Why CEOs Should Embrace Coaching as Key to Startup Success

Some of the greatest individual success stories came about because individuals bet their futures on team achievements. From Michael Jordan to Jack Welch, superstars know that good people push them up, not out. This is one of the most important tenets of sports and business, and it’s one that is too often ignored by entrepreneurs. In a startup or small company, founders do it all: product development, marketing, sales, customer service. The work is endless, which is why so many leaders abandon the idea of coaching their employees toward professional growth. They see it as superfluous, and when there are so many demands on their time, how can founders devote energy to an unnecessary activity? However, that activity can be instrumental in a startup’s success, and entrepreneurs should give themselves and their employees the gift of coaching.

Let’s consider the case of a hypothetical sales manager. “Joe” isn’t motivating his team effectively, and he isn’t achieving what the company needs. One approach to fixing this problem is to label Joe incompetent and put him on probation. Another is to teach him coaching principles he can use with his sales team, his colleagues and his prospects to reach his goals. These principles aren’t difficult to explain or model, and they’re likely ideas that Joe employs in his personal life. Unfortunately, like so many professionals, Joe has shed these practices to create a business persona – one that doesn’t serve him or his employer well.

Instead of paving the way for Joe’s dismissal – which will lead to an expensive cycle of recruitment, hiring and training – the startup leadership team could adopt the five principles of coaching, and then teach Joe how to put them into practice. Those principles include:

  1. Coach because you care. Coaching is a gift, and it should be given and taken in the spirit of giving.

  2. Integrate coaching into your life. Don’t treat coaching as a single event.

  3. Allow yourself to be coached. Just as you want those who report to you to pursue professional growth, seek out coaches who can help you develop.

  4. Bet on team greatness. Be a good coach and develop your team because you know that good people help everyone around them succeed.

  5. Don’t pin coaching to corporate hierarchy. Great coaches have knowledge, wisdom, experience and a desire to help. Those qualities can be found in the unlikeliest places.

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With these principles in mind, startup founders and entrepreneurs should engage problem situations and strive to understand rather than just command. The key to coaching is to listen with empathy before judging, and to ask leading questions that help employees confront situations without feeling that they are being personally attacked. A useful coaching relationship is a continual process that revolves around encouragement, public recognition, and rewards that are tied to achievements.

When a CEO applies these principles and practices with an employee like the hypothetical Joe, that staffer will learn coaching behaviors and apply them to his own team. To bring in the sports terminology, coaching Joe transforms him from a robotic player into an engaged one, which can make the difference between adequate and exceptional performance for the employee and for the startup as a whole.

Steve Pogorzelski is the former president of and current CEO of ClickFuel, the provider of Fuel Station, a marketing analytics and performance management solution for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs).


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