Neuroscience-based Coaching

Conversation with Marc Evans owner and Principal at Marc Evans Executive Coaching discussing the application of the strategies, tools and techniques of neuroscience to the world of work and performance.

In this episode of Interlinks, we talk to Marc Evans, owner and principal at Marc Evans Executive Coaching. In his work Marc coaches and mentors people in leadership roles in theTech, FMCG, Legal, Advertising, IT Construction, Non-Profit and Financial Services sectors.

Previously, Marc served as an Executive Director in the financial services sector at one of Ireland’s largest Insurance Intermediaries for 24 years giving him a strong understanding and comprehension of corporate structures, cultures, and business priorities.

Marc is a fully Accredited Pro Coach with The World Association of Coaching with Neuroscience and a Member of the ICF International Coach Federation.

Click here to read transcript

PatrickDaly:

Hello, this is Patrick Daly and welcome to Interlinks. Interlinks is a program about connections, international business, supply chains, and globalization and the effects these have had on our life, our work, and our travel over recent times. Today on the show we will be talking to Marc Evans, owner and principal at Marc Evans Executive Coaching. In his work, Marc coaches and mentors, people in leadership roles in the tech, FMCG, legal, advertising, IT, construction, nonprofit, and financial services sectors.

Previously Marc served as an executive director in the financial services sector at one of Ireland’s largest insurance intermediaries for some 24 years, giving him a strong comprehension of corporate structures and cultures and business priorities. Marc is a fully accredited Pro Coach with the World Association of Coaching with neuroscience and a member of the ICF, which is the International Coach Federation. So welcome, Marc, and thank you very much for being here with us today.

Marc Evans:

Thanks very much, Patrick. It’s a great lengthy introduction there. Flattered by it, to be honest. Very good.

PatrickDaly:

You’re very welcome. So to kick off, Marc, could you tell me a little bit about your career to date and how you came to be working as an independent coach and mentor?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, so I spent about 25 years with, as you said, a very large insurance intermediary in Dublin for, as I said, 25 years. Spent about 12 or 13 years in the senior leadership team there. They’re a very big, as I say, brokerage that deal a lot with the public sector. So I managed two different areas in there. In I suppose the last couple of years in 2000 all the while I was in there I always had a strong passion for people development as such and coaching. I unofficially coached a lot of my management team in an unofficial capacity. I fostered that type of culture. So I was always very interested in executive coaching and leadership as it were.

So in the final stages in… I never really took on a course because it’s always that thing, I’ve never had the time, et cetera. I’d looked at a few executive coaching courses. So I left Cornmarket, was the name of the brokerage, and I left Cornmarket in the end of 2020 in the middle of the pandemic actually, and took a decision to take on a course in executive coaching and move into that area. The course I chose was quite specific actually, Patrick.

I looked at a number of courses, but the one that I chose had a very strong emphasis on neuroscience which fascinates me. It’s very much about the whole guessing at how people, sort of the makeup of people, their nervous systems, how they operate, et cetera. So that course was fascinating. It was with a group called Positive Success Group out in the Marino Institute and really excellent course. Did that for about six months.

I suppose really from all the way through the course, I wasn’t sure if I was going to actually set up an actual business. It was only when I started doing the pro bono work with a number of clients who ended up doing about four or five clients pro bono, which was part of my submission on the course, I absolutely loved it. I really loved the whole transformation piece of seeing people, facilitating people’s transformation. It was at that point really that I decided to set up my own coaching business. That was in May of 2021. So it’s kind of kicked on since there for the last really year and a half so far.

PatrickDaly:

Is there a particular model or approach that you use? It’s grounded in neuroscience, is it?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, I suppose it’s a good question. So as I said, the course was underpinned by neuroscience and really it’s not a science lesson that you give clients, but it’s very much the structure and function of the nervous system. So the coaching is underpinned by neuroscience and that’s really I suppose the differentiator in terms of how people actually operate, how their systems operate, how their brain is made up, what are the things that trigger them, and then all around the neurochemicals. So there’s five or six different neurochemicals. Serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, adrenaline, cortisol, and they’re all very, very instrumental in terms of how the system works.

So with regard to the coaching, what I do in the coaching is really outline to clients what this actually means. So when they’re talking about a situation in their work where for example if they have a big presentation coming up to senior leadership or something and there’s a lot of things going on in their system in relation to that, so a lot…

PatrickDaly:

That’s cortisol and adrenaline.

Marc Evans:

Exactly, exactly. So it’s kind of identifying what they are. Then more importantly outlining what’s going on in their system, and then most importantly actually how to counteract that, how to counteract that anxiousness and that nervousness that affects people.

PatrickDaly:

Would this be along the lines of you know this Dr. Andrew Huberman at the Stanford University and the Huberman Lab? Is that kind of stuff we’re talking about here?

Marc Evans:

I don’t know. I’m not sure what… Is that the NLP sort of area and that sort of area?

PatrickDaly:

No, he’s a neuroscientist and he talks about using tools based in science for performance and sleep and all of that type stuff.

Marc Evans:

Yeah, yeah. I’d say yeah, it’s very, very related to that because when you touch on the brain parts that we’d really sort of refer to, so the amygdala is one of the oldest parts of the brain and that is very much the radar piece of the brain. It’s like a almond shaped piece and that’s the radar for threats.

PatrickDaly:

Yeah, this is our lizard brain basically, is it?

Marc Evans:

Exactly. Yeah, exactly. It’s probably when we were hunter, gatherers thousands of years ago was the prefrontal cortex wasn’t really formed at that stage. So the prefrontal cortex is really your executive center and your rational brain. Then you have your hippocampus, which is really into the limbic system with the memory where the memories are resurrected.

So all of those parts of the brain are really very important for the client to understand that these are, when the amygdala is hijacked, as they call it, the rational brain gets almost shut down and cortisol is filling the system so all your clarity isn’t nearly as razor sharp as it would normally be. Your creativity and your ability to operate is certainly misty and overtaken by that.

So once you get into that, it’s very illuminating for the client because they can start to understand, okay, that’s what’s going on. So what I need to do now is various different exercises, breathing exercises. Again, a lot of it is down to how they’re self-talking really, so the sort of things they’re saying to themselves. All of this comes out in the coaching as you go through a process with a client.

PatrickDaly:

When people come to you for coaching, why are they seeking out coaching? What is it they’re looking to achieve or what has provoked them to look for help?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, it’s a really good question. I mean there’s a lot of different reasons. It’s interesting because executive coaching was always something that there might be a perception out there that it’s for, oh, senior executives are the only ones that get that. I have a lot of clients and 70, 80% of them are all in their 30s and 40s. So there is some senior executives in there also.

To answer your question, they really come for various different reasons, Patrick. Again, progress in their career, they’re switching roles, they might be in transition in their career, they might be simply just feeling a bit under confident at the moment and need to just have a look at things. They want to learn how to report up better, they want to think more strategically in their role. They might be feeling a bit stuck. Some clients coming to me now for some interview coaching for very senior roles. So a lot of also the old reliable of imposter syndrome as well, the feeling of that. So various different reasons.

What generally happens is, I find anyway in the coaching is a lot of it just comes back to very simple sort of stuff. That’s why the neuroscience is really, it really piques their interest because when I do a complimentary discovery call with them and you find out what are the things that you’ve come for and what are you trying to walk away with, invariably it really just comes back to themselves and what’s going on, as I would always say on their inner.

A lot of the stressors are outside them, but it’s how they’re actually handling that themselves is the key. So in the coaching model, it’s very much around self-discovery first. So finding out exactly what you are, defining your values, addressing those self-limiting beliefs that are there. Then developing the growth mindset, getting rid of those limiting beliefs to empowering beliefs, moving away from that [inaudible 00:10:16] languages of where measuring their emotional intelligence and really looking at areas of where they can work on. Then identifying and aligning with most importantly with their core values, which really underpins a lot. That’s a big area now in the self discovery.

So in answer to your question, they come for a lot of different reasons, but I always find, Patrick, to be honest, it always comes back to that self-discovery piece. Once you get through that with a client, they have a really good platform then to launch into the leadership stuff. I would always say, particularly in workshops that I’m doing, a lot of workshops now in the last couple of months, we work on the mindset first because once you’ve got that right, then the leadership stuff becomes a lot, I wouldn’t say easier is the wrong word, but it certainly becomes much more manageable.

A thing they’ll say, we need to help our managers negotiate better, or we need to build trust in the teams. A lot of that just starts with the self. Once the self gets that platform right, then they’re much better off. They’re much better at dealing with people, they’re much better at negotiating because they’re going into it with a very solid mindset, a very good growth mindset. They’ve deleted those things they’ve been talking about to themselves, those self-limiting beliefs, that [inaudible 00:11:45] language, I’m not good at this or I’m not good at that, or I don’t like presenting.

PatrickDaly:

Are you finding, looking at all of these various people from different levels, different types of companies, what are the common major leadership issues that you’re encountering currently out there in the work environment?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, another really good question because it’s like leadership, I find it’s had to adjust itself. I was in leadership a long time. Again, as I say up to the start of 2020, the leadership type issues would’ve had nothing with a pandemic beside it at all. So the game has really changed I feel in the last two or three years.

There’s all these, I suppose there’s terminology around a lot of the stuff like race for talent, the great resignation, the whole remote working debate, diversity, equity, inclusion, quiet quitting, passion economy, various different terms. When you merge them all, there’s a lot more on a leader’s desk now to be dealing with, particularly around the remote working. So a lot of them would be, I suppose, searching for ways to manage their teams better remotely. That’s a tough one.

It’s very tough. All organizations are. Every single organization I work with has the same challenges of do we bring them back three days? Do we bring them back two days? Do we just do fully remote? Et cetera. All grappling with it. By extension, all the leadership in those organizations are grappling with it. So in the coaching space, it comes into it, I’ve got five of my team I’ve never met, this sort of stuff.

So it’s really what I’m finding with that is zoning in, zoning in on the behaviors, which really will define the culture in their team. So it’s really digging into what type of culture do you want? What is the culture that you want? Then going back from that to the behaviors that certainly foster that type of culture. Because ultimately in my opinion, you decide on how you behave. You behave in that way and therein is the culture. That’s how the culture comes about.

Speaker 3:

93.9 Dublin South FM.

PatrickDaly:

How has the pandemic affected you and the way you interact with clients? I would’ve imagined that beforehand it was probably a lot of person to person, but in the pandemic it’s probably been different. How has it been different?

Marc Evans:

Well, I suppose for coaching, it’s a funny one because three years ago you’re dead. I couldn’t have even imagined coaching somebody over Zoom. I couldn’t have imagined having meetings over Zoom three or four years ago when I was operating in the intermediary I was with. So for me it’s been a boom. The whole remote thing has meant my business, I coach people in Boston, I coach people in Leeds, I coach people in London, coach people in [inaudible 00:15:16] country, in Galway, et cetera. I also do face to face.

PatrickDaly:

Rather than cutting you off, the pandemic has almost connected you to more people or people in more places.

Marc Evans:

It absolutely has. Yeah, it absolutely has.

PatrickDaly:

Kind of unexpected that.

Marc Evans:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely been a real advantage in terms of opening a business of this nature because you can literally do it with anybody in the world, assuming you’re okay with some of the time zones. I’m very comfortable coaching over Zoom, to be honest. I don’t have any issue with it. The face to face is great too. There are small nuances between face-to-face and over Zoom, but quite minor. I don’t find a huge difference really.

PatrickDaly:

Yeah, it’s not quite 3D, but it might be as two and a half D kind of thing.

Marc Evans:

Actually, yeah, you might see elements of body language that you won’t see on Zoom, small elements of it, like facial expressions. Generally they’ll come through on Zoom as well, as you say, two and a half versus three.

PatrickDaly:

Then how’s the field of coaching itself developing? Is it in expansion and what are the main factors driving its development currently?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, I’ll tell you what, if the courses are anything to go by, I mean there’s a lot of people looking at it. I mean the course that I did there was about 35 people on the course. I mean I don’t know how many of them have opened up their own business, but a lot of people in organizations go and do coaching and don’t necessarily go into business in it, but want to develop themselves.

So there’s loads of coaches out there. It’s one thing I’ve realized when I became a coach, the amount of coaches. I mean on LinkedIn there’s thousands and thousands, even in Ireland and various different areas, niche areas that they go into. It is very much expanding. I think it’s something in organizations that there’s a lot more organizations looking at it now than when I would’ve been coached actually in 2014, 2015. It was quite rare back then.

I mean it wasn’t something you’d really… I certainly didn’t hear much about it. I was always into it. So I took an opportunity to get coached back six, seven years ago and I found it brilliant. So I’m obviously an advocate for it, but it’s definitely expanding, Patrick. It’s something that organizations, a lot of organizations will have panels. They’ll have three or four external coaches and people can choose a coach.

Again, it’s a funny sort of an industry. I’ve worked in sales and business development all my life and it’s not something you sell. It’s something that someone goes to get. I wouldn’t be saying to you, Patrick, you need to be coached. It’s something that Patrick will say, “You know what? I’ve got this thing I’m trying to sort. I need an independent perspective on this and I don’t need someone from my organization to talk to me about it. I need someone that’s got no skin in the game that can give me a different perspective.”

That’s you coming forward. You’ll always know the clients that really, really want it because they embrace it immediately because they’ve come forward. As opposed to an organization saying to someone, “You should go and get coached.” They mightn’t. They mightn’t want it. They mightn’t be ready for it.

PatrickDaly:

What kind of people, companies, or organizations are coming to you looking for coaching?

Marc Evans:

Various different ones. A lot in the tech industry seems to move ahead quite quickly. They’ve been doing it for a good few years. Again, the advertising space, creative industry, quite prominent in it. Tech is the one that I’ve seen the most. Then a lot of the consultancy firms are very big on it. The Accentures, KPMGs, PWCs, et cetera. They would have quite a culture of it in their organization, as I say, of external panels.

The key as a business owner for myself is really getting appointed onto those and that’s where your bedrock of your business is being on those panels of different organizations where there’s an actual culture. At the same time, I mean a lot of my marketing would be true, the LinkedIn and people come privately because they might not want someone in their organization know that they’re getting coached so they’ll come privately.

PatrickDaly:

This was a question I had for you as well. So when somebody’s looking for a coach, what should be their considerations when looking for support? So how should they go about it? How should they set goals and objectives, and do they generally need the approval of their boss or what’s the situation in that regard?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, what I find is if they’re coming privately, some people will have agreed that they’ve got a fund to use. Other organizations, as I said, have a panel of coaches, so they don’t really go outside that panel, they’ll use those coaches. Then when people are coming privately, they should certainly look at the qualifications of the coach, they should look at the experience level depending on what they’re looking for.

So in the case of myself, obviously their leadership experience. If they’re a leadership coach, what level they’ve worked at in the corporate space as well. Because a lot of the time with clients I’d be coaching, you level up your corporate experience into the sessions as the sessions progress because you’ll recognize it’s the one fascinating thing about coaching is it doesn’t really matter about the organization or the industry.

People are people. Really the same issues are there that I’ve mentioned earlier, the same issues are there in leadership, the same issues are there with managing teams, the same issues are there with the economy, et cetera. That’s why I always go back to the bedrock of this is the mindset. If that’s right, then everything else is manageable. You can really have a good springboard into the leadership stuff after getting that side right, and understanding what you are, what type of leader you actually are or what you want, what type of leader you want to be.

PatrickDaly:

I mentioned, I’d ask you a question about not necessarily asking you as an expert in the area, but I’m just interested in getting people’s view on what’s going on in the world and you’re kind of plugged into clients in different sectors at different stages in their career. They’re all operating in this world that seems to be gone a little bit mad of late. So what do you make of what’s going on in the world over recent years with all of these shocks and surprises that we’re enduring, such as the war, and the pandemic, strange election results, coup attempts in places like Germany and the US? What’s your take on it? What’s going on? What’s happening?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, it’s an interesting question. As you asked me, I have to think about it myself. I think there’s a lot of, again, and this is a generational thing I suppose, the global pandemic plus the global financial crisis really gave us a, I know the wars are a completely different topic altogether, but those two major, major events, in obviously 2008 and ’09 and ’10 that Ireland went through.

Then obviously from ’20 to 2022, I feel at the moment people are sort of… Like I just saw recently the spend for Christmas is up on last year. So I think people are almost seasoned. They’ve gone through really rocky times. ’08 to ’12, ’13. We came out of that. We had the IMF in here, we came through it. We went through the pandemic. Very, very obviously hugely difficult time and very adverse time and tragic time for a lot of families.

I feel at this point there’s massive inflation, et cetera. There’s a feeling, I just get a sense myself that people are a little bit calmer about it. I might be completely off track on that, but that’s a sense I get from clients. There’s a relative calm about it, about next year, about 2023, 2024. The sentiment in the markets would probably tell you a different story.

It’s definitely not as panicky because in financial services, I worked through that from ’08 to ’13 and it was horrendous working in that time in the financial services and all other sectors. We got through it. You get battle hardened from those sort of events. Then as I say, the pandemic, horrendous, but we came through it. I just feel there’s a sort of, I feel anyway, there’s a sort of battle hardened feel to people that I’m dealing with, certainly.

PatrickDaly:

That’s interesting. So they feel we’ve been through a lot before, so we think we can probably handle whatever’s coming.

Marc Evans:

Yeah. I might talk to you in two months time, Patrick, and say, “Well, Marc, that was a completely ridiculous call.” I don’t feel that same panic that I definitely felt and I was dealing with a lot of clients then with their funds really, really down, et cetera, and really, really a lot of worry, financial worry out there. Yeah, I just don’t get that. There is a lot of financial worry out there, but there’s not that same panic I don’t feel that I would’ve seen before. Again, could be way off. That’s just my own take on it.

PatrickDaly:

Your own hobbies and stuff outside of work, when you’re not thinking about work or involved in work, what kind of things do you like to do in the way of hobbies and other interests?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, thanks for asking. I’m a big rugby man. I love watching rugby. Played it years ago. Yeah, I support Grayson’s Rugby Club. It’s a club I played for, for years. Again, my kids are involved in basketball, so a sport I knew nothing about but really enjoy watching them play basketball. Generally try and keep fit myself, just swimming and running and stuff like that. Yeah, love all the podcasts as well, the Off the Ball podcast and some of the rugby podcasts, as well as the economic stuff. It’s very interesting.

PatrickDaly:

Are you reading or listening to anything at the moment that’s particularly of interest that you’d recommend to listeners?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, one thing that I started to do in the last few years is try and read at least one book every month or two. I’ve read a few recently that are really good. Simon Sinek Start With Why, I love that book. It was a great one. Just a lot of stuff on leadership. I read the, there’s a book called Legacy by James Kerr. It’s about the New Zealand All Blacks and how they can teach you a lot about business. Then there’s another great book for people in leadership actually called The Fear Free Organization by, let me think now. Joan Kingsley, I think it is. Yeah, I read that about six months ago. It’s a brilliant book for leaders on how to reduce fear in your organization. Yeah.

PatrickDaly:

Where can people find out more about you, about your thinking, about your work in coaching?

Marc Evans:

Yeah, great. I’m on LinkedIn, so it’s Marc, M-A-R-C, Evans on the LinkedIn there, performance and leadership coach. My website is www.marcevansexecutivecoaching.com. So all very, very simple to find. Yeah. Delighted to do discovery calls with anyone that feels they want, they are complimentary. So it’s really an exploratory call just to see whether coaching is a fit for you. That’s very important because sometimes it’s not really what they need. They might need something else. So find that out first before you engage with a coach, do an exploratory call and make sure it’s complimentary.

PatrickDaly:

Excellent. Well many thanks, Marc, for being here with us again today. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you.

Marc Evans:

Thanks very much, Patrick.

PatrickDaly:

Wish you the very best both professionally and personally. Thanks also to our listeners for tuning in again today. Keep well and stay safe until next time.

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Patrick Daly Interlinks Podcast

Interlinks is a programme about the connections, relationships and supply chains, that underpin the globalisation of our modern world.

In each programme, we interview people from around the world including entrepreneurs, executives, academics, diplomats and politicians to get their unique perspective on globalisation as it has affected them both personally and professionally.

There is a little bit of history, a dash of economics, a sprinkling of business and an overlay of personal experience both from me and from my interviewees from around the world.

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