Management & Leadership

10 Ways to Coach Entrepreneurs

Dec 14, 2015
Ways to Coach Entrepreneurs

It can be lonely at the top. Especially for the owner-manager. But, as an objective outsider, a well-trained business coach can be the entrepreneur’s lifeline. They help to address crucial issues an owner-manager faces. These include personal growth and development, working relationships and specific business challenges. SACAP recently hosted a series of interactive talks at both the college’s Cape Town and Johannesburg campuses, where systems change practitioner, George Eadie, discussed the 10 “frontiers” an entrepreneur encounters, and how a coach can make all the difference

  1. Entrepreneurship is a great institution of learning

All of us live at the frontier of known and unknown. In contrast to a conventional job, entrepreneurs place themselves in a position to encounter the unknown in an entirely unfiltered way. The more the unknown is encountered, the greater it grows. This is the law of the beautiful mystery that surrounds us. The fear of the unknown is a cliché because it is true. Being overwhelmed often gets in the way of a great response to the perennial entrepreneurial question: “What do I need to do next?”

Coaches can assist entrepreneurs to develop a welcoming relationship with the unknown. It is the force that is calling for the liberation of the entrepreneur’s potential. To retreat from the edge of that frontier into the comfortable known, is to retreat from the learning inherent in entrepreneurship and, consequently, the success of one’s enterprise.

  1. Attachment to an idea rather than entrepreneurship

The entrepreneur’s enterprise is an expression of what they stand for in the world. As it’s developing, a common perception is that this idea could be the reason they were born, the contribution they were “written” to make. Once this thinking takes root, it can be difficult to unwind, even when the enterprise is failing to find traction. Focusing on an entrepreneurial identity, where one listens deeply to the market and thoroughly tests and measures development, can reveal much wiser answers, however tough they may be to process.

Coaches can assist entrepreneurs to view their first and subsequent businesses as a pilgrimage of their entrepreneurial identity. This allows for only a healthy attachment to their business and avoids the perils of an identity too tightly wrapped up in an idea.

  1. Asset number 1

The quality of the energy that we show up with, each day, to build our enterprise depends in large part on our physical health. It is easy to ignore this, particularly when motivation levels overtake our normal self-care. When I was going through a year-long coaching process with master coach, the late Derek Wood, every two months I would arrive battling a sinus infection. He would happily encourage spending half the session talking about this fact. I attribute a huge part of what I have been able to accomplish in the past three years to overall good health and the confidence that comes with feeling 100%, 99% of the time. This has required full acknowledgement of asset number 1.

Coaches can assist entrepreneurs to draw the link between their personal energy and their ability to deliver great value to their customers and team. Encouraging permission for self-care in their clients, with an apparently indirect link to delivering value, allows for appropriate time and resources to be invested in asset number 1.

  1. Loving the market

Most businesses start with an idea of what might be valuable to the market. Many times, it’s something the creator would love to see being adopted in the world. What is sometimes humbling to hear is that happy customers, something that all enterprises need, buy what they love, not what us, creators, love. Yes, they may not yet know what they love until it is created. In the first instance, it’s easy to draw enthusiasm and move to action from things we love. However, the deeper energy that comes from serving the needs of others can be far more fulfilling.

Coaches can assist entrepreneurs to build a relationship with the market. This is how they can grow in their knowledge of the loves of the customers they want to serve. Ensuring that the voice of the customer is always in the conversation is a big offering a coach can make.

  1. The hidden self – the shadow

The shadow is that part of our personality that we invest a lot of unconscious effort into denying as being part of ourselves. Many people don’t know about shadow because, by definition, we can’t see it. However with some techniques, we can. And when we do, it can save relationships and plenty of misspent energy. One of the discovery mechanisms is to consider what we would most like to be known for in the world. This is often wrapped up in our business. For me, I most want to be known for being conscious. This means that, often unbeknown to me, I would put tremendous energy into avoiding being seen as careless, my idea of the opposite of conscious. This was all very well but it meant that, when encouraging others to greater consciousness in my work, they experienced me as coming from a fanatical place about it, rather than a more healthy position. Since facing this shadow, I’ve noticed clients being way more comfortable to go on a journey with me.

Coaches can assist entrepreneurs by suggesting that it might not be person B, C, or D who is the primary cause of the challenge and that instead it’s person A, themselves. While this is tough to hear to begin with, it is also incredibly empowering. It puts the problem within the control of person A, rather than the often fruitless endeavour of trying to change someone else.

  1. Boundaries

One of the most surprising things about running a business is how intimidating the freedom of no boundaries can be. Remember Brooks, from The Shawshank Redemption who was unable to operate in the world after so many years of being institutionalised? Most of our lives have been programmed – school, post-school, study, get a job – where there are set times and places to do known things. Lack of awareness when encountering this new realm of freedom can often result in over-work at the expense of our important relationships, in addition to the relationship we need to cultivate with ourselves. It’s been said that, since we’re essentially social beings, our wellbeing is directly correlated to the quality of our relationships.

Coaches can assist by inquiring about the status of each of the most important relationships in our lives, including the relationship with self. The motivation to keep the quality high provides the energy necessary to set better at boundaries.

  1. Thinking you’re alone

There is truth in the thinking that nobody like you has ever existed and will never exist and that your business is incredibly unique as a result. This thinking can have a most disastrous byproduct: that there isn’t anybody else you can learn from. There is no shame in copying! It might at first feel like we’re ruining the surprise but if we don’t learn from businesses a few steps down our track with market-proven elements, we’re ultimately doing a disservice to our own customers. Never before have we had so much visibility into success stories throughout the world that we can learn from.

Coaches can assist by enquiring who the top three people or businesses are that their client’s business is learning from. Ideally, they’ll help to narrow their client’s inspiration to people and business that have 10 times their revenue. A hundred times or more can be inspirational but often is less practical. Helping clients to hold the paradox of being entirely unique while also being perfectly insignificant can help here.

  1. Personality type

The essential point here is that it really matters that it is you that is pursuing a potential market opportunity. Warren Buffett wouldn’t have done well as a TV show host and Oprah Winfrey most likely would have failed as a fund manager. Their essential personalities was a critical ingredient in where they chose to focus their efforts in the world. I subscribe to the thinking that there is no majorly successful entrepreneur who has not gone the route of finding their unique kind of contribution, and then following it up by accumulating time and experience in mastering it. Most of us have grown up in a society where being well rounded is a virtue. I believe that the pursuit of well-roundedness can be a safety blanket to protect one from one’s full potential. “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us”. I do believe that we need to possess the adaptability to do what needs to be done and to appreciate the different energies, both in oneself and in one’s team, required to succeed in business. The main blocker that prevents us from accessing our natural genius is being unwilling to admit that we can’t do it all.

Coaches can assist in being up-to-date in the nuances of healthily accessing the power of personality for its value-adding application in their client’s life. This goes beyond just personal and interpersonal awareness.

  1. Purpose and the Avatar tree

Asking oneself what one’s purpose is, is often misconstrued as requiring an answer. Answering the question can create the feeling of being either too grandiose or too limiting. Also it’s often approached with a binary mindset: either I have a purpose or I don’t. This is unhelpful, as our purpose is what we do on any given day in our lives. Some days we feel less of it and other days we feel more of it. Our purpose is at a point in its journey to increased significance. By allowing the question of “what is purposeful to me?” to breathe its way through one’s life can have the effect of nurturing a wellspring of life energy that is unparalleled. Just like in Avatar, where the Na’vi plug in their tails to the tree when they need energy, so can purposefulness create the life energy that grows phenomenal levels of resilience, creativity, willingness to learn, generosity and all the wonderful character traits that many successful people possess.

Coaches can assist here by keeping the question alive in the conversation. Many entrepreneurs are “doers” and don’t have time for esoteric niceties. And, reminding the client that it isn’t an overnight process can be very helpful.

  1. Future orientation

When I was younger, I was encouraged to set goals. I didn’t find goal setting attractive. Instead, I much preferred to go with the flow of life and try my best along the way. And, I was happy with that modus operandi. The root of the word entrepreneur is entreprendre, which means “to undertake”. The entrepreneur essentially promises something in the future, different to what exists right now. Entrepreneurs design and create the future. Many of us have had our futures set for us by parents, institutions and influential people. The day an entrepreneur sets a destination and maps a course to that destination and learns along the way about how they can either set destinations better, or more effectively chart the course, is the day they become true to entreprendre.

Coaches can assist by encouraging a relationship with the future that involves designing it. This allows the entrepreneur to get really specific about what they can control and what they can’t in order to make future planning less like a setting a list for Santa Claus.

George Eadie is a Partner at Lockstep, an innovative organisational development firm that prepares modern businesses for a new world of work. He has been privileged to be both coach and coachee and has first-hand experience of the challenges facing the current generation of entrepreneurs. “In March this year, I bought a shareholding in this fast-growing business and had to very quickly develop a ‘real’ relationship with entrepreneurship. It was a time of wildly high motivation levels coupled with a healthy dose of overwhelm,” he recalls.

George is just one of a number of experts who regularly speak at SACAP’s Coaching Information Sessions in Johannesburg and Cape Town. To find out more about these invaluable interactive talks, or the College’s other public events, click here.

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