Episode: How a Business Coach Can Help You Now

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re going to settle a question I hear almost every day from our constituents: Is it wise to take on the expense of a business coach during this crisis?

Megan: This is a great question. I know a lot of leaders are thinking about it and maybe kind of unsure about it. On the one hand, we believe everybody needs coaching. None of us have all of the resources we need in our own minds to do all of the things we need to do, especially into the future, but some leaders are feeling that even more intensely right now, because there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future. We’re all facing challenges we’ve never experienced before. The markets are shifting. I mean, good grief. It’s such a roller-coaster ride. Leaders need help.

On the other hand, the economy is really difficult right now. We have record unemployment, and many businesses are under extreme financial pressure. Some have had to close temporarily and others for good. It feels kind of risky out there, especially when you think about discretionary expenses. It can even feel a little selfish to spend money on “me.”

Michael: Well, today we’re going to resolve that dilemma for you by giving you three solid reasons that you not only should but must get a business coach right now. Yes, even during this economic crisis. But before we do that, Larry, we have to bring you on.

Larry Wilson: Hey, nice to see you guys again.

Megan: Hey, Larry.

Larry: Guys, we’ve talked about coaching a number of times before on this program but never at a moment quite like this. All of the things you said, Megan, are really true. People are under a lot of pressure in their businesses. Now, here’s a question for you, a little reality check question. You have talked about your business coach a lot. Are you sticking with it even now during the crisis?

Megan: Yeah. Absolutely. In fact, I’ve had so many invaluable conversations as a part of that program. I made a big investment in it at the beginning of the year, and it has only become clearer to me as time has gone on… I didn’t know then how much I was going to need it. The support I’ve gotten from that group, the insights I’ve gotten have really helped me to successfully navigate what we’re going through now, and I can’t imagine trying to lead without that.

Larry: You know, Michael, we’ve talked about the fact, as well, that during the Great Recession, 2008/2009, you were leading a pretty large publishing company at the time, and I know you had a coach going into that recession. Were you tempted to cut that expense?

Michael: Well, I certainly reviewed it, because everything was under review. We were trying to throw off all the ballast we could, because that was a difficult time. We were making difficult decisions about which teammates stayed, which had to go. We ended up laying off about 20 percent of our workforce. So absolutely I did consider it, but in the end, I decided not to, and I decided not to because I felt like I needed somebody who could help me get through it.

I compare it to this. It’s like white-water rafting. Class I rapids are defined like this: moving water with small waves that tug at the boat. It’s a relaxing way to spend the day. You could probably do that without a guide. Frankly, that’s the economy we came out of. It was flourishing. Everything seemed easy, certainly in retrospect. Was it wise to have a coach? Sure. But a lot of people got by without one.

Class V rapids: waves up to four feet; long, difficult, narrow passages that require precise boat handling; spray frequently washing over the raft; huge rocks that obstruct the flow; constant spinning and turning; a real danger of capsizing. Now, would anyone in their right mind take that on without a guide? I don’t think so. In business, we were catapulted from Class I to Class V rapids in a matter of days. A month ago, it was a good idea to have a business coach. Now it’s imperative.

Megan: It’s funny, Dad. As you read that description, it’s the perfect metaphor for what we’ve just been through. I think people probably feel like you just read their mail, like, “That’s exactly how I felt.” It’s something that occurs in nature, but it’s also something we’ve all just been through together and we’re still going through in many ways. So we need to get beyond this idea that coaching is a luxury.

This is not a perk just for high-level execs, like getting stock options or a company car or something like that. This is a normal part of intelligent business operations. Everybody needs ongoing training, and leaders are no different. In fact, I feel like the stakes are so much higher right now than they ever have been to get it right, to make the right decisions at the right time. There’s just not a lot of margin for error.

Michael: Totally. Let me add that when I kept my coach during 2008 to 2009, it paid off. Yeah, we did have to go through two rounds of layoffs, and that was painful, but we maintained profitability in every quarter of that recession. I really believe in this. We have a coaching program called BusinessAccelerator. Some of you have heard about this, but whether you’re in that or somebody else’s program, I don’t really care. I just believe every leader needs coaching right now.

Larry: Well, today we’re saying that every leader should have a business coach right now for three reasons, so let’s get to them. First reason: you need advice from someone who has no agenda.

Megan: This is important always as a leader, but this is really important right now, like I said a minute ago, when the stakes are high, because everybody inside your company has an agenda. Your board or your investors want to protect their interests. Every leader or manager has turf to protect, especially in a layoff. Every employee is primarily concerned about his or her own job or their role, and getting advice from insiders is kind of like asking your kids for parenting tips. I’ve tried that before, and it doesn’t usually go very well.

You also need somebody who can bring that outside perspective. Your coach can be objective. I mean, speaking for myself, this is one of the things I’ve really gotten out of coaching. Of course, I see my circumstances, the challenges I’m facing, the decisions I need to make, with my own bias, with my own set of resources.

When I talk to her, she has a completely different perspective, and she can see that in a way I never could on my own. She can open my eyes to more possibilities and opportunities and strategies for getting through what I’m facing than I’d be able to come up with on my own. That broader perspective is critical right now, and it’s one of the biggest values you get from coaching in this environment.

Larry: Let me bounce this off you guys. It’s a description of coaching that I ran across. See if you agree with this. It goes like this: a consultant is paid to come up with answers, but a coach is paid to ask the right questions. What do you think of that?

Michael: I totally agree with that. One of the challenges when you’re trying to get advice is this issue of objectivity. When somebody has, as we say in the South, a dog in the hunt…they have some kind of stake in the outcome…it’s hard for them to give you unattached, objective advice. The great thing about a coach is that they will dare to ask the question nobody else will ask, like, “Is that person really necessary?” or “Is that program really necessary?” or “Why do you think that’s essential right now?” or “Could you get by without that?” or “What does this make possible?”

All of those kinds of questions that your team may be reluctant to ask, because they’re going to have to deal with executing on that or dealing with the fallout from it. So, just to have somebody who’s a sounding board who you can go to who doesn’t have an agenda is crucial for you to get the best advice, and a lot of that has to do with the questions they ask.

Larry: The first reason you should have a business coach right now: you need advice from someone who has no agenda. Second reason: you need advice from someone who has more experience than you do.

Michael: Yeah. The recession was certainly the biggest business challenge I’d ever faced. I’d already had to deal with imposter syndrome, because I was in this big role, a role that was larger than any role I’d ever been in before, and I felt overwhelmed. That was before the Great Recession. So then the recession hit, and now I really did feel overwhelmed. I felt like, “Oh my gosh! I don’t even know the questions to ask. I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know what we should be doing.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I needed somebody who was in a position who had gone through crises before who had some wisdom and experience. I needed somebody with more experience than I did. My coach, thankfully, had a long history in helping executives succeed. She’d worked with clients at even larger corporations. I mean, corporations that were 10 to 20 times the size of mine, and she’d gotten them through various kinds of crises.

Frankly, her head was a whole lot cooler, a lot more detached than mine. And she’d seen this in a variety of industries, so it wasn’t just like me in the publishing industry getting advice from somebody who was a publishing consultant, but somebody who was working across a variety of industries with broad experience in those industries. She really helped me avoid some major, major errors.

Honestly, we could have done what a lot of companies in our space did, which was sort of do a token layoff but something that didn’t really cut expenses like we needed to, and all that would have happened was we would have inflicted damage on the company, but it wouldn’t have been enough to get through the recession. Because she was guiding me, she really challenged me on not only the work we were doing but the way we were doing it, and she helped me avoid some costly mistakes.

Megan: Dad, I think it’s important, just for context, for those listening to understand what the scale of the company you were leading at that time was so they understand when you say at the beginning you had imposter syndrome, and then you had to figure out how to successfully lead. I mean, this was a $250 million public company with…how many employees?

Michael: Seven hundred fifty at the start of the recession.

Megan: Yeah. That’s a pretty large scale to have to figure this out. I think those kinds of stakes were what made you say, “Gosh, I can’t afford to try to go this alone and just wing it.”

Michael: No kidding. It wasn’t just the recession, by the way. We were facing the digital revolution, the social media revolution. I often refer to it as this kind of triple tsunami that washed over the company, and I thought, “Man! If there is any chance that this company is going to make it, I need all the good advice I can get.”

I couldn’t get it from my board. I couldn’t get it even from my executives. I couldn’t get it from my friends. Nobody understood. Nobody had the context or the experience (and that’s especially this point) to advise me…somebody I trusted, somebody I’d grown to trust, somebody who had led and was helping other executives lead through the same recession and could bring those best practices to bear and help us get through it.

Megan: I think there are a lot of people right now who are advertising coaching who have new programs popping up, or whatever, and they’ve never been through anything like this. Maybe it’s even their first business. I think it’s kind of a “buyer beware” time that we all need to be conscious of. Just make sure, as you’re considering coaching and what you need for yourself, what kind of experience the coach you’re considering has, not just how flashy their web page or their offerings are, or whatever. Make sure it’s really battle-tested, because, again, the stakes are high.

Michael: I think this term leader also has been applied so broadly that everybody can claim to have led, and it may be nothing more than an Instagram influencer who, because they have influence, peddles themselves as a leader, but they’ve never really had to do the hard work of managing a profit and loss statement, meeting a payroll, deciding what programs stay and what programs go, fighting with bankers and everybody else who has a say in it. You need somebody who has been there, done that.

Larry: I don’t think it will surprise either one of you two to learn that according to Harvard Business Review, the top qualification that is recommended by experts for selecting a business coach is this: the coach should have experience coaching in a similar setting to yours. That’s really what you’ve been saying. The second criteria, though, not far behind, was that they should have a clear methodology for coaching.

Megan: That makes total sense to me. I mean, we’re living in a time of leadership inflation, where everybody is a leader, everybody is a leadership expert, everybody is a leadership consultant, and, Dad, like you said, not a lot of people have done it, much less done it successfully and at the level that’s comparable or beyond what you’re now doing.

That’s really important, because the problems you’re solving at different levels are unique. The problems you’re solving in a very, very small business are very different than a publicly held company. You need someone who understands the context of what you’re dealing with to help advise you and ask the right questions, like we were talking about a little while ago.

The other thing is it’s not good enough just to have some kind of open-ended mastermind kind of thing with no real content to it. You really need a success path. You need a playbook. You need to have a way to go from where you are to a level of growth, a level of scaling in your ability as a leader, in the growth of your company, in your results, that you can count on that has been tried and proven before.

That’s certainly what we offer in our coaching program, and it’s something whether, again, you’re joining us or another program that you need to look for as a criterion, because otherwise, you’re just kind of gambling, and this is not a good time to gamble.

Michael: And you don’t just need advice. You can get that anywhere. What you need is experienced advice, battle-tested advice. Not armchair theory, not just a good idea, not just some innovation, but you need to know what you can do that has actually worked in different contexts and that has been stress-tested before you start applying it in a real-world environment.

Larry: Megan, let me ask you this, because I know you’re very excited about the coaching you’re getting right now. Do you have a one-on-one coach or is it like a peer-to-peer coaching or is it a mastermind group kind of situation? What does it look like?

Megan: I’m a part of a group coaching program, and I also have a one-on-one coach. The one-on-one component is a new aspect for me. In the group program, what I love is the peer interaction. We’re really solving problems together. We’re getting the input of our coaches who are leading, which is important.

Again, this is not a peer-led group; it’s a coach-led group, but I have a group of peers who have similar businesses in size and scale to ours that I’m able to think through the challenges we’re facing and the opportunities we want to take advantage of. That has been super valuable to me. I find that when I come out of those sessions I have ideas or I see solutions or strategies I couldn’t have gotten to on my own. So that has been really valuable to me.

Larry: So, the second reason you need a business coach right now: you need to be getting advice from someone who has more experience than you do. That brings us to our third reason: you need advice from someone who can keep you proactive.

Michael: My first tendency in the recession was to hit the “freeze” button, because I was scared. It was frightening. I couldn’t believe what was happening in the marketplace. I knew there was a lot at stake. You know the three classic responses when you become afraid: fight, flight, or freeze. To me, the whole thing was paralyzing. I started to play defensively. I kind of instinctively started focusing on what I didn’t want to lose.

I didn’t want to lose any people if I could help it. I didn’t want to lose the company. I didn’t want it to go down, and I sure didn’t want to lose my job, but I was spending an inordinate amount of time lying awake at night thinking about that very thing. That’s when my coach really got in my face and, frankly, proved her worth. She said, “Michael, you’re playing a game of not losing, and that all by itself is a losing strategy. You’ve got to start playing to win.”

So my coach got me out of playing to not lose into playing to win. Huge, huge shift. She was the first person to show me the value of asking, “What does this make possible?” She kept my mindset in the right place. Suddenly, I was able to start seeing possibilities instead of disaster. I began to think, “Hey, maybe there’s a reason for this. Maybe we can come out of this stronger than we went in.” Honestly, she made me look great.

Megan: To that point, Dad… I haven’t even told you this, but I had a call this week with one of the VPs you led during that time who was in those conversations that you were leading, and he said, “Hey, tell your dad that I’m thinking right now about ‘What does this make possible?’”

Michael: That’s awesome.

Megan: He remembered very clearly when you brought that question back to your executive team after you had been asked yourself, and it really stuck with him as kind of the hallmark of your leadership during that period and the key ingredient to your success. Anyway, it was kind of a funny story that came up when we were talking this week.

Larry: Michael, I want to return to that description of coaching I mentioned a while ago, because you talked about your coach helping you to keep your mindset right. I guess there’s this kind of dual role a coach has, in that they’re kind of inside your head and they’re also getting inside your business. The description I’m referring to said something like, “Whereas a therapist focuses on the past, a coach focuses on the future, fosters individual performance, and helps leaders forge their own path.” Does that ring true to you?

Michael: Totally. I think that’s the thing that differentiates a coach from a therapist. Both can be important. I’ve certainly gone to both at various points in my career and in my life, but, yeah, a coach is going to be future-focused. They’re going to be focused on your performance and what you can do to make a difference. So, yes, I agree with it.

Megan: I think, like many things, business is a mental game. Your attitude and mostly your thinking are the key drivers of your success. When I am in a coaching context, what we spend the majority of our time going back to… It may not be the primary topic of the conversation but is our thinking, because usually, where we’re stuck, where we’re not getting the results we want, where we’re not getting the performance from our people that we want, where we’re not getting the traction we want in our business is somewhere in our thinking.

We’re stuck in our thinking, and we can’t see that for ourselves, so that’s why it’s so helpful to have that outside perspective. Man, I could not even name the number of times I’ve had a conversation with my coach or with my group and been like, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe that’s the problem. Of course it’s the problem.” But I’ve looped around this thing over and over and over again and not been able to make any progress until, all of a sudden, I could see what was stuck in my own thinking.

Larry: It’s kind of amazing when either someone reflects back to you what you’re saying or when you have to actually say out loud what’s inside your head and the clarity that can bring.

Megan: That one has gotten me many times. Once you start to expose your own thinking, you’re like, “No wonder I’m having a problem with that.”

Larry: So, today we’ve learned that every leader should have a business coach right now…yes, even during this global pandemic…for three reasons. You need advice from someone who has no agenda, you need advice from someone who has more experience than you do, and you need advice from someone who can keep you proactive. Now, Michael and Megan, I think there are probably some listeners out there who are convinced they need a coach, but now what? What’s the next step in this process?

Michael: Yeah. I would waste no time. Get yourself a coach. Whether it’s us or somebody else, the issue is to get a coach so you have a guide, somebody who can lead you through this. Now, the program I know, the program I believe in, the program I created is BusinessAccelerator, and if you want to consider that program, we would love to have you do that. We have a very simple process for doing it. What you need to do is to schedule a right-fit call with one of our business consultants.

The thing we’re committed to is helping you create a company that is sustainable and can survive and thrive in any economic context, including the one we’re in right now. Think of it as a big insurance policy, something that’s going to help you be safe in this environment, that’s going to help your company weather the storm and get safely through to the other side. If you need a trusted guide, I would be honored to be that guy. Our team would be honored to help guide you through that. This is a high-touch, high-accountability coaching program to help you navigate the complexities of this kind of environment and get safely through to the other side.

So, here’s what you need to do if you’re interested. You need to go to (for Lead to Win). All you have to do is apply there. This program is not for everybody, but that right-fit call will help us determine if you’re a right fit for us and help you determine if we’re a right fit for you. It’s that simple. It’s a conversation, and it’ll help you take the next step toward getting you the help you need to get successfully and safely to the other side.

Larry: Michael and Megan, thank you for this episode. It has been challenging in a way but I think very freeing also. So, good stuff. Thanks.

Michael: Thank you, Larry.

Megan: Thanks, Larry. And thank you all for joining us today. We’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.