Everyone has their own Agenda Except a Coach

I thought it would be useful to share with you this insightful article that my colleague Martin wrote, picking up on the many reasons why every business owner or should have a coach.


The cardinal rule of every coach is that there is only one agenda; that of the client. Very often business owners will claim that they don't need a coach because their spouse, business partner, fellow director, commercial colleague or friend down the pub acts as a sounding board for them already. They will claim that wherever they need support there is already someone they can turn to. They will claim that they already have personnel on staff that they pay to support them, so why on earth would they need an expensive external corporate or executive coach?

No doubt their spouse, business partner, fellow director, commercial colleague or even the friend down the pub can sometimes be useful. No doubt the team they build around them are often capable of providing some support. But there is also no doubt that each of them; their spouse, their business partner, their fellow director, their commercial colleague, their staff members and yes, even the friend from the pub will all have their own agendas.

Sometimes these agendas will be subtle and unintentionally covert, other times they will overtly be designed to support a point of view, an approach or fulfil some other need belonging to the person who owns that agenda. Everyone has a point of view and there is a time and a place when those points of view are useful and should be explored; however it is not the right time nor the right place to explore these and other agendas when a business leader is attempting to formulate their own thoughts and determine their own most appropriate plans of action. It is a mistake to confuse the use of another person as a sounding board with coaching. They are not the same thing. They do not even share any common ground. A coach has no other agenda than that of the client; the coach's success can only be judged by the level of success the client achieves. This is not so with any of the sounding boards. There is no place in a coaching relationship for ‘I told you so’, because a coach will never tell you to do anything. A coach will ask you questions, pushback on your assertions, challenge your assumptions and present you with structures of thinking as opportunities for you to improve your own performance.

There is no other relationship like that of a coach and a client, because no other relationship genuinely shares one single agenda.

Opportunity is always knocking - a coach helps you recognise it

We are all shaped to some extent by the environment we live in and experiences we have  had in the past. All people become conditioned to a greater or lesser extent by their environment and experiences. This has a dramatic effect on a person's ability to both recognise and evaluate opportunities.

Typically a business owner's day will be crammed full of activity from the moment of waking to eventually getting to sleep. More often than not those activities allow very little time for the experiencing or evaluation of anything outside of the immediate work focus. It has long been held that the most successful people make time to step out of their enclosed environment and look to the wider world; to deliberately spend time away from the mental clutter of day-to-day activity and allow themselves time to think; to spend time with successful people from outside of their regular environment. Yet, while many business owners might accept the principle, rarely do they turn it into action. They may be told that taking regular breaks from work and spending time with the peer group they admire will in the long term be beneficial for business. But the reality of taking their hands off the levers of control too often, or trusting the business to run without them, can for many be a step too far.

Having a coach is an effective alternative. Taking in a few hours out of the working month to spend with someone you would gladly have in your peer group; someone who as a matter of course experiences multiple environments; someone who spends their time understanding why successful people maintain their success; and as someone who knows how to help people who want to be successful achieve their goals; is a fast and effective way of ensuring opportunities are not missed. A great coach will push their client to think more broadly, to consider wider opportunities and to look beyond the confines of their immediate environment and everyday experiences.

Choices abound – a coach helps you find them amid confusion

A business owner may not profess to know it all, but will often jump to the conclusion that they ‘know enough’ in order to make a choice. In other words they limit their choices by their assumptions. They avoid confusion by staying within a limited field of thinking but by doing so, limit their choices.

In most cases entrepreneurs get used to making decisions on their own; they are often successful because they are dynamic, yet once a business starts to stabilise and grow these same traits can work against them. They mistake engagement with a ‘sounding board’ as an opportunity to argue their case and prove themselves correct. They mistake in argument for a discussion and replace the goal of being successful with the goal of proving a point. It feels like a controlled way of navigating through confusion but in reality is deluded.  Most bad choices come about this way. Good choices come about by examining all possibilities. A coach can't guarantee that all possibilities will be found but it is highly likely that more will be uncovered as a result of their interaction.

A coach will not have the answer, and even if they did, would not proffer it, because the coach is skilled in moving their client away from the need to defend a position. A coach is not interested in the client proving themselves right, but is very interested in ensuring the client explores as many potential choices that might be available. A coach has no position to defend, no axe to grind and no presupposed ideas as to what might be the best choice. However discussing the issue with an appropriate coach is the best chance any entrepreneur has of making the right decision.

Practice happens in a safe environment with a coach

Repetition is the mother of all skill. The more you do something the more comfortable you get with it, the more you explore something the more distinctions you find, the more you examine something the more you understand it.

An actor would no more take the stage in a Shakespeare play without learning his lines than a singer would stand in front of a full auditorium without knowing the words of the song. What they have in common is the recognised need to practice and rehearse if they want to be effective in what they do.

Entrepreneurs face new and challenging situations all the time. Some situations will genuinely be ‘first-time experiences’; others will be something that they've come across before but they don't experience regularly. Many times these situations will be important to the business; perhaps an important member of staff isn't performing to the level required; perhaps it's crucial that a particular order is secure; perhaps it's vital for the future of the business that the workforce are engaged positively in change? In these and many other situations the role of the entrepreneur and the skill with which they perform it is open to scrutiny as any actor or singer.

Working with a coach provides an opportunity to think about the best way to approach these situations, and then to practice them with the coach. A skilled coach will not only provide feedback but will also prompt the entrepreneur to analyse and evaluate their own performance. Practising with a coach is an excellent way for an entrepreneur to be effectively prepared.

Clarity – it’s hard to see the wood for the trees without a guide

Overwhelm can be a problem. An entrepreneur can find themselves with so many matters to attend to that it is easy to feel that there are a just too many things to do and too little time to do them; this leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Such feelings can lead to inertia, procrastination, excuse making, blame and generally being disgruntled. When overwhelm is combined with pressing and important business considerations then it can be a real problem.

The lack of clarity, in terms of action, direction or both, is usually damaging. Remember that the coach has no other agenda except the success of their client; they therefore don't bring anything to the table except their skill in unravelling the perception of overwhelm and regaining clarity.

The coach will help organise thoughts, prioritise actions and determine both short term targets and longer term strategic goals. The coach will help the client detail their actions so that every step takes them closer to the achievement of those targets and goals. It may sound simple but the reality is that when a person is in a state of overwhelm they are difficult to communicate with; however an effective business coach will have the training, experience and skills to overcome these difficulties and help the client to be more effective.
Once clarity has been established and a clear path of action decided on their self-confidence, enthusiasm, energy and a sense of direction all return.

Resources – often in short supply and always needed

Typically entrepreneurs are pragmatic in their approach; they tend not to be overly concerned with organisational issues beyond the immediate need. This means that they do not spend money unnecessarily. Problems will be addressed when they arise and dealt with accordingly. In most instances they will hire people to fulfil only what is necessary; rarely will they employ spare capacity to cope with future needs.

Very often those initial hires gain the training and skills that they need along the way as they grow in line with the business. However there are also occasions when the business has a lack, particularly in the field of management and business experience.

A business coach will also have the capability to mentor the client when appropriate; not necessarily (or even desirably) with examples from their own experience, but with the provision of tools, techniques, observations, research or methodologies that would not otherwise be available to them. The business coach is neither a teacher nor a guide; is not a guru or a fountain of all knowledge; but they are a powerful resource of information and knowledge.

Hard Questions tend not to be asked by anyone but a coach

With the exception of a coach, every other person that the entrepreneur interacts with must interpret things personally; they must determine what effect something has on them. A spouse may well be as concerned with maintaining the personal relationship and not want to rock the boat unnecessarily. A business partner may get caught up in the same issues as their fellow entrepreneur and hence be unable to ask the hard questions. A banker may only be concerned with the ability of the business to pay its debt, a supplier with the desire to maintain orders or employees not wishing to be seen as anything but positive.

Each one of them puts their own needs first even if they are attempting not to; they can't help it, it's just human nature. As entrepreneurs are usually quite forthright in their opinions and sure of themselves, it can be very difficult for anyone closely involved with the business or them personally to ask challenging questions. They may be concerned about the meaning the entrepreneur will attach to such questioning; will this person think them disloyal, be concerned that they have their own agenda or the angry with them? Even if the entrepreneur doesn’t mean to; they carry with them a power to silence people who might otherwise have something important to say.

The positional power that comes with being an entrepreneur should not be underestimated; even the friendliest of individuals can find themselves unquestioned, not because they are infallible but because the potential questioners fear an unfortunate response should they choose to intercede. A coach has no such fear. A coach contracts with their entrepreneur to be the person who asks the hard questions; the questions that perhaps no one else dare ask.

Reality Check - it's the coach's job to help create success

It is very easy to become insular when caught up in a high-pressure business situation. Many businesses have floundered on the rocks of unachievable budgets, and many an entrepreneur has fallen victim to believing their own hype. It's understandable that the familiarity gained in the planning process and of the intimate details pertaining to what ‘should’ happen, morph into hubris. It may be unintentional but it can be fatal. Projected revenue targets become thought of as a certainty and planned expenditure as a necessity; without a reality check disaster is inevitable.

Tasking staff members to be realistic with their projections, forecasts or budgets has limited value if carried out in isolation. When times are difficult it is hard for employees to be realistic enough to suggest that their own positions might be in jeopardy, or at the least in need of review; a little like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. When times are good it's very difficult for employees to maximise opportunities for fear of not meeting their targets; in such cases ‘realistic’ is reinterpreted as easily achievable and opportunities are missed.

Being outside the day-to-day operation of the business allows the business coach a different point of view. A coach will ask questions and the answers to which will confirm or deny any assumptions the entrepreneur might have held. The value of this approach to a growing business should not be underestimated. On the one hand there is ample evidence that entrepreneurs have revised their decision-making to be more cautious based on such discussions, and on the other that more aggressive and far reaching decisions are being committed to successfully as the result of a reality check with the business coach.

Some interesting statistics about barriers to success:

There are of course lies, damn lies, and statistics; however these barriers to success were identified in the study of 549 entrepreneurs  carried out by researchers from Akron, Southern California and Duke University's in the United States:

  • 98% Lack of risk-taking93%
  • Lack of time and effort
  • 91% Lack of financial capital
  • 89% Lack of management and business skills
  • 84% Lack of start-up know-how
  • 83% Lack of industry or market knowledge

It’s interesting to note that all of the above are issues regularly addressed and effectively dealt with in the process of business coaching:

Risk Taking
Once an entrepreneur is taking the one risk of hiring a good business coach, they have effectively put in place a method by which all future risks can be properly assessed. Decisions and actions taken by an entrepreneur following a coaching session are far more likely to be taken with confidence. It is much easier to take risk related decisions when the issue has been analysed and probed.

Managing Priorities
Business coaches are not trainers but part of their role is to mentor where appropriate and bring to the table useful tools and techniques; one of which will inevitably be a way to effectively manage time and establish priorities. Once an entrepreneur has been reminded how to easily identify those things which are urgent and important (as opposed to those that are not) then crossing this barrier becomes much easier.

Establishing Capital Needs and Financing
The fear of not having enough financial resources can often be a bigger barrier then any actual cash shortfall. Cash flow forecasting and methodical consideration of appropriate alternatives to the raising of finance provides clarity; and with clarity comes confidence and effective action planning.

Effective Business Management
Most entrepreneurs will have a skill and passion for a particular area of business; rarely entrepreneurs are rounded general management experts. It therefore follows that there will be gaps in their knowledge. It is both impractical and inappropriate for the entrepreneur to engage in extensive training at this point in their career; hence appropriate mentoring by a business coach to fill the gaps as and when they appear is very effective.

Bullet Proof Start-Up’s
A typical entrepreneur will not have had very much experience in setting up a business, whereas an experienced business coach will have gone through the process many times and in many different circumstances. The experience and skill to know what questions to ask and when to ask them is incredibly helpful. Typically a business coach will help the entrepreneur gain clarity over the end goal before they even start (as without a strong emotional purpose it makes giving up when times get tough more likely); liquidity requirements will be established; the viability of the business will be tested; the feasibility of launching the business in a particular market will be scrutinised; the skills requirements will be analysed; routes to market will be thought through; and a solid plan will be established.

Asking Effective Questions
Assumptions are the downfall of many a promising enterprise. The barrier of lack of industry or market knowledge can be overcome by both effective testing and the asking of appropriate questions in the right place. It is the structural thinking behind these questions that makes the input of a coach so valuable.

If there are some fundamental ‘truths’ about entrepreneurs, then experience suggests that they are here…

Observed entrepreneurial behaviours:

This list is neither definitive nor all-encompassing, it's also not the result of any statistical study or scientific analysis; it is however drawn from 15 years of working with entrepreneurs and many thousands of hours coaching them. Of course not all the behaviours apply to everyone, indeed I can think of one or two people who might raise an eyebrow at this list for fear that some of it might apply to them. Yet I can think of many more that will recognise most, if not all, of what follows.

The purpose of the list is not to ridicule entrepreneurs or suggest that they are in anyway deficient; quite the contrary, they are often successful in what they do because of these behaviours and not in spite of them. Having a coach has helped them use and adapt their natural behaviours for their benefit, and adjust them whenever appropriate.

Gestures that give clues to behavioural intent
A good business coach will be trained and experienced in recognising body language clues and in ways to help with typical entrepreneurial behaviours.

Entrepreneurs Typically:

Have a passion for what they do;
They are often risking considerable amounts of their own money, energy, time and self-worth. On the one hand this is a necessary and desirable attribute; creating something new and growing a business requires immense amounts of dedication, enthusiasm, energy and belief. On the other hand however it can also make them volatile with a tendency to shift moods very quickly; at extreme levels this can almost appear bipolar.

Have high levels of energy;
The dedication entrepreneur’s show to their business is almost always way beyond that which even the most conscientious employee might demonstrate. It is not unusual for an entrepreneur to fill every available waking hour with work.

While necessary sometimes this can also lead to symptoms of stress and potentially ‘burn out’. It can also establish an unrealistic expectation regarding the work ethic of employees.

(At least outwardly) have unshakeable levels of self-confidence;
Putting themselves on the line comes with the territory of being an entrepreneur. This inevitably means that they will demonstrate outwardly a level of self-confidence that might not be representative of their true feelings. Internal hidden deficits in self-confidence can manifest as paranoia, over control or a tendency to undermine the self-confidence of those around them.

Have a tendency to get carried away;
I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who considers themselves a failure! The positive attitude, energy and enthusiasm that make’s them successful can on occasion also lead them down darker roads.

A good business coach will quote the mantra of ‘test, test, test and then test again!’ as an antidote to over enthusiasm or possibly misguided confidence. If testing an idea proves that the entrepreneur's instinct was correct then the project will be tackled with even more gusto and enthusiasm; it improves the other way it can save a fortune!

Can be argumentative and defensive;
It doesn't take long to reinforce patterns of behaviour; if a person gets used to everyone around them laughing at their every joke and jumping to serve their every whim then this will have unfortunate consequences. One of those is that otherwise mature and intelligent business owners begin to display responses more appropriate to a surly teenager. Being the biggest fish in their very own pond can corrupt even the most mild-mannered without intention or awareness.

Usually excused as a response to challenging and stressful business pressures this is actually a behavioural problem that has little to do with the accounts.

Can suffer from hubris;
‘It always comes right in the end’ has been the death knell of many an otherwise promising business. Entrepreneurs want to believe in their business so much that they can convince themselves that the worst is not happening, when actually their plans are falling apart around them. Caught early enough this can be remedied; without anyone to do the catching however the business will just be another one that got away.

Have a tendency to blame;
Entrepreneurs can suffer from not having a boss. When a person is part of the chain of command and their responsibilities clear, they know what they're being held accountable for, and they know the extent of the authority they have at their disposal, then when something goes wrong they are likely to deal with it and own up. They will be aware that there is no shame in going to their boss and explaining both what is happening and what they've done about it. But when the entrepreneur holds the ultimate responsibility, is accountable to no one but themselves and have the authority to do just about whatever they want, where do they go when something goes wrong?

The unfortunate reality is that in the absence of an effective vehicle to deal with this emotion, they might seek someone to blame. They don't do it consciously, vindictively or with any forethought; rarely if ever are they able to explain their behaviour. If left unchecked it can become another unfortunate pattern, and one that will cause the business harm.

Often get frustrated easily;
This is particularly true when the experience of the entrepreneur has been in larger organisations and they now find themselves operating with what might best be described as a skeleton crew. Of course things will be very different and at an intellectual level they will recognise and appreciate this; however at an emotional level when faced with doing something that they might once have considered menial, frustration can raise its ugly head. If things don't move as fast as they like them to, frustration can appear. If results don't come in as anticipated it is likely they will become frustrated. This is no longer a job that they can close the door on and go home to their family; their business has become the ship in which their whole life (at that point) sinks or floats.

Reinterpret reality to match their position;
It is common for entrepreneurs to imagine that other people are as interested in their activities as they are. This can result in the interpreting of events as if they were all taking place in the context of the entrepreneur's world. Events which in reality are at best only tentatively connected will take on a much higher degree of significance in the mind of the entrepreneur; meanings may be attached to them that in the cold light of day would be seen as unimportant, but when misunderstood can be damaging.

It is not uncommon for obscure and unrelated statistics plucked from a news report to be used as evidence to back up an entrepreneur’s risky position, or for a single customer comment to be quoted as the basis for a change in strategic direction!

Are not used to working with the team;
Even if the entrepreneur's background has been working with teams, it doesn't take long before the fundamentals of effective teamwork are set aside.

This tends not to happen consciously but as a result of a shift in priorities; previously they may have been judged by the performance of their team whereas now they're judging themselves by the progress being made in the business.

The entrepreneur typically has broad shoulders that carry both huge responsibility and an active involvement in multiple tasks. They don't necessarily become control freaks but do often forget how to effectively delegate and get the most from the people around them.

Lack confidence in employing people more ‘qualified’ than themselves;
In smaller enterprises there is often a reticence to spend scarce resources on high-value employees, particularly if the entrepreneur has been living modestly up until that point; seeing the appointment of a highly qualified and high-value employee as a necessary investment can be an issue as it's hard to separate the emotion attached to a salary from the business requirement.

However once this new pattern has been established and positive results achieved the problem tends not to reoccur. When the business reaches a point of requiring persons of a level that the entrepreneur perceives as being more senior than them, then recruiting those people can be a challenge. The entrepreneur can show signs of insecurity that need to be carefully handled and understood (by the entrepreneur), if such appointments are to be successful.

Can become emotionally stalled;
Most entrepreneurs will at some time face a cash crisis. This need not necessarily be because of poor performance; it might just as easily appear as part of the challenge with growth. However it manifests, it can have the effect of emotionally stalling the entrepreneur. It is common for a lack of cash to be cited as a reason for a particular decision, rather than it being the stimulation for alternative thinking and a focus on the true and primary goal of business success.

Once the issue has been tackled and properly positioned the entrepreneur will feel better and is more likely to make better decisions.

Have a tendency to look backwards;
This is particularly true of entrepreneurs who come out of the corporate world, especially if their exit was not necessarily of their own choice. Starting a new business to them can be a little like proving themselves all over again. If they had been receiving a significant salary they tend to look back at that and focus their attention in the new business on achieving it again. If they had a large office with all the trappings of senior management they look over their shoulder and want it again in their new business. If they had a company car with a shiny badge and leather seats it might appear on their list of necessities or at least to be provided as soon as possible from the new business. They can find it hard to let go of where they came from. The reality however is that none of those things are important (at least start with) in their new venture; gaining clarity about the true goal and ultimate purpose is very important if this ‘looking backwards’ is to be avoided.

Often imagine the grass is greener;
Some entrepreneurs can have a tendency to work best on a project by project basis. They may start an endeavour full of enthusiasm but lose it once things up and running. They may become bored with the day-to-day activity of actually running the business they started. They look across the proverbial business fence and imagine that a new project is actually what they need. If this happens within a business it can be devastating; just as a course has been set and everyone geared up to see it through, if the captain then turns the wheel in a completely different direction confusion will reign! If however this is recognised and planned for then the serial entrepreneur can be a huge success.

Put their image first;
Some entrepreneurs are more concerned with being seen to be successful that actually making it so. It is not as uncommon as one might think to witness entrepreneurs spending their time and energy propping up an ailing business and maintaining an image, as opposed to addressing the real issues and turning their business around. In some cases the entrepreneur has merely got caught up in something that they now don't know how to escape from; in which case the business coach has a job to do. Others I'm afraid have desires that are outside the remit of any business coach.

Do not are recognise the power of their own position;
A successful entrepreneur is very often limited in their potential by no one but themselves. They can fail to recognise the position they hold in their industry and community. If they have spent years struggling to build a business that can now stand on its own feet, it's a huge leap for them to now see themselves as a senior individual within the business community. If their previous experience while building the business has been to go cap in hand to lenders when the need has arisen, then it's a big jump to now recognise that they may have the potential to access funding to take their business to another level. If the entrepreneurs self image is one of ‘knowing their place’, then the place is exactly where the day until they are helped to see themselves differently.

Every Entrepreneur needs a Business Coach

Having read these observations I hope you now agree that every entrepreneur needs a business coach. The question is not ‘if’ they need one, but instead; who is the best one for them.

Being someone’s business coach is a privilege and an honour. It tends to be a longer term relationship than other coaching assignments or coaching interventions.

The fundamental rules of coaching still apply, one of which is to ensure the client never becomes dependent on their coach.

There is no conflict between having a long term relationship and dependency as one does not imply the other. A good business coach will be held in esteem by their client for the value they continue to bring to the business enterprise; as a business coach is a valuable resource.

Allow me to leave you with a testimonial from one of my own long term entrepreneur clients and his reasoning for having a Business Coach;

Dear Martin

Who needs a coach? Everybody.

I have now been working with Martin Goodyer from Notion for over 4 years, having previously engaged in a previous coach for 6 months, I have found the time working with Martin invigorating. I first engaged in a coach due to experiencing the frustration of the following:

  •  Working long hours and not getting where I wanted to be in my business life.
  • Knowing there was more potential within me and wanting the key to unlock, release this potential
  • Wishing for a better work life balance (your choice)
  • Wanting to have a better understanding of both my mind set and other key decision makers I both employ and do business with.
  • Wishing for the turnover and more importantly the profit that could be, but did not understand how to get to it.
  • Understanding the impact of the forthcoming recession and how to deal with it (now 4 years ago)
  • How to massage issues in your favour. Think structure not issue.

Not all coaches are a match to you, so if you do not meet your real true coach for the 1st time please do not give in on coaching, I didn’t.

The time I have spent with Martin has seen Orton Electrical not only survive the recent recession but also thrive in a declining and difficult construction based market. We have had our hard times however with the support of Martin I have made the correct decisions. Orton Electrical in this time have grown from one fragile company to three thriving companies, we have grown from almost a one man band to a stable and growing group of companies employing in excess of 30 employees and increasing.

If you are considering employing a coach, and you should be, I cannot express to you that the time you spend with your coach can not be measured in the terms of money. It is your time, time that you should take out of your working day, I was one that did not have time running from one fire to another, the chief of fire fighters, make time, believe me if you make time to invest in your future. You can do what I have done with the support of your coach.

I did question the money that I spent on employing a coach, and still do in the tighter times. Please do not let this stand in your way of employing your coach, it is an investment, an investment in you and your future. I believe I may be the most longest standing coachee with Martin and cannot see any reason that I will not be coached by Martin for the next 3 years. Each time we meet we do not stop talking, discussing structure not issue, running cinereous and role plays.

Oh one other thing, it is not your coach that can make all this happen it is you !!! with the support of your coach.

I have not been paid to say this reference, but proud to have Martin as my coach.

Thank you Martin for being my coach.

Andrew Lowe Managing Director Orton Electrical, Mechanical, Energy Limited 

So why not call us now on 01926 889885 or contact us and arrange a conversation with one of our Directors to explore how we can help you become even more successful!

Kind regards

Laura Ashley-Timms - Director of Coaching