When I took over Women 2.0 in August 2016, the company had been around for 10 years, but we were straight back to startup mode, with a slim team to start (two people!) and an almost completely new business model. We had an intense focus on riding the fine line between revenues and mission that many for-profit, for-good companies often have.
Despite having the same limited resources that all startups have, one of my first and most immediate goals was to get to the point where I could hire an executive coach.
This isn’t a very common goal for most startup CEOs, but in my opinion, this is a mistake.
Why should you get a coach?
I sat down with my own coach – the amazing Robyn Ward at FounderForward, and had her articulate why she feels it’s so important and why she’s focused her coaching business entirely on founders and founding teams at the beginning of their startup journey.
Included in her responses are my own thoughts as someone who’s thought extensively about personal development, my role as a startup executive, and someone who’s worked with a coach.
When you optimize your performance, it directly impacts the performance of your startup
When you are at your best – in mind, body and spirit – you perform well in every aspect of your life. What you bring to work every day matters. A lot.
If you’re successful enough to have received investor money to grow your company, your own capabilities as a company leader now impact other stakeholders.
So how can you do your absolute best to make sure the company performs at optimal levels? You have to be at your optimal level.
If you’re not sleeping, getting overly stressed, or getting sick a lot — and generally not taking care of yourself — it does not bode well for the company (or your investors).
Optimizing your performance requires prioritizing self-care and committing to positive, healthy habits. Coaches will review your daily professional and personal routine and schedule, and work with you to develop a peak performance plan (and hold you to it).
Kate’s Note: This was crucial for me. By our very nature as entrepreneurs and execs, we are over-workers (and yes, I meant “over” when I said it). Often we don’t know what our optimal performance level is for work because that’s all we do… work!
Understanding how we’re motivated, how we work and want to work, how our work impacts our life and vice versa is all crucial to making sure we’re our best selves.
You’re growing a company, but you’re also growing yourself
It’s the Double-Track of Learning. Yes, you are hustling to raise capital, build a team, find office space, perfect your product, grow revenue, etc. But all the while, you are also growing yourself — as a leader and a CEO.
No one is born knowing how to be CEO of a company. Becoming a good one, and a good leader in general, requires a growth mindset and a commitment to stretching yourself.
Remember: You can’t take a company further than you’ve taken yourself.
Developing and executing 3-5 goals for growing your business and 3-5 goals for growing yourself is no easy task. Having a coach as a partner makes it much easier.
Kate’s Note: Goals! We all get goals, but if you’re like I was, I had about 50. I could organize myself down to about 10, but realizing the importance of having 3-5 goals gives you ultra focus, makes decisions easier across the board, helps identify when things are wrong or right more quickly, and helps your team get on the same page and taking actions to move the ship forward.
It also helps eliminate those pesky things called DISTRACTIONS. We all know they’re a thing, no use in denying it. 😀
Your brain’s limbic system is the back part of the brain, which has been with us forever (it controls our flight-or-fight response). This is the part of the brain that controls your stress, emotions, behavior, and motivation. And it can be trained (yes, trained). The limbic system learns best through feedback, extensive practice, and outside motivation.
Coaching provides exactly that: Critical feedback (the honest kind that doesn’t avoid the hard stuff), actionable tools and frameworks, and motivation (the kind you might not be able to give yourself in the morning).
With a coach, you can put together a practical development plan for growing into the best leader you can be.
Kate’s Notes: STRUCTURE is a key part of training, which is part of the reason I find this one so helpful.
As Founders, we all work our brains extensively all day long… but it’s often unstructured, high-energy, fast-action thinking that’s usually meant to get our company’s full plates less full by the end of the day.
Our brains, when put through structured thought processes, benefit in the long term.
When you’re a better human, you’re a better leader
This goes all the way back to Socrates, who taught the principle of “Know Thyself.” Many modern day leadership gurus, like Warren Bennis, believe that knowing thyself is the first rule for becoming an effective leader.
By developing a deep understanding and awareness of yourself, and committing to constant evolution as a person, you are also opening yourself up to truly grow as a leader.
Self-examination is hard and flawed, and easy to put off when you are running a company.
A coach can walk you through an assessment process and offer up questions and exercises that help uncover your strengths, weaknesses, motivators, limiting beliefs, fears, etc.
Kate’s Note: With over-working comes a natural deprioritizing of self. We’re so busy setting business priorities and moving the company forward that we neglect ourselves. Being able to effectively incorporate our personal lives – especially if you have things like families and children (!!) – makes hitting your desk every morning not only more productive, but more enjoyable.
It’s still not perfect (it never is), but it’s so important to me that I can turn to my husband and my two boys and say that I can fulfill my commitment to them, that I can start fulfilling my commitments to myself (almost done with my second book this year), and turn to run a business I love without guilt.
There’s a difference between building a product and building a company.
While you may be a great engineer or product mind that thrives in the early days with a small team executing an MVP, scaling a team and a culture is a totally different ballgame.
A coach can help you troubleshoot issues and see situations differently by asking quality questions. She can also help you identify and implement necessary changes to your behaviors or skills.
Lastly, if you need more convincing, Google launched data-driven Project Oxygen to figure out what their most successful managers do so well. As it turns out, being a good coach ranked first among eight qualities of great managers.
So, if you learn what coaching is all about, you’ll have the power to go forth and be a good coach to your own team. Think of it as a virtuous baton-pass — you learn to be a great leader and then pass it on.
Kate’s Note: One of the most wonderful things about Robyn, and many other startup coaches, is that they can help you not only with yourself, but also on business strategy. Robyn is awesome at this, knows the industry, knows who we play with, knows and is passionate about women in the space and knows business. Her ability to connect all the dots is, honestly, invaluable.
Your Founder Coach
A quick close. I (Kate) will recommend Roybn in a second. But another really great place to look for a coach is asking your network. You may be surprised at who around you has a coach as a Founder, and they’re working with that person for a reason.
I’d invite you in the comments to suggest other coaches so everyone can learn from each other.