Who am I and how do I have the credibility to coach senior executives in industries I know nothing about?

I put that question on a Powerpoint slide in front of a large group at Microsoft. I figured this question was on their minds.

I like to get in front of difficult questions. In my coaching, I call them Dreadfuls – the dreadful questions you know they’re going to ask, and that you know you’re going to stumble over. Preparing your answers means you own the narrative – in a job interview, in a networking conversation, in a quick conversation with your SVP. You choose what you teach the audience about yourself.

I wanted to teach this Microsoft audience of doubtful engineers that I am a credible resource as an executive coach.  I didn’t think they’d be too impressed by degrees, certifications, and marketing experience.

Here’s how I answered the question, on that stage, in front of those skeptical eyeballs:

In my family – I have two kids, teenagers, and a good husband — I’m the one who knows knots.

If something needs to be tied or untangled, I’m the go to.  Kite strings, tent stakes, boot laces, clotheslines – I’m in charge of the tying and untying.

And that might be a useful metaphor to describe my coaching process. I have the ability to tease out the tangle. I ask useful questions that can loosen up a seemingly impossible situation.

This ability is informed by my years working in an environment much like this one; by my years raising children while working in an environment like this one; by my education and training; and oddly, hugely, by my work as an journalist.

I am very good at listening, I’m pretty unafraid to ask difficult questions, I engender trust, and I can – when I’m lucky! – articulate the tangle that the client is describing in a simple, organized structure.

That skeptical audience was nodding and smiling by the end of that bit of truth about myself.

I was credible.