Pathfinder: Finding Your Magnetic North

Thirty years ago Gifford Booth, CEO of the TAI Group and conductor of the Pathfinder programme, was awakened to the idea that he had a unique way of seeing the world and that a creative imperative was guiding his life. Today, he leads a successful international business, helping people find their own unique drivers by applying his creative methodology that encourages self-discovery and results in clarity, alignment and gratitude. By Fritha Sutherland

You could say that Gifford Booth’s life and career path has been one of art imitating art.

CEO and co-founder of the TAI Group, he was first introduced to the company some 30 years ago as a budding actor seeking direction. Known then as The Actors Institute, the New York-based organisation’s raison d’etre was to develop young artists.

“I got involved in this business firstly as a client. I was awakened by [it] and believed in it so much that I wanted to lead [the programme] to others.”

“What made The Actor’s Institute unique is that we weren’t just teaching acting. We were giving actors two things: a way to access what they wanted to express of themselves and the characters they played. We were asking them, who they were as artists? What drew them to acting? What was it inside that drove them? What were they trying to express in the world? What motivated them? And what did they need to have around them to be effective?

“Secondly, we were teaching them the communication skills needed to go out and sell themselves in the highly-competitive entertainment market and basically to become their own brand.”

By the early 80s, TAI’s coaching success had spread to the corporate world and by the late 90s, top global giants were hiring the company to teach senior managers and top executives the skills and tools to become world-class speakers and corporate ambassadors. Today the business is 100 percent corporate, ‘guiding business leaders in leadership and personal effectiveness’ and ‘focusing on changing culture and creating effective teams.’

Gifford – an Actor’s Institute beneficiary, turned coach, turned owner – has more than three decades’ experience practising this method of coaching and has used those successful principles to develop with Circle Sq. a new, exclusive programme for its members called Pathfinder.

Pathfinder is a unique, one-hour, confidential conversation with an expert advisor intended to dive deeply into your inner resource and drown out the voices of self-deprecation or self-denigration that have sunk your belief and confidence to be in charge of your life decisions, and your ability to achieve desires and goals.

A 60-minute conversation that engages mind, spirit and soul, this fluid and highly-focused session holds the potential to unearth and re-awaken what gives your life meaning, richness and satisfaction.

“Some people find it thrilling. Some find it interesting and motivating. It’s not brand new information they uncover, but it repositions what they hear from themselves as primary,” says Gifford. “They find a new way to hold what’s true about themselves as a reliable, accessible guide.  Something has been re-healed – I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but that’s what it is.”

By the end of the Pathfinder conversation you will feel anchored to your ‘core’. Gifford describes this core as your personal magnetic north; it’s the internal resource, intuition or gut feeling that has guided you in the past, is guiding you in the present, and will guide you into the future. In essence, it allows you to trust in yourself and the path you wish to follow through life.

Gifford throws some light as to why a person’s internal path might have been suppressed.

“First of all, we’re not really taught to honour this kind of natural knowing. In the arts, you are taught to follow your instincts. But usually, in what I call ‘civilian life,’ people follow a path that they think they are supposed to follow… you are taught to follow outside information or outside advice. In school you are fed information, and then you’re graded on your ability to feed it back…in general, we’re taught that it’s not rational to follow an internal prompt,” he explains.

“The work that my company and I do helps people get in touch with that part of themselve they’ve been conditioned to ignore. It’s not to negate their rationale, nor [ignore] scientific data, but it’s to help them get over their negative belief systems. It’s to enable them to be in touch with that part of them that wants to express something according to their own point of view.”

Founding principles
The grounding principle of Pathfinder is based on a three-month TAI course called The Tell. “In archaeology a ‘tell’ is an artificial mound formed from the accumulated refuse of generations of people living on the same site for hundreds or thousands of years. An archaeologist would dig through the tell to reach the original foundation. This was a perfect metaphor for the work we were doing. Another course, the Essential Driver Process, evolved from The Tell.

“We were training the senior partners of an international consulting company to become world-class speakers. The training took place over 60 hours over the course of a year. I adapted a small section of The Tell specifically for this training and called it The Essential Driver (ED) Process,” explains Gifford.

The eight-hour ED process is more bite-sized, but during that time Gifford says he is able to work with people to identify their Drivers, Cornerstones of Effectiveness, and what he calls their ‘ Law of the Universe’. So when Circle Sq. approached him to develop a one-hour programme it was a challenge that he relished.

“The biggest challenge for me was having the same impact in one hour that it often took three months to achieve. That’s been the biggest thrill, to see something like that can be done.”

“I’ve been doing these Pathfinder calls for a year now and it’s really a privilege to have these conversations with these incredibly interesting, successful men and women. I get to spend one hour of incredibly deep quality time with them and they leave the call feeling that something has shifted for them. It’s the epiphany they experience at the end that’s the biggest reward for me,” says Gifford.

Some of his clients are reported to have picked up learning a foreign language again.  Some have volunteered for charities, while others have made decisions about letting go of certain areas of their personal or professional lives that were no longer satisfying to them.

Freedom to dream
A brief reflection into his growing up years offers an insight into why Gifford found a second home in The Actors Institute with its free-thinking and free-flowing ideas.

Born in Kansas, at the end of the Baby Boomer era, Gifford was the youngest and only son out of four siblings. “My mother, who had grown up during the Depression, had me when she was 40. It was just a large generation gap and, honestly, I think they didn’t know what to do with me,” he says.

He was raised in a “well-meaning” but strict household where his opinions and preferences were assumed to be the same as his parents. Acting certainly wasn’t on his parent’s list of acceptable vocations.

“My parents were guiding me in a very specific way and had very specific outcomes in mind for me. They thought I should work either in a business or in advertising like my dad. Just follow the straight and narrow path.

“My mother, albeit well-meaning, would constantly tell me what I liked and what I should do. I was told, you like this kind of clothing, you like this kind of person or you like this kind of movie, but that wasn’t the case. She just wanted a quiet life and to keep everything in a little box, but I couldn’t be kept in a box.”

Allen Schoer, then head of The Actor’s Institute, helped Gifford find his voice.

“Allen is the one who introduced me to the idea that each one of us has a unique point of view and developed ways to find out what that is. Through him, I began to feel validated in my own opinions, for my own artistic point of view. This was so profound to me that I dedicated my life to helping other people to discover that as well. That’s when I began to work with him and his course called The Tell.

Allen became his lifelong mentor, along with Toni Stone, a life coach whom he met at around the same time. “Having mentors who helped me to become me was hugely important. Allen held the bigger vision for who I could become and Toni was like a trainer, helping me get there every step of the way.”

Turning 50 was a personal hurdle, he admits: “When I turned 50, I was really low. One of my French clients asked me why I was depressed. I said it was because I’d lost my youth.

“My client responded, ‘You’ve kept your youth until you were 50!’ I thought, ok, I could keep it for another 10 years,” he laughs.

Building a legacy
Gifford says that his legacy has to do with finding ways to scale his business to have a bigger impact in the world. He’s “very open” to taking Pathfinder in new directions, such as using the methodology to help underprivileged schoolchildren who have got a bit lost.

“At one point at The Actor’s Institute, we had kids from the Bronx with purple hair in the same workshop as doctors from London. They were all talking to each other, human to human. It was brilliant stuff.

“Whether it’s to take the form of Pathfinder or not, it’s the principle that each person has a core inside them and if they listen to it, it will be a rich guide in their life. This is for everyone, no matter their circumstances, gender or economic class. This is the legacy I want to pass on,” he says.

His legacy also includes getting TAI’s intellectual property out in the print, media and digital worlds. There is a book on the horizon. “No [publishing] date yet,” he says, “but every time I think ‘who am I to say this?’ I remember that I am someone who has empirical evidence from working with hundreds of people in dozens of industries in companies around the world.”

It’s reassuring that the chief advocate of Pathfinder isn’t immune to moments of self-doubt.

Gifford, 66, has found comfort and meaning in his relationship with his parents with age. “I love my parents and I appreciate them so much. They were a different generation,” he reflects, adding, “I think they might be really proud of what I’m doing now.”

His late father lived to see him become involved in TAI but could never quite understand his son’s choice of vocation. And perhaps that’s one of the reasons why legacy features strongly in Gifford’s mind – it provides the validation his parents weren’t able to give.

“I have a rich artistic life, a rich family life, and a good business. I feel grateful that my work life and home life are not segmented into separate units. My life is full, rich and fluid.

“That’s why I can’t separate the business [concept] from my [own] journey. I would say that I live my Pathfinder all the time. I am the CEO and I use it to guide me in this business. I use data, research and other tools, but my Core, is what guides me constantly.”

Join us for an evening of discovery with Gifford on 26 March


Related Features