Vol. 7
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 8

Taking The Field with Ivan Gavran

March 2015

Coach, facilitator, father, and listener, Ivan Gavran is helping leaders get the most out of their employees.

Ivan is a Divisional Head and business and leadership coach at Altus Q. He has also successfully launched the increasingly popular Croatian Business Forum in Sydney. Deciding to make his context “helping people”, we discover how Ivan unearthed his empathy to make a life changing decision, transitioning from a “resenter” in the corporate space, to someone enjoying his career and more importantly, life, in the coaching field.

Ivan Gavran--- 8 November 2014

By Lorenzo Princi

You certainly don’t sit behind a desk all day, what do you do?

Ivan: I’m a business and leadership coach [laughs] so that’s the title, do you want me to explain it? [Laughs] It’s a really good question and it’s not an easy thing to answer. So what does that mean? It means different things to different businesses, to some businesses it means a very commercial, sort of approach where we, you know, get underneath what’s going on or not happening to help optimise either efficiency or help them grow or sometimes it means just working with people. Just to help develop skills or help them become better leaders, get more productivity out of their team, better energy into the workforce. It really depends on what they need...

"Corporate life is a funny thing, I reckon over time you fall into one of three categories: You either start to enjoy and really grow into it and love it, you just become institutionalised or you grow to resent it."
Ivan Gavran

You started as an accountant and then transitioned successfully to lead product teams for large companies in finance. Why did you decide to move away from product development and into consulting?

Ivan: Yeah, it was a long time coming, it wasn’t an overnight decision that’s for sure because, three kids, a mortgage and not getting paid every second week. Corporate life is a funny thing, I reckon over time you fall into one of three categories: You either start to enjoy and really grow into it and love it, you just become institutionalised or you grow to resent it. And I became a resenter after a long time. I had a really good time and learnt a lot and developed a lot of good networks and contacts, so the overarching experience I had in Corporate was fantastic and gave me a lot of good skills that I still use today, but I started resenting it and that’s when I realised you only live life once.

You know Corporate, it’s a big notebook, they’re a big machine, if you can’t connect what you do to the end thing so it becomes more of a-- creating perceptions-- creating perceptions of results that you’re driving, rather than actually driving results and it almost feels, a lot of the time, like it’s an internal PR sort of campaign and you know? Sell the sizzle and I’d just rather sell the steak. So that was wearing-- that starts to really wear on you and-- but the thing that sort of stopped the decision was the, the fear, you know? Cutting the purse strings from the, you know? From the predictable income.

And I just started playing with this coaching, consulting thing on the side with friend’s and family’s businesses and started driving some, some pretty quick results and yeah, I thought, “maybe there is something to this?” Yeah, maybe there is something to it and you know, it took a while, it took a few years, you know? It wasn’t a-- [laughs] it took a few years of sort of sleepless nights, “do I? Don’t I?” Had everyone that, you know? Sort of cared about me, tapping me on the shoulder going, “you idiot, don’t even think about it.” So all that was going on and then one day I just said, “you know what, you only live once and I’m going to give this a crack.” And I did it!

I thought-- what made that decision easier, I didn’t sort of-- look at it as some forever thing, just a one year, “let’s just test this” and subject to certain things being done in a year then we’ll make another choice, so that sort of made it easier but-- so that was-- yeah, it was probably the-- one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life and I’m wrapped that I went through with it. Yeah because I’m having an absolute ball.

"If you can’t connect what you do to the end thing so it becomes more of a-- creating perceptions-- creating perceptions of results that you’re driving, rather than actually driving results."
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 7

Coaching, teaching, training; they take patience and empathy, your background (tax accounting) suggests you might be more high-think and introverted. Do these things come naturally to you, or have you trained yourself?

Ivan: You know one of the reasons I sort of-- this isn’t going to make any sense to anyone who reads this but you know, “think, feel, know”?* You know one of the reasons I started to grow-- on reflection, I didn’t know at the time, but one of the reasons I fell into the resent category-- probably more of a feeler than I realised.

Lorenzo: Right…

Ivan:Ivan: And the corporate environment doesn’t-- isn’t really conducive to that, it’s very high think. And when I sort of went into this coaching caper I sort of thought that-- thought that you know? That whole empathy and working with people on a different level would be the biggest challenge and in fact it was probably one of the biggest reliefs that I found that it allowed that and it was a weird thing because I didn’t know. It was one of those moments in life you realise something you didn’t realise, you didn’t even know.

Yeah I read a story once about a guy who learnt how to play guitar really quickly in his fifties because he obviously was-- he always had it in him, it just took him fifty years to realise he could play guitar [laughs] and I suppose that’s sort of my guitar moment. It still takes work, you know? Everything, you know? Goes with peeling back the layers of behaviours and shift things that go around that but it’s been a fun journey, to learn.

* Think, Feel, Know is an understanding that different individuals tend to lean on a certain communication trait they are more comfortable with. Some people are Thinkers, others Feelers and some Knowers. Understanding that these traits will determine how different people will react to information is crucial in building good relationships. As an example, to convey a message to a Feeler with a lot of analytical data wouldn’t be recommended as they are much more inclined to respond to imagery and emotion. The Thinker however will digest the data whereas the Knower only wants a short, sharp summation.

You work with leaders from various sectors, government, commercial, retail, software. How are you able to guide them without knowing all the ins and outs… as in, “how can he help us, what does he know about x and y”?

Ivan: Yeah, yeah, that was my biggest fear going into it, how do you sort of, add value in an industry or something you haven’t had experience in and I suppose the answer to that is that there are a couple of things, one, there’s a real richness in bringing a different perspective. You look at sort of, at the industry level, banks are a bit ahead of telcos-- a lot ahead of the telcos in fact as far as customer service given that culture and rewiring everything from-- putting the customer at the centre of everything. So it doesn’t make sense for telcos to hire telcos to get better at customer service and they realised that a little while ago and we’re seeing this big shift in the head hunting-- and I suppose that’s a little bit what we do, we bring learnings from other industries or other business models. At the end of the day a business is a business and you know? It’s so-- it sounds weird but it’s uncannily similar no matter if you’re talking to a plumbing business or a software development or a-- you know?

You’ve got a product, you’ve got position, you’ve got a lead generation mechanism, you’ve got a … you’ve got a factory. It’s all the same thing if you sort of peel it back and often, not sure if I should say publically [laughs] but often, when you are talking to a business owner, most of it is “blah, blah.” Most of it is content and for me, what I’m doing, most of it is irrelevant, I don’t listen to the “blah, blah,” I listen to the one word that gives it all meaning, the context. And that’s what I-- that’s I suppose, the value I bring to these guys, picking them up to context; this isn’t a sales conversion problem, this is a lead gen problem. This is a lead gen problem, it’s a product-- you know? And-- and when you are talking at the contextual level, you don’t need to know the content, you don’t need to know the detail. In fact a lot of the time it’s better if you don’t because it gives you that objectivity otherwise you’re stuck in the same thing that they are.

"Most of it is content and for me, what I’m doing, most of it is irrelevant, I don’t listen to the, blah, blah, I listen to the one word that gives it all meaning, the context."
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 7

A lot of trust is given to you to with an outcome in mind that you can “fix” the problem. How do you deal with that sort of pressure? Have you ever thought, this is a lost cause I can’t fix this?

Ivan: Yes! [Laughs] Yeah, there’s-- there is a bit of that sort of pressure that you feel and one of the Altus Q guides that’s sort of been around for a long time … which I’ve always held, “don’t ever let it become your agenda” as in mine because if I’m walking in thinking, “I need to fix this” that’s sort of me putting my own thing above what’s going on and really is their agenda, the clients, the clients agenda, my job is to put some visibility over and show the impact of each. So-- so long as that’s the energetic level of the conversation it works fine but sometimes-- we’re all human as am I and you do fall into that trap of “this is my responsibility” and in those moments you really got to dig yourself out and I’ve had a couple of situations where, “I just don’t know what to do here. I can see it, there’s a pattern going round and around” and feeling very responsible and the benefit of I suppose the Altus Q community that I’m involved in is bouncing these sorts of things off and you always get a different angle, a different perspective, someone sort of been there before and it can change the-- change the thing in the moment with one question, you know? And-- I draw on that a lot in those moments, that sort of support, yeah.

"Don’t ever let it become your agenda, as in mine because if I’m walking in thinking, I need to fix this, that’s sort of me putting my own thing above what’s going on and really is their agenda, the clients, the clients agenda."
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 7

Coaching methodologies, management techniques, training processes, these types of things evolve and cycle as various trends and studies come out. How do you keep up, and more importantly, know if the next trend is applicable to your clients.

Yeah, the other benefit of being involved in that sort of community, the Altus Q community, is, they’re absolutely leading edge with that, which is a relief because it just allows me to do what I do, yeah, they’re leading edge and they’ve got unbelievably good people in there doing the product development.

It’s definitely not one size fits all, it’s definitely sort of you know? Horses for courses depending on what the need is and yeah you’ve got some stuff around leadership development, you’ve got some stuff around mentoring, you’ve stuff around commercial coaching … you’ve got stuff around-- even within that, revenue or efficiencies, you’ve got stuff around helping people move through their energy block; energy’s the biggest investment a company can make, hardly anyone’s making it a conscious part of their strategy. So it really does depend what the underlying need is. So it’s definitely not one size fits all and even within a certain engagement it changes, you know? It’s like when you go to the physio to deal with your shoulder problem but they just uncover something else. So that’s also part of our challenge, to keep finding the new pain points.

Just going back to the earlier question about how do we keep up-to-date, the thing that, I suppose the biggest challenge about being part of Altus Q but also the best thing is the bar and it keeps getting raised in a really good sort of way. The level of rigor and meticulousness that comes into it is a very intensive process but also the on-going things, they’re-- we’re now about to become part of the European and, I’ll come back to you on that, EMCC, European Mentoring and Coaching Council, so we’re the Asia-PAC representatives. So the accreditations that we have sort of meet those requirements, so the height of anyone in Asia-PAC in terms of what we do. That sort of forces you to be on the cutting-edge and an example of that is the mentoring program, which is a bit of a first as far as what I can see, having a real structure in place for industries to follow to help develop each other and everything that goes with it, the development of mentors, the development of mentees having a system to track all of the conversations and the outcomes and keep people engaged in the process. That’s just-- there’s a million but that’s just one example of anything that comes out of that cutting edge, you know? Always looking at the next thing that we have.

"Energy’s the biggest investment a company can make, hardly anyone’s making it a conscious part of their strategy."
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 7

Culture, environment, bottom up, these sorts of things have changed the landscape a little bit, even just in my time. I don’t imagine finding too many people like my uncle who worked 45 years for one company anymore. In the modern Linked In world there is a lot of focus on the individuals who promote themselves much more openly on the market even while they are employed. What are your thoughts on this sort of empowerment people are getting from the very accessible forms of networking?

Yeah, I mean, whenever it happened, a while ago, you know? Businesses, industries whatever it was, realised that you’ve got to empower people to get the most out of them. It sounds so simple but we didn’t realise it [laughs]. You know? It was all sort of top down, command-- some of it still is in certain industries but more and more people are figuring it out. Talked to a CEO recently, you might know him [laughs] (referring to Elastic Grid CEO, Cameron Avery) who describes his role as an inverted pyramid, he works for his team and that’s a very common thing to hear from successful leaders, it’s sort of flipped around, “we work for the team.”

You know the thing that gets in the way of people doing a good job is fear, simple as that, getting chopped off for the wrong idea or getting chopped off for not doing something quite how it should, and so often the movie you play in your head around what might go wrong is bigger than the real thing so you don’t sort of push as far-- release those shackles and create the magic and that’s what people have figured out. That-- you can call that empowerment, you can call that creative thinking, you can call that whatever you want, but just allowing people to do their thing and having a go and the role-- the modern role of leaders is more and more about just removing barriers and blocks as opposed to you know just leading, the modern leaders main role now is just to try and look for the right people and let them sort of do the charging forward.

"You’ve got to empower people to get the most out of them. It sounds so simple but we didn’t realise it."
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 7

How is the Australian corporate climate reacting to more radical management techniques? We are traditionally quite conservative as a nation, and certainly in the corporate world. Are the new approaches to working culture, empowering staff becoming widely accepted? Are you implementing these things or still trying to sell them?

Yeah, am I trying to implement or am I trying to sell? That’s an interesting question, I don’t know that there’s sort of one answer and it does vary-- it depends on the self-awareness of the person you are talking to I think, yeah, it depends, that’s the short answer.

Selling the context of individual empowerment is hard, I mean, people need to sort of get that [laughs], you can’t be the one to help them to get that but I don’t know really, just thinking about it, probably more that they get it but want help making it real and making it real is an interesting process because you know you-- you can understand the concept, you can even understand the strategy but life throws these situations up and you don’t always make the connection between empowerment, “oh, maybe I should?” You know? And that’s often our role, “hang on we’re talking about context and strategy and you’re doing this?” “Oh, that’s right!” So I think going back to the question, more helping the implementation of those, they either get it or if they don’t, well, yeah… it’s a hard slog to get them to get it.

"Selling the context of individual empowerment is hard."
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 7

You touched on this already, but would you like to elaborate more on what makes a good leader?

A good leader? Yeah, I think being self-aware is foundational … know yourself, know where you’re passionate at, know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at and being sort of okay with that. I think that, put that as the number one ... dropping the ego, the most successful leaders from what I’ve seen, they allow the business to be bigger than them. Now I’ve got a funny way of finding you out if-- if you’re real context, even if it isn’t an open one, if it’s a hidden one, if your real context is really you and your ego, you will get found out. I’ve seen that plenty of times and at some point you’ll make the wrong decision.

So the most successful leaders have the higher context of the business is bigger than them or the purpose of the business decision is bigger than them. So they hold a higher-- higher context and the ego doesn’t get in the way.

I suppose the other thing is, just knowing where to go to for information because when you know yourself, you know what you’re not good at. You’ve got to know where to go to fill those gaps and also people just go on the last thing they heard, they’ll put things into action, “why did you do that?” “Oh, just because,”-- because it was the last thing you heard and I say that as if I’m some sort of-- but I do the same. I remember when I was playing the stock market and I was getting advice from an online bloody forum! When you think back, I cringe. Being very careful about where you’re getting information from. So I suppose that sums it up for me.

Being self-aware, knowing what you’re capable of, knowing what you’re good at what you’re not, dropping the ego, making it bigger than you and knowing where to get information.

Lorenzo: So you’re now--

Ivan: Energy! Can I say one more. Such a-- it sounds so obvious but you know? Energy is everything, even-- you know with it you can go, “Plan A doesn’t work, plan B doesn’t work,” you can go all the way until you find something that works. It sounds so obvious but it’s so critical and most people don’t really get it, don’t really get it. Don’t really make it a conscious part of their strategy, don’t really make it a conscious part of, “how are we going to make ... how are we going to find the energy blockers and get rid of them,” … so crucial and so obvious. Anyway that’s just-- the important thing is energy, the successful leaders are just, twenty-four seven, Duracell batteries [laughs] they don’t run out. They get-- they know when they need energy...

You are also posting thought leadership pieces now on LinkedIn, you have quite a few followers already, how are you finding the experience of being accessible on social media, knowing your lessons can extend beyond the board rooms.

Ivan: Yeah, it’s scary because you sort of put yourself in a Vulnerable (position), you know? Is this going to land, people are just going to go-- so it’s a bit-- yeah it’s a bit sort of scary but it’s fun at the same time. I started something called the Croatian Business Forum a little while back and I sort of-- it’s the same sort of thing, you put yourself out there, you know? And when you put yourself out there, you can get chopped down [laughs] particularly with people that you know [laughs]. Not like strangers where you’ll never see them again, you do a workshop with fifty people and some of them you know and it doesn’t land well, you’ve got to see them again the week after at some party or-- but putting yourself in those sort of things, it’s scary because you allow yourself to be vulnerable but if I let that sort of thing get in the way I wouldn’t have done this thing in the first place.

I won’t lie, it is a bit sort of-- but I don’t sort of let that get in the way and I just think it’s important to get those sorts of messages out because I sort of feel like, everyone’s got something they, their own-- you doing this is adding something, you doing what you do at Elastic Grid is adding something, everyone is adding something to this thing and I feel like I’m-- that’s my way of adding my bit and if it just creates one little, tiny light bulb moment for someone, that’s cool, if not, well, I had fun doing it and had even more fun in the fact that I didn’t sort of let fear get in the way.

What’s next for Ivan Gavran?

Ivan: Yeah, what’s next for Ivan, that’s-- I-- the cool thing about this gig is it puts you in front of so many different things and it just-- the mind just goes into overload and so the answer to that is, I don’t know and I’m really excited by the fact that I don’t know. I just know that I’m-- it feels like it’s going the right way and I’m having a ball doing it. Yeah, I don’t know and I’m really cool with it.

After Thoughts?

Ever the thinker, Ivan forwarded me some additional thoughts after our interview which I’ve included here despite having a rule of keeping everything off the cuff. Anyway, here are some additional points on leadership.

Ivan: One of the questions you asked me was what the next ‘thing’ would be in Leadership and I’m starting to come across more and more literature around ‘Wisdom in Leadership’. Whenever we go into Corporate, there’s a motto of do more with less, do it quicker, etc. People are not inspired by that sort of direction or approach and more and more are starting to find value in slowing down.

There’s a reason older people slow down, with age comes wisdom and they’ve realised that rushing from A to B doesn’t really achieve anything. It’s sort of like stopping to think before you climb a ladder because you could find yourself at the top of a ladder leaning against the wrong wall. Anyway, I could give you another twenty analogies but the point is that wisdom and reflection is becoming a more prominent feature of leadership literature.

I also wanted to add to a comment I made – it was something along the lines of the ‘inverted pyramid’ and the leader works for the staff. The one thing that’s missing from that statement is the Leader ultimately needs to ‘throw his hat over the fence’ – i.e. set the direction, that can’t come from the team. That might have been obvious to you but I just wanted to make sure it was understood.

Follow Ivan on Twitter (@Gavran_Ivan) and his Pulse Posts on LinkedIn

Proofreading by Cinzia Forby & Luke Yates.