Magician and executive life coach Steve Faulkner tells unLTD’s Jill Theobald how he went from circus school to helping people juggle work and life skills.
From a street performer in Covent Garden to a Sheffield-based accredited life coach might not seem like the most natural of career paths.
But grabbing a coffee and a chat with Steve Faulkner to talk about his journey, it quickly becomes clear that it’s not such an acrobatic leap after all.
The former British Street Performing Champion is now championing people’s performance as an accredited trainer – and it’s his skills that separate him from his coaching competitors, or, if you will, give him the magic touch.
“My unique performance background has taught me the power of authentic and natural communication,” says Steve. “Although I am an experienced corporate entertainer, I want to connect with my audience in a meaningful way.
“It’s got to be that way if you’re going to engage people – you’re holding a room, you can’t lose them. A modern approach to training means making it fundamentally meaningful as well as genuinely fun instead of,” – Steve cringes – ‘fun’.”
His street performing in Covent Garden led to Steve meeting jugglers who he trained with for up to five hours a day before going to London’s National Centre for Circus Arts to study a BTEC.
It was love that brought him to the Steel City, though – Steve moved to Sheffield after meeting his ex-wife while in Australia.
“I was growing tired of doing lots of corporate events in London,” he says. “I wanted to learn how to run a business and met a local guy Richard Field who runs Field Enterprise which facilitates and develops top management teams. I did some business coaching, skills workshops and a leadership course with Richard which totally turned things around for me.
“I started thinking in a different way, reading personal development books and doing key note talks with another chap I’d met on one of Richard’s courses. I was still working in London – I went down and met up with (content and platform company) Immediate Media, got a contract with them and have been running courses with them ever since.
“But having kids, I didn’t want to be away all the time and wanted flexibility with overnight gigs for the magic side of things, so I can be there a lot during the day with them. Family time is so important. I can travel and will travel for work – recently I’ve worked in Birmingham, at Alton Towers and on the Isle of Man – but don’t want to be going all over the country at Christmas time, for example.
“I really enjoy working in Sheffield, so I can see my kids but I’m also deeply passionate about the place, I’d never move.”
And he’s encouraged by the increased interest by businesses across the city region in developing staff with leadership and management training.
“I’m working with a lot of contemporary businesses – these are young, vibrant, creative organisations that have a strong business sense – as well as a lot of forward-thinking companies in the human resources sector, and quite a few charities as well.
“When it comes to staff development, it’s time for a new movement. The old school approach is out. These companies have a contemporary approach and put stuff into practise, they live and breathe it. It’s all about goal setting, and things like keeping a daily journal to review the day, which I still do myself.
“The alternative is an unmotivated, disenchanted workforce. If you want an empowered, productive workforce, I don’t see how you can do that without training.”
Steve became accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) in 2017 and decided to re-brand his executive coaching business.
“The previous name Get Good at Stuff didn’t really reflect enough of what I was doing so I have re-branded as Lead with Steve.com.”
But that doesn’t mean the magic has disappeared.
“I’m a legitimate trainer and have been for years but I still do a bit of magic – it’s in me! They work together really well. Even now I practice magic all the time. There’s 25 years of knowledge in my online card magic course – lots of video content, YouTube channel, social media.
“I used to have the self-limiting belief that I couldn’t be a business leader because I’m a performer but we’re all business people. Even as a street performer I was effectively pitching a show, delivering the entertainment, and getting paid.
“The success of any training is dependent on the person leading it. A lot of people are qualified and self-mastering is great, but you have got to have that background knowledge to really walk and talk it.
“Leadership and management training is a mix of personal and professional development but there has to be theory in there. By reading books, linking theories together, and completing a lot of courses and training I can talk with real confidence because I’ve got both the theory and experience.
“If you haven’t got that background of tools and knowledge, then training can just end up being motivational fluff.
“When you get to a certain level in business it’s your relationships and your communications that are important. Despite that ‘soft skills’ still get looked down on – we’re told not to talk about feelings but what is motivation if it’s not a feeling? And if you can’t self-motivate your business is dead.
“Training must start at the top and that will trickle down, managers need to bounce off everyone in the team. For some reason people still get stuck which is where I come in. You need someone to challenge the status quo, to challenge the MD – not in a bad way!
“Many firms still do training in-house, but I think it can be tricky to be mentored by your own line manager or a colleague who you work alongside every day.”
Clearly Steve feels boosting people’s skills and ability to juggle work/life should be on the agenda for every boss in the Sheffield City Region.
“Health and wellbeing of staff is the most important thing in the workplace,” he says. “Today we’re all contactable outside work but we’ve not evolved enough to keep up with the technology that has enabled that. People end up burning out and going off sick.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes about training and the perception that it is often a box-ticking exercise. But when it’s done properly, it’s incredibly powerful.”