Can I just start by saying right up front that I hate the term "coach." Coach implies that I'm going to teach you how to play the game. I'm Not. It implies that I'm going to call the plays. I'm not. It implies that I'm going to get the credit when things go well. I'm not.
So why do we call it coaching? I guess for lack of a better term. We could call it mentoring, but even seasoned leaders can benefit from a coach (depending on how you define the term.) They certainly don't need a "mentor" at that stage of their career. They also don't need a "coach." At least not as we defined it above. So let's take a stab at defining the term "coach" in a way that makes sense for executives.
What Is A Coach?
The way I define the term, a coach is really a person who's been where you are and understands what you're facing. A coach is a person who can help you see what you've missed. A coach is a person to whom you can speak candidly and completely confidentially. A coach is a person who doesn't have an agenda, and can look at things completely objectively. A coach is a person who knows when and where to find outside resources. A coach is a person who can help you with your strategic planning. A coach is someone who can help you develop leadership talent from within your company. Let's explore those qualities individually and see if we can demonstrate how having a coach could help your business today.
A Coach Has Been Where You Are Now
You don't want to hire just any coach. If you run a fortune 500 company and deal with all the challenges of big business, you need someone who has sat in that seat. By the same token if you're an entrepreneur, you don't need a coach with fortune 500 experience. In the first place, a coach with that type of experience is more expensive. And even more importantly, because they've spent their careers in billion dollar companies, they have no idea what you're going through in your startup or growth phase company. So look for someone who has felt your specific pain. You'll be much farther ahead by doing so, and you'll ensure you get the exact type of help you need.
A Coach Can Help You See What You've Missed
Because the coach you've chosen has sat in your seat, he or she will be much better able to help you identify things you might not have thought of. That skill comes from having made mistakes in the past. We call that experience. It's worth it to pay someone whose experience can help you be able to learn without having to make all the mistakes yourself. It's also true that just having another set of eyes on your challenge is valuable. Particularly if that set of eyes comes from outside your company, so you don't have in-house biases influencing the observations.
A Coach Is A Confidant And A Sounding Board
Sometimes you just need a sounding board. You want to float an idea to someone who can help you ensure you've thought all the way through it before you bring it up inside your company. What you consider to be a casual discussion about something you've been thinking about might be a cause to panic for some of your staff and management. A coach can not only help you work through the issue at hand, he or she can help you work through the best time and the best way to present it to the team. That alone can be worth its weight in gold. When you upset the normal rhythm in your company -- whether on purpose or by accident -- productivity suffers for considerable time afterwards. There's no question.
A Coach Doesn't Have An Agenda
There are a lot of people who could give you advice. The problem is, most of the people who are quickest to offer advice don't understand your business or your situation. It's also true that the majority of the people you would be most inclined to talk to (spouse, children, friends) have something to gain or lose from what you're considering. A coach can offer more valuable advice than the average person because he or she has been there. They give unbiased counsel because they don't have anything at all to gain or lose from what you're considering. A coach is really about the only place you can go for unbiased advice. It's worth considering hiring a coach, if only for that.
A Coach Knows Where And When To Find Outside Resources
Because coaches are out in the world dealing with the problems of business every day, they are connected to resources that can help. That means specialized attorneys (like IP attorneys,) or specialized accountants (like tax accountants when you're facing an audit,) or just about anything else you can think of. They also know at what point in the process you ought to bring them in. For example, if you bring an outside resource in too soon, there is often a significant amount of waste while the professional waits for you to be ready for them. On the other hand, if you bring them in too late, circumstances may have changed to the point that they may not be able to help you at all. A good coach knows when to bring them in and how to use them while they're there so you get the most value for your dollar.
A Coach Can Help You Develop Future Leaders For Your Company
A coach with a track record of developing leaders from within can be invaluable in helping you identify which employees are candidates for future leadership positions and helping you put together a training program for those future leaders. Now is the time to start training from within, not when you have a position come open that needs to be filled immediately.
A Coach Can Help With Strategic Planning
Most entrepreneurs haven't really embraced serious, strategic planning. Their situation is so fluid and their target moving so constantly that it's hard to work a plan. But the truth is, strategic planning is as much about setting goals and a vision as it is about setting steps to reach goals. The goals and the vision never do change. It's the steps to get there that are constantly changing. Helping executives maintain focus on the goal and vision will help ensure the steps they take are the ones that should be taken. Sometimes that's the hardest thing to do. When you're besieged on every side with challenges, all the steps seem equally important. Someone from outside can help you sort out which step should be taken first, based on your goals and vision.
You don't need a coach in your business every day, by any means. A day or two a month or per quarter is all you'll likely need someone like that. But you'll save yourself a lot of money and a lot of heartache having a coach who's aware of what's going on in your business. When you're in trouble and need help, the last thing you want is to have to get some outsider up to speed on what's going on currently. You'll find, if you really stop and evaluate it, that a coach will more than pay for himself or herself in mistakes that you avoid, grief you don't have to go through, and difficult and distracting experiences you don't have to deal with.
Consider looking for a coach today. And be certain you've found someone who has significant experience in your field. Then sit down with them and have a serious discussion on how they think they can help you. I'm convinced you'll be surprised at how much benefit a good coach could add to your business.
One way to look at it is you're getting a "C" level "employee," with "C" level experience, for pennies on the dollar what it would cost to employ them full time. And the reality is that often you can't afford or don't need them full time. But having their experience when you need it changes the whole game. The end result is the same as having a very high powered part-time employee that doesn't need an office, or benefits or anything else. It's truly a win-win.