Meet Dr. Ian Brooks: Chief executive and founder of Rhodes Smith Consulting
Dr. Ian Brooks is the chief executive and founder of Rhodes Smith Consulting leading transformations of people and organizations for over 24 years. Ian has extensive experience in executive and leadership development, change management, business performance consulting, and communication planning.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I wanted to have a greater impact on leaders and individuals without the boundaries offered by corporate hierarchy, managerial direction, or prescribed roles. While working for corporations, I was expected to be nothing more than a pawn in a role they needed me to play. My personal expectations and aspirations exceeded the box they assigned me. As a businessman, I hold the accountability for helping my clients based on my expertise. I am also able to choose the clients I have the pleasure of impacting.
What was your key driving force to become a businessman?
It all started with a 15-minute meeting at a big corporation I worked for. To paint the picture: my work volume started to slow down. There were rumblings throughout the organization about layoffs in many departments. With this in mind, I started looking for new jobs. I didn’t know if I was going to be impacted but wanted to establish an exit strategy just in case. I searched for new roles but found none that appealed to me. I began to ask myself a question: what do I have to learn within an organization to attain the clients and impact I want that I cannot learn by myself?
The answer: there would be no lesson learned from an organizational role that I couldn’t learn by running my own business. I also realized I had the expertise to be effective.
Ironically, my job was safe. My manager set up a 15-minute meeting with me. When we got on the line, she noted that changes were being made across the organization and it required them to let some employees go. I would not be one of them. Instead, I would now be taking over a team of 15 people. They were a group I had never heard of, nor had any experience with.
While thankful, I realized that at every moment the organization controlled my role and whether I stayed with the company. While I enjoyed the new role, I began to start and build my own business and gain clients. In that 15-minute discussion, I lost trust in the organization while gaining trust in myself. Good thing, because after five years with my new team I was let go— after another 15-minute meeting.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business thus far?
Getting paid by my first client. That moment demonstrated that my coaching services were needed and I was a voice that could provide them.
Do you believe there is some sort of formula to becoming a successful businessman?
Yes, I believe there is a formula to becoming a businessman. However, whether it is successful or not is relative. Success is a combination of learning via refinements, finding new opportunities and situations to expand, connecting with your ideal customers, and— as always— a little luck!
For me, the formula for businessmen to create more success is centered around several areas. The first is enjoyment - we enjoy what we do. Owning a business is not always enjoyable, but we'd do our work for free. Our passion shines through. This leads to the second factor, which is work ethic. Businessmen put in a lot of hours and risk a lot of time and money to reach our goals. Those who have a strong work ethic are more likely to achieve success. Further, we need personal accountability to do what is necessary to move forward. We are constantly looking to grow. We have a desire to learn and build relationships based on doing what’s right. Finally, getting the right support is critical. Successful businessmen know we do not know everything. We are experts in certain areas, but running a business requires expertise in areas where we’re less familiar (e.g. business setup, taxes, payments, marketing, social media). Surrounding myself with experts in those areas to support my journey has proved invaluable.
You’re also a life coach, correct? Can you describe your coaching practice and the kinds of clients you typically work with?
My coaching business extends to leaders in organizations and individuals seeking to transform their lives. For organizations, I have a passion for working with leaders of mid-size organizations and startups who need to develop stronger leadership skills to reach the next level. This takes the form of 1:1 coaching and leadership workshops. At an individual level, I work to help people realize their capabilities through 1:1 and group coaching sessions.
Topics within organizations vary based on need but center on communication skills, building a team, influencing, leading your former peers, and building accountability. My individual coaching practice focuses on development. It teaches the five principles in my book (discovery, the principle of you, building a plan, creating experiences, attune) over a 7-week period.
In working with your clients, what would you say is the most rewarding part of the process? What would you say is the most challenging aspect that comes along with working with clients?
One of the most rewarding parts of my career is when my clients experience the "aha!" moments. "Aha" moments occur when the client experiences a result of their consistent behavior when they least expect it. What may seem to them like casual coaching conversations and weekly action plans turn into unconscious action and achievement. I may get a call or email that reflects their "OMG! Let me tell you what happened!” They either were prepared to respond to a situation or found themselves consistently executing a plan they committed to. Before the “aha” moment, they didn't realize their commitment or its impact.
One of the more challenging parts of my career is managing my clients’ patience with themselves and getting them to reframe success. Clients want to solve their problems immediately, without establishing a foundation for sustainment or solving the true issues. They struggle to extend vulnerability to areas beyond what they see as their problem. These will be areas they’ve brushed aside in the past that impact what they want to achieve. In the end, I have to meet the client where they are and understand where they are willing to go.
Without giving too much away, please tell us a bit about your new book “Intention: Building Capabilities to Transform Your Story.”
Intention provides clarity and steps to transform our stories. It does this by reinforcing and building new capabilities to move forward. Written in a story-based narrative, the book integrates research, experience, and fictional imagery to illuminate a path for transformation in a digestible way. The book contains five parts: discovery, the principle of you, planning, experience, and attune. Each part offers a series of questions to elicit inner dialogue and thoughts for application. On their way to solving a specific concern now, readers build their capabilities to address any change in the future.
Intention shows that successful personal transformations– from leaders influencing their teams, to losing weight, to just being better – start with you and are sustained through the gift of knowledge. Readers can pick up the book in the future and use it as a guide to remind themselves how to master their intentions.
The book was published on April 27, 2021. I’ve been happy to hear that it's resonating with people. The book has received a lot of attention, which has been great!
Is there a message you want your readers to take away from your book?
We all have a unique story and it’s constantly evolving. Even without any decision or movement from us, our stories are wonderful: filled with character, challenge, climax, reflection, and continuity. Yet we are preset to evolve our stories through the investment of thought, action, and consistency. We can refine our narratives and master our intentions. While it may be difficult in the moment, all we remember in the end is the story. The purposeful actions associated with our choice to transform start with Intention.
As an author, what would you say were the three biggest struggles you faced while writing your book and how did you overcome them?
There were several struggles I faced while writing Intention. As I began taking notes for the book, I didn't trust that I had a new perspective to add to the personal change conversation. With the market saturated by self-help and 5 step processes for "X", I was curious what my voice had to offer. Over time while working with my coaching clients, I realized my perspective was unique. My coaching pattern resonated with the clients in a way that fit their needs. This gave me the confidence to push forward.
The second struggle was that my expertise didn't mean I was a good writer. I started by documenting my thoughts and points in a way that translated in my mind, yet my editor was not only editing the material but struggling to experience my thoughts for herself. Much of her feedback drew from her experience of reading the book as a participant. That feedback opened my eyes to a more engaging writing style versus one centered in academia or corporations. It forced me to articulate my message in a way that expanded beyond my experience and thoughts to resonate with others.
A third struggle occurred at the end. Faced with the COVID pandemic, a challenging US political environment, and not having a strong social media presence, marketing my book was a challenge. I started working with a publicist and her team to increase my social media presence, reimagine my brand, and reach out to my network. When identifying the book release, we created a strategy that factored COVID and political events/timing into the book campaign and release. This ensured that I minimized unnecessary noise surrounding potential buyers and created awareness of myself beyond the release of the book.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself as a person while you were writing your book?
I was surprised that I had to own a new identity to become the author the book needed me to be. Certain decisions I made as a child—not wanting to be seen and minimizing opportunities to be judged—impacted earlier versions of the book beyond what I could have imagined. It took me hearing a copy of my audiobook to understand the impact. To move past these decisions, I needed to listen to the advice I was offering others in the book and take action so my words would reflect my true voice.
On a more personal note: Tell us a little about your “real” (non-business or writing) life — family, hobbies, etc.
My non-business and writing life is focused on centering myself and being surrounded by friends and family. I'm able to center myself by working out each morning. It offers time to invest in myself before investing my day in others. I also enjoy drinking wine and trying new drinks! I create "mixologies" where I select a particular liquor, find new recipes based around it, and invite friends over (or virtually send them the recipes to do at home) for a festive time. It entices us to try new liquors and sparks great conversation!
My family is also an anchor for much of who I am. My siblings and I live in different US cities and have different family obligations, but one way we stay connected as a trio is to meet up for a sporting event each year. This is a time for us to reconnect as siblings and check on each other in a way often missed during holiday "obligations" with extended family. It also allows us to explore a city together.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors or business owners who may be reading this interview?
My advice builds on my earlier formula for successful businessmen. Write a book and build a business based on what you enjoy. Due to that enjoyment, your work ethic will be stronger and act as a guide during challenging times. Adapt what you do best to meet the needs of your readers and clients. This requires that you own your voice: be clear about who your clients are and how you meet or create their needs. Hold yourself accountable by doing whatever you can to write the book or build the business you want. This requires making it the priority to which you concede all other decisions, rather than just a priority in a sea of other priorities. Finally, know where you will need support. You won’t have time for everything. Surround yourself with those whom you trust, and trust yourself to let certain things go. This way you can focus on what you and you alone must do.
Where can readers connect with you or buy your book online?
Readers can connect with me via my website www.rhodessmith.com or on Twitter and Instagram at DrB_Intention. Intention: Building Capabilities to Transform Your Story is available for purchase in paperback or e-book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Several bookstores will also carry the book in person. An audiobook will be made available in the coming months. Connect with me on Twitter and Instagram for these releases and the latest news!
Ian helps clients achieve their pursuits through:
Ian’s coaching is based on building client leadership capabilities and creating intentional scenarios to improve their team and organizations performance. Leveraging business and team feedback, Ian partners with executives in identifying behaviors, routines and measures for sustainment. Previous corporate clients include executives and their teams from Shondaland and Black Cultural Events, targeting improved employee morale and communication, delegation tactics, and executive leadership.
By creating leadership development programs, Ian facilitates leadership and employee learning to help companies advance by providing insight-driven solutions. He partners with managers to model and develop processes that help teams overcome performance-limiting behaviors resulting in more effective coaches and mentors for their staff. Previous clients include executives and leaders at the Guitar Center, Bank of America, and Palo Alto Medical Health (Sutter Health) focused on succession planning, talent development, line of business skill assessment and leadership coaching.
Organizational Transformation/ Development
Ian is an expert in change management and partners with organizations in realizing business strategy through human change. He defines new generations of solutions through research and experience with clients around the world. Clients have included Nike, Sony Inc., Warner Brothers, Fox Sports, and Illumina focused on technology implementations impacting employees globally.
In addition to the clients listed, Ian has worked as a consultant with IBM and Slalom Consulting; as well, as internally at Kaiser Permanente and the Department of the Interior. He is the author of the upcoming book Intention: Building Capabilities to Transform Your Story and is content creator and trainer of Organization Development & Change Leadership certification program, in collaboration with the Drucker School of Management.
Ian holds a PhD in Industrial /Organizational Psychology from Marshall Goldsmith School of Management at Alliant International University, a Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Auburn University at Montgomery, and a
Bachelor’s in Psychology from Morehouse College.
Ian Brooks PhD, MS