked with hundreds of clients shares a 3-step exercise all leaders can use to determine the cause of workplace problems


Jerry Colonna

  • Jerry Colonna is a former startup investor who has been a renowned CEO coach for the last 12 years, and has worked with an estimated 500 clients.
  • His “agenda” exercise is a simple but effective way to identify the root of an individual’s conflict, whether big or small.
  • C-Suite Insider is a collection of exclusive interviews with leaders of the world’s largest companies.
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CEO coach Jerry Colonna believes that if you’re struggling as a leader, a fix is likely not going to come from a simple adjustment to your workflow or budget: You’re going to have to dig deep and determine what aspect of your mindset is holding you back.

Over the past 12 years, Colonna has built a reputation, primarily in Silicon Valley, for the effectiveness of his approach. He estimates that over that time he’s had over 500 clients, including founders of companies like Etsy, SoundCloud, and Twilio.

Colonna recently sat down with Business Insider to discuss his career as a prominent venture capitalist turned coach, and his new book, “Reboot,” which is also the name of his coaching firm. He joked with us that his approach can’t be distilled into something like “5 steps to being a great leader,” since he believes leadership has to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Still, he’s developed a set of general exercises — and you don’t have to be a CEO to use them.

A simple one he uses early in the process is an agenda breakdown.

“What I often will do is ask the client to write out what their agenda is,” Colonna said. “I might have a question that goes something like, ‘A year from now, I want you to imagine that the coaching was incredibly successful and that you’re really happy with it. What would you have accomplished? How would you feel? What would be different?'”

He then has his clients break down their goals into three levels of agendas, to discover what is really driving them. Because that can get quite complex, he gave us a simple, everyday example to show us how the exercise works.

Let’s say you are frustrated with your job, and feel like you are not fulfilling your potential. No other opportunity is coming your way, and you feel stuck. You break down your feelings.

  • Presenting agenda: What are you telling yourself on the surface? “I need a new job.”
  • Secondary agenda: You haven’t looked for new opportunities either within or outside of your current role. What are you telling yourself a layer below the surface? “I lack the confidence needed to get a new job.”
  • Tertiary agenda: So you haven’t looked elsewhere because you’re not confident. Why are you afraid of putting yourself out there? “I’m not worthy of a better job.”

In this scenario, you’ve realized that you are unhappy, but have been operating with a justification for that unhappiness, which allows you to be passive about your problem. You knew all along that this feeling of unworthiness was there, but the exercise brought it to light in a way that it could then be addressed. At this point, you could explore that feeling and determine whether it was based solely on self-deception about personal worth, or if it was rooted in actual poor performance that has come from a lack of effort or inspiration. Either way, you’re now able to make changes.

So, whether or not you’re an executive, and whether or not you want a coach who can facilitate a thorough, personalized analysis of your behavior, try the agenda exercise. Because after all, if you don’t know what your real problem is, you can’t solve it.

SEE ALSO: A Silicon Valley CEO coach who’s worked with Twilio and Etsy says that successful leadership begins with asking yourself fundamental questions — not mimicking Jeff Bezos

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