The best players don’t necessarily make the best coaches.
If you look at the world of sport, many former players with far less illustrious playing careers than others have gone on to be some of the best coaches. In the UK, managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Jurgen Klopp in football (soccer to some of you), and Sir Graham Henry in rugby, didn’t collect as many player trophies as some, but are arguably amongst the top coaches there have ever been. You cannot judge a good sports coach on how prominent or celebrated they have been as a player or competitor.
In sport, we also see coaches emerge who have never competed in that sport professionally. Some coaches apply the principles from another sport they have competed in, or they have gained years of knowledge working in that sport via a coaching or support role. It is not possible to say that only ex-sports players can coach effectively. Experience emerges in many ways.
It is also not the case that all players will coach well. When someone gets to a high level in their sport by doing things a certain way, it can be hard for them to accept or try other methods. Players like England footballer, Alan Shearer never entirely made the coaching grade so has since chosen to support the sport as a TV pundit. He is very articulate in sharing valuable player insight in that forum but less so as a team manager or coach. He knows how best to share his expertise.
We see this outside sport too, the best speakers and presenters don’t necessarily communicate or work the best on a one to one basis and vice versa. Take the world of politics. People who worked closely with ex British Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, say how he was a pleasure to work with on a one to one basis, but fell short in communicating his ideas to large audiences. As a leader, he was, therefore, more effective in supporting his team in a private forum, the opposite of Shearer.
The importance of tailored advice
I met with a business founder who was relaying some advice he had received by a more experienced founder that he admired. That founder was providing him steer on how to behave in a networking environment. Having spent only 20 minutes with him, I was able to assess that if he was to follow that advice, it was going to be very unauthentic and ineffective for him. The lesson was sound in a general way, perhaps something that worked for him, or you would read in a book or watch on a video. But it was clear that this was far from tailored for this particular individual and his strengths.
The job of business coaches and mentors is to apply both business knowledge and unravel the complexities of business development in the most appropriate way. The advice they give founders will also depend on the level of expertise and experience of the business they are helping. A cookie-cutter approach rarely works. I have received excellent advice for my business from other founders and also individuals who have not started their own company but do have extensive experience as a corporate Director. Who is best placed to provide advice will depend on the context in which you are looking for that advice.
There are, however, some things that cannot be experienced and therefore advised upon unless coaches have run their own business. These include having adequate empathy and insight into the emotions, the decisions, the collaboration and the pressure. The path to becoming an expert mentor or coach is not linear, so their experience will be different. Whether they are a founder who has set up and exited a business or someone who has been a successful Director, albeit not in their own business, they will have something different to offer. What’s important is that they are passionate about and connected into the business economy in which they are expert, and to the founders and directors with whom they are working.
There is no right and wrong. It is not possible to advise you on where to seek out the best advice for your business. However, take time to assess who may be best suited to help you depending on the challenges you are looking to overcome at that time. Should your adviser have run their own business, or have a strong understanding of how a board works? Should they have secured investment, or have been successful in securing grant funding? Should they have a strong network to introduce you across or be in a position to introduce you to some niche market experts? Are you looking for more general steer which can be best attained by reading a business book or attending a conference? This can be tricky to elicit, and you may want to work with a coach to determine what advice you are looking for in the first place.
Finally, you don’t have to identify one coach, mentor or advisor for the life of your business; in fact, the opposite is most effective. Choose your advisors based on what you require from them at that time. Expect to outgrow them and to be passed on to others in their network for the next steps. Work with people that know their expertise sufficiently well that they know where their assistance should start and stop.
Advice for your business is readily available and don’t restrict where and from whom you seek it. Know what you are looking for and find the best resources and people most expert to assist you, with the skills to provide that guidance in a tailored way.
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