Why would any business owner or business leader ever want to be challenged and held accountable by a business coach, in addition to everything else they have to contend with in the business? And if they did, at what point during the life of their business would they choose to engage a business coach?
For many businesses, working with a business coach will be the first time that they have engaged in depth with an expert advisor from outside the business, and often their reservations and questions reflect this. I recently asked a business owner at what point he would engage a business coach. His business has gone from strength to strength over the last 10 years and he has just opened up a new office in Dubai. He responded at first that he was just too busy to do any coaching justice and that “coaching doesn’t work with awkward sods like me” but finally, when pushed a little further, the real story started to open up.
The reasons were not to do with the performance of the business; in fact, they were to do with his personal brick walls, his own attitudes and beliefs:
- I hate taking advice
- I know my own mind
- I have fears I don’t want others to see
- I hate looking weak
- I hate talking about my feelings: it makes me lose focus
- Looking incompetent is my greatest fear
- I worry I’ll discover I’ve been doing it all wrong
But, at the same time, these were his issues:
- I want to grow my business
- I want my business to succeed in spite of me
- I don’t want the business to miss opportunities because of me
- The business has got really complicated and I don’t always know the way forward
- I have felt increasingly lonely and isolated as the business has grown, regardless of my senior management team
- Everyone thinks I am the expert at everything, and that I have all the answers
- I’m in danger of looking seriously incompetent if I don’t develop with the business
- I fear failure of the business more than ever.
So how can business coaching help? Well, it’s about providing a safe space and time-out to enable the CEO and the leadership team to step back from the day to day minutiae of the business and look at the wider picture. And, it’s about giving them the opportunity to talk openly and get help and support without feeling guilty, and without it being taken as a sign of weakness or ignorance. It’s also about helping businesses overcome growing pains in order to grow up; if that sounds like a child breaking into their teens or a teenager breaking into adulthood, there are similarities since high growth is fundamentally about accelerated change and the challenges this throws up.
But mainly, business coaching is about focusing on supporting a business in “raising their game” and “taking the next step” perhaps by increasing levels of profits, enhancing the competitive edge, creating the ideal conditions for the business’s long-term success and raising the business profile.
We are told that business coaching is increasing because it is a cost effective means of driving enhanced performance. In the United Kingdom, in a huge departure from several years ago, 20% of SMEs are now using business coaching as part of their growth strategy. In one international study, 79% of medium and large businesses in the United Kingdom reported using coaching of some type to support their high growth ambitions.
The over-riding requirement of business leaders is to drive the business forward. They expect a business coach to be able to earn their keep by supporting that ambition and to have the credibility of personal experience, not just the theory and qualifications. The focus is on people who have done it, rather than those who can talk about it. This is where real-life experience counts: being able to bring knowledge and ideas from a variety of industry sectors, and across different business models, is extremely valuable.
Sarah Coleman is an award-winning high growth business coach and founder of Business Evolution, helping organisations develop capacity and capability for sustainable growth and performance improvement. She is a registered and approved GrowthAccelerator Coach and the National Coach Liaison Lead for the GrowthAccelerator service.