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How top CEO’s and Leaders benefit from being coached.

By Dennis Keay

Top performers, whether it’s in sports or business, need a coach.  That’s what Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft, and Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google both state, though Eric admits that he wasn’t always of that opinion.

In fact, Eric tells the story of when he first became Google CEO and one of the Board members told him he needed a coach. His first reaction was. ‘No! I have all this expertise, I’m a highly qualified established leader with a proven record! How could I possibly need a coach?’

After accepting the argument that many outstanding performers, in all walks of life, benefit from having coaches, he relented and started working with an outstanding coach, Bill Campbell. It’s not that Bill could do Eric’s job better than Eric could, but he did help Eric get the most out of his high performance team and the business as a whole. (If you want to learn more about Eric’s story and his brilliant coach, Bill Campbell, you can read ‘Trillion Dollar Coach’ by Eric Schmidt and others.)

When I started my business, Lean Logic, early in 2006, I didn’t think I needed a coach or mentor either…especially since my business included coaching and mentoring business leaders and their teams, and, after all, by that stage I had a Bachelor of Engineering degree, around 20 years of engineering and management experience, a Master of Engineering Science degree, an MBA, and a Cert IV in Training and Assessment. Why would I need a coach or mentor? In fact, I initially felt that if I had a coach or mentor it would be an admission of inadequacy of some sort, and was embarrassed at the thought of that. Something to do with foolish pride I think.

I realised that that point of view was holding me back, as a few things gradually dawned on me:

  1. We all have blind-spots, and by definition, we can’t see our own. So, to improve our performance we need other experienced eyes to spot them and provide feedback to us. (This is a key reason Bill Gates says that everyone should have a coach.)

  2. No one is an expert at everything, but the broader my expertise could become, the more I’d be able to help my clients. The fastest way to learn is to be coached and mentored.

  3. Then there’s congruency: How could I preach to others the benefits of having me coach and mentor them if I didn’t truly believe that coaching and mentoring was the most effective way for them to improve their business? And if I did believe it, which I obviously do, then surely I must practice what I preach!

So, I started engaging high-level coaches and mentors of my own, experts in their own right in their particular disciplines, and I have learned an enormous amount from them over the years.

I’ve been talking about coaches and mentors, but I haven’t told you what I consider to be the difference between the two, so here it is:

  • A COACH challenges your way of thinking and acting by asking you questions, and knowing the right questions to ask. They DON’T need to know the answers! They help you self-reflect. They do not have to be subject matter experts or be able to guide you, though they can set tasks for you to complete.
  • A MENTOR on the other hand, is an expert in their field…a field that you desire to become more proficient in. It’s their expertise and mentorship that allows you to rapidly acquire knowledge and apply it most effectively to develop your own level of expertise.

    So, for example, when I started my business, I was very strong in being able to help clients identify the technical aspects of how to improve their business, and help them implement and achieve great results. However, I had very little practical experience in Sales and Marketing. That didn’t come naturally to me. I needed to work on my own business in that respect so I engaged someone who was an expert in that area to coach and mentor me. Sure, I could have just employed someone or outsourced that function, but I really like to understand something before I ask someone else to do it for me. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me.

    These days, I do have someone on my team, Daniel, who is an expert in that area and handles most of that part of the business for me…and also enables us to provide some level of sales/marketing coaching and mentoring for our clients if that is their bottleneck.


Now, as well as a Coach asking the right questions, a coach can also help keep you accountable!

I’ve seen it time and time again…clients who are very rigid and disciplined in meeting deadlines for their customers’ jobs, but don’t treat their own business with that level of priority and discipline.  It’s natural and common though, and it’s because we know we’re accountable to our customers. We don’t want to let them down. Yet, we’re more flexible when it comes to holding ourselves accountable within our own business, where only we know if an expected timing has slipped. When we make a commitment to an external party, for example a Coach, then we don’t want to let them down and we put pressure on ourselves to honour that commitment. In other words, we hold ourselves accountable to the Coach!  (Business is so much more about personal and team psychology than I ever understood as a young engineer!)

If you want accelerated success in your business, the long and short of this article is to recommend that you get a great mentor who is also a great coach. The mentor must have the appropriate expertise to help you advance in whichever area/discipline you desire.  I’ve invested in several different mentors over the years, in different disciplines…and my philosophy is to invest in quality.

You’ll know when you’ve found a mentor who’s right for you because things will just ‘click’. They’ll ‘speak your language’, trust will build quickly and you’ll see rapid results. If at first you don’t find one that’s right for you, then try a different one.  Always seek one with a proven track record of client results, and someone who doesn’t just ‘tell you’ what to do, but explains their recommendations clearly and simply and can demonstrate why and how those recommendations will work.  Seeing is believing! 

Contact us to discuss our coaching and mentoring options by clicking here.
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