I admit it; I was a psychology major. This may mean I overvalue soft skills over technical skills in entrepreneurs. However, I don't think that the explosion in executive coaching (10,000 and counting) is a blip but a necessity in today's complex always on world. Executive coaching isn’t new. It's used by corporate executives to up their game just like an elite athlete does. However, executive coaching isn’t commonplace among start-up founders. That's changing rapidly in Silicon Valley where it's become cache to have a coach. Domain competence isn't sufficient for success as a start-up leader. It takes leadership skills, emotional intelligence, listening skills, etc. Oh, and women tend to have these soft skills much more naturally than their male counterparts!
What I hear when I recommend executive coaching to entrepreneurs seeking
advice: "I leverage my investors for that," "my board members provide
this," or "I have an advisory board." If you're an investor, it's in
your interest to encourage executive coaching for your portfolio
companies, especially those who are first time in their senior executive
role. Start-up founders who don't come out of the corporate environment
learn by doing, but time is not on their side.
If you're an entrepreneur, do you use a personal trainer? How about a
financial planner? Then you want to be the best at some important
outcome. Someone who's only there to optimize you and your executive
needs is a special relationship worth investing in since your company is
likely the biggest investment you will make in your life. Stack the
deck in your favor; hire someone who will optimize you. A start-up coach
is part strategic business adviser, psychologist, headlights for the
future, and leadership trainer.
A well-known Silicon Valley coach (Anamaria Nino-Murcia, Startup Coach
& Founder, Foothold Coaching) polled clients to ask what value they
receive in Coaching. These reasons resonate with me as I've seen these
perspectives with my own coaching clients.
#1: Accelerate Your Personal Growth
“Your ability to personally grow faster than you could ever be
comfortable with is the single biggest determinant of whether you will
survive and succeed.” – Ben Knelman, Founder & CEO of Juntos Finanzas
The founders who succeed over time are the ones who learn the
fastest—not just about product-market fit—but also about themselves.
#2: Get Emotional Support
“It’s lonely at the top, and it’s nice to not only turn to board members, investors, friends or a spouse.” – Julia Hu, Founder-CEO of lark
Founders often confront emotional challenges they don’t or can't share
with teammates, investors, advisors or even trusted friends and family. A
coach creates a safe space to talk through struggles.
Ben Horowitz of a16z publicly states, “By far the most difficult skill for me to learn as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology.”
And who helped him develop that skill? Bill Campbell, the legendary CEO
coach to many of Silicon Valley’s most successful leaders.
#3: Have an Unbiased Sounding Board
“You need space outside of your team and investors to work through important decisions.” – Colin Mutchler, founder-CEO of louder
“Everyone else in your life has some personal or professional
bias—having a coach is the only unbiased sounding board you can have.” – Romain David, Co-Founder of Meexo (acquired by Live Nation)
Founders make myriad of decisions every day under massive uncertainty.
To navigate this ambiguity, entrepreneurs tap their advisory network of
friends, mentors and investors. The best advisers offer shortcuts based
on their knowledge and experience. A good coach is an active listener, a
pattern-spotter, and someone who helps you decide, quickly and
thoughtfully, what you want to do. Coaches take on your agenda as their
own—without role bias.
#4: Anticipate Later-Stage Challenges
“In the early days, you’re so busy sprinting to put out fires that
you might not take the time to stop and think about the long-term impact
of your choices. And yet, even the smallest decisions made early on can
significantly change your company’s trajectory. Working with a coach
helps me realize which decisions made now might have ramifications a
year or two down the road.” – Maria Wich-Vila, early-stage entrepreneur
Next month: how to find and hire the best coach for you and how to get the most out of a coaching relationship.
Here are some great perspectives on start-up executive coaching:
The Startup Shrink Will See You Now
Put Me In, Coach
The CEO Of A Billion-Dollar Startup Uses A Simple System To Nail Work-Life Balance Every Week
CEOs Want But Don’t Receive Executive Coaching
Janis Machala, Managing Partner - Paladin Partners LLC