by Tony Vidler
Great advisers can use a coach. Even great advisers running great practices can use a coach.
Pretty bold assertions, right? I mean, after all, we are talking about people who are actually pretty damned good at what they do AND they are good at running the business as well. At first glance that doesn’t seem to be the sort of folk who could use a bit of professional help really, yet those are the practitioners who usually benefit the most.
There is no doubt that good coaching can help most professionals at some point in their careers, and there is a tendency to think that coaching is most valuable when the professional is in the formative stages of their career, or when they are struggling. Yet, we continually see those who are at the absolute top of their game being the ones working closest with a coach.
To be blunt, coaches often struggle to make a massive difference for the apprentices or the strugglers. Either they are still learning their craft and there is a need for personal skills or knowledge development (which means they need teaching more than coaching), or there are fundamental problems with how they are doing their business that require behavioural or activity shifts (which means personal motivation or responsibility is yet to be accepted).
Great advisers have well and truly passed beyond those points. They have mastered their craft technically, and fuly embrace being the idea of being entirely responsible for their own success. They are also however often the ones who plateau and get mired in the details of managing a firm and its people.
The problem that they frequently have is that because they have a pattern of success which has worked for them, they tend to look to leverage or increased capital value for their business by growing a practice around their own skillset and success system. That is; they keep doing what they know has worked before. While those successful strategies and tactics may work to grow the business, the practitioner now requires new knowledge and skills to become a better manager. Being a great practitioner is no longer enough to ensure success moving forward.
They have to learn how to manage other people and resources, become multi-disciplined in the sense of becoming competent decision makers in sales, marketing, technology, human resources, financial management and a host of other areas. Because great practitioners are usually highly intelligent and highly adaptable people they tend to be able to master these extra requirements given time….and therein lies the the thing that holds them back.
Management is fundamentally about the efficient allocation of resources. Best use of time, people, technology, capital, and so on. It is a role which by definition is inward looking. The essential focus is continually “how can we use what we have best?”
Coaching on the other hand introduces an entirely different perspective. The essential role of coaching is to look outwards and consider how to grow capacity, and usually it is done by introducing challenging thinking. It focusses upon “what is possible?”
Great coaches look in at the business of course, but the greater emphasis is upon looking outwards and questioning and challenging the existing thinking in order to open up new possibilities. It moves the focus from best use of current resources to risk-assessed best-use of resources to create greater opportunities, and working out what capabilities needs to change to grasp those opportunities.
The shift in mindset from “efficiency” to “strategic opportunity” is usually a game-changer for great practitioners that lifts them from the plateau. The process of then learning from coaching how to coach and grow others themselves is the long term win.
There are many many great coaches oout there, and from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of knowledge bases and skills. Each experienced and well-practiced coach brings an array of past experiences that are invaluable for new clients, and each coach can usually offer something for part of the journey that is “practice development”. That is actually the limitation of great coaches: they tend to be useful for only part of the journey. Coaches are not spouses. It is not a lifetime deal where you promise to be with each other forever, no matter what. There is a natural and finite life to most coaching engagements, and great coaches recognise it from the outset. They should be able to figure out reasonably quickly how and where they can help a practitioner, and then work with them to move from point A to point B. Or perhaps to point M. Whatever…it is only to a certain point of evolution. Then there endeth the journey!
For that coach.
But…..then it is probably time for the next coach, who brings different skills and epxeriences and can help move you from your new plateau……
No matter where practitioners are on their business development path, they can almost invariably benefit from using a good coach for the next part of the business evolution. The one caveat there is that if the coaches role changes along the journey and they are evolving further and faster than the adviser they ae coaching, then perhaps they will be there for a long time. That is ok and shouldn’t be discounted as a possibility…the key is whether the coach is continuing to shift paradigms and delivering the knowledge and skills needed for the next steps.