Through the Eyes of a Coach

A Conversation with Brian Biro, author of Beyond Success


By John David Mann

Brian Biro is an inveterate team-builder. Deeply inspired by an unshakable belief in people, he seems to exhale joy and faith in others the way most of us exhale carbon dioxide. He is like a Pied Piper in reverse: one cannot help but follow him, but where he leads people is not away from but back to the discovery of themselves.

Fresh out of Stanford, Brian began his career by serving for eight years as a United States Swimming Coach, building his team of fifteen young swimmers into one of the largest private swim teams in the United States. After taking his swim teams to a place of national prominence, Brian took his passion for coaching and team-building to the corporate world, where he helped engineer a dramatic turnaround at Lynden Air Freight that resulted in the company tripling its size in just three years and earning national acclaim as a leader in customer service and convenience.

Brian has presented seminars throughout North America to such organizations as Ford Motor Companies, Jackson National Life Insurance, Cell Tech, Pizza Hut, Lockheed Martin, Southwestern Bell, AT&T, RE/MAX, J.D. Edwards, GTE and many others. His presentations meet with the highest acclaim for their dynamic energy, surprise and emotional power. He is a four-time winner of Inc. magazine's "People's Choice Top Speaker" when speaking at their international conferences, and has appeared on Good Morning America and CNN's Business Unusual.

Brian's book Beyond Success (self-published in 1995 and later picked up by Penguin-Putnam) hit #71 on in 2001. Today, nearly a decade after it was first published, it has still not dropped out of the top eight or nine thousand--which out of Amazon's two million titles puts it in the top one-half percent. His second book, The Joyful Spirit: How to Become the Happiest Person You Know, includes a small section on network marketing. His third, Through the Eyes of a Coach: A New Vision for Parenting, Leading, Loving and Living, takes the experience of life coaching further. -- JDM


What does it mean to be a coach?

Coaching is about a different way of seeing, looking with a focus on bringing out the best in everyone around you. Whether you're looking at athletics, traditional business, at being a parent, or a friend, or even at being a coach to yourself, it boils down to the same thing: coaching is a different way of seeing.

I've always believed there are no overachievers, that we are all underachievers. A coach's goal is to help people get closer to all the potential that lies inside us. A coach doesn't necessarily "empower" or provide something to people that they don't already have. The coach's job is to catalyze what's already there--which means to challenge, at times, and to support most all the time.


How did you go from being a swimming coach to what you do today?

Coaching swimming was a great training ground for everything I do. As an athletic coach, you're serving every day as a motivational speaker, counselor, encourager and trainer; you're helping people work through every challenge and difficulty, from physical to mental to emotional.

This was year-round competitive swimming, working with the kids who would go on to swim in the Olympics. The last two years I coached, we were in the top three in the Junior Nationals and top ten in Senior Nationals. I was named Coach of the Year in Southern California and had over 40 of the kids I coached earn full college scholarships. I did this for eight years, heart and soul; it was my whole life...

And that was just the thing: I had no life. All I had was work.

A strong theme in coaching is that bringing out the best in people means finding some semblance of balance. So I set out in search of balance, which I pursued by first going back to school. I emerged a few years later from UCLA, married and now with an MBA, jumped into the corporate world--where I discovered that everything I'd focused on as an athletic coach had every bit as much application in business!


You're credited with creating a major turnaround as a VP at Lynden Freight; what was involved in making that happen?

The heart of it was learning how to work together as a team. What it really took was changing the culture of the organization from the typical culture of separation--where Operations hates Sales and Sales hates Operations, too, but that's okay because they both hate the Home Office just a little bit more--to working as a team.

My background had shown me that there is no win/lose; it's either win/win, or lose, period. Your best customers are your team mates, and especially those people within your own organization who see things from a little different perspective than yours.

We quadrupled our size in less than three years and were recognized as the top company in our industry for both convenience and customer service. We had become a wonderful organization. But there was one problem: I had absolutely no interest in transportation! I've always wanted to do that which I love...and this wasn't it.

So right at the peak of this success, I said to my wife Carole, "You know, Honey, we're doing great...let's quit! And oh, by the way, I'm not sure what we're going to do instead...but whatever it is, I'm sure we'll get it done." And bless her, she said, "Great! Let's do it!"

That started me on the path to what I do today: teaching leadership, team-building, thriving on change and possibility thinking.


Can you describe what it is you do in your work with organizations?

When I first started teaching, I tried to cram in everything I could. Now I try to lead people with very clear, simple principles--and not a lot of them. I think this has far more lasting impact. I look at what I do now as being a catalyst. I help them grab hold of those principles that are the most on-target for what they need to shift their culture in a more positive direction.


"Shift the culture" how?

A shift towards a culture that brings people closer together, that values and honors their differences, rather than a culture that encourages them to create rifts in their organization. To move towards a culture that helps people understand that they have choices about what kind of energy they want to have, about the way they recognize and acknowledge each other, about how pleasant they are.

I teach a handful of principles; for example, being fully present; what I call "blame-busting"; being a "positive Pygmalion," which means believing in people, at times, more than they believe in themselves; and understanding that we're all coaches.

I can help catalyze that shift, but ultimately, they've got to keep going on it. If they ask, "Will this last?" it's almost a sure assertion that it will not. The question needs to be, "How will we make it last? What will we do to make these principles become ingrained habits?"

Often what happens is that the group grabs hold of one, two, three, maybe even four of those principles, which then come to function almost like a spiritual center for that organization--and that creates the shift they needed to create. The change isn't in their circumstances: it's in themselves.

Ultimately, that's what it comes down to. Coaching is to get rid of the thought that we are at the effect, and to help people understand that we are the cause.


Have your experiences with network marketing companies been different from other companies?

Here's what I love about network marketers:

When I go do a typical corporate event, I can absolutely, positively promise you that the last seats to fill will be the front two rows. People hold back, they're afraid of being singled out, "picked on" or being made visible.

At a network marketing event, the front row has been reserved for four days! People have put sleeping bags on their seats--no way are they not gonna get those seats!

Network marketers are hungry. Hungry to learn, to change; hungry to buy books and tapes and CDs, everything they can get their hands on to learn. There's an incredible desire in this audience to learn, grow and be coached. You have a truly self-motivated group of people who are looking to expand their lives. Here's what that means to me: the potential for coaching is better in network marketing than anywhere else.


What do you say to network marketers?

I encourage network marketers not to say, when people ask you what you do, "I'm a network marketer." Instead, say, "I'm a transformation coach." That's really what your job is. Or, "I'm a breakthrough coach," because you're there to help people break through their fears.

The biggest thing that keeps people from succeeding in network marketing is the same thing that keeps people from living great lives: fear. Fear of rejection, of success, of not being good enough. Network marketing puts clearly in your face: you are the CEO of your own company. It's an exciting opportunity, but it's also scary for some people, which is why you have the turnover you do.

People who do well in network marketing understand that it's never a health business, or a nutrition business, or a telecommunications business, or an XYZ product or service business. It's a people business.

Actually, here's the interesting truth: every business is. Network marketing just gets it.

I did some work with United States Gypsum, an absolutely huge organization. USG thinks it makes sheetrock--but it's really about people, about relationships, about building homes, about building connections with people.

When I was a swimming coach, I didn't coach swimming first, I coached people first.


You talk about how a coach can provide you "snapshot shock." What is that?

We've all had the experience of opening up a photo album or suddenly seeing a picture of ourselves in the past, and saying, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe how much I've changed!" Change is subtle; you often don't notice that you're changing until you have that snapshot shock.

The same thing happens not only with the way we look, but also with the way we think, the way we deal with adversity, the way we handle life, with everything about us. We don't see ourselves change--but a coach can see those subtle little improvements, and can help us to see them, too--usually with the power of questions, which is the coach's greatest tool.


Why is this "the coach's greatest tool"?

Because the coach's job is not to tell but to ask. Our role is to help you discover what you already know. Not to try to get you to see what we see, but to get you to see what you see.

When you have somebody looking out for what you've identified as your objectives, that creates momentum in your life. On our own, we often tend to just float; we may set a goal and then just forget about it. A coach won't let you forget about it!


That sounds exactly like what we teach people to do as network marketing sponsors.

A great sponsor is a great coach. Ultimately, what are you trying to do with people, in network marketing? You're helping them expand their vision of what's possible for them. Why? Because they have fears. "I've tried this kind of thing before, I wasn't very good at it. I can't speak very well in front of people. I don't like rejection. I don't know whether I know enough about this field or this product. I don't know if I'd be a very good coach."

What you're trying to help people see is, "You've got it, baby! It's already in you to go much further than you have dreamed." You're helping people to open their vision wider.

Once you've helped the person see the possibilities, your second role is to help them replace habits that were drawn from fear, which means creating better habits in their place.

Why does somebody have the habit of not picking up the phone and making those calls? Because somewhere along the line, they developed a fear of it. "It didn't work, I got rejected, I got knocked down, I didn't know the answers..." whatever the reasons are. We've got to replace that fear with a sense that says, there's some great possibility here. Even if the call is not a "success," even if I don't enroll the person, I have the potential on every call to break through something in myself. I have the potential, say, to make the other person's day a little better by the energy I express--whether or not he ends up joining me as a team mate.

There are a ton of people who don't make any real money in this business, but still get something from the business; they love the experience. What is it that they get, if not financial freedom? Is it that they get coached?

They get an opportunity to be coached, and they get an opportunity to grow.

We want to grow. We don't really want to live in fear. We want to feel happy and confident; we want to feel like we can make a difference. What that comes down to is, we want to feel important.

A coach, simply by the fact of being present for you, immediately makes you feel important. I think that's at the heart of network marketing: because of the nature of the sponsor relationship, this business has built into it an automatic vehicle to be coached--and that's incredibly exciting. You don't necessarily find that in conventional businesses.

The beauty of network marketing is that if you really are an effective coach, if you really do build people and help them break through their fears, it becomes a complete circle of success. You feel great, they're going to do better, that feeds your business and your income--and you're also providing a model for this person, who's now also going to become a coach. It's a wonderful cycle when it's done well.

Here's the beauty of it: It's all about what you choose to do with your energy, and anyone can make that choice. To everyone you touch, your energy is your ultimate example. That's why you don't have to be the most articulate; you don't have to be the most educated; you don't have to be the greatest speaker. If you have tremendous energy, you are a long, long way towards being an outstanding coach.

Ultimately, what coaches try to get you to see is that you've got everything you need.


I notice that the sig line on your emails reads, "Brian Biro, husband, father, teacher, speaker."

I look at my job in being a dad as my ultimate job as a coach. A great coach is like a parent: limitless is what they hope for and strive for in the people around them. You don't want your kids to be "as good as you"--you want them to be everything they can be.

Parents often don't ever take the time to look at what they're going for as parents. They get so caught up in dealing with the day-to-day stuff, they never stop to say, "What do I ultimately want for my children?"

I want my children to have confidence in themselves. I want them to be able to stand on their own two feet. I want them to be truly happy, to know that they have everything already inside of them to have a great life. I want to be their friend. I don't want to always be looked up to, I want to be on the same eye level; in fact, I want to be able to look up to them.

Setting those kinds of visions for raising your children, which to me is the ultimate coaching job, is the same thing you do as a coach, whether in network marketing or an other context.

Seeing in the Present: An Exercise

Stand up with your arms at your side; then raise your right arm to shoulder height and point your index finger. Turn clockwise to the right, without moving your feet, moving your pointing finger around to the right as far as you can. Note where you're pointing, then come back around to center, drop your arm, and close your eyes.

Then, with your eyes closed, envision that you're doing what you just did, only without physically doing it this time. In your mind's eye, turn all the way again, around to that same point--but now go another foot past it. Now (again, in your mind's eye only) turn back to center, drop your arm.

Now take a nice big breath in, and one more time, with your eyes closed and in your mind only, raise your arm and point your index finger, and turn clockwise: turn, turn, turn... Get to the place where you originally stopped and glide by so easily you can hardly believe it! Going past that place a foot further, now you keep going another two feet, so that you're pointing to a spot fully three feet further than your original spot. Now come back around to center.

Open your eyes, lift your arm, point your index finger, give it a whirl, and see what happens.

I've done this with people for years. The fun part is, I'll do it with people who already know exactly what we're doing the moment we start--and it still works.

Why does this work?

Let me ask you this: what color is a Yield sign?

If you said, "Yellow," don't feel bad. I've asked audiences across the country for years, and no audience has ever said anything except, "Yellow." But the truth is, Yield signs have been red and white for the past fifteen years. You've seen thousands of them, and yet you and everyone else answers, "Yellow." Why?

Because we don't see with our eyes. We use our memory and our conditioning to see everything--including ourselves.

If we do this with Yield signs, imagine what we do with people. Imagine what we do with ourselves! We look at people not as they are but as we've seen them in the past--including ourselves.

The purpose of coaching is to help people stop looking at old Yield signs, to readjust their destination and sail past that point where they've gone as far as they think they can--when they actually have everything in them to go so much further.

As coaches, we help people see with their vision--not with their conditioning.

-- BB