Should You Get A Coach Or Not?

This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures

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It’s a valid question.  Suppose you went to MBA school or have a lot of experience?  Maybe you think that getting a coach shows a weakness.  There can be a lot of issues around getting a CEO coach.

I know a few.  Some VC’s keep a list of coaches and if someone wants one, they give them the list.

One thing that has always bugged me about the idea of coaches is that there isn’t a way to know if a coach is any good or not.  There isn’t a “Coach Institute”.  There are no Coach Accelerators.  It’s an unregulated wild west.  I am not pressing for some sort of government agency to give out licenses to coaches, but it means the person who is looking for coaching is going to have to do some due diligence on the people that might them.

I do know this.  If I was in a startup I wouldn’t hire a coach that hadn’t worked with startups before.  Startups are a different animal than a middle market firm, big privately held firm with positive cash flow or public corporation.  Conversely, if you are a coach that has traditionally worked with larger companies and want to establish a business working with startups, I’d find a coaching mentor that can work closely with me to educate me on startups.  Going downmarket to build your business might actually hurt the companies you work with and that’s not the outcome you or they are looking for.

If a CEO asks me whether they should get a coach or not, I never bat an eye.  If they are thinking about it, they probably should.  There is some lack of confidence or something else going on inside them, and a coach can help them find ways to overcome it without upsetting the entire team/business.

After all, we are all human and we aren’t perfect.

I don’t think there is a perfect coach.  The problem is, you might have to try them on for a couple of months before you figure out if they match your personality or not.  You also have to be careful that it’s not you braying against what they are coaching you on.  After all, your behavior should change if you are working with a good coach.

However, all people are different and respond differently.  Different coaches emphasize different things.  It’s important that you interview them before you work with them.  You should ask for references.

If you draw a line to basketball coaches, some players do respond to coaches like Bobby Knight.  Some prefer John Wooden.  There is no right or wrong way.  It’s the changes in your behavior and the way you operate combined with the impact your actions have on your business that’s meaningful.

Good coaches know when to use carrots and sticks.

One thing to bear in mind, coaches are not psychologists.  However, because we are dealing with people, psychology is a part of the coaching process.  However, if you are expecting to sit on a couch with Sigmund Freud, you’d be better off seeking out real psychoanalysis.  Coaching is about helping you help yourself to become a top-flight executive and execute a business.

A friend of mine, Anne Libby, has a business where coaching is a part of it.  We chatted the other day, and she left me with a few gems for entrepreneurs to think about.

  1. First, what are your goals?  Are they realistic?  Once you set the goals, how is success measured?  It cannot be top line revenue or something like that. There are too many factors involved in obtuse figures like that.  If you measure yourself by some sort of bottom line aspect of the business where you don’t have 100% total control, you will drive yourself nuts.
  2. Do you have management and board support to engage a coach?  Without it, you might still do it but the money will come out of your own pocket.  Remember, it never hurts to invest in yourself.
  3.  Have you or the organization used a coach before?  If so, whatever happened in the past will create a conditional probability on the newer effort.
  4.  What are the logistics?  Does it have to be a physically present situation or can it be done remotely?  Different people respond differently so there isn’t a right answer.
  5.  Coaching engagements are not forever.  This is not about creating recurring revenue for the coach.  Nor is it a lifelong recurring expense.  This is an engagement that is going to last a short period of time, usually less than 8-12 months.
  6.  Knowing what the feedback loop will look like is important.  Is the Board going to be involved?

Coaches can be really worthwhile.  I know some people that have used them to great success.  But, go in with your eyes open and don’t be afraid to tell a coach they are not for you.