EFactor: Member Spotlight Full Interview with Ton de Graaf by Pon Thoummavong

Interview with Ton De Graaf, founder of Quest Coaching, and one of the very few coaches in the world who is designated by the World Association of Business Coaches as a Chartered Business Coach.

PT: With your international experience coaching business executives, what are some of the trends you’ve noticed worldwide in entrepreneurship? 


Local is the new global. Rising transportation costs ad concerns about the quality of production in foreign markets will drive manufacturing and the sourcing of services back to local markets. The next generation of low cost, automated manufacturing equipment will restore a competitive edge to localized, small businesses.

It’s all about jobs. The economy’s current job crisis is shining a spotlight on the need for companies to create sustainable job growth. Companies that create jobs will be politically rewarded. But more importantly, the public will expect the brands they patronize to actively engage in job growth, making a job creation a hallmark of corporate social responsibility.

Innovation trumps capital. Growing momentum for startups and venture funding is translating into an environment where ideas and the ability to execute them trumps the size of your bank account. Small companies are poised to be the rock stars of the near future, due to the fact that they can execute faster and access infrastructure at increasingly lower costs. Since commercial funding will continue to be limited, innovation capital will be the name of the game.

Business software actually designed for businesses. While the last generation of business software was created to optimize the back-office (making accounting easier and keeping up with tax rules), next generation business software will focus on creating value for your business, connecting your customers and suppliers in a network and making it easier for you (not your accountant) to do business.

Technology will shift the business landscape again. Business technology will be dramatically affected by three major trends: Cloud Computing, mobile and social media. Software costs are plummeting, allowing you to access solutions and data no matter where your travels take you.

PT: For many entrepreneurs, starting their company may be their first experience in a business management role – how can strong leadership skills better assist them in their new endeavor?

TD: Leadership can be defined as one’s ability to get others to willingly follow. Every organisation needs leaders at every level. Leaders can be found and nurtured if you look for the following character traits.

A leader with vision has a clear, vivid picture of where to go, as well as a firm grasp on what success looks like and how to achieve it. But it’s not enough to have a vision; leaders must also share it and act upon it. Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

A leader must be able to communicate his or her vision in terms that cause followers to buy into it. He or she must communicate clearly and passionately, as passion is contagious.

A good leader must have the discipline to work toward his or her vision single-mindedly, as well as to direct his or her actions and those of the team toward the goal. Action is the mark of a leader. A leader does not suffer “analysis paralysis” but is always doing something in pursuit of the vision, inspiring others to do the same.

PT: How can executive coaching, such as that offered by Quest Coaching, help a startup company to maximize its fullest potential? 

TD: An Executive Coach acts as a sounding board; challenges thinking; stimulates creativity; provides tools and techniques for dealing with situations; gives encouragement; and builds confidence.

Quest Coaching Netherlands goes beyond that. We support companies on their journey from ‘Good to Great’.

We start with you and your most talented managers and focus on the leadership skills. We then support you with formulating an authentic vision and mission statement. We coach you on implementing the chosen strategy. We don’t produce lively reports, we do produce results. We are non-judgmental, future focused and action oriented. Concrete, no-nonsense, measurable. That is the Dutch Coach Approach.

PT: You’ve described that one of the benefits of executive coaching is being able to see ourselves as others may see us – why is this important for success?

TD: We all have our blind spots. We develop our own set of behavioral characteristicsover the years. It might well be that at some point, without being aware of it, those characteristics become counterproductive in our leadership role.

Strong leaders are therefore open to constructive feedback because they now at the end of the day, it’s not about them, it’s about the company and they never want to become the bottleneck for its sustainable success.

Since your direct reports can develop a way to work around your less attractive behavioral aspects and that it might not be in their best interest to give you some very honest and direct feedback, the view of an experienced executive coach might be very helpful in becoming the best leader you can be.

PT: What are some of the factors a startup company should consider when formulating their mission statement?

TD: Great companies are by and large built by “hedgehogs” – this means that they were able to focus on one big important thing that made their companies great. The “hedgehog concept” refers to a parable of a hedgehog and a fox, where the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Sometimes it takes real genius to see through all the clutter and grab the one, simple, unique thing that gives you the advantage.

You need to have an extremely clear concept of what your business is.

That business is something you can

1.       Make money at

2.       Be passionate about, and

3.       Be the best in the world at.

Your mission statement should be the reflection of these statements.

PT: Maximizing business results through systemic intervention is one of the principles of Quest Coaching – how can this be blended with the day-to-day running of the company?

TD: Your business is not just the sum of all parts, it’s an organic entity.When one of the parts falls behind and you start working on improvements, it’s sensible to also have a look at how that part is connected to the rest of your organization.

It’s all about people and when some people might see the light and start doing things differently, their colleagues might not see this and continue to deal with them like they’ve always did, possibly even reversing the positive effects of the change. That’s why you have to address change as a systemic effort in order to maximize business results.

PT: Your background in the Royal Dutch Military Police has likely helped you hone y our own leadership skills – how can others leverage their personal backgrounds to be strong leaders?

TD: To understand how you will act tomorrow, it’s good to have a look over your shoulder to see where you’re coming from. What made you decide to start a business? Why is it that you think you can assume a leadership role? What evidence do you have from past experiences that can predict your success in that role? These are questions you could ask yourself before starting a business. Being an entrepreneur is completely different from being an employee, even as an executive in a CEO role.

You’re an entrepreneur 24/7, I say it again, 24/7 all year around! You have to be able to manage your time effectively, have perseverance when things aren’t going as well as expected, be able to live with the uncertainties of an irregular income. And perhaps most importantly, you need a supportive family. Having a close and realistic look at your background and current support group might be a good prediction whether or not you will succeed as a leader and an entrepreneur. Find your passion, discover your purpose, focus on action and success will follow!

PT: Looking to the future, how do you envisage executive coaching fitting in within the ever-connected world that EFactor members enjoy?

TD: One of the benefits of being a member of EFactor is that you’re connected with all kinds of specialist within one mouse click. Being a member of a group of likeminded people means it is easy to share your skills, knowledge and expertise and you can expect the same from other members. Executive coaching can be an accelerator of your business growth as well as your personal development. I’m always willing to share and support whenever I can. When my input leads to a desire to sign up to a more intensive and tailor made coaching program, all the better. That’s how I make a living. Since my clients report a ROI of 629%, they are making a better living from it as well.

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