In sports, you can recruit all the best raw talent, but without a world-class coach, you'll never win a championship.
The same is true in business. People talk about the genius of entrepreneurs--CEOs like Larry Page, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos. As great as they were or are, each of them became even better leaders by working with a coach.
The trick is to know what kind of coach you need, and when. Here are a few of the folks I've worked with and some tips on how to get the most out of your time together:
1. Executive coach
I've worked hard to build a strong board of directors, all of whom have relevant business experience. But your board is not there to give you advice. They have a fiduciary duty to hold you accountable and keep you moving forward in the right direction.
When you're facing a hairy problem, you need to to talk with someone who is 100 percent objective and doesn't have his or her own agenda. The way my coach explains it: "There's a point when your job goes from linear algebra to multivariate calculus." That's when you need your own personal sounding board.
My coach has been tremendously helpful as I navigate thorny issues such as planning, recruiting and assessing my leadership team, as well as managing my board. It's priceless to have someone who can stay at a high level and help you determine what actions to take and what conversations you need to have in order to do what's best for your business.
When looking for an executive coach, make sure they're an active listener and ask the kinds of questions that help you come to your own answers. The right experience is also important: You need someone who has been a CEO and can provide the perspective that only comes with having been in your position. This isn't therapy; it's business.
2. Storytelling coach
A couple years ago, our team was growing fast and racking up sales, but it was time to ramp up our external communications and we lacked a cohesive, consistent story. If you asked our investors, executives, employees, and recruiters to tell you about Tile, you would have gotten many different answers.
As a technical founder, storytelling doesn't come naturally to me. I hired someone who had been a business journalist and marketer to help me identify the most interesting aspects of our company story and crystallize it into a compelling, relevant and memorable narrative. That story became the foundation of our fundraising decks, keynote talks and sales and marketing pitches.
3. Public speaking coach
For a number of years, I played the saxophone in a jazz band in southern California. I loved being up on stage jamming with my band mates.
I assumed I'd tap into that experience when speaking in front of large audiences about my company. I quickly discovered that giving a talk to a roomful of investors requires completely different skills than getting people jumping on the dance floor.
I brought in an expert who coached me on everything from how to stand and what to do with my hands, to how to deliver an important line. He even gave me tips on how to ground myself in the last few minutes before walking on stage. I'm still working on it, but my coach has already made a big difference.
4. Administrative coach
This one might surprise you. I hired an expert to help my executive assistant and me work more efficiently in order to better leverage my time. It has been enormously valuable.
My administrator is now much, much more than a gatekeeper. She shadows my inbox, breaks it down in order of priority and makes suggestions. She looks into the future and makes detailed plans to help me be more proactive around upcoming meetings and deadlines.
We use software like Asana and Google Docs to keep us in sync. My productivity has gone through the roof.
If you're like me and you're building a fast-growing company as a first-time CEO, you don't have time to learn through trial and error. If you want to become a better leader faster, get a coach -- preferably more than one.