In order to achieve success, we first need to understand ourselves, and the ways in which we solve problems, communicate with others, and achieve our goals. Dr. Melinda Fouts is an experienced Jungian based psychotherapist who started Success Starts With You, where she offers executive coaching to elevate personal and professional significance with her clients using proven and effective strategies.
We can all relate to the experience of feeling stagnant in our careers, which in turn can lead us to feeling unfulfilled, and stuck in our lives overall. As we’ve all learned, throughout the past two years, doing something you love, and are successful at, is integral to living and thriving in this world. What do you do when you feel like there’s no room for improvement in the position you’re currently in?
Dr. Melinda Fouts, Ph.D. has over 25 years of experience as a psychotherapist, and now is an executive coach, helping the business leaders of the world achieve ultimate success in their careers, and lives. She currently serves as an executive coach where she works to identify limitations, challenges, “blind spots,” and obstacles that prevent growth. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Fouts and learned all about the techniques and work she does to help her clients achieve fulfillment in their careers.
“At Success Starts with You, I work with each client cohesively, helping achieve their targeted goals. By leveraging my specialized coaching techniques, I share key strategies to realize a client’s goals and long-term dreams. I focus on teaching powerful brainstorming strategies, so that my clients are able to find answers to questions without getting stuck. Furthermore, my coaching model aims to enhance emotional intelligence skills, and develop positive and mindful leadership.
I strive to help my clients realize their true potential, so that they can demonstrate their exceptional leadership skills and cognitive abilities to overcome any challenging situation that comes their way successfully.”
“We, as humans, can always do better, and one of the things that can help most of us improve in the real world is a bigger toolbox of communication skills. My goal with the individuals I work with is that after six months, they’re able to see certain challenges coming and learn how to handle them in a way that makes everyone feel good about the work they’re doing.”
Dr. Fouts explained to me how her work as a trained psychotherapist for more than two decades helped prepare her to take on the role of executive coach:
“I have a Ph.D in psychology, and have had a private practice as a psychotherapist for 25 years. One of my clients was a top executive who I worked with for 9 months, and at that point I was already feeling like I wanted some sort of change in my life, but I didn’t know what it was. This particular client told me at the end of our time together that she thought I should be an executive coach because of how much I was able to help her break out of the corporate mold and find her own voice.
Obviously, I knew coaching was different from psychotherapy, but after 25 years it seemed like the right step based on all the experience I had and was continuing to gain.
I ended up taking an executive coaching course with a man who also used to be a psychotherapist, because I wanted to learn directly from someone who knew what it was like to turn the dial from psychotherapist to executive coaching. The course itself was so dynamic and compelling, and it’s what made me realize how passionate I was for increasing emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which encompasses knowing yourself better, self-actualization, and interpersonal skills with yourself and others. Taking on the role of executive coach, which embodies all of those things, seemed like the right move especially considering my extensive experience in psychotherapy.”
Dr. Fouts then explained how her experience as a psychotherapist actually helps her better navigate the emotions her clients experience within their work settings, and beyond.
“Something I think really sets me apart from others within the industry, is I can easily identify my clients ‘blind spot’ and go to style a responding because they were triggered. Every client has imbedded patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, that break down communication. My emphasis is on the importance of improving communication techniques to expand my clients’ toolbox.
When I worked with someone as a psychotherapist, I wasn’t just listening to the words they said to me, I took in the entire presence of the individual. I studied body language closely so if a client was telling me about their day and I noticed their eyes starting to glaze over or they avoided eye contact, I would ask ‘what just happened there that triggered this response?’ because it’s all about getting to the root of the issue.
Through that experience, I learned to read what’s not being said, and to have an overview of an entire situation. Sometimes my clients refer to me as their ‘thought partner’ because even if they need something as simple as going over an email, I’ll be there to guide them on a path of improved interpersonal skills, and self-realization.”
In speaking with Dr. Fouts I became curious about the ways in which she helps these high executive business leaders break out of their personal molds to succeed, most of whom we’d assume would have the most confidence in the corporate world. She explained to me how we all have a voice in our head telling us to do better, and sometimes when we are actually doing better that voice gets louder because we never feel satisfied with the goals we have already accomplished.
“Believe it or not, most of the successful clients I work with suffer greatly from imposter syndrome and are consistently doubting themselves. As an executive coach, I want to bring that self-confidence up through extensive questioning, and I’ll even grade them on their answers, which most of them hate, but it helps teach them how to continue to elaborate on their feelings and come up with never before thought of answers for themselves.”
“I want everyone to learn how to identify their emotional blind spots, and the ways in which they respond when they get triggered that may not be the most beneficial to them and the people around them.”
Dr. Fouts explained to me how she uses the metaphor of the “one-two-punch of blind spots” to better explain to her clients how our responses are sometimes so involuntary when we become emotionally triggered, especially in a business setting, but identifying those blind spots is the first step to better understanding how to improve.
“Everyone has what I like to call the ‘one-two punch of blind spots’ when it comes to difficulties appearing in their life. For example, when I have top executives coming in to talk with me, and they become triggered by something, that’s the first punch to the blind spot, because it’s an immediate reaction to something that doesn’t actually represent who they want to be.
The second punch, when it comes to these executives, is their response style to being triggered. We all have a kinesthetic charge internally when we get triggered, and when it comes to fast-moving business executives, they become blinded to this charge and how intense of a reaction it can cause because of how much they’re doing every day. As a coach, it’s my job to push them out of their comfort zone and learn more about themselves to unlearn behaviors that aren’t benefiting their coworkers, and most importantly themselves.
I believe in coaching with an iron fist in a velvet glove. That’s what a coach does, they’re meant to be tough on you and call you out as a third party so that you begin to learn how to better listen to your body and mind. I’ll tell them ‘I’m pushing you out of your box (comfort zone), but you can’t get out of it if you don’t know what the box is comprised of.’
Our boxes are made up of our personal beliefs, culture, the way we were raised, and anything else that shapes the perspective we have in the present moment. When we find ourselves in situations where we need to make executive decisions, we think we know exactly how to handle it but the reality is all of these elements that make up our boxes are also guiding the way in which we make those decisions as well.
I typically have my clients start by identifying what makes their box up, I want them to dig deep, and not just answer questions to satisfy me or others.”
Here’s a personal experience Dr. Fouts shared with me about her own belief system:
“When I wrote my book, ‘Cognitive Enlightenment: A Disciplining Of Your Mind,’ I originally wasn’t even in a place where I wanted to write one. The day I finished it and was ready to submit it for publishing, but I realized the main reason I didn’t want to publish a book was because of how long the process is from writing to getting the book on shelves. I began researching independent publishing options for myself so I could get my message out into the world, and one publisher told me I would hear back from them in 30 days. When they finally did reach out, I was having breakfast at the hotel where I was staying and read the email about three times, not fully comprehending or believing what it said.
I was in such disbelief that I even made the stranger sitting next to me read it as well. He looked at me and said ‘they said they’re going to publish your manuscript. What’s so hard to understand?’ I was shocked. I genuinely believed the process would take years, not three days, and I believed that so intensely that even when I had it written out in front of me in black and white, I still didn’t believe that it was happening.
I tell this story because it shows how powerful our beliefs are when it comes to how we navigate our everyday lives and emotional responses. Even though I knew that my book was getting published, parts of my emotional box were telling me it’s too good to be true. Through my coaching, I’m amplifying all of these things that impact the person; our blind spots, go to styles of behavior, beliefs, and perspectives.
No matter how successful or experienced you are, there’s always going to be negative thoughts and mental blocks that will try to get in your way. It’s normal, and learning how to identify, navigate, and break out of those thought patterns will help you greatly in life.”
“When it comes to improving our title, salary, and position in our career, it can become so easy for us to get in our own way. I think everyone can relate to the anxiety of asking your boss for a raise for the first time, but the reality is the anxiety that comes with asking those questions holds us back from being able to confidently/successfully do so.”
Dr. Fouts then took me through some of the more specific ways in which she helps her clients identify, navigate, and overcome mental obstacles that are holding them back.
“When I start with a new client, I send them a set of two questionnaires. The first is more of a general set of questions to help me get to know the individual and why they’re specifically reaching out for my assistance. The second is more specifically tailored to the client based on their initial responses. In the second set of questions, I always ask my client who their personal hero is. It’s important for us to all have heroes in any capacity, because it gives us archetypes for the individual we want to become.
When you present a client’s situation to them in a way that asks them how their hero would react if they were in their situation, the individual can normally easily identify how their hero would take care of the issue. This allows the client to remove themselves from the situation and put themselves in the perspective of someone they admire. It forces them to step out of their box, and into someone else’s, which in turn helps them get out of their own way.
The process in general is all about communication, the paperwork and questionnaires are made to help me get a more general understanding of the experiences my clients go through, but the things that are revealed through conversation are what give me the tools that I need to help them.
Setting goals is also an integral part of the work I do with my clients. Having goals, like having heroes, gives the individual something to work towards. However, it’s important that you make your goals as realistic and personal as possible so that you know you have all the skills you need to accomplish them.
In addition to the one-on-one coaching, I also have thirteen signature leadership development trainings that I love to do. Leading others requires ongoing self-development and training. The training I offer is designed for upper management and top executives. Combined with coaching, once the skills and tools are mastered by upper management, they can be taken deep into the organization where all employees and staff are practicing these new skills.”
I asked Dr. Fouts to leave our readers with some general advice based on her impressive career and experience working with a multitude of clients. The world’s in a very weird place right now, but Dr. Fouts believes we all have the power to overcome and improve our situation, no matter how bleak. This can be an area to uncover your blind spots.
“People are wanting to make a change in their work life. They want to move up, they want to have the confidence to succeed, and now they’re in this weird transitional point where they’re still working but feel stuck in their positions and don’t know how to break out of it.
An interview, especially when it’s between an employee trying to move up the corporate ladder and their boss, should always feel more like of a conversation. However, many of us go into it thinking it’s going to feel more like an interrogation. This is where the blind-spots and breaking out of your personal box all come into play. My biggest tip for any interviewee is to always ask questions. I’ve spoken to so many HR executives who said they would never hire someone who didn’t have questions about a certain position. Again, it’s meant to be a discussion! I work hard to teach my clients how to carry the confidence they have in their personal lives into their work life, because they have just as much power in the office as they do at home, they just may not realize it.
I tell my clients to practice mindful exercises throughout the day, specifically meditation. Meditation gives you the opportunity to look within yourself. Of course, I have so many clients who have their assumptions about the practice, so I tell them it’s not just about sitting in silence and breathing. When you feel like you’re getting stressed, it’s up to you to remove yourself from the situation, take a minute by yourself, and just relax and reflect. I tell my clients to take five slow and deep breaths to re-center themselves in the moment and figure out how to handle whatever challenge is in front of them in a way that won’t negatively affect their emotional intelligence. Pausing before reacting is a challenge and the one-minute breathing exercise allows you to take a step back. It will bring more clarity, calmness, and flexibility to find a different outcome. A leader’s mental state is one of their biggest predictors of success.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to have awareness of one’s own emotions and the ability to recognize other people’s emotions and to be able to distinguish between different feelings and label them correctly. Decisions are not as objectively made as one would like. Emotions affect and often guide our thinking and behavior. Having a high emotional intelligence allows us to understand and manage our emotions in positive ways to overcome challenges, communicate effectively, and defuse conflict.
When it comes to mindfulness practices, it forces you to slow down, focus, and figure out a more creative or adaptable way to solve your problems in a way that may have not been clear before.
At the end of every session, I ask my clients for a takeaway from the session so that they can verbalize what they’ve learned and reinforce that they have the power to take control of their own life.
One of the things I love the most about my coaching is how in depth I get to know the individual. I’m there to help them improve their emotional responses in the workforce, but also I’m learning all about the personal trials and tribulations that they’ve endured, and are enduring that shapes them as an individual, and thus impacts their emotional response to things. We’re all humans at the end of the day, and it’s important that we both see each other as those full emotional and physical beings.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.