Why Business Owners Need a Player-Coach

What happens when a business owner wants more, is no longer having fun, and is feeling the truism of the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top”? If you dig under the rationalizations, excuses and other superficial factors, not enjoying their business anymore is the core problem for so many business owners. I have experienced it myself, at times, throughout my career. And it is what we like to talk about the least.

I know first-hand the real stress and worry that come from a bank pressuring you.  Or finding out you are losing your largest client or key employees are leaving and taking business with them. Or learning that competitors who have much deeper pockets are undercutting your price. I know how these challenges damage your psyche and confidence, how you wince when the phone rings or are nervous sitting down with the client that has summoned you for a meeting. I know the pull to retreat to your office and your inbox. I’ve done all that before too. Collectively, they impacted me to my core. 

Many turn to a business coach and then turn to another and another. Been there. Done that. And I have the frustration and disappointment in my memory bank to prove it. We business owners are a tricky bunch. We all need help seeing our business from the outside in and we often need help curating the many ideas and responsibilities spinning in our minds all day… and night. BUT, we hate the idea that someone is going to come in and tell us they know how to run our business better than we do.  To sit in front of us and tell us why we suck at our job as leaders or CEO’s. So we jump for a coach who will boost our egos and just let us rant against how unfair business is. To structure and give reason to our false stories and rationalizations. There are more than enough coaches out there who will tell you they have a simple formula for rapid growth. A sure fire plan to double your revenue in no time flat! Imagine it and the universe will deliver! Also known as: Snake oil. 

If you believe every business is basically the same, then go call the coach or people trained in a “system.” Let me know how that works for you.  Worse yet, if you believe your personal blocks and issues have no place in discussing the future of your business, then enjoy telling the same story of woe about the lack of progress your business is making every year for as long as you can stand it. Maybe longer.

Like I said, been there and done that. I talked to plenty of business “geniuses” who all knew better. People who decided their mission is to help other businesses even when they have not sat in the owners chair themselves. So I would chat with them every week for a few months and update them on my 5-year plan. And you know what happened?  Nada. Because filling out workbooks and imagining a grand vision misses out on what the real needs of a business owner actually are. 

Who will take the time to understand the interpersonal issues that are causing problems? Who will tell us our marketing is not only boring but is not actually what our clients look to us for? Who will help us make the changes that we keep rationalizing away? Who will help the stressed, worried and frantic mind of a business owner find some peace and calm so they can build the business that satisfies them professionally AND personally? And who will help them turn that critical work into aggressive action?

To deliver a solution of real value, I propose a new model: Consider the Player-Coach.

A Player-Coach, in sports, is a member of a sports team who simultaneously holds both playing and coaching duties. The term can be used to refer to a player who serves as head coach or an assistant coach.

In my business, I have been doing more coaching lately, and it is some of the most rewarding work I have ever done.  What I do is not coaching in the traditional business coaching sense. I don’t come in and tell clients what to do to be a success. 

By contrast, I treat business owners like the unique individuals they are. I understand that you can’t separate yourself from your professional role; the two go hand in hand. It is one thing for a coach to help you realize you are frightened to innovate or go on a complex sales call. To face an angry client or a banker who is no longer a fan (Or whatever the particular worry or fear for each leader is – And they all have at least one). But it is quite another if the coach helps you re-imagine your communications strategy and then sits next to you on that critical sales pitch. Maybe an introduction needs to be made, financing needs to be found or a buyer for the business needs to be identified. Maybe an innovation needs to be unearthed, built and launched. This, using these most basic of examples, is the difference in the kind of service I offer my clients. If I am delivering maximum value, then I am not shouting from the back of the theater, I’m on stage alongside you. Too many talk. Too few do. 

I have been through it all and can share stories, and strategies based on those experiences, to almost every nasty business situation a business owner finds himself or herself in.  I don’t get nervous or scared when my clients tell me where their business is because I have seen much worse, and I am still here. My experience allows me to have the compassion and empathy to understand how my clients feel inside. What they hate to admit but must. 

One thing that has always troubled me about the typical coaching relationship: execution. It is certainly helpful to be able to work with someone for an hour a week, to vent, brainstorm, and problem solve. But what about in between, when your world, your inbox, and the endless distractions of modern life swallow you whole?  Maybe it is not traditionally the coach’s job to step in during the in between time and fight alongside their clients, but every experience I have had and every honest conversation I have had with CEO’s and business owners over many years are proving that it absolutely should be.

I happen to be wired to work with business owners who are going along on their bumpy plateau, or, in some cases, are at some point on the downward slope. What I am good at is helping business owners identify the specific actions that must be done in order to aggressively change course. But what is also needed in those moments is that extra set of eyes, ears, arms AND an ample dose of heart to help support the changes and fight through blocks so the right kind of momentum can begin again, and to protect the business owner as an individual every step of the way. That’s where I come in. It is in the talking AND doing where I make sure a business owner does not make the same mistakes I have made and where they can learn and benefit most from my experience. There is a fundamental difference when you have been through the battles that only a business owner knows, wrestled through a few recessions and have a bunch of tough legal/financial negotiations under your belt.  When you have made some big errors in trust and judgment. 

I was describing the type of work I have been doing to a new friend here in Portland who is quite the branding g
enius.  He quickly turned to me and said, “Like a Player-Coach!” His words resonated and stuck with me ever since.

What a business owner who is stuck needs more than anything else is someone who will also jump in the fox hole with her or him and fight like hell when times demand it. Sometimes the weight of the business is simply too great and the business battle scars have left too many wounds. Any business that has gone through the last few years has probably been worn down and out by it all. Sometimes resilience needs a spark and a leg up.  In other words, a Player-Coach.

Player and coach. I help business owners get straight about how they are feeling inside so they can be the best leaders for their businesses. The business cannot be separated from the human issues of the owner. And vice versa. The Player-Coach gives equal doses of therapy, empathy and strategy, and does so with his “sleeves rolled up,” to do what is needed to make it real.

More to come.

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