(From my upcoming book)
You’ve probably heard how fantastic coaches can be, and how they can truly leverage your commitment and investment. You’re wondering if that’s really true, and if it is, how do you choose one? And you may be wondering if the expense is worth it.
In general, coaching in almost any discipline or sport is “worth” it because the one-on-one attention can be so productive. It is scarcely imaginable that a sports team could exist, let alone consistently win, without a leader with more experience than the players, the benefit of a “big picture” perspective, possession of a literal or figurative book of strategy, and the objectivity inherent in standing on the sidelines. While there are exceptions to this rule, where the coach is also one of the players, the weighty load of leadership combined with sheer scale quickly pushes “player/coaches” exclusively into the coaching role — successful company officers in the military are continually promoted to roles away from the sharp end of the spear. There is a long tradition of successful performance of individuals counseled and aided by effective coaches.
My First Coach
While both of my parents seem to have had the “math gene”, I credit my Uncle Stephen (an honorary title) for my achievements in math, high school Advanced Placement status, and a lifelong comfort with numbers and calculation. He was my one-on-one tutor at the end of fifth grade.
Freed from the constraints of other students and a regulated pace, we quickly covered the necessary ground of my delinquency — to my parent’s horror I had somehow avoided learning my multiplication tables, and thus the recruitment of Uncle Stephen, a math professor from a university in Budapest, recently fled to the U.S.. Within weeks, we were covering elementary algebra, and then to my delight, moving on to geometry and base number systems other than 10, and so on. Late into high school I would suddenly realize in class that I already had covered the material with Uncle Stephen, 5 to 6 years earlier. What a gift.
If I have a profound regret in my 30 year career, it is my relatively late (and weak) adoption of mentors and coaches along the way. Despite the deep lesson of Uncle Stephen, I made it a regular practice to go it alone, to tough it out, to prove to myself (and my parents, and others) that I “could do it myself.” It wasn’t just that I had something to prove, it was a source of comfort and reassurance to myself that I was worthy, valid, and capable. Even today, I value self-reliance and competence among the highest accomplishments one can achieve. And it isn’t any coincidence that this is a measure that one can take of one’s self — external objectivity doesn’t seem necessary. One can be self-reliant in measuring one’s self-reliance!
See where this is going?
Many, if not most, of the entrepreneurs I have met in the hundreds of startup companies that have contacted me for investment, endorsement, and assistance fit this profile. They are confident, armored with thick skin, and ready to prove themselves. And perhaps too ready to prove that they can do it without help.
What’s Important About Your Coach
As with any close working relationship, the first requirement is communication. You’re going to want someone you feel comfortable talking to, and what that really means is that from your first interaction with a prospective coach, you should feel like you are heard.
I mean “heard” in the fullest sense of the concept — pauses where they listen, questions that clarify and confirm what they thought they heard you say (so that they can fine-tune what they heard), and the hard-to-describe sense that they “get it” about what you just said. The style and specific tactics for achieving this will vary from coach to coach, but the results are easy to feel. You are heard.
This isn’t just because it feels good to be heard (it does). It is essential that they get your perspective, because they can’t help you achieve your goals unless they can hear you describe them. And this isn’t just a one time deal — your goals will probably evolve, and certainly your situation will evolve.
By the way, their ability to “get what you’re saying” should be relatively instantaneous. Their ability to “get you” and understand who you are, and where you are coming from, well that might take a while.
If you have any doubts about the listening abilities of your prospective coach (or your current coach!) then it isn’t a good match.
As we will discuss in another chapter, I’ve found that we’ve all developed coping strategies for getting along with other people. Scientists have worked to quantify this, and better understand this, but to summarize their results — entrepreneurs are generally more successful when they have a highly defined “EQ”, emotional intelligence. In contrast to I.Q., the ability to reason, use metaphors, and solve problems, EQ can be broadly defined as relating well to other people and communicating effectively with a broad spectrum of personality types. For many experienced business people, it is no surprise that EQ is an indicator of success in business, particularly in new ventures.
Yet if you benefit from this advantageous attribute, it can undermine your choice of a coach. In other words, just because you can get along with nearly anyone, don’t use that low hurdle in evaluating the fit of your prospective coach to your style of interaction. Raise the bar, and seek a coach with whom you have shared values.
The coach-client relationship is most effective when it is intimate, in the sense that any subject, problem, or issue is within bounds. Even extroverts may not share everything they feel, fear or hope for with their friends and colleagues. Discussing fears and goals are part of the coaching process, but you’re just not going to get your full value unless you disclose them. And you’re unlikely to do that with someone you can “get along with” but with which you share few values.
How do you determine your values, and your prospective coach’s values?
[to be continued]