Coach Strengths Not Weaknesses: Lessons Learned in the Recording Studio

A frequent request I receive from HR professionals requesting executive coaching for managers is, “How can we develop better team leaders so that they can improve performance?” Ironically, while most organizations prioritize learning and development only about 1 out of 10 are prepared to address it and most don’t realize the degree to which an existing L&D platform can be contrary to moving the overall organization forward. Ideally, a robust learning and development strategy should be the foundation of performance and empower employees to drive better business results, elevate employee satisfaction, future-proof the business, enhance employee experience, and increase retention. However, it’s hard to realize those notable goals by starting out with a negative: Talent Gap Analysis.

Identifying skills shortages is well and good for remediating employees who are performing below expectations. However, it does not address the bigger opportunity to convert very good performers into great ones and thereby move teams and companies into the realm of superlative results. While focusing on skills shortfalls is intended to get employees to the baseline of meeting expectations, strong performers do not need to better understand what they’re doing wrong. From an executive coaching perspective, front line managers need to learn how to recognize what exceptional employees are doing well and build on those competencies. That’s where a manager can have the greatest individual and team impact and where organizations can realize their greatest potential for growth.

My own roots in performance management go back to having been a singer-songwriter performing at NYC’s hottest clubs and venues like CBGBs, DownTime, and the C-Note, and south to Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, one of the world’s preeminent listening rooms. My appearances brought me to the attention of London Records when Vice-President of A&R Walt Maguire heard me performing at Malachy’s II in NYC and signed me as a songwriter. From there I spent 10-years during the height of the British Wave as a producer, A&R scout, and engineer. I had the opportunity to work with some very cool artists, including The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones, Al Green, Van Morrison, David Bowie, Genesis, John Mayall with Eric Clapton, John Miles, ZZ Top, 10cc, and many others. I had the thrill of producing legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner, Texas band Greezy Wheels of Austin Music Hall of Fame notoriety, and chart-topping singer songwriter Leslie Pearl.

My years at London Records working with solo artists and groups were the foundation of bringing out the best in performers while satisfying the 4th largest recording industry giant’s need for continuous commercial success. What I learned and mastered in the studio about focused practice, continuous learning, honing your craft, knowing your audience, and persevering despite obstacles I creatively translated into the corporate world where I:

·      Led MCI Telecommunication’s regional mega sales centers in NY, TX, AZ, CO, and IA growing MCI into the 2nd long-distance provider in the U.S.

·      Drove a 55% upgrade penetration increase, 18% revenue lift, and broke all PPV records for Cablevision of Connecticut negating SNET’s attempted entry into the cable TV market.

·      Navigated to exceed its monthly and quarterly sales targets consistently across a 3-year period.

·      Increased net revenues 38% in less than 9-months for Grand Circle Travel, a global enterprise committed to changing people’s lives by offering high-impact travel experiences.

·      Led two professional UHL sports teams to profitability in a single season and directed the first sports event to sell-out the Richmond Coliseum by producing “Battle of the Bands Over Ice” securing major sponsors including VH-1 Save the Music, Harley-Davidson, and Sam Ash Music.

Let’s look at the 70:20:10 model used by designers of company L&D strategies and infuse it with my experience in the music business:

1.      70% of employees learn their skills through their daily jobs.

2.      20% obtain their skills and knowledge through their peers and colleagues.

3.      10% of all learning happens through formal training sessions.

In the recording studio the members of the bands I worked with during my years with London Records were already self-taught or had taken formal music lessons (the 10% of 70:20:10) and obtained their early music skills by playing in garage bands or jamming with friends (the 20% of 70:20:10). By the time I signed them and began producing them they were continuing to learn the 70% of the 70:20:10 on the road touring and performing. My focus was not on what these artists had missed in their first guitar lessons or the shortcomings of those makeshift living room performances with their friends from down the street. Rather, my focus was on what was strong in their music abilities right now at this moment in time and what we needed to do to take them to their highest performance level possible, wow their target audience, sell records, and create a demand for personal appearances.

For many organizations, that 10% of learning that occurs in formal training sessions, especially initial training, is not just about content, such as company culture, product knowledge, employer mission, core values and culture, benefits, policies & procedures, and the like. More significantly, it sets the tone for performance expectations and defines a “good” employee based upon which side of the “meeting expectations” line they’re on. These expectations get reinforced in front line leadership training and then translated into how teams and individuals are managed. While the organization is doing its due diligence ensuring that expectations are formally communicated, so strong can the message be that “it’s all about making the numbers or you’re out” that the formal 10% training overshadows the other 90%. Managers become ingrained with looking for what employees are doing wrong such that great performance is overlooked and stellar performers don’t get the recognition or attention they need to get to the next level. That’s when the grass starts to look greener and negatively impacts retention. Imagine me producing a lead guitarist of a successful band and saying, “Take 7 is the one! Great performance! But let’s focus on what you did wrong in takes 1 through 6.” Yet, that’s exactly what managers do because the hidden mantra of so many organizations is to find out what where even the best employees are falling short and fix it.

To be an effective performance manager means getting out of the “high priority interrupt” mentality from the computer world in which processing is interrupted to fix a programming problem. Employees aren’t machines programmed to meet certain external criteria. They are human beings with unique skills in a constant state of learning who, when coached with positive attention and strength building, will deliver amazing results. The focus needs to be on paying attention so that when employees do something out of the box outrageously good, we can take that moment to tell them about it and discover and reinforce when she or he is at their best. Of course, there will be times when an employee screws something up and the manager needs to correct it. But that’s not coaching. It’s remediating. And remediating doesn’t build great organizations. Fixing mistakes only prevents failure. Greatness comes from paying deliberate attention to catching people doing great things and helping them excel even farther. Everybody has the potential to be an organizational rock star.

About Garrison:
  • Certified Business Coach (Expert Level)
  • Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC)
  • PhD Marketing, MA Psychology
  • LinkedIn profile in Top 25 MA, PhD profiles in U.S.
  • Top 1% LinkedIn Industry Social Selling Index
  • Author, Audacious at Any Age and Design You
  • Featured in Sharing Ideas, the leading publication for public speaking professionals

Profiled on ESPN2’s “Extreme Magazine” TV show for leadership and team building 


Amazon DSP Support - GroundCloudBusiness Coach for Amazon


New York Islanders Primary Logo | Sports Logo HistoryTeam building consultant to the New York Islanders (NHL)


  • Senior leader with MCI, Cablevision, Grand Circle Travel, and
  • Producer, engineer, and A&R executive for London Records 
  • President of indie record label and TV production company
  • Producer of Grammy-nominated and legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner, chart-topping singer-songwriter Leslie Pearl, and Greezy Wheels (Austin Music Hall of Fame)
  • Performed at CBGBs and Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe
  • Stand-up comedian at NYC’s iconic Gotham Comedy Club
  • WSTC/WNLK AM-News Talk radio Host/Producer/Writer
  • Host/Producer/Writer “DINERS” for public television (CPTV)
  • Host/Producer/Writer TV documentary “Comic on a Half Shell” and TV pilot “Backtrack America”
  • Featured in MotoStars: Celebrities + Motorcycles exhibit and book with Brad Pitt, Steve McQueen, Keith Urban, Peter Fonda, Tom Arnold, Journey, Rush, Foreigner
  • Motorcycle trip across Egypt featured in New York Rider

Something Else:



The Hidden Secret to Growing Inside Your Comfort Zone

The single most powerful predictor of performance is the sense that a person has the opportunity to use his or her strengths every day at work. Research from the Gallup Organization has demonstrated that negative feedback is 40X more effective as a team leadership approach than zero feedback. But, positive attention is 30X more powerful than negative attention and 1,200X more impactful than ignoring people. So, if paying attention to what people can’t do is a leader’s typical default strategy and attention is directed at giving negative feedback, there’s a lot of human potential being left on the table. Continue reading The Hidden Secret to Growing Inside Your Comfort Zone

Take A Career Lesson from Indie Artists

Only you can manage your career. It used to be when the world was younger that the company you worked for would train you, promote you from within, and basically take care of you all the way to retirement. That dream has ended. It is up to you and you alone to know what you want your next job to be, in what industry, what skills you need, what certifications are required, and how much education is essential. Continue reading Take A Career Lesson from Indie Artists

Your Job Title Can Make Your Resume a Hit

Among the platinum-selling songs that Jimmy Webb has written are “Up, Up and Away”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, “Worst That Could Happen”, “All I Know”, and “MacArthur Park”. Inherent to his songwriting genius is that he always starts with the song title before writing a single lyric. For Webb, lyrics are constructed to tell a clear story based upon the title. So, too, résumés. Continue reading Your Job Title Can Make Your Resume a Hit

Negotiate the Remote Job You Want

Working remotely has emerged as one of the benefits workers value most in employment, especially in achieving work-life balance. A  Morning Consult survey revealed that 87% of respondents want some form of remote work and almost 50% will consider leaving a role without access to at least partial virtual work. The new work-life integration is having a significant impact on the future of the workplace. But one mistake I see job seekers make is limiting their search criteria specifically to “remote” opportunities. Don’t narrow your search. Apply for the position that resonates with you, get to the interview, secure the offer, then negotiate remote work as a win-win situation for you and your employer. Here are a few guidelines: Continue reading Negotiate the Remote Job You Want

How To Ask About Company Culture in a Job Interview

Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall in their engaging book Nine Lies About Work have demonstrated through extensive international research with major companies that the idea of a company culture is “useful fiction” in that it can’t explain one’s experience of work. “So strong is our identification with our ‘tribe’ (team) that it’s hard for us to imagine that other people inside our company are having a completely different experience of ‘tribe’ than ours. Yet they are-and these local team experiences have far more bearing on whether we stay in the tribe (company) or leave it than do our tribal (cultural) stories.” Continue reading How To Ask About Company Culture in a Job Interview

The Ring of Your Resume

The purpose of a résumé is to generate interest in scheduling the interview and, as such, is like the trailer to a movie: give the prospective employer enough to readily see your candidacy “fit” and motivate them to schedule you for an interview to learn more. That is where and when you can drill-down. A good trailer excites potential filmgoers just enough to make them want to go see the movie without giving away all the details. The same goes for a résumé. The running time of the movie trilogy The Ring was 11.2 hours. The trailer ran a mere 1:49. The film grossed $2.9 billion. Continue reading The Ring of Your Resume