Keith Lyons - Thank You
I met Keith at a coaching conference in Melbourne in the mid 90s. I don’t remember the content of the presentation but I remember I loved it. Afterwards, I thought, ‘I have to meet this guy.’ So, I went to the front and waited ‘in line’ to introduce myself. I NEVER do this. I’d never done it before and I’ve never done it since. There was just something about him that I felt like I understood.
This was the start of a connection. More than half my life ago.
The next time we met was when he invited me to visit UWIC in about 1998. I had built a performance analysis system and he seemed interested, which was incredibly flattering to me. He had a way of having you feel important. While in Cardiff I showed him and his staff the system I was building and they were all very supportive. It made me think that I wasn’t alone in thinking about things the way I did.
Fast forward to AIS. I asked him to be a referee for me when they started the Performance Analysis Unit. He told me he was applying so couldn’t! But then a job under him opened up. I interviewed for it. I didn’t get it. I got told I interviewed great but the person who got the job answered the question ‘where will you be in 5 years?’ by saying he would be the boss in 5 years, which indicated ambition. My answer was a lot more vague. My ambition was just to work with Keith. Ironically, 5 years later I was.
Not long after that interview, and just before I moved to the United States, we had lunch. I told him – and again, I NEVER say things like this – ‘I have a really strong feeling we will work together some day’.
I moved back to Australia about three years later and sent an email to just about everyone I knew, telling them I was back. Within 30 minutes I got a message from Keith, in his typically concise form: ‘Welcome back. Do you have a job?’
I replied, ‘Thanks. No.’
‘Do you want one?’
Then I heard nothing for about a week, until he offered me a job with him in Canberra. I discovered later there was no actual job. He somehow cobbled together funding from a variety of sources, figuring it would all work out later. It did.
Working with him every day was exactly what I thought it would be. Everything we did was about a way of thinking and behaving. It was science, but the science was purely to inform you as you worked with and helped human beings. And that made so much sense to me.
Two things stand out, that have influenced me every day since.
One was the rule he had: you never answered your phone if you were talking to someone. Human beings were important and message banks would look after everything else. It seemed so simple when he said it, but so powerful. If you were talking to the cleaner (which he always was, of course) or the CEO, it didn’t matter. Human beings were more important than technology. And when the person in charge of technology behaves like that, it is powerful.
The second thing was the most powerful single piece of advice I’ve ever got. I told Keith I was going to talk to a colleague about their behaviour and how it made me feel. He said, ‘That’s a very mature way to handle it Alexis, but one question, do you think it will make any difference?’ I immediately knew it wouldn’t and from that point on I had a great relationship with that person because I would just ignore/accept the behaviour that previously frustrated me. It was such a freeing and rewarding thing, from one simple question.
Keith loved questions. I do too. I only realised later that many people don’t, they just want answers. He stoked my curiosity and gave me space and time to investigate it. I know now in my work in coach development that curiosity is a critical feature for successful people. He understood that completely.
He encouraged my education too. He funded my Masters and gave me time off to do it. He knew post-grad qualifications were important in the world we worked. Without his support I would never have done it.
I consider myself very fortunate that there have been a couple of times in my life when I’ve been involved in world, leading edge type of work. The time I spent working with Keith is one of those times. Sometimes I come across presentations or papers that we put together 10 to 15 years ago, trying to explain to people what the future would be and how we should embrace it. I read through them and always get a feeling they could have been written yesterday. I wish I could say they were my ideas, but they never were. Keith was the visionary, and I loved trying to put his pieces together.
When he moved on from his role as head of Performance Analysis he left me in charge. That he would trust me with this role is something I am incredibly proud of.
I knew he wasn’t well and that it was very serious, so I made a point to check in with him on email periodically. As always, his replies were instant and succinct. He was a prolific communicator on email, and I loved the brief chats we would have. But it was the person to person talks I really missed. The ones that would meander and inquire and challenge.
The last time we chatted on email I was determined to tell him how I felt and thank him for everything he did for me, regardless of whether it seemed maudlin. His response was perfectly him: ‘Thank you. I feel the same way.’
He stoked my love of coaches and coaching, and my curiosity. He influenced me in profound ways. Not just in what to do but how to do it.
A friend of mine put it best when he said: ‘He made life impossible for every boss, and friend, I’ve had since.’