Going It Alone

How far can you take your business on your own? Consider teaming up with a coach or mentor.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

This African proverb points to the choice we make as leaders to go it alone or seek the wisdom and support of others as we grow our businesses. But who are the people who can best help us leverage the value of what we already know in a way that will overcome obstacles and open up opportunities?

While we can’t lay our burdens down at the feet of our employees, customers, vendors or even our spouses, there is a special group of people who not only understand what we are going through ­— they are equipped to support us in our journey to success. They are called coaches and mentors.

For anyone who follows professional sports, the concept of coaching world-class athletes to make them better is not new. So why is it that as accomplished business leaders, we so often overlook the benefits of hiring a coach/mentor to help elevate our performance to its highest level? Why do really smart business leaders resist getting help from a coach/mentor?

In my experience (as a CEO and coach/mentor for over 30 years), the reasons for this resistance fall into four major categories:

  1. Arrogance – Highly intelligent and accomplished leaders often confuse knowing a lot with knowing it all. This is one of the most difficult and dangerous positions to find oneself in. The reason? It makes accepting new ideas and input from others nearly impossible. It also sends the message to everyone in the company that the only good ideas originate from the leader. This kind of leadership arrogance quickly removes any incentives employees may have to contribute new ideas to help the company grow.
  2. Fear - I have never met a truly fearless leader. However, I have met many great leaders who are afraid to bring in an outsider for fear of giving up some control or being confronted with their failures. Coaches/mentors who know their craft have a genuine appreciation for these fears and work hard to reinforce the leader’s role while supporting their dedication to improving their performance and that of the company and its people.
  3. Ignorance – It is not a sin to not know what we don’t know. But it is foolish to persist in not trying to find out. It is also unreasonable to believe that all of the right answers to our questions reside within our four walls. Much growth in problem-solving comes from gaining the perspective of other successful professionals who have already overcome similar circumstances and are willing to share their experiential wisdom.
  4. Apathy – It’s no secret that leading others is hard, taxing work. But when our fatigue as leaders causes us to become complacent about self-improvement, we are not only limiting our own capacity to grow, we are also making apathy the accepted normal state for our company.

What kinds of skill and experience should we look for in a world-class coach/mentor?

  1. Trustworthiness – They will have extensive personal and professional references who can attest to their character, integrity, commitment to the community and support of other leaders.
  2. Track record - They will have an extensive list of personal and professional testimonials from previous clients attesting to their ability to raise you up to the successes they have already achieved.
  3. Team member – They will become a valued part of your leadership team by learning each member’s strengths and weaknesses and helping you grow your team.
  4. Truth-telling – They will have the ability to share ideas, best practices, solutions to difficult problems and recommendations for improvement in a way that will encourage and support you and your leaders.
  5. Tenacious – They will be tough-minded in a way that does not shrink from tackling difficult personnel and customer problems until suitable long-term solutions are found and implemented.
  6. Transparent – They will be willing and able to articulate how their own failures and successes can be used to inform you of high-value solutions to your current obstacles and opportunities.
  7. Totally committed – They will commit to working at your side until realistic problem-solving ideas, best practices, employee training and measurable metrics are in place to secure your ongoing success. They will also introduce you to their network of high-value assets.

Where can I find a coach/mentor who is right for me? Start by asking your trusted business contacts who they recommend.

Tony Ford is the president of Success Fort Worth and is an award-winning entrepreneur with a history of starting industry-leading companies. He now coaches business owners, executives and leadership teams to accelerate growth or effectively sell their companies. He's also program director of the 2017 FW Inc. Entrepreneur of Excellence awards program. Tony writes this column for each issue of FW Inc. Contact him at [email protected].