Coaching for Leadership - when a business owner should ask for help
When should you ask for help?
I have a distinct memory of standing on Victoria Station concourse, hands shaking, having failed miserably - about 5 times - to buy myself a ticket from the machine. These were the days when one chose one’s destination and put coins into a slot to get a physical ticket, and I seemed incapable of co-ordinating brain and hand to achieve this minor goal.
I was on my way to personally defend my business and our actions at an employment tribunal. It was a ridiculous claim, and I hadn’t seen the need to speak to a lawyer. And so here I was, the dawning impact of my naive and stubborn attitude playing out in extreme stress and nervousness as I fumbled to get a ticket and step into the unknown.
This is what “lonely at the top” can really feel like.
Most individuals who run their own businesses have encountered something similar. It might be a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, or a sense of hysteria that this ‘can’t be happening’. You might have tossed and turned all night for a week - or simply been catapulted into inertia.
Business owners are amazing. They are master jugglers. They can see around corners and straighten bends in the road. They have more energy than the Duracell bunny and somehow bounce back from all sorts of setbacks, and sometimes they even have a life outside work! Of course, there are tremendous highs as well. And it’s tough….
What are the - often self-imposed - pressures business owners, entrepreneurs and many senior execs have to contend with?
Can a leader show weakness?
You don’t want to admit to your friends, family and co-workers that things are tough. Sometimes, you don’t want to share your dreams or exciting opportunities either - for various reasons listed below. Whether it’s because you’re protecting them from hard truths, not burdening them with your issues, or you lack the energy to explain, you want to maintain an outward-facing equilibrium. The other key factor here is the stigma - despite all Brene Brown’s great work - around vulnerability. Who will take advantage of you if you show weakness?
Can I pull off looking successful?
Even beyond maintaining face, you know that walking-the-walk keeps you in a more positive place. It’s what really successful people do, huh? It’s a bit draining but maybe there’s still some stiff upper lip around.
Is anyone else going through this?
No one really gets what you’re going through, do they? How can they? Even if you have business partners to share the load, the impact of the rest of your life; your values, beliefs, home and social environment, all contribute to the feeling of the lonely road.
One foot on the accelerator, one foot on the brake
Balancing opportunity and risk, complex decision making, experiencing the highs and lows of business, all contribute to a roller-coaster of emotions. You are often not in control of all the elements, and can swing between massive highs and complete inertia.
How do I work ON the business not IN it?
All too often in smaller and growing businesses there are times when it is all hands to the pump. You’re chief strategist and firefighter. You can end up implementing detail and having a warped sense of perspective around what you’re trying to do. And when the business does grow, you often have to move from reactive operational habits to proactive strategy.
How do I see the wood from the trees?
Being in the thick of everything, the big decisions and the smallest detail, makes it extremely difficult to prioritise. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told by clients “all these things are equally important”. When you’re lost in the forest you struggle to see the light.
What about the psychological impacts of power?
People treat you differently when you’re “the boss”. And even if they don’t, you may have niggling thoughts about their behaviour and motivations, which can lead to the isolation mentioned above. Business owners may indeed change some of the very behaviours that led them to success, because having power leads to keeping people at arm’s length, alters identity and creates a new cycle of behaviours*.
And it doesn’t need to be this way. Mentor-Coaching holds up a mirror to these situations and provides unbiased observation, objectivity, honesty, and positivity as foundation blocks. My metaphor for this is an experienced Sherpa - knowing the routes, keeping an eye out for the weather, recognising signals and patterns along the way, and helping celebrate at the top.
We won’t always have the answers, but we’re prepared to stay in the fire and to share the most audacious dreams. We keep asking the questions that demystify, reassure, and clarify. We help maintain perspective and focus, and connect back with motivation.
Often, it’s also about letting go of the need to ‘do it all oneself’.
And my meltdown at Victoria? I eventually got my ticket, managed to catch the right train, and represented the business at the tribunal. We won the case and the claimant’s lawyer complimented me on the way I presented my defence.
Was this trip into the legal world worth it? What did I learn? Undoubtedly the experience grew my resilience and underlined some skills that had not been recognised prior. However - I’d chosen this course of action through anger, stubbornness and a dodgy belief in my ability to turn my hand to anything. In fact, I probably ticked all the boxes of the topics above. If I’d have talked this through with a coach, I think there would have been a different approach, and I wouldn’t have a residual fear of coin-operated ticket machines at stations!