Nick Bates has been a Vistage Chair in Yorkshire since 2014. Before that, he enjoyed a 25-year career in commercial law, working with businesses to help them to solve and avoid risk.
t was a role in which he was incredibly successful - so much so that he was made Managing Partner in his mid-40s. “I achieved what I’d wanted to achieve”, he says. But that achievement came at a price. “I’d stopped enjoying it in the same way I was enjoying it before.”
“I wasn't leaping out of bed anymore”
Nick believes that the reason he was no longer enjoying his job was simple: he’d stopped learning. “It’s very important to me to have a purpose and to feel like I’m moving forward”, he explains.
There were no issues with Nick’s performance - he was still fantastic at his job. “I’ve always enjoyed what I do, but I’d gone a bit stale”, he says. “I wasn’t enjoying it as much, and I wasn’t leaping out of bed anymore.”
He realised that he needed to make a choice. He could stay in the “money trap” and ended up being very well off but not true to himself. “I would have ended up exhausted, and old before my time”, he says. “So I handed in my notice, and had a year of paid gardening leave.”
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During this time, Nick worked out what he enjoyed doing the most: working with businesspeople and helping them become more successful. The seniority of his role meant that his departure was well-publicised in the press - which is how Vistage found out about his situation.
“Vistage contacted me and asked if I’d considered becoming a Chair”, he recalls. “And so, towards the end of my year off, that’s what I did. I went and got trained, and became a Chair.”
Nick admits that it was a risky decision - that he wasn’t sure how things would pan out. “But it’s worked out as being the best decision that I made in my career”, he enthuses.
“The best decision I made in my career”
Nick sees many similarities between his old job and his Chair role - but with some important differences. “I used to get paid an awful lot of money for telling people what to do”, says Nick. “Now I get paid a decent amount of money for asking them questions and letting them decide what they want to do.”
The coaching element of the Chair role is one part that Nick loves, but he also enjoys having the opportunity to perform - something that was a major part of his law career. For him, this comes from getting 16 business leaders together in one room for a full day for his monthly Vistage meetings. “It’s up to me to set the agenda, create the pace, create the environment, build that team”, he says.
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It’s things like this that prevent Nick from “going stale” and feeling like he’s no longer learning - the two key issues he faced in his former career. “The opposite is true as a Vistage Chair”, he says. “I learn every day. Every day is different, and I have control of my working days. I work hard, but I don’t feel like I’m under the cosh. It’s the best decision I made in my career.”
Creating something greater than its individual parts
Nick compares his role to that of a sports coach: bringing together 16 different individuals with a range of skills, backgrounds and personalities. “My job is to create something that’s greater than its individual parts, and to create an environment where all those people can learn, develop, grow and build relationships with each other”, he says. “They find the openness and vulnerability that comes with this incredibly liberating.”
He’s keen to ensure that his group doesn’t feel too “corporate” to his members. Wearing suits is banned, as he wants the “real person” to come to the meetings, not their work persona.
While he describes the monthly meetings as “fast, energetic days of learning”, he also wants to make them enjoyable. “We have lots of humour, lots of silliness”, he explains. “But we also have plenty of life lessons learnt, and we proactively help each other with any problems that we’ve got. It’s energising, it’s exciting - I get a real buzz out of it.”
In addition to the monthly Vistage meetings, Nick coaches and mentors his members on a one-to-one basis. In doing this, he’s built up a huge level of trust: his members tell him everything about their lives because they know it’s a safe space.
“They know it’s confidential - but they also know that they won’t just get a pat on the head”, he says. “They know they’ll get challenged, and that they need to have accountability to do something with the situation that they’re in.” As he says - from both a business and a personal point of view - he’s “helping the person to be the best person they can be”.
The third element of the Vistage Chair role is recruitment. Every Vistage Chair must get out and find the right people, who want to be members of their group.
“If you want to do the coaching but don’t want to have to find the people to coach, you’ll struggle”, says Nick. “You have to go out and find the type of people that you want to work with. It’s a challenge - but it’s a challenge that I enjoy.”
Space to grow
Personal growth and development is an aspect of the role that our Chairs - including Nick - love. Currently running three groups of his own, Nick describes a number of ways in which the Chair role gives him space to grow.
The first is the quality of our Vistage Speakers - both in the UK and internationally. Since becoming a Chair in 2014, Nick has seen a huge number of different speakers, covering a wide range of topics. “It’s had a massive impact”, he says. “I - along with everyone else in the room - take away new and different things that I should be doing.”
Secondly, the very nature of the role inspires Nick to strive to be the very best coach he can be. As a result, he spends plenty of time doing his own research, arming him with tools and techniques he can use to get the best out of his members.
Thirdly, the role gives him more opportunity for self-reflection than he could have envisaged. “When you coach somebody and the questions come to you, you actually start challenging yourself with the same questions”, he says. “You’re coaching someone into a space where they feel comfortable doing something that they had previously been uncomfortable with the idea of. And as you’re doing that, you reflect on yourself and what you used to do in the same situation, and how you could have done things differently.”
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Nick believes that this self-reflection also stands him in good stead for the future, and appreciates the fact that he learns something from every coaching session he gives.
“If you’ve got a desire to learn, being a Vistage Chair is incredible”, he says. Not only do you learn from your own members, you also learn from the other Chairs, the Speakers, the wider Vistage community. “If you can’t learn as a Vistage Chair, you’ve gone badly wrong”, he adds.
A new sense of importance
Nick freely admits that such a major change was, at the time, a leap of faith. However, he needed to get out of his comfort zone and challenge the status quo to be truly happy.
Convincing himself was one thing. Convincing others was quite another.
“People used to say to me all the time, ‘don’t you miss being important?’”, he says. “My answer is always: no, I don’t miss being important. I’m more important now than I was before.”
This may also be a personal challenge to some C-Suite leaders considering their next move. “If you measure importance in terms of money, job title or the number of people who report to you, it might be a challenge”, he says. However, he highlights the need for a shift in mindset.
Now, Nick measures importance in terms of influence, impact and purpose. He himself has a huge influence and impact on 35-40 businesses across Yorkshire.
He cites COVID-19 as an example that demonstrates just what impact a Vistage Chair can have. “I work with 35-40 businesses, and we’ve all helped each other get through COVID”, he says. “How many jobs have I impacted by helping all the people in those businesses to help each other, and by giving them the right context and coaching? How many thousands of employees have I had an impact on by keeping the owners focused, confident and not fearful?”
Rather than losing his sense of purpose, as some of those close to him feared would happen, the Vistage Chair role has given Nick a new sense of purpose. “As a person”, he says, “I now feel more significant than I ever did before.”
Many thanks to Nick for taking the time to talk to us. If his story resonates with yours, click here to learn how the Vistage Chair role could help you find your purpose.