Mastering Leadership and Fulfillment: A Concise Interview Summary with Donovan Manley.

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In this interview with Donovan Manley, an experienced executive and performance coach, we delve into the realm of achieving professional success while finding personal fulfillment. Donovan shares his expertise in helping executives and small business owners elevate their performance, strike a balance between work and personal life, and align their leadership style with their values and future vision. Through thought-provoking questions, guidance, and a comprehensive approach that encompasses mindset, behaviors, and capabilities, Donovan empowers his clients to excel as leaders and find fulfillment in their achievements. Join us as we explore the misconceptions about coaching, the benefits of seeking help, and the transformative outcomes that can be achieved through a holistic coaching journey.

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 Who do you help, and how do you assist them?


 I primarily assist executives and small business owners – leaders –who are seeking to enhance their performance and find greater fulfillment. Many times, the relentless pursuit of success in business can lead to neglecting personal growth and sacrificing work-life balance. My objective is to guide these individuals in aligning these aspects by creating a vision of what a harmonious work-life balance entails. I provide support in not only excelling professionally but also deriving satisfaction from their achievements while enjoying a well-rounded life beyond work. Through coaching, I help them take the necessary steps to achieve this desired equilibrium.

 What is the primary problem your clients seek help in solving?


 When clients approach me, they have already achieved a certain level of success, but they often question whether there is more to it. They wonder if they have to continue grinding relentlessly to reach the next level or maintain success, and if so, how they can find enjoyment in that process. There is often a dilemma of whether they have to delay their fulfillment until retirement to truly succeed at what they do.


In my experience, I’ve found that by aligning their leadership style with their values and future vision, they not only become better leaders but also find greater balance and harmony in their lives. This is usually the starting point of our conversations. Many individuals come to me with specific goals in mind, but we dive a bit deeper, and they realize they need a personal development plan. There’s this perception that once they reach a certain level, they are left to figure things out on their own. Unlike in the military, where promotions are based on potential and then development activities are provided, the civilian community often lacks a structured development process for senior leaders. After promotion, individuals are expected to already possess the necessary skills for their new role. This is where my assistance becomes valuable.


Some clients seek a sounding board, someone to discuss ideas and goals with and to help them navigate the mindset, behaviors, and skills required to reach the next level or achieve their objectives without burning out. Through our conversations, they come to realize that they have been dedicating everything to their job while neglecting their own needs. It may seem selfish, but in reality, it makes them better leaders for their teams when they can confidently say, “I am fulfilled in what I do. I am skilled, and I genuinely enjoy my work.”

 How do you help clients improve their performance?


 To enhance performance, I take a comprehensive approach that considers mindset, behaviors, and capabilities, tailoring it to each individual’s specific needs. It all starts with cultivating the right mindset. I help clients clarify their goals, understand their strengths, and align with their values. With this foundation, we work on implementing behaviors and establishing routines that support their growth. Additionally, developing the necessary capabilities and skills for their roles is crucial, so I focus on enhancing their leadership competencies.


One of my strengths is the ability to address all three aspects—mindset, behaviors, and capabilities—due to my experience, education, and credentials. I believe in the interconnectedness of these areas and avoid solely focusing on one while neglecting the others. Well-being also plays a significant role in my approach. Having served as a paratrooper, I understand the importance of physical fitness for leaders. Consequently, I obtained certifications as a master fitness trainer and nutrition coach. If needed, we can address health-related aspects such as stress management, sleep, nutrition, and activity levels. However, the key is to tailor the approach to enhance both the performance and overall well-being of each client.

 What is the greatest benefit or advantage that clients gain from working with you?


 The biggest benefit or advantage that clients receive from working with me is the comprehensive combination of mindset, behaviors, and skills. We focus on enhancing their leadership skills, communication, time management, delegation, and other areas that contribute to their professional growth. Simultaneously, I guide clients in cultivating a positive mindset, clarifying their goals, overcoming obstacles and limiting beliefs, and creating a path forward. We also work on developing empowering behaviors and establishing daily routines that support their progress.


The key advantage of working with me lies in the holistic approach I provide. Clients not only receive guidance on what may be holding them back but also gain valuable insight and support to propel them forward. This approach ensures that their journey encompasses not just performance improvement but also overall well-being and fulfillment. By addressing these interconnected aspects, clients undergo transformative and comprehensive growth that positively impacts both their professional and personal lives.

 Do clients often have misconceptions about your role?


 Yes, it is quite common for clients to have misconceptions about the role of a coach compared to that of a consultant or trainer. When organizations bring in a leadership trainer or consultant, they expect them to teach specific concepts and provide ready-made solutions for implementation. However, as a coach, my approach is different. My role is to facilitate clients in finding their own answers. I help them uncover their strengths, explore their plans, ask thought-provoking questions, challenge assumptions, and encourage them to think differently about their goals. While I do possess knowledge and resources, I believe that clients often hold the answers within themselves, and my job is to guide them toward discovering and taking ownership of their solutions. Together, we focus on action steps and accountability, considering how they can progress and what steps to take next.  It is about helping clients tap into their own wisdom and empowering them to actively participate in designing their solutions. 


Another misconception arises from the belief that once someone reaches a certain level, they should have all the answers and not require any assistance. Clients may feel guilty or hesitant about seeking help because they think they should already know everything about leadership. The truth is, nobody knows everything. Even with 30 years of experience, I continue to learn every day. It is important for clients to understand that seeking support and guidance does not diminish their capabilities but rather enhances their growth as leaders.

 What prevents people from seeking the help you offer?


 One of the main obstacles is the fear of vulnerability. It is natural for individuals to hesitate when it comes to seeking help and sharing their doubts with someone else. In certain environments, like the military, expressing doubts during planning sessions is encouraged as it drives you to gather crucial information for informed decision-making. However, in some professional settings, there can be an expectation that leaders should have all the answers, and the leader may feel that admitting uncertainty will be perceived as a sign of incompetence. Overcoming this mindset and realizing that it is perfectly acceptable to seek assistance and ask questions is essential.


Having an executive or performance coach provides the benefit of a safe space where individuals can express their doubts without judgment or concern about their reputation. As clients work with a coach, they become more comfortable acknowledging their uncertainties and understanding the critical information they need to make sound decisions. Gradually, some clients gain the confidence to bring those questions and doubts to their boards or C-suite, recognizing the importance of gathering the necessary information for making quality decisions. In the short term, I serve as a sounding board, helping clients work through their assumptions and identify the answers they need to make informed choices.


During the initial clarity sessions, the focus is on helping potential clients gain a clear vision of what they truly want. It’s not just about attaching numbers or specific outcomes but about deeply understanding how their life would look if they were aligned with their values, operating within their strengths, and making meaningful contributions. This vision becomes a decision filter, guiding them in assessing whether a particular choice brings them closer to their vision and aligns with their values. If the answer is yes, they pursue it; if it’s no, it becomes an easy decision to let go. These conversations help individuals gain clarity, and for some, that clarity is all they need. They leave with a renewed sense of direction and can check back in later if they require further support. Others may choose to delve deeper, exploring their character strengths and developing personalized strategies for personal growth and development, and that’s where our work continues.

 Can you provide an example of an outcome resulting from your coaching?


 Certainly! Let me share an example that illustrates the impact of our work together. I once had a client who was an engineer with exceptional technical expertise. They had steadily progressed through supervisory and management roles and were being considered for a general manager position. However, as they transitioned into higher-level leadership roles, they began feeling uncertain and uncomfortable. They doubted whether they had what it takes to excel in a broader leadership capacity. At that point, their mentor recommended they seek my assistance, and we started our coaching engagement.


During our coaching sessions, we focused on developing their leadership perspective. We examined leaders they admired and analyzed their approaches to their roles. We explored the qualities and behaviors they aspired to embody as a leader. Through our discussions, the client discovered that they already possessed many of the necessary leadership skills; they simply hadn’t recognized them as such. They had been viewing their abilities solely within the context of managing projects, delivering results, and coordinating teams. However, by reframing their experiences, they realized that these were all manifestations of leadership skills in action. They learned to translate their technical expertise into leadership language and appreciate the broader impact of their work.


As a direct result of our coaching, the client experienced a significant shift in their confidence and work-life balance. They felt more at ease pursuing the general manager role and became more effective in their current position. They no longer felt the need to overwork to prove themselves. Instead, they found ways to leverage their strengths and talents, increasing efficiency and effectiveness. Moreover, they were able to enjoy a more fulfilling personal life, spending quality time with their family and pursuing leisure activities like visiting their beach house in the summers or attending their children’s baseball games. This example demonstrates that moving up to a higher leadership level does not necessarily require sacrificing work-life balance. With the right strategies and mindset, it is possible to achieve both professional success and personal fulfillment.


In this particular case, the decision to seek coaching was not solely the client’s own but rather a recommendation from their mentor. However, it underscores the overall impact of working with a coach. Through a holistic approach, we identify individual strengths, help individuals leverage those strengths effectively, and enhance their overall effectiveness and enjoyment of their work.

 How did you get started in this field?


 After retiring from the military, I took management roles in manufacturing and then at a health club. When I decided I to wanted to do something on my own, I realized that I missed being involved in leadership development the way we had focused on it in the military. I have always found great fulfillment in helping others grow and become more effective leaders.


During this time, I began discussing my passion for leadership development with my network, and people expressed interest in receiving coaching from me. I started coaching individuals on a freelance basis, utilizing my tools and credentials to provide guidance. As I immersed myself more deeply into coaching, I recognized that this was a path I wanted to pursue full-time. I established my own company and expanded my reach to corporate clients on a larger scale while still focusing on my core mission—using my nearly 30 years of experience in leadership development and well-being to help individuals feel fulfilled in their work and enhance their performance.


It has been an incredibly rewarding journey, combining my love for leadership development with the opportunity to support others in achieving their goals and finding greater satisfaction in their professional lives.

 What criteria should people use when evaluating potential help?


 When evaluating potential help, it is important to start by determining exactly what you are seeking. Are you in need of a consultant who can assess your business and provide implementation recommendations? Or are you looking for a coach who can help you evaluate your current situation and help you develop an action plan with resources and tools to support your progress? Once you have clarity on the type of assistance you require, you can proceed with finding the right fit.


Consider the specific area of focus that you need help with. Is it leadership development, health, and well-being, or strategic planning for your company? Different coaching companies and coaches specialize in various areas, so seek out those who align with your specific needs.


Another important aspect to consider is whether the coach primarily provides a process to follow or asks questions to find the right process for you. This can be a deciding factor because if you are forced into a rigid framework that doesn’t suit your needs, you may not achieve the desired outcome. While every coach has some framework or structure, it should be adaptable and tailored to your unique situation and goals.


Chemistry and rapport with the coach are vital. Effective coaching requires a personal connection, often involving deep discussions, introspection, and sharing. It is essential to have trust and comfort with the coach, knowing that they understand your circumstances and can guide you effectively. Each person has different preferences and may connect better with certain coaches, even if they possess similar credentials. Therefore, it is advisable to have chemistry meetings or calls with two or three potential coaches before making a decision to engage with one.


By considering these criteria—understanding your specific needs, the coach’s approach, and the chemistry between you and the coach—you can make an informed choice that aligns with your goals and ensures a productive coaching relationship.

 How can people find more information?


 To learn more, the best way is to visit my website at You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, where I am active as Donovan Manley. If you have any questions or would like further information, please don’t hesitate to reach out through the website or on LinkedIn. I’ll gladly provide you with additional details and address any inquiries you may have.

Jeremy Baker is an Author and contributor to Small Business Trendsetters and Business Innovators Magazine, covering Influencers, Innovators and Trendsetters in Business, Health, Finance and Personal Development.