Manage transitions

Moving into a new phase of your business can generate anxiety, says Harvard Law School's Sheila Heen, who teaches negotiation, co-authored Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, and is co-owner and CEO of Triad Consulting Group. A good coach asks about the challenges you're up against and can often help you zero in on what and how to change.

Fix recurrent issues

Sometimes, says Heen, there's upheaval when an owner's previous strength has a downside. Think of an owner whose outgoing personality once put employees at ease but who now so dominates meetings they can't get a word in edgewise. "It's time to consider working with a coach once you've finally decided to shelve the denial," says Heen.

Add new skills

Do you need to master complex subject matter or pursue new strategies? Rich Hull of Los Angeles-based Latin Everywhere, which distributes Spanish-language programming through its Pongalo platform, wanted to better understand his co-founders' Latin culture. He works with an executive coach with global management expertise. "By helping me find common ground with my co-founders and understand our different communication styles and work-life balance issues, the coach helped us build our business," says Hull.

In all cases, caveats apply. "Beware the coach who believes you have to do it the way they did," says Heen. "You want someone with great experience, but who's also innovative and adaptable."