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I’ve always been a bit confused about the difference in a business context between a coach and a mentor. According to many pundits, a mentor shows you the right way based on experience, while a coach brings out the best in you, then let’s you find your own way. Based on my own experience on both sides of the fence, we can all benefit from either, and need the best of both.
As examples, even famous billionaire business leaders, including Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, have admitted to having mentors (Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett). Many more, as detailed in a new book, “Trillion Dollar Coach,” by Google executives Eric Schmidt, Alan Eagle, and Jonathan Rosenberg, tout the value of self-proclaimed coach Bill Campbell in Silicon Valley.
Based on their eighty interviews with people that Bill Campbell worked with before he passed away a couple of years ago, these authors offer five specific lessons and action steps which I believe can help every entrepreneur and aspiring business leader, even if you don’t have time or access to a world-class coach every time you sorely need one:
- Value people and make people feel valued. Bill urged leaders to get to know their people as people – with lives beyond work. Trying to develop that personal connection might not come easily for some of us, but in time it becomes natural. Plus, in my first manager role, I was even cautioned to avoid personal relationships with team members.
Later in my career, I learned from a real coach that getting to know people outside of work was a great way to find what really motivated them – allowing me to better match their assignments to their interests, increasing productivity as well as satisfaction.
- Give people the room to debate differences. Rather than settling for a consensus, the lesson from Bill is to strive for the best idea – starting with ensuring all ideas get heard, especially ones counter to your own thinking. Sit back and let people talk through options, intervening only to reinforce first principles and, if needed, to break a decision-making tie.
One way to do this is to ensure that everyone in staff and team meetings has to voice a position on key issues, without interruption, followed by group debates without judgment. The leader assumes the role of moderator and supporter, rather than edicting a decision.
- Build an envelope of mutual trust. Always establish your trust by being open, asking questions, listening to the answers, and giving candid feedback. A coach will honor people’s trust with loyalty and discretion, and demonstrate trust in people’s ability to succeed. Always set the bar high and push people to exceed their self-expectations.
Of course, coaching only works with people that are coachable. The traits that make a person coachable include honesty and humility, the willingness to persevere and work hard, and a constant openness to learning. Build your team first with only these people.
- Reinforce a “team-first” mindset. First and foremost, Bill proclaimed to be a coach of teams, not individuals. Peer relationships are critical, at all levels, and often overlooked. Seek opportunities to pair people on projects or decisions. With well-paired teams and peers, you get a great multiplier effect that is the key to staying ahead of the crowd.
- Build community, inside and outside of work. The lesson here is to tap into the power of love. Love in this context simply means caring about the people around you, fiercely and genuinely. Invest in creating real, emotional bonds between people. All teams and the company are much stronger when people and their leaders are connected.
Community building is similar to team building, but with a wider constituency. Examples would include sponsoring or orchestrating community events, sports, or travel. Bill was the example for all who knew him in helping people and sharing for the common good.
When faced with a problem or opportunity, the first step is to ensure the right team is in place and working on it. Then you lead the team to identify the biggest element of the problem, the “elephant in the room,” bring it to the front, and get to the bottom of it.
My conclusion is that Bill Campbell was both a coach and a mentor, and he understood which was required for each person he worked with. Every entrepreneur and every manager should strive to develop that same insight, and I assure you, it will make you the leader you need to be.
*** First published on Inc.com on 04/19/2019 ***
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