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Coaching is a uniquely human skill: what CEOs need to do

Coaching is brilliant. This isn’t an unadulterated sales message. It’s written because of what happens when you entertain that we’re the only creature that we know that coaches other creatures of the same species.

Not only that, often the coach knows less – or is less skilled – than the person receiving the coaching. So how does that work?

When you consider sports stars at the peak of their professions, there are defining traits:

  1. The best consider that they still have plenty of room for improvement
  2. They focus their practice on their weaknesses
  3. They push themselves longer and harder than the merely good performers
  4. They all have coaches

When you’re leading a business you should be looking to hire the best possible people you can afford. A good rule of thumb is to try and hire people who scare you because of how brilliant/ experienced/ better than you they are. This normally starts with your sales/ revenue leader.

Assuming the best business models and necessary capital and working capital investments are in place, profitability often stays at the low/no level for a substantial period of time as you reinvest in these people. Being brutal, this is often because you are able to hire better people than you could previously afford.

But what happens then? You’re starting to surround yourself with people who scare you and you’re expected to lead and manage them. This is when coaching – our unique human skill – needs to kick in.

A good coach does a number of things. You have to be a coaching leader for your business to be successful. Therefore, you need to learn how to do these things:

  1. Recognise that the ‘focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses’ line doesn’t apply to the best. It needs to be ‘focus on extending your strengths, but let’s work on your weaknesses together’ – if you don’t do this you’re not leveraging your investment in your superstar asset. They will start to atrophy, but will probably leave for the apparent lure of progress elsewhere first.
  2. Create ‘personal progress programmes’ for your people. When everything else is stripped away, progress is the only motivator so this needs to be a primary focus. Be clear though that this is only in the context of your business mission; most personal development programmes fail because they aren’t ruthlessly tied to what is required to achieve your business mission and the strategies to achieve that mission.
  3. ‘Progress programmes’ should identify weaknesses that need to be worked on, and how this learning and practice will take place. The frequency, depth and evidencing of the practice also needs to be defined.
  4. You are the hard task driver. Being soft on brilliant people is counter-productive. If they act like divas, then they’re not the best and should be quietly replaced. The best people thrive on the pressure and target-driving you give them. But be clear: in an inversion of point 2. above, this hard-driving has to be in the context of their personal progress programmes
  5. You are their honest counsel and confidant(e). This is the most difficult component of your role as a coaching leader as you have to balance all the ‘bad cop’ stuff with empathy, understanding and being the perfect listener. There’s both a compelling reason and an easy answer to overcoming this difficulty:

The compelling reason why you have to become the perfect coaching leader is as follows: if you don’t, you’re failing your business and failing your team. Sounds harsh? Think about it. You’re the leader and if you operate sub-optimally, or allow your team to operate sub-optimally by failing to coach them correctly then you may as well accept that you’ll under perform in the long term.

The easy answer is that everything subjugates to the mission above profit. You are employed to lead the business to achieve this mission. It is your job to ensure that everyone – including yourself – is fit now and in the future to execute the strategies to deliver this mission.



About Si Conroy

Family man, founder/CEO, investor & CrossFitting ultra runner. Businesses apply cognitive science to goal setting & goal achievement for leaders. Love life.

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