Might a coach help you grow your business?

Most people who start their own company are experts in what they were trained in (IT, or marketing, or graphic design), or believe they have a fabulous idea that will plug a hole in a market. Only a tiny handful start a new company because they believe they’d be better at leading and managing than anything they’d experienced in their careers so far. The result is that, unless these business founders hone their latent skills in leadership and management, their company will stay very small. According to the Office of National Statistics, only about 1 in 50 SMEs grows beyond four people and a far smaller proportion grow beyond ten.

In recent years, executive coaching as a route to maximising latent talent has grown exponentially in major organisations – both public and private – simply because it’s proven to be so effective. It’s thought that more than 50% of senior executives now have a coach and, increasingly, rising stars and middle managers are also offered coaching to develop and expand the range of their talent.

Coaching guru John Heron proposes that there are six lines of approach open to a coach.  He or she might:

  1. Direct (that is, tell you what you should do)
  2. Inform (give you information, or let you know where you might find it)
  3. Confront (challenge what you are doing)
  4. Be supportive (reassure and reinforce what you are doing)
  5. Help you release emotions which are getting in the way of clear thinking
  6. Ask you questions

In my experience, the mental model held about coaching by most business owners focuses on the top three questions – if you’re going to pay for a service, surely you have a right to expect a transfer of expertise? If this is what you’re looking for then a mentor might be more helpful than a coach.

By contrast, a good coach works on the assumption that the solutions and approaches that you develop for yourself will always be more effective than prescriptions which are given to you. This might remind you of Benjamin Franklin’s adaptation of a Chinese proverb: Tell me and I’ll forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. Indeed, research consistently shows that coaching styles 4, 5 and 6 are the most helpful for more experienced managers.

The job of your coach, then, is mainly to help you make sense of your own experience and work out a range of options for what you might do next. A great coach will use all six approaches from time to time, but with a focus on asking you good questions (approach 6), which will help you unpick for yourself the learning buried in your own experience.

Good questions might include:

  • What did you notice? (in the context of a recent experience) about how you felt/what worked/whether you then tried something different or pressed on with the same approach, for example.
  • What else might you do? (a well-known definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and yet expect a different outcome… and yet this is what we all often do!)
  • And what else?
  • What are you assuming?

A consultant, according to an old joke, is someone who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is. A coach goes one stage further: a coach borrows your watch and asks you to read out and interpret what it says. Is this a useless service? Not at all! A once-a-month coaching session provides hard-pressed business leaders with a structured opportunity to reflect on what’s been working and what hasn’t, to work out new routes appropriate to their unique skills and circumstances and create foundations for new plans for the next period.

If you want your own business to stand out from the crowd, assume you know most of the answers, if only you had time to unpick them. Employing a coach for a couple of hours each month is likely to be much cheaper and far more effective than employing an ‘expert’ consultant!

Malcolm Allitt, February 2016

Malcolm Allitt is a professional mentor and coach working with Heart of Business in Greater London and The Thames Valley. His mission is to help the owners of SMEs develop a life they love through the medium of their business.

If you’d like to have a chat with Malcolm over a cup of coffee, with absolutely no commitment, then please feel free to call him on 07961 352268 or drop him an email.