Jerry Colonna

The Pursuit of Growing Up

The Pursuit of Growing Up

Jerry Colonna

CEO at and Author

Jerry Colonna

Jerry Colonna is CEO and co-founder of, an executive coaching, and leadership development firm, and author of ‘REBOOT: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up’ (HarperBusiness, June 18). For nearly 20 years, he has used the knowledge gained as an executive, venture capitalist (VC), journalist, and a board member for 100+ organizations to help people lead with humanity, resilience, and equanimity. For more, see

Jerry Colonna is the CEO and co-founder of, an executive coaching and leadership development firm dedicated to the notion that better humans make better leaders. For nearly 20 years, he has used the knowledge gained as an investor, an executive, and a board member for more than 100 organizations to help entrepreneurs and others to lead with humanity, resilience, and equanimity. Prior to his career as a coach, he was a partner with JPMorgan Partners (JPMP), the private equity arm of JP Morgan Chase. Previously, he led New York City-based Flatiron Partners, which he founded in 1996 with partner, Fred Wilson. Flatiron became one of the nation’s most successful, early-stage investment programs. His first leadership position, at age 25, was editor-in-chief of InformationWeek magazine.

Take home these learnings:

1) How to respond both sympathetically and compassionately?
2) Reason why people do not open up
3) Better human beings make better leaders
4) Recognise the role one plays in their own reality
5) Why many people feel a sense of suffering in their work?

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Episode Transcript:

00:00 Intro:// Welcome Welcome Welcome Ladies and gentleman. Welcome to the podcast the xMonks Drive. I am your host Gaurav Arora. I remember in the last episode we had Mr. Arun Maira, former Chairman of the Boston Consulting Group, India; An Author of several books, and the former member of the Planning Commission of India. I remember my conversation where we explored traits of leadership, what it means to be the member of Planning commission of India, and so much more…. He emphasized on the importance of Curiosity and the importance of listening. His ability to take genuine interest in the lives of others is so humbling and heartwarming. Let’s take one step forward and let me introduce to you Jerry Colonna. Jerry Colonna is the CEO and cofounder of, an executive coaching and leadership development form. Better humans make better leaders. Prior to his career as a Coach, he was a partner with JPMorgan Partners, the private equity arm of JP Morgan Chase. <> <> Outro:// My key take aways from this episode are: Be genuinely interested in others when you are asking about their well beings…..As Jerry said” For God’s sake…Be kind to each other” You never know what they are going through. and “Telling the truth is a powerful expression of strength and inner confidence.” What are your key takeaways? Do share them with us. Also, leave a review and rate the episode and I look forward to meeting you again soon with yet another interesting conversation. Take good care and stay tuned ☺ Welcome, welcome. Welcome ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our next session at the coaching conclave 2022. When we are tapping into the true essence of coaching, when we are tapping into the true essence of life today is really special because we just interviewed honorable Mr. Allen magaji, the former Planning Commission of India, remember where we tapped into where we explored his understanding of what does it mean to tap into the true essence of life? And he spoke about curiosity, when he spoke about listening, and when he emphasized that how it's really important to listen. And remember when I was introducing him, I said, he's one of those few gentleman that I've had the honor of meeting who asked me How am I there is a deeper story to that. And that's the reason why we have our first speaker, Jerry colonna. Jerry colonna is a very dear friend. Yeah, there are few authors, there are few coaches, there are few people that you meet, you just feel connected. Jet is one of them. Jerry is the CEO and the co founder of, an executive coach, and one of the leadership consultants, and investment banker in the past where he was involved with JPMorgan Chase organization, JP Morgan partners, and an author of a book called Reboot, Leadership And The Art Of Growing Up. It is one book that I would strongly recommend for every individual to read, even if you are a leader or not, if you have formal capacity, I would call it this one. And there are several reasons for that. Jerry, thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for being such a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful friend. 01:45 Well, thank you for having me. And I have to say thoroughly enjoyed that intercession, music, it felt like I was a rock star. So I appreciate that. 01:58 Jerry first of all, thank you for accepting this. And I genuinely mean it. Because the first time I spoke to you some time, a year and a half back. I genuinely wanted you to be here with us at the coaching conclave. I remember one of our initial conversations a few years back, where you mentioned only if people are willing to take a pause and reflect on a seemingly simple question. How are you? They might start crying. You said how are you is an act of radical inquiry with love, and compassion. 02:42 And since that day, I've started to look at this. Three words, how are you in a very different light? I genuinely want to understand, and know how are you doing? 02:59 Well, I'm well, thank you. I'm a little sad. Earlier this week, my partner and I had to put down our 19 year old cat, ginger. And ginger was Ally’s dear companion, for many years and. And so that's with me right now. And I'm excited because I'm about to turn in the manuscript for my next book, which is super exciting, and nerve-wracking. But I'm good. Thank you for asking, how are you? 03:43 Thank you for asking this. I was nervous an hour back. And I could see that how dense it is going down. I can experience some kind of lightness. I'm experiencing some kind of heaviness in my shoulders right now. So we just had a decent starts on feeling happy. And as I'm just asking, I've just asked you, how are you? And as you asked me, How am I doing? The first answer that was coming to me that I'm good. Then I realized that how good it is for me? Good is an evidence that talks about my inability to come back home and acknowledge my emotions and feelings. So yeah, that's 04:58 so so I love what we just did. And I love that. You noted that I often call the simple act of asking that question. And a corollary to that question is How am I? Because when How are you is asked with love and intention and full presence It can provoke the How am I 05:26 really. 05:28 And what I often note is what makes that radical is that we are socialized to not consider that question. We're socialized to wake and go about our day. And I remember from our podcast conversation, I think you had at least one kid crawling around. And you were sitting on the floor in front of your couch, and there was a stress. And then. So notice all of that, right. And now just now when you said, I was nervous coming in, what happened for me in that moment, was that I felt I had felt your nervousness, but I couldn't place it. I couldn't understand where it was coming from. And then as soon as you named it, It relieved in me, which hopefully relieved in you. Now why are we focusing on this? Well, those of us who are joining you, carry the sacred task of supporting people in their development as leaders. And if we just pause for a moment, and think about the application of what you and I just did, totally unplanned by the way. And we encourage those that we are privileged to serve to do the same thing. We might possibly lower the anxiety and therefore the violence in organizations, simply by encouraging the person who has power 07:14 to slow down, check in and figure out where they are and what they're carrying into that moment. Yeah, I hope that connection was helpful. 07:28 Oh, always, always, Jerry, thank you. In all my conversations with you, I realize that the initial three minutes to five minutes itself brings in so much of calmness. And it helps me to ground myself, the moment I acknowledge what I'm going through. Because the moment I'm able to acknowledge the emotion that I'm experiencing in this moment, that emotion serves me and just goes out of the body. So thank you, Jerry, just shifting the gears. In all our conversations, and also in your book, you have mentioned several times, better human beings make better leaders, and I'm a firm believer of that, who you are is how you lead the journey of a leader is the journey of a human being. I started to believe that it's extremely important to be a good human being to come back home all the times. And there's another parallel thought that I am experiencing these days that we don't have choices in our lives. I did not have a choice where I was born, and I did not have a choice to choose my parents. I did not have a choice to choose the country that I was born in. I think we only have choices to respond. What do you think is the starting point to become a better human being? 08:51 Well, let me circle back to that to that notion. And as I wrote in the book when I was tasked when I tasked myself with the question of what do I believe about leadership, that's when that phrase came to me. And when I when it came to me, I kind of chuckled because it's so darn obvious, isn't it? Right. But the corollary to that obviousness is a really interesting question, which if it's so obvious, why is it so difficult for us to have good leadership? Right, why do we as communities suffer through toxic political and corporate leadership? And I came to understand that that process of being a better human, or what I described as a fully actualized adult, is actually quite difficult. And so when we think about what does it mean and and It means many things. For example, it means to have the capacity to check in with oneself, and be honest with oneself. Right? If we blow through our day, if we just go task to task to task to transaction to transaction, blowing past opportunities for relational connection. And then at the end of the day, we feel exhausted. And we don't know why. Right? If we're not pausing with curiosity to say, what is actually happening, and what are the effects of my doing that, especially if I'm a leader who holds power, right, if I'm someone who holds power, who is living in this, you know, quasi conscious state, where I'm not really aware of who I am and what I'm doing. I am spreading toxicity all around me. Not necessarily intentionally. And so this connection between better human and better leader 11:17 is quite profound, even in its simplicity. Anyway, I feel like I've wheeled off a little bit. But 11:26 you know, what I'm listening is, in fact, Jerry we are very much on track, what I'm listening is, I think you have actually taken me to much deeper realms, when I'm listening is if I'm not even aware of who I am as an individual, that I might create a toxic environment around me, which might not create an equilibrium in the environment that I'm a part of. So what I'm listening is, but how important is awareness for an individual to be aware of how is my presence impacting the environment that I'm on? Is my understanding, right? 11:59 Yeah, you know, I think that one of the core questions that I carry, and I speak about in the book, and I talk about its effect on my own life, is how have I been complicit in creating the conditions I say, I don't want.[ And wow]. The, the whole formulation of that question is really important. I use the word complicit, not responsible. I'm gonna say that again, complicit, not responsible. How have I acted as an accomplice in this job of my life? Right. Right. And then the second half of that question, the conditions I say, I don't want. So I'm a leader, the entire organization seems stuck in a pattern of coming to me constantly, for decisions. Gosh, darn it, why can't they make any decision by myself by themselves? Right now, as a coach, my responsibility is to turn that question around and say that's interesting, who built the organization? Right, these things don't just happen to us. They may happen unconsciously, to us, but they don't just happen to us. We are accomplices in the creation of our life. That's step one. Step two, is once we understand that we are participating in that, then we have to ask ourselves a deeper question, which is how do the conditions of my life which I say I don't want actually serve me? So a good example is, how many of our clients come to us and say, I'm exhausted. I can't stop working. I don't know how to rest. Well, how do you feel when you're not working? I feel terrible. I feel incredibly anxious. I don't know what my meaning is. I don't know what my purpose is. Okay. Now we know what the problem is not the symptom. The problem is identification with work as a source of self worth. The symptom is urgency and busyness and exhaustion. 14:34 So would it be a fair assumption to make, that we all would want to indulge in some of the other kinds of work so that we can feel worthy and to get the same work becomes a source of suffering for us? 14:50 It might be true. I would hesitate for making that as a general description or a diagnosis for everyone. I think what's really important is to encourage each of us ourselves included, to lean into the question. So for example, when you opened up and you talked about your anxiety or your nervousness heading in, you touched upon a deeper sense of purpose, you talked about, and you're actually your face got quite soft and relatable, when you talked about being in service to so many people. Now, the curious question is, why is it so important for you and your identification of self to be in service to others? Because that feeds the stress. Right, so the curious question would be, what happens to Gaurav if he's not in service to 15:55 other people? Well, then my whole identification falls apart, and I have failed as a better human. Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down! 16:12 You know, those little munchkins who are crawling across your lap, and we talked? Yeah. They don't care if you're in service to other people. 16:21 This is really interesting, because in the morning, I was having a coaching conversation with a chairman of an organization and where we were talking about having a purpose. And I asked the same question, what if you don't have a purpose? Oh, sucks man, Gaurav? I can’t imagine a situation where you're asking the same question. You know I can relate to this question. So much, you know, Jerry, in your book, and every time I read, I visit this book, every page has got some or the other sentence or a question for me to reflect on. And while going through this book, you have written that in a space between our memories, and the stories we create about ourselves, we live our lives. Tell me about that. What does that mean? 17:11 Well, there are our experiences. They objectively happen. And then there are subjective interpretation of those experiences. And those become memories. The facts of our lives, which are hard to discern, occur between the experience itself. And the story we tell about the experience. So for example, I remember as a boy, I got in, where there was a lot of violence when I was growing up. And when I was about three or four years old, I was at the top of the staircase outside of our house. And I was throwing paper airplanes off the top, and my brother with whom I had some really difficult challenge, and my older brother pushed me down the stairs. And I remember waking from the concussion that I had and my face was all scarred and scabbed and everything. Years later, I was in therapy session, I was talking about that story with my therapist. And I said, you remember that time when my mother pushed me down the stairs. She looked at me and she said, “Your mother didn't push down, not what you told your brother push it down the stairs.” And because in my mind, I had conflated some of the challenges of my mother's mental illness, with the violent threats that I experienced as a boy. And so the story connected itself, even though the reality was, it wasn't great, but it was different than the story I carried about myself. 19:19 Thank you for bringing that, you know, at times, our association with our memories brings in a set of emotions and you're not been able to dissociate any the minor trigger from this present moment might trigger the same set of emotions and then might put us in the same state that we were there then at the start to experience that. You know, Jerry, I was talking to you about the book. And in the book, you mentioned what we don't sort and we are talking about something, the wound that we have been carrying. So you mentioned that what we don't sort impedes our happiness today as well. It tricks us in Using the rest of our lives. Carl Jung mentioned something very similar unless we bring unconscious to our conscious, it will continue to drive our life. And we would call it fate. You have mentioned the pursuit of leadership requires pursuit of growing up. What's the connection here? 20:24 Well, if we roll back to what I was saying before that the you know, part of the way I define a better human is a fully actualized adult. You know, and you quoted Carl Jung back to me. Carl Jung also said something to the effect that the whole man is not just one who, whose work walked with God, but it's also wrestled with the devil. And the fully adult people are those who have both walked with God and wrestled with the devils. And when you have leaders, when you have people who hold power, who have not wrestled with their devils, what you have is either a false positivity, that is its own form of toxicity, it's you know, conflict avoidant, its untruthful, its untrustworthy. Or you have massive aggression, active and passive aggression. Right, you have violence being put on people who are different, in some way than a dominant class, whatever the culture is. And so this act of becoming an adult, you know, or using a kind of tongue-in-cheek phrase, because we always think of ourselves, either as children or as adults, right? We're in this conflict is really a function of both walking with God and wrestling with the devil. Yeah, Lord, save us from non adult leaders. 22:16 Now, on the same grounds, another parallel is absolutely on to us how we tame the two beasts, which are growing within me. One beast could be what you're calling is God, another beast could be the devil? And how do I actually take both of them? So that I could be the person that I want to be? You know, Jerry, we don't have any control on the past. And yet it continues to drive our behavior to some extent. How can one release those patterns and generate a future which is driven by one's values, which is driven by if I use the word purpose? 23:03 Right, so let's go back to the very, very first thing that you and I did. You asked me how are you? And I give you an honest answer, I talked about the passing of ginger, which perhaps surprised you. Because here I am in this funny little spot of being the sage on the stage. And how infrequently do people who hold power answer questions like that? Honestly, right. Now, the word you and I are speaking to right now begins with being able to be honest, first and foremost with oneself. Right, and then continues in that inquiry process to the point where I start to say, “How have I contributed to the dynamic at my organization that I say, I don't really want to have?” “How does that dynamic serve an unconscious part of me?” Right, I have a client, for example, who needs to see himself at the edge, it's always got to be at the edge, I've got to be at the edge of disaster, he is part of his family lineage. So no matter how successful a business enterprises, he pushes it too far, not to complete collapse, but just at that edge, because perversely, it gives them a sense of belonging to his father, to his grandfather, to his great grandfather. That's simple question, How am I can lead all the way back to How do I want to be? Because how I am is not how I want to be. 25:09 Yeah, yeah. But isn't it difficult Jerry because at times, we might have to confront ourselves of what's not working. As you mentioned, the sadness that you are going through, as I shared about the nervousness and anxiety that I was experiencing was carrying the load. I think the self inflicted load of that I have to serve on mention to ourselves that are not capable of dealing with the situation, ornot capable of dealing with my team or not capable of dealing with the situation that I'm a part of. So in those moments, those seminal moments, how might we approach that situation? Of course, one is addressing then what after that? 25:58 Say more about the question, how might one approach which situation? 26:03 When I'm confronting to myself that you know what, I don't know how to deal with this situation. I don't know how to handle my team. I don't know where we are heading towards. Okay, I've addressed that. Now. What? 26:16 Right? Well, typically, what I see happen is the minute one starts to inquire within, like this, one of two defense mechanisms come in. First is an obvious defense mechanism. That's not true. That's not what I do. And the second is, look at me, look at how terrible I am. And I want to be clear, both of those are defense mechanisms. Right? On the one hand, I'm fine. You know, I might get feedback and a 360. And I will push it away or project it onto other people. That's their problem, they don't get it. That's easy to identify that that's a defense mechanism. What's harder to identify as a defense mechanism is that other piece which is self denigration. Look at me, I am a piece of crap. I'm terrible. Everything is bad. And the truth is neither all bad or nor all good. Yeah, yeah. Right. And both mechanisms shut down the inquiry process. Right. So you ask how do you approach your approach it with love and kindness, right, the Buddhist concept of metta? 27:47 Yeah. And you approach it with curiosity. Do not approach it to find blame. Let me say it again, because this is hard for people to internalize. You do not approach it to find blame. Blame produces shame. Shame, shuts down inquiry. 28:20 Blame produces shame, and it shuts down the self-inquiry. And I'm not surprised because in all our conversations, Jerry, you have spoken about that how vulnerability is such a graceful act and vulnerability brings in a lot of grace. You also spoke about truth, especially when we are dealing with two different individuals, right? I personally believe that truth is a very slippery, it's a very, very slippery platform, because truth for you is very different from the way I look at reality. Now, how to ensure that we find a common ground, especially when we are dealing with other people in a similar situation, so that we can bring it in a harmony and external equilibrium. Just so extending it one step forward here. 29:11 Yeah, so I want to point out that I as best as I can recollect, I tend not to use the word vulnerability. People do interpret it as such. And I'm purposeful about that. Because at least in some cultures, the word is so associated with weakness, that it’s challenge. So when I told you about gingers passing, one could sort of look at that situation, say look at how vulnerable he was. But actually, what I told myself was that I was going to be truthful. When you asked me you said something like I really want to know how are you I had a momentary decision to make. I had a decision to make in that moment. And the decision was this. Do I tell him the truth or not? And I decided to tell the truth. Now, as soon as I did that, I suspect you and oh boy, that means I have to actually be truthful. Now, let's connect this all back. You made the assertion about vulnerability being really powerful. When I'm in conversation with clients, or others who hold power, I purposefully use the word truth, or the words truth and honesty in order to provoke something else inside of that. Because immediately, if I said to them, Well, would you like to operate dishonestly? And being untruthful? Most people say, Well, no, of course not. Well, we shield ourselves from telling ourselves the truth, we shield ourselves from telling our colleagues and our friends and family from the truth, because we perceive our our feelings as being 31:23 indication of our weakness. When in fact, telling the truth is a powerful expression of strength and inner confidence. See, in that momentary, in that moment, where I decided whether or not I was going to tell you about gender, I had to 31:44 confront my own ego, which was, hey, here I am this guy in the zoom box, being such a thoughtful speaker, and there are hundreds and 1000s and millions of people listening right, all this nonsense. Right? And I don't want to disappoint them. And what are they going to think less of me? Me, me, me, me, me. And in that moment, I told you the truth. I felt relief, you felt relieved. You then shared your truth. You are right. Subjective Truths. And then together, we went 32:27 deeper. Thank you, thank you for opening this portal of truth. Just the last question jelly as we are coming to the end of the session. What is the essence of life for you? 32:48 What a funny question, isn't it? That we all hold on to? One a funny question. For me, sometimes the way I come at that question is I think about what it is that I would like on my headstone, if such a thing were to happen for me. And we'd say something like, for God's sake, be nice to each other. I think that whatever your belief systems, whatever wisdom traditions you grew up in, they all always boil down to the same thing, for heaven's sake, be kind to one another. I think this is what are task is. You know, surrounded by you are all these beautiful thought leaders and people who have just made such a powerful difference in the lives of millions of people. What are they all saying? 33:58 Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. 34:00 When, when the Mahatma What was he saying? 34:08 Be mind. Stop 34:13 dehumanizing other human beings, no matter their caste, no matter their religion, no matter their pigmentation, no matter their immigrant status, no matter their economic status. Be kind. That, to me is the essence of life. It's an opportunity in this body in this time, to be kind. 34:48 Thank you so much, Jerry. Jerry, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, sharing your insights. And I think the deeper knowledge that you allow to traverse through you, where you allow yourself to be a medium, it's always a pleasure, talking to you being here in your presence, and just to experience and watch myself, what happens when I'm in the presence of someone like you. Shukrana as you said, I often share that if there's one word that will be written on my epitaph, as you mentioned that be kind I will say Shukrana that means thank you. 36:30 should Khurana tea you. And thank you for the service that you are doing to all of us for asking profound questions. And thank you for the work that you do in the world as well. 36:46 Thank you.

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