In this immersed episode, Maureen Russakoff, Co-founder and Co-owner of Coach to The Best, shares how she uses the lessons she learned in public performance and improv, to help high-growth entrepreneurs and their leadership teams overcome upper-limit barriers and develop their leadership skills to reach their full potential in a very surprising way.
You will discover:
– Why you should play more at work
– The difference between managing robots vs people
– How to keeping your team and relationships on track with the drift and shift technique.
Hello Hello and welcome. Welcome once again to the secrets of the high demand coach podcast and I’m here with yet another high demand coach and that is Mo Russakoff. Mo is a is passionate about developing leadership and communication skills. She’s authored a unique three step system called AMT for expanding our stress responses beyond the normal fight or flight that we all wrestle with. She’s a conscious living, conscious, loving, big leap certified coach and one of the four people designated as five chairs five choices ambassadors in the US both her and her husband, in group or forum settings. I love this about Evo is that she loves to use improv games and techniques that really allow her and her clients to experience the truth that Pluto gave us so long ago, that is you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation. remarkable, remarkable. So right out of the gate, there’s so many things that we can run with there. But before we get to all of that, I’d love to just hear your story. What what were you doing before you got into coaching and that ultimately leads you to make the leap?
I had done a great deal of public performance, I had my own bands and I about 25 years, I was a legend, in my own mind, worked with rock’n’roll bands, and then made it a pivotal decision. Gosh, it’s been so long, it’s coming up on 40 years to join a 12 step program. Wow. And as a result of that, I ended up when I was in the all the rock and roll bands, you know, it was you know, big truck of equipment and all the managing all the dudes in the band and what what an incredible, actually looking back opportunity to hone my people management skills and my entrepreneurial skills. Because I was the one who booked the book, the band made sure we had the equipment, organized everything. And then they people that are attracted to live music that I’m going to get involved in self expression. And the club owner isn’t paying you for your self expression. Yes, as a club owner is paying you to keep people circulating on and off the dance floor. And there’s a formula that goes with that. So I’m forever navigating these egos all around me. Again, very interesting. I reverse reverse psychology, I had one person who probably today would be identified as opposite opposition Deficit Disorder, something that no matter what I asked him to do, he would do the EPA thing. And there were certain songs in the in the repertoire that I considered dance floor nerve gas. It’s like people would hear one or two notes or beat and maybe Lou, I can touch that and they’d go out and dance. And it’s interesting. The more people were singing along with the words on the dance floor, generally speaking, the more popular and beloved The song was. So if I knew one needed to really trigger people to rush the dance floor, I would ask, I knew the song. My girl was really very, yeah. And our bass player paid a beautiful rendition of that. And I knew if I wanted him to play it, I’d say, hey, feel it’s your choice play anything but my girl. Duh duh duh duh duh. And everybody be out in the dance floor. I’d get what I wanted. He got what he wanted.
Yeah, in nonviolent communication, they say meaning resides with the listener. Hmm. So I I applied just everything I learned in the many, many years. Now I did not like the idea of being a completely starving artists. So I always had hospitality gigs. And I would work the days nobody else wanted to work like Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. So there I was using all kinds of psychology to maximize my tips and being very entrepreneurial in that regard. And then eventually, when I got sober, I didn’t want to carry all the boys around on my back all the time. And I just had a nightclub act in Chicago, where had one piano player and we got the job done in that regard. But while I was in Chicago, or actually I moved to Chicago to take improv training. And the reason I took improv training was I was a complete an utter failure as a stand up comedian. Having come out of music, where there’s like a real formula for a pop song. What they tried to teach me I did I went to comedy college I’m in Detroit. And they tried to teach me how to do the comedic formula. And the comedic formula is lead line, punch line, lead line, punch line, lead line, punch, line, build, build, build. And then you do something later in your sketch, or your set where you do a call back. So that people, and what all you’re really doing is you’re just creating this little formula for people to follow along with your ideas. And comedy is incredibly tricky. If you do three jokes in a row and all three of them bomb. You’ve got to work like crazy to get the audience back on your side. So because of my years in music, I had great presence and people were sort of leaning in and expecting things to do. But I was like, really intellectual and esoteric and doing these strange wild off the wall, comedic things. I’ve since decided I’m humorous, not a comedian. And my, my comedy coach, college professor said, Go to us or go to Chicago. You want to you want to develop ideas, sketch work is great for that go for improv. I get there, I find out that improvisation was actually historically gives it back to Neville Boyd in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s public works project, he funded that. And he funded this so she could use these theater games to teach immigrants how to integrate better into the community. One of her stolons students was Viola Spolin. She wrote a book called the improv games, theater, improv games for children. And they were teaching the survivors of Auschwitz children who had survived Auschwitz, and act out their trauma. Wow. Yeah, really, really powerful stuff. And the students that were working at the University of Chicago at the time, were a young group of people who became the Compass Players. And they were the original iterate iteration. I had the pleasure of working with David Shepherd years and years later. And he was kind of the godfather of improv in the United States, because he bank rolled the compass, compass rolled over into Second City, I trained at Second City. And it probably would surprise people to know, I took 18 months of training, to learn how to look as if everything that’s happening is spontaneous. Wow. And it just fell in love with. I fell in love with the games for the experiential learning that you get about yourself. Because you walk away from an improv and if you’re really in the improv, you literally have a hard time remembering what happened. Yeah. But then it kind of hits you with another wave. And it’s like, Huh, oh, like, because when you’re doing your original improvs, you’re drawing on your own experience in those in those initial games. And then then eventually I joined a group called applied improvisation. And there’s applied improvisation is premised on the idea that there’s a therapeutic benefit from improv. That you you I mean, you can lie on the couch for 10 years. 18 months of improv, I learned more about myself. And, and it was in a way, there’s a book called the body keeps score. Bessel Vander Hoek. Yes, yes. And here’s a perfect example of like how deeply this stuff goes, it’s in our bones. When I was five years old, it was chased by a dog from behind, ran around, beat me in the face. And I’m 20 I want to go running, I hate dogs. And somebody says, Well, this is what you’re doing. This is what you’re doing. This will be commanding, you look at them to be the alpha blah. And I tried it and it worked and was fabulous. But if a dog chased me from behind and barked at me, I would throw my hands over my head and crouch into the fetal position. Wow. Even though intellectually, I knew I had, quote, unquote, conquered it. So this is another point of improv training and why I like to do some continuity work with that. Yeah, you can. You can have all the tools in the world. You can understand it, you have an intellectual understanding of it. And you will always always revert to those earlier too. traumas and those earlier triggers well. So we do something called Persona play, Persona play in improv, we do this in the workplace. And in forum. gatherings and form gatherings. People know each other really well. But it’s fairly easy to learn even more about each other. Rich and I met on match.com. And I should have paid attention that he and I had equaled inability to focus on details. Rely on our administrative assistant in phenomenal ways. She’s delightful, she always says on her face. Anyhow, he thought I was in Austin, Texas. And I was actually in. I was actually in northwestern Pennsylvania, my mother had been diagnosed with end stage renal failure. And I was a dark horse candidate to be her caregiver. And the doctor said she had six weeks to live. And I said, Oh, okay, and I kind of took my life and went, you know, it threw it out the window. I’m going to share a mom. But well, turd lasted 18 months. Feisty Irish lady. And it was the most difficult and most richly rewarding experience I’ve ever had in my life. Wow. To she knew she knew exactly what she wanted from death. And the kind of deaths that she wanted in the kind of treatment she was entitled to. I grew up in a litter. When the oldest was 12. The youngest was born. And there were eight of us. Yeah, yes. So there are plenty of opportunities to develop sub personalities in a situation like that. And the Hendricks work really talks about. There’s a specific interview that we use, when a person has an issue, they’re triggered, you go through the persona interview, you name your personas, you identify them, and you befriend them. So I have some I’ve never met my paternal great grandmother. Her name was Tilly died years before I was born. But she was so legendary, that I heard about her when I was a child. And I have an internal Tilly. Until he says, and a lot of women have a Tilly. I’m the only one who always does everything because I’m the only one who always tells you get everything just right. Move out of the way you don’t know how to load the dishwashing machine. And in fact, loading the dishwashing machine is probably some value your mother tried to drum into you, we do it this way. Or we do it that way in the grand scheme of things, not the most important thing in the world. And then from my father’s side of the family, incredible athletic indoctrination, heavy duty Judge Judy. And then the mother’s side of the family. Her mother was widowed at the peak of the depression with a brand new mortgage and six children to raise. So she’s Little Orphan Annie. And I have to turn around rich someday, since they can’t have a conversation right now that triplets are on me, like all three of them are working on me all together all at the same time. And that’ll happen in high stress.
As it’s so fascinating, because and there’s just so many different pieces here. I think what’s interesting to me is you now use all of this in a work setting. And, and so many of us want to kind of divorce those two things, right? It’s like, well, that’s my personal stuff. This is my work stuff. Or that happened to me a kid that has nothing to do with my job in this company right now. And so how is it that you help folks to kind of bring those worlds back together?
Well, if you if you have nothing but robots working for you, you can be exclusively limit linear and don’t have to worry about human beings. If however, your company employs human being persons, emotions, triggers, communication, all those things in refining that, and I have one slide I can’t share with you right now, but it can it compares and contrasts, ways of being sort of rules for success when I called dangus, after Genghis Khan and when I called Gandhi. So and particularly men and I have nothing but empathy, and really deep deep concern because the male role is so challenged today. I read a report called back when before the internet broke my brain was like this book this thick called the height report on male sexuality is a misnomer. It was really kind of like the height report of men self reporting, what it meant to be a man, what it felt like. One of the things that was exposed, this is delicate trigger warning. Men felt that they, the only time they could be fully vulnerable was during an right after the act of sex. So I’m thinking, why the hell? Wouldn’t you want to have sex all the time? Right? If that’s the only time you should act, you know, you’re half of your humanity. And I think the modern woman has a lot of difficulty in recognizing, if I’m in a room full of 1000 men, and I say, Has anyone here ever felt like they had to prove their masculinity? Every hand in the room would go up? 5000 women, I’d say if it’s anybody here ever felt they had to prove their womanhood. They just like, look at you. Like, when do you even talk about what it is that you know? So they’re there. And children are not gender type, when they’re two months old, they are by the time they’re five, five months old. So a little girl is taught, I’m in distress. People are going to come to my rescue, people are going to come give me aid and comfort. A little boy is taught tough it out. Figured out. You know? And so here are men in this new world. If they’re having even healthy loss, oh my god, what am I supposed to do about that? You know? NSC, how to make a little distinction between healthy lust and objectification. You know, if a beautiful woman walks in the room, the Gods truth is, everybody responds to a beautiful woman, period. You know, I was in an elevator in Chicago with a six foot tall, blonde, you know, 3820 to 36, a woman with legs up to my shoulder. I mean, just drop dead gorgeous. And I’m trying to make everybody else in the elevator more comfortable. And I look up at her. And I say, I always wanted to be tall, but I had to settle for being deep. And she looked down at me and said, I’m both. Okay, so that that sort of real, incredible, incredible power that women have. They don’t I don’t know that they recognize it. I think they utilize it. But that’s, that is also a gangers trait. And again, this is when you’re struggling for power. And power is a zero sum game. You give it away you somebody takes it from you. But there’s and it only ever changes hands. Power only ever changes hands. It requires the that you can’t need there’s no transparency to secrecy. And it’s based in hierarchy. And hierarchy is based in the idea that one person’s blood is blue and everybody else doesn’t matter. This goes back to Greco Roman times. This stuff is deep in our bones.
Yeah. And the other side of it the Gandhi what distinguishes those behaviors and actions from the Ganga side.
The Gandhi side is the Gandhi side says we are all responsible to to ourselves to be to act in strength. One of the dirty little secrets about power is people love to give their power away. People don’t, making conscious choices conscious decisions requires effort. If you’re falling in behind your favorite demagogue or your favorite religious person or whatever you don’t have there’s all kinds of things you don’t have to think about. Because all the answers are there and they’re supplied. Yeah. On the Gandhi side, your you can have transparency. You can you can collaborate, you can co create and and and it’s a much more creative resource. When you’re in the gangaside, it’s my way of the highway. Right? We’re getting this done because I said so. Any sentient sentient being especially like if you like your leadership team, these are high value people and you go my way or the highway people like that. You’re gonna lose your team. Yeah. And I in America, unfortunately, there’s kind of like compete, control consumed you know these around All these talk show hosts without brah voice. And I believe the fulcrum on which we make that turn is to recognize the reality that effective as a birth control. Women have 17 agency that they haven’t add in the history of the species. So I feel like we threw the bathwater out with a baby. I feel like all the rules changed, but there are not new rules. So my graduating from Gangus to Gandhi, is my paltry attempt to offer a set of rules that can work for all of us.
That’s remarkable. What would you say then kind of, in light of all of that, and this this path that you’ve been on, and taken others on as well? What would you say is the biggest secret that you wish wasn’t a secret at all? What do you wish everyone listening today knew,
Play, play, play, play, play, play play? When my son was six years old, his name is Freddie. At the time we’re calling Freddie his name’s Frederick. He had a little boyfriend over to play whose name was Aaron. And Aaron kept calling him George. And I walked in the room and I said, How come he’s calling you George? Why isn’t he calling you Freddie? He goes, Oh, he likes to call me George. And I’m okay mom. I kind of like being George today. You know, if we were that open, and that present, and that in the moment, and that unstuck from I’m the boss, you know, blah, blah, blah. Our life and the life of the people around us would be really glorious. I’ll give you a great example of using improv, to twist, an inter personal, our marital relationship, drama that was taking place. My husband is incredibly mild mannered. He’s just mild mannered. He never sits in the head of the chair. He’s like, unassuming. He operates from wisdom, not not power. That’s another part of Gandhi is operating from wisdom, not power. But we’d get in an automobile and Jesus, he was raging bull in the ad, telling all the drivers what to do. And I’m over here getting all triggered, you know, the nervous system is like God, he’s gonna get his killed. And so finally, one day, we’re riding down and he’s doing this acting out on this road rage. And I said, he’s got the app. He said, What app was when you took your car and last time I had him put in a GPS, geo locator, a little little device underneath your front tire. And there’s a game and people get points. And in the game is called PRL pitrus piss Rich off. And they get the app and they do things purposely to annoy you in traffic. And it was, it was so he, it was hilarious. It was fun. And then we, you know, somebody do something silly and traffic and you go, as he got the app, I said, Yeah, and you know, I’m putting money away from retirement. This is a very, we did some brand extensions for people who ride bicycles. And we found out there were buses in Mexico that had purchased the app. So again, rather than stay embroiled in the drama, which is a like, I’m right, you’re wrong kind of way of doing things. Invite yourself into just playing some games around it. You can invite yourself into your own creativity. It’s glorious, it’s liberating, liberating, and the more you invite yourself into your own creativity, the more creativity you have to access.
Yeah, yeah. And I’d love to actually hit that. Because again, I know this is what you do not just, you know, for friends or you know, people that you know, and love in your life. But this is what you do for folks in the business world, as well as teams that are trying to come together and perform together. So how can folks you know, the resonating with so much of your story that they feel how much they’re missing it in the work environment? How can they find more out about you in the work that you do?
Well, I have a program called rekindle living without fear loving without limits, and we do a deep dive on all these points. We do some persona play. We’re going up to Montreal, and we’re gonna be using a lot of these techniques. I love that when Rich and I work together. He’s he’s got so much experience. He didn’t mention it yesterday because he’s a coach 8 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winners. Wow. And, and a person on his roster who I’m not allowed to say was just just made the Inc 5000 this year. And these are people that Rich’s coach with for 20 years. And so we go in, we do these things, and he’s got this really solid, incredible business wisdom. And don’t get me wrong, he really is very, very keenly attuned lot of intuition on his part to on that emotional, impersonal side, because he does person coaching. He is not like, you know, one of the people we’re talking with his just is just going through an incredibly painful divorce. He’s not even on our roster. Currently, Rich has spent hours with him, you know, via video call for the last five or six weeks just giving him support. Yeah. You know. So, play, play, and don’t ever think you know, what’s going on with anybody else? Oh, yeah. And then the last, the last really important. Aha, recognition that we learned in the Hendrix is a concept called drift and shift. You make an agreement with another person, they’re going to blow it. They’re not going to pay complete attention. They’re not completely focused. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And they’re, you know, you think you have an agreement. And then, two weeks later, you know, things go real well, for a week or two. And then two weeks later, they’re like, the agreements gone? Well, they had this concept called drift and shift. And they use the metaphor of an airplane. The airplane departs Cabo San Lucas, we’re off to Chicago, we put the coordinates in, and we’re bound for Chicago. But if the pilot never readjusts the coordinates for the reality that once you’re up in the air, you are drifting. You’re in the real world, you’re in the air currents. And you have to re set the coordinates to recommit, and it and a graceful way. And Rich and I have learned a lot of these little graceful ways to communicate with other people. So you can be in this nonviolent communication space, is to say, Hey, I’d like you to recall you to our agreement. This, this and this, I think we might have drifted. Do we need to change the agreement? Can we shift back to the original agreement? What have you discovered? How, how would it work better for you to keep the spirit of this agreement? Yeah, those kinds of conversations instead of, you know, the drama. I told you to do that. And you didn’t do that. And you never do that. And I, you know, I can’t get you to do that. And like all these victim status stories that we know, because when we were growing up, we grew up in the in the gangers frame, and that shit is great. If you’re conducting a war. It’s all the rules of war, war to win. If you’re with human beings, on the personal side, you absolutely must have those Gandhi based tools, because human beings, dignity, agency respect, you cannot get another human beings cooperation without recognizing one way or the other their need for dignity, agency and respect.
Yeah. Wow, Maureen, just just a remarkable, remarkable set of advice. Again, we could just have this conversation for hours there’s so much to unpack here. But I just want to thank you for being on the show for for challenging so many of the preconceived notions that many of us have and giving us a space to really come out and play with it right not be the each other over the head with it, but really explore how to how to become better how to move into the Gandhi space. I so appreciate you being on and for everyone listening, you know, your time and attention mean the world to us. I hope you got as much out of this remarkable conversation as I knew I did. And I cannot wait to see you next time.
Thank you very much. It was a brilliant interview and it was absolute honor to be on your show.
Contact Maureen Russakoff
As a partner in the Coach to The Best, Maureen “Moe” Russakoff is passionate about developing leadership and communication skills. She has authored a unique three-step system (AMT) for expanding our stress responses beyond fight and flight. She is a Conscious Living, Conscious Loving, Big Leap Certified Coach, and one of four people designated as 5 Chairs 5 Choices Ambassadors in the United States. In group or Forum settings, Moe is delighted to use Improv games and techniques; “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.”—Plato.
Want to learn more about Maureen Russakoff’s work at Coach to The Best? Check out her website at https://coachtothebest.com/
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