FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Mona Cooley
May 15, 2018
She says, “People don’t know how to have conversations when they are struggling.”
Last week was mental health week in Canada – it seemed like a good time to sit down with one of Calgary’s ‘tour de force’ experts in this field; not a doctor, not a patient, not a crusader, but a change maker in the field of supporting and coaching families in conflict - families coping with mental illness.
Mona Cooley, gets it. Her experiences in her own family [her daughter has bipolar disorder], her work with CMHA and a decade now of helping families strategize to support their family member with a mental health concern – but she knows, she walks the talk, that it’s a ‘whole family’ process of healing, helping and getting well again …
Mona was born in Virden, Manitoba – raised on the farm. The family org-chart is a little confusing. Mom (stay-at-home) and dad (farmer, garage owner, entrepreneur) had two daughters and two sons; the eldest daughter had a baby, Mona, who was then adopted by ‘mom and dad’ – one big family! Schooling was local – she left after grade eleven – average student, sports enthusiast and big personality! Work life began in Russell, Manitoba as a bank teller with RBC, married at 19 to Ted, family relocation to Calgary for Ted’s work, transfer for Mona where she rose to Accountant at RBC’s Britannia branch. Happy life in Haysboro, stay-home mom raising four children [they now have seven grandchildren], business adventures with Ted … and then things changed.
The change for Mona, for her daughter Candace, for the whole family came to a focal point when Candace was diagnosed. Mona got busy. She learned all that she could learn, and found she had a knack for helping others, empathizing with families, coaching them. She felt, “I’m good at this”. Course work and self-development work too; Coach U University for four years, Toastmasters since 1997 and doing speeches for CMHA honed her presentation and coaching skills, and gave rise to establishment of Cool Family Solutions. Her daughter is doing well in life – just finished her MBA. Cool Family Solutions is busy – there seems to be no shortage of families needing help.
Why establish Cool Family Solutions? “When we went looking for help for our family we quickly learned there was a lot of help for people with mental illness, but nothing specifically for families”. Mona gives high praise to Pia Elliott of CMHA who advised her to “take care of myself, directed me to meet with a group, and to ask for help. That early learning, trial and error, peer support … wasn’t enough, wasn’t me – so I started Cool Family Solutions in 2008. We focus on honest conversation, putting tough subjects on the table – strategizing to cope and use every tool in our box.”
Why are you successful? “Compassion, helping families. People see that I ‘get it’ and I care enough to be honest with them. I love what I do.”
What has held you back? “I’ve sometimes been in my own way – I lacked the belief in what I could do, but I’m over that! And, sometimes, I leap before I look …”
How do you see your business – coaching families in conflict – going forward over the next quarter?
… we are expanding beyond Calgary – the smaller communities have far fewer resources – there is an unmet need nobody is filling. Word of mouth is our best advertising.
And over the next five years?
… technology isn’t helping. Easier isn’t better; trends in technology don’t replace face-to-face, taking time to talk, taking time to feel …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I look for compassionate people. What I sense in them – personable, integrity, helpful. While financial considerations factor into everything, I look for people with stories. I’m curious about what makes people tick …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Mona Cooley, choose Cool Family Solutions, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… because I’m a straight shooter. People trust a combination of commitment, humour, compassion and someone who ‘walks the talk’ …
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I don’t have a big crew; one employee and several contractors. I look for compassion, I look for straight shooters. I feel I’m good at listening. Asking questions is a skill both in our work and in dealing with people who work for us.
… I work at it. Exercise, TV, family time – I take time off just for me.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I don’t worry – but I do lose sleep! I get overwhelmed sometimes with ideas that ‘just keep coming’ and I have to ask myself, “can I cope if I do this new thing?” … that’s what keeps me up.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… in my 40’s, struggling to find my ‘purpose in life’ I found in coaching – realized, THIS is something I can do. Coaching-reading, realizing that life skills coaching is what I’m meant to do – all of which was happening before Candace’s diagnosis. I was already on the path, so establishing my business was what I had to do, wanted to do – and I couldn’t see myself happy doing anything else …
… family dinners! … taking grandchildren on trips, planning a ‘whole family’ houseboat vacation for next summer. And work. It’s very satisfying for me …
What do you read?
… business books, Brené Brown , Danielle Steele, books on my work …
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