Business coaches can help to improve leadership skills, keep you moving toward goals, and provide objective advice on handling personal and business problems.
For the past 10 years, I have had a business coach. She meets with me monthly to discuss anything on my agenda and make observations about me as a leader and business manager. She provides honest feedback, acts as a sounding board and counselor, gives an outside perspective on my business, and helps me to see the forest for the trees. Why do I do this?
First, I want to avoid tunnel vision, which is a disease that leaders can easily catch from being a part of the day-to-day operations of any business.
Second, I recognize my personal need for coaching. I am a big believer in choosing team members who enhance the areas of my life in which I am deficient. In that sense, I am a teambuilding coach in my own business. But even coaches need coaching. It can be difficult for leaders to fully separate some personal issues from business issues. Of course, this does not apply only to leaders. The difference is that while your billing clerk can come to you or a manager to seek direction, you as a leader, cannot.
To pour your heart out to subordinates over a lost business deal or a personnel problem is to completely undermine the organization. A leader is being observed at all times. He or she sets the company mood. So a leader's discussions about company problems are best held with someone outside the company. What I'm describing here borders on counseling, and great business coaches have a facet of this at their disposal.
To be truly effective, no subject should be off the table with a coach.
Business Coach Basics
Business coaches can be industry specific. However, I feel that there are many resources inside any industry that can provide detailed information for industry-specific challenges. One of the main values of a well-rounded business coach is a broad perspective developed through interactions with a diversified clientele. Since many business challenges cross company and industry lines, having someone who has traveled down many paths with various types of businesses brings a wider range of solutions.
A good business coach gets to know you, the person. They can read your body language, your mood, the mood of the company and areas where you struggle. These attributes separate a coach from a consultant. I believe in consultants. They can be useful for improvement in specific areas. They tend to possess expertise in processes and can enhance efficiencies inside departments. Business coaches get inside your head more and learn about you as a person — your methods and motivations. They invest the time in understanding you and your interactions inside your company.
Let's look at what I consider to be some basics about business coaches:
- They don't come in and run your business.
- They will not have all of the answers. They should help you find the answer.
- They do not necessarily have to come from within your industry, but they need to have an understanding of how businesses and organizations operate.
- They should be friendly but not turn into "just a friend."
- They must possess great communication skills and be able to have brutally honest conversations with you.
- Above all, they must share your values and ethics.
Finding the Right Coach
The sources of business coaches vary widely. Most cities will have multiple people offering these services. Of course, the larger the city, the more depth of experience and number of coaches there will be from which to pick. Often asking other business owners in your circle of friends and acquaintances will reveal people who already use such a person. Referrals are the best, just as in our businesses, from people you trust and respect.
Chambers of Commerce and local colleges should also have sources for business coaches. I contacted my business coach after a client told me about the positive impact she had on his business- and personal-life skills. To determine if a business coach is a good fit for you or not, you must conduct an interview — with yourself. You have to move from the position of "I want to want to have a business coach." to "I want to have a business coach."
There is a big difference between those two statements. Only when you are ready to improve by going through the discomfort of personal change are you ready to take on this improvement model. Get ready to have your flaws exposed and be the subject of straightforward conversation. These are conversations that people inside your company may want to have with you but never will, and frankly, probably shouldn't.
As a third party, a business coach is fully equipped to handle this task. The question is, are you? Part of being ready to start a business- coach relationship is having a clear understanding of the below concepts, which are key ingredients to making that relationship a fruitful and longterm one:
Values and ethics. A business coach must share your values and moral compass, or the relationship is doomed from the beginning. That may sound like a simple and basic statement, but if a coach is encouraging you in one direction, and that direction goes agains
Accountability. For a coaching process to be effective, you must be willing to be held accountable to tasks and deadlines for accomplishing goals that you set with your coach. You may be a very disciplined person, but sometimes things get in the way of even the best of intentions when it comes to meeting timeframes, at least in our own minds. It is easier to rationalize a missed deadline in your own head than it should be for a coach to accept your excuse.
This is where the added pressure of accountability comes in. It acts as a slight nudge to keep on task and be able to report your actions to someone else as accomplishments. This is especially true in the ever-present "not fun" things that are part of leading an organization. Sometimes it's too easy to put those items on the back burner when the right and responsible thing to do is meet them head on, in a timely manner. A business coach can help with strategy and timing of the unpleasant items on your to-do list.
I also make a business coach available to my top-line management as it is just as helpful for them to gain her insight. Not a sign of weakness: We don't always like to hear about our deficiencies. But what we like and what we need are sometimes two different things. Just as a batting coach points out what a ball player is doing wrong and what they need to focus on, so does a business coach point out things we are missing in our company and leadership.
Remember, seeking out a coach is not a sign of weakness. If that were true, very few star athletes would perform at the level they do. They need the honest feedback and assessment of their performance and the corrective measures that get them to the next level. I, for one, need this and know it has helped me in all aspects of my life and made me a better leader for my company.
Anyone who knows the band Creedence Clearwater Revival knows the lyrics to Centerfield, sung by John Fogerty: "Oh, put me in, Coach. I'm ready to play today." When we turn today into everyday through a business coach, we become a better person to lead our people in the day-to-day battles that make up business. Being better prepared to meet the challenges of our work makes our work a little easier and less stressful.
When I can work smarter and not harder, that's a good game plan in my eyes; and my business coach helps get me there. There is a huge level of trust and confidentiality that is developed between you and your coach over a long period. Trust, which is a two-way street, cannot be compromised.
Theo Etzel is the CEO of Naples, Fla.-based Conditioned Air. He is a seasoned business executive and passionate entrepreneur who believes in providing the highest level of customer care, services and products to his clients. For additional information, visit www.conditionedair.com.