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In sports, coaching advice isn’t limited to the superstars. Everyone on the team gets the benefit of a coach’s leadership and constructive criticism.
In business, it can seem like coaching is reserved for the favored few: leaders-in-training who want to leap a few rungs up the corporate ladder. But the coaching process may be most valuable for those who aren’t on a team, meaning small-business owners and entrepreneurs who have no workplace peers to turn to for advice.
While coaching has gained recognition over the past decade or so, there’s still confusion as to what exactly an executive coach does. So it’s worth clarifying first what effective coaching is not. It’s not psychotherapy — a coach should not be asked to guide you through personal problems or dole out relationship advice.
Neither is coaching a form of consulting. Hire a consultant and you’re paying someone to come into your organization, assess problems and tell you what to do. A coach is a facilitator, not a commander. His or her job is to help you analyze problems and find solutions for yourself.
Beyond that basic framework, however, coaching is a diverse field, with various approaches that appeal to different personality types. Just as in any other personal relationship, you’ve got to find a coach you click with, and that might mean meeting with a number of different people until you find The One.
«A coach is an ally,» says Ed Modell, incoming president of the International Coach Federation, which runs a rigorous credentialing program. «You should be able to share your worst fears and biggest goals. Then, the coach should co-create the solutions that work best for you.»
Most coaches charge by the hour rather than working on retainer; in general, you can expect to pay between $150 and $500 an hour. Modell recommends at least one in-person meeting to make sure you’re comfortable with each other, saying «You have to create a trust environment.» But once that’s been established, phone meetings are just as effective — and an easier commitment for busy business owners.
Another approach to consider is group coaching. It means giving up the one-on-one focus of an individual coach, but also builds peer relationships with business owners facing similar challenges. The best-known such program is Strategic Coach, which runs workshops exclusively for entrepreneurs.
«Most entrepreneurs are natural innovators or salespeople, not managers,» says Catherine Nomura, Strategic Coach’s director of business development. «They come to us because dealing with the day-to-day complexities of their business has made it difficult to move ahead. They don’t have time to do what they love to do.»
Business owners sign up for a year of coaching, which includes quarterly, daylong workshops and access to an adviser for follow-up help in between. Participants are grouped according to the size of their company (at a minimum, you must have been in business for at least three years and have a net personal income of $100,000). The coaches running the workshops are business owners who have been through the program themselves.
«It’s a peer group of people who understand what you’re going through,» Nomura says. To build accountability, business owners leave each workshop with specific goals and steps to take before the next quarterly meeting.
Once you’ve decided on the type of coaching that best fits your needs and personality, finding a coach takes the same research and persistence as finding any other trustworthy professional partner. The International Coach Federation website has a referral service for certified coaches; you can also find coaches with business experience through local MBA programs or professional organizations.
Once you’ve found a coach who’s a good fit, the rest is up to you. «If you’re going to hire a coach, you want to use the time wisely,» Modell says. «Be prepared to open up.» A great coach can motivate players to win, but only if they’re willing to put in the work it takes to get there.