Talonn: the executive coach that turns CEOs into better leaders

How is it that an executive coach still has time to play tarot cards and fly aerial trapeze?

“I don’t really believe in work-life balance, says Teri Citterman. “I believe in being purposeful about the work we do. The key is to get up super early and get shit done. People that get up early win board games.”

Citterman is the CEO and founder of Talonn, an executive coaching firm that helps clients identify their strengths and develop strategies to maximize their leadership potential.

Lately, Citterman has been getting quite a bit done. She recently published her first book, From the CEO’s Perspective, a frank discussion with 20 high-profile CEOs on how they identify and hone future leaders. But she didn’t always set out to write a book about leadership. In fact, her early career was focused on public relations, as well as travel and wine writing.

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Like many people, the WeWork Westlake Tower member was deeply influenced by the story of her parents, but unlike many Gen Xers, her parents are Holocaust survivors. The survivor archetype runs deep within her, or as she likes to put it, “the ability to thrive on struggle and embrace ambiguity.”

Her father escaped Germany in 1938. That same year, at the age of 10, her mother fled Austria with her parents. On November 10, the day after Kristallnacht, also known as “the Night of Broken Glass,” her father was arrested and taken to the city’s central train station where he was lined up to be taken to a concentration camp. But instead of helplessly accepting this fate, her father approached a Nazi soldier and asked to be released.

There aren’t too many stories of Jews successfully negotiating with Nazi soldiers, but Klaus Citterman was different. He pled his case, and after a series of conversations (the abridged version), they let him go. “And that’s the courage I talk about,” she says. “That’s the DNA that makes me who I am.”

And so her passion for leadership was born, a passion that shaped her career and ultimately led to writing her book. Citterman thinks of her parents’ beginning as the innate part of her leadership, and what she’s learned along the way from mentors as the learned part.

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Some of the most important feedback she ever received was that listening is a super power, and it’s a skill she brings to executive coaching. “‘If you’re talking—you’re not listening, and if you’re not listening—you’re not learning,’” she recounts. “And it’s only a matter of time before you say something stupid.”

In her work as an executive coach, she kept hearing the same thing from clients. These CEOs and senior executives weren’t asking How do we develop future leaders? They were asking Where are these leaders?

In From the CEO’s Perspective, Citterman interviews leaders on how they define, measure, and develop leaders. In some ways, the book is a letter to millennials—a collection of personal experiences and insights relevant to both CEOs and those aspiring to become CEOs.

“When leaders understand power, and influence, and how to leverage that influence in others and in themselves, they are golden,” she explains. “The longer you are a leader, the better you are at it, so waiting until you think it’s important or have the time [to hone your skills] is a huge miss.”

Photos: Ana Raab

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