Coaching and Mentoring

[Revised 6/5/08]
As we see more people calling themselves “coaches” and offering their potentially nebulous services to the fully employed – and by “coaches” I must include those folks that a business associate refers to as “housewives with a certificate” – we might well wonder just how useful coaching can be.

Hugely useful, actually.

By the estimate of one professional group, a small business whose CEO or owner undertakes a program of coaching or peer support (including mastermind groups, etc.) will typically see their growth rate triple in a few years.

Triple.

Having worked with some CEOs and owners, I can easily see it being true – so often the thing holding the firm back is some blind spot or weak area that is keeping that top person from being effective, and thus is hampering the entire organization.

For a CEO, it’s almost impossible to get those blind spots and weak areas addressed inside the company. You don’t have peers, and it’s hard to get (or accept) effective coaching or guidance from your subordinates, who almost by definition have a narrower view of the firm than you do, and who cannot look at your performance with the kind of detachment and disinterest that an outsider can bring.

And frankly, most CEOs won’t listen to a non-CEO about their issues.

That’s why a mastermind group or an organization like Vistage can make a big impact. They provide a structured way for the most highly leveraged labor in the firm – the CEO – to get effective guidance from people whom he can trust – people who are walking in his shoes every day, who have solved problems much like his, and who can give first hand guidance and encouragement.

You’re never “too good” for coaching of some form. My best clients are the ones with the least ego about getting advice. A recently graduated former client maintains ties with three older executives in her industry whom she sought out years ago as mentors. (I wish all execs were so pro-active and so willing to seek advice.)

As the discoverers of DNA, Watson and Crick, put it: you never want to be the smartest person in the room. If you are, you’re never asking for help and you’re never learning from others.

Nor is coaching just for CEOs – as corporations stay flat and work lives stay busy, it is not your boss (or your HR department) but you yourself who must take the initiative to seek out professional improvement.

Tiger Woods has a coach. Barack Obama has a speaking coach. If they can, you can.

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