What’s the point of coaching? As a business coach myself, specializing in helping startups, I find it important to re-ask that question on a regular basis. If I am sure of the answer, then I can be certain to deliver what’s needed by my clients.
Is coaching just another name for teaching? Well, yes and no. Teaching is where people learn new ideas and skills, that they haven’t come across before. For example, in school you elect to take a class in French, a subject that you may have no natural affinity for - unless you’re French! The teacher will start from the absolute basics, and then slowly build up your understanding, block by patient block. A great teacher will of course help develop individual’s talents, but the teacher of French will stick to the rules, and you’ll learn the language as it is spoken. There’s not a lot of room for ‘doing it your own way.’
Coaching, on the other hand, builds on skills that you already have. That’s a crucial difference in the educational process. You don’t have to start from scratch with the basic verbs and vocabulary, because you’ve already got that down. Now it’s about bringing some flair to your communication and turning you into an excellent French speaker, for example, rather than merely a good one.
Sport is a particularly good example of where coaching makes huge differences to the performance of athletes, especially at the elite level. You would think that Usain Bolt, the first runner to hold both 100 and 200 meters world records, barely needed help to reach the top of his profession, but he is actually full of praise for his coach, Glen Mills. According to Bolt, it was only when Mills started mentoring him that he really improved as an athlete, ‘and as a person’. Even after Bolt’s stunning success at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Mills kept coaching and pushing his runner to ever-greater success. As Bolt himself has said, “I don’t think limits.”
Sporting coaches concentrate on improving tiny margins that make big differences, shaving off fractions of seconds from world records, and always striving to get the person or team they’re coaching to become ‘the best of the best.’ They achieve this by ‘standing outside’ the athlete, and analyzing the metrics of what works, and what doesn’t.
The goal of business coaches is no different.
In a 2009 survey, the Institute of Coaching found that 80% of people who received business and organizational coaching reported increased self-confidence, and over 70% said they benefited from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies said that their investment in coaching had been paid back by the results.
Now you may say that merely increasing someone’s self-confidence is very subjective, and a difficult thing to measure. I’d agree with that, but then we can look at results, and here there is consistent feedback from business coaching clients that the process makes a difference to how they pursue and achieve success.
Like the sports coach, the business coach looks at how someone goes about their work, and finds the often subtle points which can be improved (and the unhelpful habits which must be erased). This results in more dynamic thinking, and yes, increased self-confidence. More than this, good coaching also grows self-awareness, so that we understand not only our own processes, but those of others around us. When you’re involved in a startup, that’s an especially powerful skill to develop.
Of course no coaching can ever be successful without goal-setting, and this is where coaches are particularly useful, providing reality checks along the way. Is the startup entrepreneur aiming unrealistically high, and dreaming of achievements which are – as yet – out of reach? Or are they aiming too low, and barely scratching the surface of their potential?
One of my key questions to startups is always, ‘Are you serious about success?’ If the answer is truly affirmative, then I know that I have people I can work with, just as when Glen Mills challenged his already successful champion, Usain Bolt, to become even better. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Bolt won the ‘triple-triple’: amassing gold medals for sprints in three categories, in each of three consecutive Olympics, a feat never before achieved. Yes, of course he is an astounding athlete, but without doubt his coaches played a significant part in him being serious about success.
Can an athlete or an entrepreneur truly succeed without the benefits of coaching? Well there may be some examples of ‘self-made’ businesspeople, but even someone as influential and successful as Henry Ford – allegedly a ‘self-made man’ – was actually mentored by the father of the electric lightbulb, Thomas Edison.
So what’s the point of coaching? It’s to provide an external, objective viewpoint into how an individual or team functions, in order to isolate areas for improvement, and change negative attitudes and behaviors. If you’re serious about success, you have to seriously consider that it’s time to find your coach.
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