"Our chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do what we can." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you believe the Emerson quote above, then every one of us could use a coach. In spite of the difficulty in finding hard data supporting the efficacy of executive coaching, most everyone who has ever had a coach swears by the experience.
"I combine my emotional intelligence, experience and understanding of business with [good] coaching, and the result is magic," says Tom Walter, a serial entrepreneur and founding partner of Tasty Catering, an award-winning Chicago-area corporate catering and events planning company.
The way Walter sees it, the more he taps external and internal coaching resources, the better. To that end, Walter engages in several different networks for ideas, feedback and advice -- from his millennial staffers who help him tap into current market shifts, to his independent group of nine advisors, to his membership in several associations, as well as a peer mentor group, among others. "I rarely override them, because their ideas are about what's good for business -- a solid financial basis, strong market share, et cetera," says Walter.
Not surprisingly, entrepreneurs aren't always the easiest coaching candidates. And yet, "Ask pretty much any executive, and they'll likely be able to tell you things they would like to improve about themselves and/or their company in a heartbeat," says Michele Michaelis, chief executive officer of IvySage Education LLC, an online interactive tutoring service. "Most of us also realize that we probably have blind spots -- areas for improvement that we are not even aware of," says Michaelis.
Indeed, the requirement of a leader to become more self-aware happens as a company grows and the entrepreneur needs to delegate and depend on other people. At that point, "It becomes critical to understand who I am, what I do best, what I don't do well," says Robert Holland, Ph.D., chairman and CEO of Vistage Michigan, an executive coaching and peer-to-peer advisory group organization.
"When I share [that information] with a coach, two of us are working on the problem rather than one," he says. A coach also helps give leaders a balanced view of their performance, and helps them develop clear professional development goals. But just what does it take to be coachable? How do you get started?
- Take a risk. This kind of a risk is different than the type of risk it takes to start a company. Many coaching newbies are concerned about losing themselves or their company direction as a result of too much external advice. But keep an open mind and realize this is a new experience that may be out of your comfort zone. Give yourself six months as a tryout period.
- Identify areas of growth. If you're comfortable, ask those closest to you (not necessarily work cohorts) for feedback on areas that you would like to develop -- it could be driving an effective meeting, making public presentations, or managing and motivating employees.
- Choose wisely. "Relationships work best when the coach's style and experience matches the needs and preferences of the leader," says Rick Miller, executive coach and author/founder of All-In Leadership. Ask for recommendations from executives and business owners who've been coached. Find someone who's an expert in the areas where your company is struggling. Regularity of interaction can range from weekly to monthly to periodically, based on need.
- Remember the 'iceberg' rule of feedback. "If you show that you're willing, able and eager to accept criticism and advice, the coach will be more comfortable giving you the whole story (the full iceberg), versus just a bit of feedback (the tip of the iceberg)," says Michaelis. Listen carefully and ask clarifying questions. Make sure you're being very open to new ideas and fully understanding and considering the feedback and suggestions.
"Once you've worked with a coach and trust her, ask her to address any other issues that she sees -- what are your blind spots and how might they be holding you back?" says Michaelis.
Keep in mind that while you should listen carefully and consider ideas with an open mind, if the rationale for an idea doesn't make sense, always trust your instincts.