For over three decades, Michael has been involved in lifestyle education, health & wellness promotion, training, and organisational development. He worked around the world as a therapist, not-for-profit senior manager, trainer, and entrepreneur.
He has a master’s degree in management and taught classes on Leadership, Self-Awareness, and Emotional Intelligence for the School of Life and now the Small Giants Academy. In Australia, he founded Happy Habits Coaching using principles of Servant leadership and Positive Neuroplasticity – a Mindfulness-based approach to strengthen our self-awareness and better deal with the human brain’s tendency for negative biases and counter anxiety and fear.
As a coach, Michael is highly intuitive, listens deeply and asks questions with a mix of curiosity, empathy, and honesty. He is committed to helping his clients better understand how their minds are limiting their growth and happiness, and how mental patterns that for millennia served us well on the Savannah are not well suited to modern times and get in the way of a balanced life and a legacy worth living for.
Michael lives in the forest just outside Melbourne and is constantly amazed by how easily his children see through his pretensions. He is addicted to quotes from people much smarter and linguistically more adept than himself and finds shopping for anything other than office equipment tedious.
For more details, visit his website here.
Here we sit down with Michael, to know a bit more about his journey as a coach.
Q. Tell us a little more about your journey as an entrepreneur – how did you get started? What inspired you?
Michael: Well, I’ve had the fortune of moving around the planet and working in different places over the years, and in a couple of those spots, I decided to do something of my own. I was part of a young group of entrepreneurs who set up a global jewellery company – we had set up the manufacturing company in Thailand and multiple wholesaling outfits in other countries like the US, UK, Germany, Japan and Australia.
I was running the manufacturing company, and everyone else was selling, so we grew very fast. That was the first time that I got introduced to the idea that you have to think outside the box and beyond your comfort zone to be able to solve the problems that you have because you’re growing all the time. So, that was an interesting introduction.
Later, together with my partner in Cambodia, I ran a hospitality business called The Singing Tree Cafe which was a mix of a healthy cafe, a yoga studio and a community centre supporting multiple local charities. So, in the beginning, I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur, but I was introduced to the entrepreneurial mindset.
About six years ago, when I decided to open my coaching business, I realized that, although I knew what I was doing, as a coach, I needed to learn what I was doing as a business manager of a Training & Development outfit manager, so to speak. That’s when I feel my real entrepreneurial life started and I’ve been learning ever since.
Q. What are your long-term goals in business? Paint a vision for the future
Michael: First of all, I think that we are at a junction in our history where it’s pretty hard to see what’s coming up on the curve, right? We are always under the illusion that we have control over our lives and that by and large, the system is working well enough. But now we can see that the system is buckling under an immense strain, and unless we change our attitudes and uber-consumerist culture, we’ll continue to head towards a collapse of some sort. In that context, I simply have to rethink my vision.
So, if you asked me this question two years ago, I would’ve said that I wanted a certain size of turnover and a certain number of clients while working as an executive coach and running training retreats.
Today, I’m more focused on impact. I’m looking for like-minded, ‘tribe-centric’ people who are keen to examine business practices and reinvent the way that we do leadership amongst ourselves and in our communities. For me, a successful application of this goal will be through participating and scaling a movement of people working towards a more holistic, less toxic, more feminine sort of leadership in its essence. This is not about men or women but about us all as interconnected, nurturing and aware humans.
Q. What motivates you?
Michael: My answer to this is intricately connected to the last question. You see, if you look to inquire what can we learn from matching the continuums of age and innovation, it becomes apparent that experience is not necessarily the driver of wisdom and a successfully sustainable disruption. My generation is miserably failing subsequent (younger/entrepreneurial) generations. Babyboomers initiated the transition from the Industrial to Technological age. And as such, over the last 50 years, we had the opportunity to break through to a collectively more conscious new height. Literally, to evolve beyond ‘survival of the fittest’ in the way we treat each other and the planet.
If you think about it, the following is significant: it was not our ‘fitness’, so to speak, that helped us become the Apex predator of this ancient model. It is our cognitive and creative collectivism: language and governance and science and art that made us such a successful species. And yet, instead of building on our collaborative and innovative features, we just seem to be getting better at killing each other and irreversibly messing up the place. Instead of moving towards a place where the greater good can benefit, we seem to have taken a more selfish approach, which is a moronic model for growth. It is clearly not sustainable and self-defeating.
So, what motivates me is finding a way to start a conversation on how my generation can serve your generations. How can we work with you? What training and support can we provide from our experience so you can successfully deal with the many issues that are coming up. That’s my main motivation as a leader. And, as a father of two, of course, I’m also personally invested in this.
Q. What business-related book has inspired you the most, or, what is your favourite book?
Michael: I think the book that was really inspiring for me is a book about an Indian sage called Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Named ‘I Am That’, it relays his conversations with students about the nature of consciousness. It’s not a business book, but I found it very inspiring because – as another sage from my Western cultural inheritance – Socrates – pointed out, knowing self is the most important task of being human.
Another book I found inspiring is called ‘Hardwiring Happiness’ by Rick Hanson, a psychologist and a wonderful Mindfulness teacher who developed a particular working model for a practice called Positive Neuroplasticity.
You see, after thousands of generations struggling to survive predators and marauders, our humanoid brains are essentially wired with a negative bias towards survival – looking first and foremost to identify what might go wrong or kill us. This predilection is great at keeping us alive but lends nothing to our innate yearning to be happy.
You can be very miserable and survive. Conversely, if you are happy and relaxed, you might miss the prowling tiger. So our brain, whose primary task is to keep us alive long enough to pass our genes, does not busy itself automatically on decoding and practising habits that lead to happiness. Hanson’s work – and the coaching programs I run, are geared to help people identify how to change it in a meaningful and long-lasting way.
Q. What strategies do you use to optimize your performance or mindset?
Michael: That’s a great question! I would say that developing a level of self-awareness is key so you understand what’s on your mind. Our thoughts are mostly on ‘auto-pilot’ of sorts, and so the vast majority of us are not actually conscious of what’s happening in our minds. It’s difficult to determine which thoughts serve us or not. We can aspire, engage, interact and achieve, and yet have little awareness of how we are showing up and behaving in each given moment.
This is why, when we’re triggered by external stimuli, we often get emotional and those emotions don’t let us think clearly. So, developing a level of self-awareness allows us to identify thinking patterns, understand our responses, and more. When you don’t know yourself, you’re just fumbling in the dark.
Think how you can get into a car, and drive all the way from home to work without actually being aware of the entire trip. Similarly, you might drive your ‘vehicle’ – the story of your life – in a functional manner, but you’re still driving blindly.
That’s the first strategy – work to develop your self-awareness – both generally (that’s emotional intelligence for example), and as your life unfolds moment by moment (that’s MIndfulness).
The second strategy is creating some sort of roadmap to organize your actions so you don’t get lost. You need to have a plan and follow it. There are many fantastic ideas to be productive and organized, but everyone is different, so you have to develop a system that works for you. It is important to note that a plan does not mean it will happen – that’s OK> It is our attachments to our plan that gets us in trouble.
A plan is a roadmap that gives you an idea of where you are in relation to where you would like to be – and just like any navigation process, you continually adjust your journey as the road unfolds before you. This is the source of scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski’s famous remark – ‘the road is not the territory
Q. If you were to write a book about yourself, what would you name it?
Michael: Well, I seem to have spent 40 years hoping (somewhat unsuccessfully) to soften the edges of my ego, so to be honest the idea of writing a book about myself is not very appealing.
But not to ‘rain on the parade so to speak, I’ll say this – I had my face rubbed in the mud on quite a few occasions and rebuilt my life many times. I moved through dark places and learned that you have to write your own story, but without taking yourself too seriously as the main character – be authentic about who you are and it will give you clarity.
Maybe I should call the book ‘muddy face; clear water’.
Q. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Michael: I have to say my kids are the most worthwhile investment because they belong to the future as it unfolds and very likely, my only legacy in a manner that will have some impact on the theatre of life in some meaningful way. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. I also have to say that the time I’ve invested in developing self-awareness, going to retreats, and meditating has been incredibly worthwhile to me.
Sitting on a cushion can be demanding and boring, but in the long run, it sure beats sitting on any office chair.
Q. Where do you see the future in your niche/industry 3-5 years from now?
Michael: There’s a lot of conversation about it, and sometimes it even seems like the coaching industry is growing faster than it knows what to do with itself. However, a great many people are entering coaching and they have a unique idea of what or how to do with it. I think it’s very beneficial that people are taking their wisdom and experiences to create their own niche.
The human brain is the most complex organic object known to us in the entire universe – there is even a scientific paper that suggests there is a correlation between human neural networks and spacial galaxies – how’s that for a cosmic awesome?! So the fact that there are very many people with remarkable wisdom and solid experiences who are looking to share those and help others grow and evolve is very encouraging.
We all need mentors and we have different needs, so we need the support and guidance of someone who can understand us. We are seeing a synergy of needs and benefits: many of the qualities that make good managers and great employees are the same that respond well to the domains explored in coaching. Some say coaching is the second fastest growing sector in the world, so I think the future will bring bigger and bigger operations that hopefully will provide an amazing value proposition to companies and individuals.
The downside of course is that not everyone who thinks they have something to say does, or knows how to say it in a way that has an impact. There is no right or wrong in this exploration. With the right attitude and some critical thinking, we can learn from everyone, even so-called bad teachers. Coaching is like any other great relationship – if it is overall enjoyable and significant, feels good because you care but also uncomfortable because you are growing, you are likely on the right track.
Q. What is your ‘one-sentence’ piece of advice you’d like to give to someone who wants to become an entrepreneur, coach, or business owner?
Michael: Have a plan; don’t overthink it; get on with it. We all fall in the trap of not knowing what to do because there’s so much going on out there, so finding the golden middle in terms of agile planning and taking action is key. Two sentences OK?