By Candice Henderson • October 3, 2014

AIIR Spotlight with Dr. Jonathan Kirschner, CEO and Executive Coach

This interview with Dr. Jonathan Kirschner, CEO of AIIR Consulting, was conducted and condensed by Candice Henderson.

Q: How has your background influenced your decision to start a company?

My grandfather invented the time-release capsule and founded what later became a publicly traded pharmaceutical company. My father, Mitch - now AIIR's chairman - is also a natural inventor and businessman. Growing up with role-models who were discontent with the status quo and so focused on innovation had a great influence on me. The drive to create feels very basic to my core self.

What inspired you to become an executive coach?  

Growing up, I had trouble with processing speed and reading comprehension. I was slow and academics were quite challenging. My mother, who is my #1 hero, pulled me out of the school I was in and placed me in a high-touch school for students with learning disabilities. The teachers there leveraged all sorts of alternative strategies to sharpen my audio/visual perception and teach me how to work around my greatest weaknesses. They did all this, while simultaneously affirming my strengths and building me up. I re-entered mainstream education in the 5th grade. Through the experience, I learned the concept of leveraging strengths while identifying and implementing strategies to mitigate weakness. I’ve always been fascinated by how this applies to both learning and behavioral change. When it came time to start choosing a career path, I felt a natural affinity toward the behavioral sciences and consulting. For me, Executive Coaching represents the perfect synergy of both worlds.

Jonathan Kirschner Dr. Kirschner on a recent trip to San Francisco.

What is your philosophy about human change, learning, and development?

A great psychoanalyst, Dr. Karen Horney, likened human development to an acorn that grows into an oak tree. An acorn has all its energy and growth potential innately contained within itself. That growth potential can become inhibited, stagnated, or catalyzed based on forces in the environment (wind, water, dirt, sun, etc). In the same way, the vast majority of the executives we work with already know the answers to their problems or needs. Coaching, when engaged correctly, does not provide the answers nor the actual growth. Rather, coaching helps an individual gain access to their core beliefs and values. When that implicit information gets formulated into explicit goals, development is unleashed and actualization set into motion.

When you first started out in your work as an executive coach, what was one of your biggest mistakes, and what did you learn from it?

The biggest mistake I made was not recognizing how, in an organization, a person's Development Plan isn't going to get too far off the ground unless there is a collective understanding of the broader system. I'll never forget doing great work with an executive who met all his Development Plan objectives, but was then released from the organization two weeks after we ended. The one area we failed to address was the politically charged nature of his organization and some hidden corporate land-mines that we basically just trampled over.

What are your strengths?

My greatest strengths are my strategic thinking, my creativity, my capacity to develop and sustain deep relationships, and my determination to never give up.

How do you leverage your strengths in your coaching work?

A successful coaching engagement is one in which I've leveraged the full spectrum of my strengths through deep listening, strategizing, supporting, and laughing.

Can you give an example?

Sure. If I constrain my creativity by over-planning, for example, sessions fall flat and I don’t go where the client may have needed the session to go in real-time.

How has your coaching practice evolved over the years?

Starting out, I would mostly rely on data derived from psychometrics, 360 data, etc. As I have evolved, I've learned to trust and respect my own intuition and “gut” as an additional data point, rather than reject it simply as my own unsubstantiated, subjective predilections.

How do you practice what you preach as the CEO of AIIR?

As CEO of AIIR, I have the unique opportunity to lead a fast growing company that started with just an idea. The culture at AIIR is "I work for you" and not the other way around. This attitude of servant leadership permeates our culture at AIIR in all the work we do.

What advice do you have for clients in maximizing the success of their coaching engagements?

Coaching results will be directly correlated to the degree of effort, work, focus, and energy you put into it. Client - do your homework in between sessions! Stretch yourself to go outside of your comfort zone!


Each month, Candice Henderson talks with members of the AIIR Global Coaching Alliance about the unique challenges of being a leader and coach.