An Interview with Cory Carlson
Executive coach Cory Carlson recently sat down with Ministry Insights to share what he has learned about work-life balance and becoming a better leader, husband, and father.
MI: You worked in corporate America for two decades. Why did you leave that behind and become an executive coach?
Cory: That journey began about ten years ago when I was sitting in a volunteer training meeting at church and heard God say, “You have to hand over your small story for a greater story.”
I was at a crucial juncture, living with unconfessed sin and trying to offset the defeat I was filling in my personal life with wins at work. My priorities were out of line.
But I accepted God’s call as an invitation to adventure, not knowing what that “greater story” was to be. Soon afterward, I hired executive coach Brandon Schaefer to guide me through aligning my own work-life balance and in the process, I became familiar with the Prioritized Life Assessment, Leading From Your Strengths profiles and other tools. Because the tools were so helpful for me in my work, as well as my marriage and parenting, I began using them with my direct reports. And I noticed some big changes. My employees started to date their spouses again, be more intentional with their kids, increase their leadership capacity, and have a greater purpose.
After seeing a transformation not only in my own life but also in the lives of the thirty employees who reported to me, God put it in my heart to share the message further. This was the greater story—leaving my job in corporate America so I could share these tools with many more people as an executive coach.
MI: Who do you coach?
Cory: Most of my clients come to me by word of mouth. I’ve worked with executives with big-name companies like Northwestern Mutual and Johnson & Johnson as well as start-up companies. Clients have held positions ranging from CEOs to upper- and mid-level managers to young people just starting their careers. I get hired to help with vision, improve sales funnels, grow sales teams, and increase a company or leader’s top line. Thanks to technology, I conduct 90% of my coaching through video conference calls.
I use all the same coaching tools with my clients that I used previously because they work. If a client believes in Jesus, I say, “Jesus said . . .” and provide the applicable verse and the accompanying resource to help the client with their need in that moment. If they are not a believer, I say, “Steve Jobs said . . . ” and find a similar quote and then used the same tool. Not that Jesus and Steve Jobs are the same guy, but all truth is God’s truth and resonates regardless of the source.
MI: Why are priorities so central to work-life balance?
Cory: Many of us focus on winning at work. Whether it is from our own fear or the expectations of others, we put pressure on ourselves to succeed. Then whatever time and energy are left, we give to our family and to ourselves. In the end, no one wins. Marriages suffer, kids are neglected, teams are not developed, and you are not fulfilled. The focus on work makes the other elements in our lives go out of balance.
I work with my coaching clients to help them discover where their priorities lie right now in their identity, their marriage, their family life, their work. Then we talk about the five capitals (resources) they have at their disposal to bring those priorities into a healthy balance – their spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual, and financial capital.
When priorities are out of order, we get frustrated. When our priorities are in order, we are most productive.
MI: What led you to write the book Win At Home First?
Cory: I began to notice a pattern on my one-on-one calls with executives as I asked them to share what keeps them up at night. Surprisingly, most problems were not work-related but involved issues at home or with themselves: the struggle to get along with a spouse … the struggle to lose weight and stay in shape … the struggle to relate to a teenage child …
Over and over I found myself saying, “You have to win at home first in order to navigate throughout challenges of the workday.” And time after time, we used the tools that are in the book.
Clients began asking for the content in written form. God was nudging me to put it on paper, but I felt inadequate. Finally, I realized I was being stubborn. I found a writing coach to help me and I wrote the book.
MI: What are some indicators that a coaching client has his priorities out of balance?
Cory: The indicators are different for each individual and for each of the four areas – yourself, your marriage, your family, and your work – but I’ve learned to recognize some red flags.
Yourself and your spiritual life: take note if you drop off in your solitude time. Yes, you still go to church, but if you stop praying, journaling, and reading scripture on your own, then take stock of where your priorities are.
Marriage: anytime there is tension with your spouse, the first thing to do is have regular date nights. It costs time, money, and intentionality. Have the guts to get back on track with dating your spouse.
Parenting: if you’re struggling with your kids, there’s a good chance you lack purposeful time together – and I don’t mean driving your kid to soccer practice while he has earbuds in or you talk on the cell phone. Intentional time is dinner together as a family with all the phones in the other room or a taking your daughter out for cupcakes with your complete focus on her.
Work: the biggest indicator of imbalance is the inability to delegate. It shows up in behaviors like micromanagement, working too hard, taking prospect calls while at dinner with your family. If this is you, then know you’ve bought into the lie that you are the provider. You are not. God is your provider.
MI: Share a situation in which you worked with a client to bring his priorities into balance. Where did he start? What happened?
Cory: A CEO hired me to help him break out of a cycle of paralysis. A key customer was not satisfied with the company’s work. My client could not get payment from the customer (financial capital) which led him to feel inadequate (intellectual capital) which led to paralysis analysis (physical capital). So we flipped the script. “Tell me about all your good customers (relational capital),” I said. “And let’s pray that God will change the heart of this difficult customer as well as give you the confidence to engage with business development again (spiritual capital).” Not surprisingly, doors began to open. My client reached out to current customers and got more orders. New customers contacted him. The process didn’t happen overnight, but by resetting his priorities in order my client was able to breakthrough.
MI: What is the biggest lesson you want readers to take away from the book?
Cory: Be intentional about putting your priorities in order and keeping them in order.
Like the client I just described, one of the biggest takeaways is this: you may not see the fruit of a prioritized life right away, but you will reap the benefits over time. It isn’t going to happen by itself. And it’s work. But when you’re purposeful about your priorities, you’ll be much less frustrated and much more productive in all areas of your life.