After working 22 years in corporate America, Pasadena resident David Samuels learned something. He learned there was something else he wanted to do with his life.
Building on his business experiences, Samuels decided to draw on the skills he developed and take it a step further. As an executive coach now for the past four years, Samuels has the opportunity to help businesses and organizations achieve their goals of growing and improving.
“I realized I was interested in helping people to grow,” said Samuels, a native of London. “That is the role of managers and leaders — to help their people thrive and succeed. I do help leaders who have invested their own growth and are serious about it. They know they need to improve and you don’t have to sell them on the idea of coaching. They understand they are on this journey and they just want to get better.”
While many who call upon Samuels want to improve their companies and themselves, he said not every situation he comes upon is ideal.
“I get called in for the leaders who want to improve and I get called in for situations where they are flailing,” he said.
One organization Samuels works with locally is Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada Flintridge. The school’s headmaster, Peter Bachmann, said Samuels brings a lot to the table in an effort to improve this organization.
“David is great to work with,” Bachmann said. “We had him work with our leadership team on several issues of community, of diversity. He is so thoughtful, so articulate. He is a phenomenal listener. He loves to hear everybody’s stories.”
Bachmann added Samuels’ skills really help him shape how the school is going to grow and succeed.
“He asks very good questions and he’s a great observer,” Bachmann said. “He’s really gifted in interpersonal relationships. I think we work together far more clearly because of him.”
Chandler School in Pasadena is another organization being helped by Samuels. The school’s headmaster, John Finch, said his relationship with the executive coach is very beneficial.
“He’s a very thoughtful and perceptive individual,” Finch said of Samuels. “We’re enjoying working with him. We learned a lot from him about the theme of culture, empathy and the need to reach other cultures.”
Samuels said the lessons he teaches the leaders of organizations also apply to everyday life, especially in how meeting different types of people can broaden a person’s horizons.
One area where Samuels tries to help organizations is in improving diversity, or what he calls “cultural empathy.”
“What that means is the way to get to the heart of diversity is to build relationships with folks who are different — different cultures, different backgrounds,” Samuels said. “The idea or program that says we have X amount of people in the same room, I don’t think is authentic diversity. What I try to promote is the idea of building relationships with people who are different.”
And how is that best accomplished? It’s a slow, but important process, Samuels said.
“It means literally spending time with people, building one relationship at a time,” he said. “You have to get out of your comfort zone and say, ‘I need to go spend time with somebody who’s different.’”
But he doesn’t let the companies he helps go it alone with his plan spelled out for broaching the subject.
“I put together a series of questions about how do you begin the conversation about diversity,” Samuels said, adding any plan he proposes putting into place must have the support of the organization’s leader or else it will most certainly fail.
“It really has to be something that the head, the leader of that organization, has to fully embrace,” he said. “It begins with the head, the CEO. Do they actually believe in diversity? Can they define it themselves? Can they show and describe the benefit? For the most part it’s no. It’s a really tough issue for a lot of folks. But it’s because if you are not around people who are different, it’s almost next to impossible.”
Although many organizations strive to be diverse, Samuels said a lot of them just settle for representation, which is something different.
“I think inclusion is a nice word, but I don’t know if we know exactly what that means,” he said. “Experts are saying get representation, but where are these folks showing up? Are they in leadership roles or is the top one homogenous group?
“If you can get outside of your comfort zone a little bit and say, ‘OK, I want to actually understand someone else’s experience that’s different than mine’ — that’s all it is,” he said.
He added that being around all types of people makes for better individuals in the long run.
“Those differences don’t have to be divisive,” Samuels said.
Almost all of Samuels’ business comes by way of referrals and word-of-mouth, he adds, noting some of it also comes by way of his blog at davidlsamuels.com.