Beth Weissenberger, the co-founder and vice-chairman of the Handel Group, an international consulting and private coaching company, is a force of nature. I left our conversation feeling inspired, motivated and filled with a sense of possibility–she’s in the business of changing lives, and clearly, she’s incredible at what she does. As far as Beth is concerned, “We’re all at war on something. The war you should be on is not with the boss you think is a jerk, it’s with your own self, and the evolution of that self. That’s the only war to be on.” For more of her wisdom–and this interview is full of it–read on!
Tell me a little bit about what you do and the philosophy behind it?
I am one of the co-founders of the Handel Group. I co-founded the company ten years ago with my youngest sister, Lauren Zander, who is my boss.
Congratulations on ten years. That’s a long time.
Yeah, it is. We have about sixty people who work for us now. We built the company because we wanted to change the world–we really wanted to make a difference. Lauren invented a methodology that so rocked, I thought was worthy of being built. I’m a builder, and she’s a genius, so together we were the perfect team.
So Lauren comes up with the ideas, and you’re like okay, I will make this a reality.
It’s not just the two of us. We work with an extraordinary team of executives and coaches who have helped us build everything. We have the life coaching division, which houses about 500 to 1,000 clients a month that we coach in tele-seminars, workshops, and one-on-one sessions. We have the education division, where we’ve been teaching our method to MIT for nine years. We teach three classes at NYU, we teach at Columbia Business School, Rutgers, Fordham, Wesleyan, Barnard, forty principals down in the Palm Beach area, two tenth grade public classes in New York City. We have the corporate division, which is what I run, where we have very small to large clients, public companies where we do corporate high potential programs, one-on-one coaching and workshops called Building Honest Cultures, as well as a workshop called Enhancing Your Success. Then we have the media division, where my sister is in the middle of writing her book. We are looking at hiring our digital partners, so that we can take our product digitally into the whole world. If we want to make a difference, we better show up.
And your philosophy?
We are considered weird, edgy.
It seems like it’s working for you, though.
We will never change. What I say to people when I do a sales call is, “Listen, at the end of this call, you’re either going to be running away from us because you’re so not this, or you’re going to be like, oh my god, we’ve been looking for you.” We’re not typical consultants. Our purpose, you could say, is to positively impact humanity by elevating personal integrity and conscious living. That’s what we do in organizations and in individuals.
How did you get from “I want to change the world,” to that specific intention?
We want to impact the whole planet, every person, by elevating personal and corporate integrity and teaching people how to live consciously. Most people, good or bad, don’t know when they’re off. They know something’s off, but they don’t know what. I have a client who sat down with me because her boss said, “You are such a bitch, and you need to fix it.” And she had no clue that anyone, ever thought that about her. That’s not conscious living.
That’s hard to hear. If you’re acting that way, there’s obviously a certain level of armor that you’ve built up. How do you break through that?
We’re committed to you being happy, proud and effective in your entire life. There’s your body, which is your weight, your eating, your exercise. There’s the whole world of your career and your money. There’s your relationship to your family. There are your romantic relationships. There’s the whole level of fun and learning and adventure. There’s spirituality, not religion, but your relationship to being connected to the universe. We cover everything.
And a creative life of some kind, I imagine.
Yes. Most people do not design their lives. Okay, maybe New Year’s Eve. In a corporation, you spend months doing the budget and figuring out what you’re going to do in the next year. The same should be true of individuals. We wake you up to what’s possible.
What was your job before the Handel Group?
I worked at a management consulting firm as a consultant and the head of sales. I’m a results-driven person.
It’s just interesting, because what you do now is a kind of management consulting, but it’s a much more organic and spiritual.
It’s deep, and it’s profound. It’s dealing with where you’re not happy. We do ask permission, since I’m in corporate, and our dad’s our lawyer. I recently sat with a CEO, and I said, “Can I have your whole life? And that includes your sex life.” And he was like, “Please!” 99.9 % of our corporate clients give us their whole life.
So you’re signing an NDA, I imagine.
No, some people don’t care about me signing an NDA. Where am I going with anything? Part of the reason we’ve been alive for ten years is because our reputation is as important to me as producing results. You’re not paying us to deal with what works about you. You’re paying us to deal with what we call your dark side, the part that you’re unconscious about. I have a client who’s incredibly successful. And when he called me–he had heard about us–he said, “There’s something–I can’t get my hands on it, but something’s not working.” His six months of coaching just finished, twenty-four sessions, and he’s hired me for another 24 because he doesn’t want to lose me. It’s like, why would I get rid of my trainer for my body if it’s the only way I’m going to work out? We deal with your dark side, and we make it fun and respectful for you to deal with it whether you’re a bitch, a prick or a procrastinator.
It’s a brave thing to do.
It’s very brave. I was talking to a chairman and CEO last night. The company did something that was against policy, and now they have to fire a major leader. The CEO is devastated. I said–I’m going to make up her name–“Susan, this is deep and profound. It’s okay. It happened on your watch. But if you remember at the beginning of the year when you hired us, this was about let’s get the right leadership team in, let’s raise the bar on corporate integrity, conscious living, and everyone who’s supposed to be there will be there, and everyone who’s not won’t. Now, who are you going to be when you go deal with this board, and when you go deal with this client?” And so we invented who she’s going to be. That’s what we do. We have you get conscious about what doesn’t work.
A lot of people don’t really realize how much others relate to and appreciate when you’re openly willing to admit you’ve made a mistake. In doing so, you say to clients or your own management team, look, I’m not impervious to error, it’s okay if you make mistakes. How do you get people out of a place of fear and into one of acceptance?
I coach two very senior women in the finance world. What we call it is, “Get off the pedestal.” The idea applies to people who are bosses as well as people who are parents. What we mean by that is–let’s take it in business first–if you really want to be an effective leader, where people will follow you, do anything, work insane hours, stay forever, you need to get off your pedestal and ask each of your employees what sucks about you. And you need to offer them complete amnesty when they tell you. You become the boss that works on herself as much as she expects her employees to work on themselves. And then I say, “And now, go do that with your children too.” Same with partners and husbands. We get people off the pedestal. It goes a long way. We’ve worked with companies that have tripled their business by getting people off the pedestal.
How did you start working with your sister?
It’s a great story. I’m eleven years older than she is. I was living in California with my now ex-husband and my daughter, and I didn’t want to live there anymore. They were about to make me president of this company. I had just produced the biggest sales they’d had in 18 years, and I’d only been at the company for two. I was bored, I missed my family, and I wanted to raise my daughter back East. I had heard that my younger sister was a good coach, so I called her. I hadn’t really grown up with her, I didn’t know her friends. Her nickname was Baby Lauren. She took five years to go through college, and we were all praying she’d turn out. After 20 minutes on the phone with her, I said, “Does Daddy know you’re a genius? And how much do you charge?” We laughed. Lauren gave me her homework, and two weeks later I got on the phone with her for another twenty-minute conversation that altered me again. I was like, “You’re kidding me.” Within five months, I got back to New York, and she got me a job. So we’re now in New York. I’m now working with her client Master Paving. Within six weeks, that client decided she didn’t want to build an empire. Remember, I’m a builder. I now have a husband, a two and a half year old daughter, and no job. As I’m crying to my sister, I’m saying, “The only one I want to work with is you, why don’t we just build you?” She says, “That’s in the next few years, that’s not tomorrow.” And I’m like, “I need a job.” She says, “Okay, give me 24 hours.” Twenty-four hours later the Handel Group got started.
One last question. Where are you resistant to walking your talk?
The thing that I will always have to work on, because it’s my lesson–we believe that everybody comes with one or two lessons in life–is my heart. I can hold you to account, I can inspire you, but with regards to most people with whom I really work well, it depends on how much I love them, how much I listen, how patient I am. I’m basically from the school of, “Get your job done,” which most bosses are. I’m always having to deal with being sensitive in my heart, loving people, respecting people, taking time with people. So that’s the thing I’m at work on, always.