Why You Need a Career Coach--Even Though You Own Your Own Business
Career coaches are hired by the big boss to help his or her direct reports overcome their flaws, right? And since you are the boss, you don't need a coach.
It's this type of flawed thinking that limits the potential of many entrepreneurs and the businesses they run. Part of the problem of being the boss is that you don't have a ready- made mentor to help you improve. Everyone needs guidance, and sometimes that can come from a career coach.
Entrepreneur Beth Sears coaches clients to help them maximize their potential, which in turn can help maximize their profits. People don't call her when things are going swimmingly (although, it's not a bad idea to do so), so one of the first things Sears asks leaders to do is to "take a look at their role in the chaos. Sometimes he or she says are willing to look at themselves, but when push comes to shove they try to blame or focus on issues outside of themselves. If they are not willing to look at themselves, a career coach will be of little help."
The best organizations, according to Sears, have cultures where people feel safe enough to say what's on their mind. Why do you want that? "When you have open and honest information you have all you need to make decisions. If people are shut down, then you are just guessing."
One client said that the problem with communication was purely on the heads of his people--they wouldn't tell him anything. So, she started interviewing his direct reports. The result? They all reported that he "couldn't care less" about what they had to say.
Being told that he's blowing off his employees wasn't enough to stop this client's denial. He responded to this revelation with, "Well I'll tell you what, Beth, I'm a quick learner. And when I got it I got it and I don't need all that extraneous information and so when I got it, I got it and I tell them to move on." She ended up working with him for four weeks--which should have been enough time to figure out that he should start listening. After four weeks he said, "You know, the people at my last job said I didn't listen, and these people say I don't listen and my wife of 38 years said I don't listen." The denial runs deep in some, apparently.
And, like this client--who didn't listen to his wife or his employees-- many of her clients have family problems that spill into the work area, and work problems that can overload a family. "You don't have a work life and a home life," says Sears, "You have a life. Very often people will be having problems at home and bring that attitude into the workplace, where people take their attitude personally. I help them see how this affects their workplace.
Can this introspection and guidance from a coach pay off in the long run? When you solve problems at the top, it pays off in real dollars. "When people feel safe and respected and acknowledged, they jump through hoops for you. You don't have to agree with your employees, but you need to acknowledge them."
Sears points out that today's workforce isn't loyal. They had parents (and in some cases, grandparents) who were loyal and didn't end up getting that gold watch, but rather a pink slip and a long stint on unemployment. If you can't communicate with your employees, if you can't make work a place they want to be, then their loyalty for you will last merely until they can land something better. And where does that leave you?
It certainly doesn't hurt a business owner to have someone to turn to for advice and reflection on what he or she can do to improve the atmosphere and level of engagement at the office. A career coach can be one way to do that.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.