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Why You Need a Business Coach--Now

Follow these tips to find the coach who can ramp up your leadership skills.
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As someone who attempts to be strategic about time management (even despite my strong aversion to sports analogies after a dozen years in investment banking), I hired someone whose title is "Coach."

Working with an experienced business coach is my solution to the feedback shortage that all entrepreneurs face at work. All entrepreneurs need someone who is on their side, a chief strategist, a cheerleader, and provider of tough love as needed, while also being their fault finder, challenger, unbiased adviser, and person who is willing to hold them accountable. That magic 8-ball doesn't exist amongst the folks you already know. Sorry, but you have to go out and find that person.

But buyer beware: You must judge for yourself whether their experience and expertise qualifies them as right for the job. You need to audition prospective business coaches with savvy, direct questions that leave no room for marketing spin. These tips will help you find your right match:

Define your style.

To be frank, some coaches were way too "woo woo" for me. One instructed me to close my eyes and imagine myself sitting bathed in light. Though that would perhaps be great at the end of a yoga class, that was not what I was looking for in a coach.

My coach and I have a similar ethos: strong opinions and no patience for beating around the bush. As a West Point grad and decorated Marine Corps captain-turned-high-level business consultant, he also brings a wealth of experience very different from my own. His perspective and disciplined approach help me grow as a leader. He is very candid in a way that I welcome, blunt without making me bristle--a communication style that is, in my opinion, perfect for an effective coach.

Ask prospective coaches what training or certifications they have.

You can't be a practicing surgeon without going to medical school, but anyone can claim to be a coach--no official credential needed. Ask for specific credentials and qualifications, and use your judgment. And like anything else, coach is not a one-size-fits-all-needs title (after all, you wouldn't go to a gynecologist for back surgery).

The best coaches have been successful entrepreneurs.

You need to know: Where is this person coming from? Anyone can talk about mission and business philosophy until blue in the face, but experience speaks for itself. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The difference lies in execution. You want to see a proven track record. Different coaches specialize in different stages of business growth. The approach that got you successfully from A to B isn't necessarily enough to rocket you from B to C.

My coach offers objective advice that is solely focused on the unique challenges of building my wealth-management firm while trying to squeeze in some kind of personal life, making smart hires, and handling all the legal risk of LexION Capital. As a seasoned military strategist, my coach often directs me to scrutinize the difference in my mission (actions) and my intent (what I meant to happen). As he’ll readily point out, they don’t always align. Harsh? Yes. Helpful? Yes, sir. He pushes me to expect more of myself in the same way he once pushed soldiers under his command.

Do I respect my cemoach? Yes, sir! MM, I salute you. Thanks for all your help. 

Last updated: May 8, 2014

ELLE KAPLAN | Columnist | CEO, Lexion Capital Management

A finance expert and self-made entrepreneur, Elle Kaplan is the CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management, the only 100 percent woman-owned asset management firm in the U.S.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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