Editor’s Note: Thought leader Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consultancy, like WRALTechwire, celebrating its 20th anniversary.  Grace writes a regular column on Happiness & Leadership for us. Grace’s core offerings are one-on-one coaching for CEOs and their leadership teams, and conducting strategic reviews for companies at a critical juncture. A TED speaker, she is hired to facilitate team building retreats and HappinessWorks programs. This column is a reprint. Grace is taking a break and will return. 


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – I was having lunch last week with a friend who hired me a decade ago  to help refine her company’s marketing strategy. In a couple of years, she went on to start her own fractional HR consultancy. Then, last year, she referred me into one of her clients to coach their new CEO.

It was enlightening to exchange stories as fellow consultants. When I shared what I thought was an unusual assignment –  being asked to go in to conduct 360s for the C-suite members of a company where they already had existing coaches, she said something that stood out to me, “You can have more than one coach.”  Always thoughtful and wise, she shared that her clients who invest most in their own development often have several coaches – perhaps a life coach, an executive coach, and also a peer group where members coach each other.

Earlier in the lunch, I had shared with her my re-start of my piano studies and my two Juilliard trained teachers, my sister in Boston as well as my local teacher, Teddy, and how much they both taught me.  My friend likened having more than one coach like my having two piano teachers. Teddy does not mind that my sister offers suggestions and is often curious to know her perspective. In turn, I tell my sister what Teddy teaches me. They respect each other, and Teddy likely expects me to ask her for help.

Last week, Teddy taught me the pedaling in Schumann’s Traumerei.  To illustrate the nuances of placement of the pedal and the impact, he informed me that when Steinway was developing their player piano Spirio software technology, they included  256 increments of pedal positions toward the goal of highly realistic replaying of concert artists. When I texted that big number to my sister, she wrote back, “Wow, incredible!”  Two teachers are better than one.

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Peer support is very important

This past weekend, I performed at my second Presto piano recital in preparation for my Ruggero piano concert this Friday.  Like a peer CEO group, we meet to support each other in a safe environment as well as to push ourselves to practice more since we each commit to perform a selected piece. Each of us has our own teacher, and several  members are teachers themselves.  Just like teachers benefit from having teachers and peer support, coaches also seek out coaches for themselves and for peer support. I know that is true for me in my quest for lifelong learning and continuous improvement for my consulting and coaching practice over the last two decades, and for my piano playing in the last year.

Who you surround yourself with is who you become

Who you surround yourself with is who you become. That is why I am A-OK with being the least advanced pianist in Presto.  I am surrounded by inspirational individuals from whom I take away key learnings on piano, leadership, and life.  This weekend, one student performed the encore he was preparing for his 50th college reunion performance coming up in June, Schubert’s Moment Musical, Air Russe. He shared his challenges with the fingering, his search for an edition that provided the right fingering guidance, and the YouTube video that provided the most inspiration toward his interpretation. We realize that we are all normal in taking many months to have a piece ready to perform.  A former Wall Street research analyst and managing director at a renowned firm, he now considers piano as this therapy.  Just like me!

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Multiple Muses

When I first re-started my piano lessons, I was stuck on only listening to Lang Lang and his interpretations of the pieces I was studying. My sister gently encouraged me to listen to others.  I now ask her and Teddy for their suggestions for all the other artists I should listen to in learning and refining a piece for performing.  I realize that I owe myself, the piece, and my future audiences a wide array of input in formulating my own interpretation of the composer’s creation.

Whereas I once thought it was good to have one expert advising you so as not to get confused, I now am open to the advantages of having several to get to the best outcome.  Why in figuring out a challenging or rare medical condition, it is not uncommon for a doctor to encourage seeking a second opinion. For leaders who want to be at the top of their game, they seek out ongoing development  from several vetted and respected sources.

Thanks to my friend who is a fellow coach, I now realize that I can be an “overlay” coach to someone who has already been working for many years with another coach.  A long-time coaching client of mine can also add additional  resources to help them grow further. Both are  A-OK and can lead to greater flourishing.

In the coming week, make a list of who you are surrounding yourself with – are they lifting you up to become a better person? If not, I challenge you to add those who do!

 About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003. Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” are what clients value most.  A specialty is conducting 360s in order to help leaders become more self aware and uncover their blind spots.

Companies hire her firm for leadership coaching and strategy consulting as well as to  facilitate HappinessWorks™ programs, infusing the happiness advantage into corporate culture, leading to higher productivity and results.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain & Company and then worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills. She earned her undergraduate degree from MIT and MBA from Harvard Business School.

Grace and her partner, Rich Chleboski, accomplished cleantech veteran, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact-focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity.