Episode: Why You Need a Business Coach

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 tell you why you need a business coach.

Megan: This is really interesting, because people sometimes resist the idea that they need a coach, even when all of the signs are there. Sometimes I think you realize you’ve grown as far as you can go, and you’re wondering, “What am I going to do next? Is somebody going to find me out?” You kind of have that imposter syndrome, but unfortunately for a lot of us, we get so busy in the day-to-day operations of our business that it’s really hard to think about strategy, and it’s hard to think about what our plan is to go to the next level.

Michael: Yeah. So today we’re going to show you the way out of that dilemma, and we have three reasons you need to hire a coach. Larry, welcome to the show.

Larry Wilson: Thank you. Good to be here. I know you both have a coach you consult with, but something like two-thirds of CEOs get no coaching or no leadership advice. They’re all inside their own head. Does that surprise you that so many people don’t have a coach?

Michael: I don’t find it surprising, but I do find it stupid. I have to tell you a story. Back about 20 years ago… I’ve told part of this story before, but I haven’t told the part I’m about to tell very much. I ended up turning around a division that was a part of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and that division was dead last in every metric. Over the course of 18 months, we turned it from dead last, 14 out of 14, to number one in all of the important metrics, but I felt like I was out of tricks.

I’d kind of applied all of the best stuff I knew, and I thought, “I’m not sure I can stay on top. I’m not sure how to take it to the next level. I’m pretty sure that if I’m not continuing to grow and expand I’m going to go backward.” That scared me, so I went to John Maxwell, who was one of my authors, kind of my de facto coach, and I said, “John, I feel like I need a coach.” It wasn’t because I needed remedial help. That’s the key thing. I wasn’t looking for a coach because I was failing; I was looking for a coach because I was succeeding.

John recommended to me Daniel Harkavy at Building Champions, and Daniel and I had a very successful coaching relationship for a number of years. I’ve had a coach ever since. But when I went to Sam Moore, who was my boss at the time… I was trying to make the case for why the company should hire me a coach. He was totally dumbfounded. He said, “Why do you need a coach? You’re running the top-performing business in our company. Why do you need a coach?”

I said, “Well, Sam, even Tiger Woods has a coach.” At the time, he was the top golfer in the world. I said, “Every important athlete who’s successful has a coach, and I want to stay at the top. I want to continue to perform. In fact, I want to go to the next level.” He kind of laughed, and he said, “Okay. You’ve made your case. Let’s give it a try.” And we did, and it was one of the best investments he made, and I think it’s one of the best investments I’ve continued to make as I’ve had my own company.

Larry: Well, we’re talking about three reasons you need a coach, and you’ve brought us, Michael, right to the very first one. The first reason is you need a coach to reach the next level.

Michael: Yeah. You don’t need a coach if you’re happy where you are. If you don’t need a change, if you don’t want to go to the next level, you do not need a coach. If you want to just keep running your business like you’ve always run it and you’re happy with that, you don’t need a coach. You only need a coach if you want something to change, if you need skills or knowledge or experience you don’t have and you want somebody from the outside in to help you get to the next level.

Megan: One of the things that happens for leaders a lot is you exhaust all your best thinking and all of your tricks in your first big run of success, and then it’s time to go to the next level, and that imposter syndrome starts to set in, like, “Okay. I’m out of tricks now. I don’t know any more than I’ve already done, and I have to go somewhere I’ve never been. I don’t have the skills I need, I don’t have the thinking I need, I don’t have the relationships I need, yet the expectations are higher than they’ve ever been.” It’s important to realize at that point that you don’t have within yourself what you need to get to the next level. It doesn’t mean you can’t get there; it just means you can’t get there alone.

Michael: So true. I like the way Dan Sullivan says it: what got you out of Egypt won’t get you into the Promised Land.

Larry: It’s interesting you mentioned Tiger Woods, because there’s a great story about Martina Navratilova, the great tennis player, who in the 70s had defected from what’s now Czech Republic and come to the US and was a contender but not a champion, and then by 1981, she was a completely dominant person in the world of tennis. She was the women’s tennis player. Someone asked her what made the difference, and guess what she said.

Michael: I’m guessing coaching.

Larry: “I got a coach.” She realized she didn’t have a coach, like every other player did, or many others did, and she credits that with upping her performance to the championship level.

Michael: Whenever you’re trying to beat the odds when you’re in stiff competition, a coach can really help you. In those situations, like in sports, the competition is obvious, but in business we’re competing all the time too, and we need an edge against that. This is an interesting set of stats that are kind of frightening. According to the Department of Commerce, entrepreneurs start four million new businesses a year in the US. Of those, 80 percent will fail within the first five years. Of those that survive, 80 percent of those will fail in the next five years. Here’s what that means: there’s a 96 percent chance of failure in the first 10 years.

Megan: Good grief!

Michael: So if you’re a business owner, these are the odds that are stacked against you. Or to turn it around, you only have a 4 percent chance of succeeding. So this is important, why you need a coach, something that’ll give you an edge against those kinds of odds so you can win.

Megan: Very often, what is going to take you down isn’t going to be that you didn’t have the right pricing or you weren’t in the right market or the product wasn’t quite right. So often, it’s some blind spot you have as a leader that you’re not even aware of, and that’s why it’s so critical to have somebody on the outside who can see what you don’t see and help to direct you in a different direction, because so much failure is a result of getting in our own way.

Michael: That’s really good.

Larry: I want to go back to something you mentioned in your story about turning that division around. Your boss at the time couldn’t see a reason for you to have a coach, and he thought maybe it was only if there’s a problem. Megan, do you feel like that’s kind of the dominant view now, that leaders think, “Well, I only need a coach if I have a problem” or “My executive I’m bringing along only needs a coach if they’re really messing up”?

Megan: No. It’s funny that you say that, because that’s not even a perception I was aware of. When I think about my direct reports, most of whom are close to my own age, or my peers in the industry, I think it’s actually the opposite. I think it has become a status symbol. If you have a coach, it must be because you have a big vision and you think you’re going to need the best kind of coaching and support to get there.

I don’t think there’s any stigma attached to it among younger leaders. I think maybe that’s a holdover from a different time. No, I think coaching is seen as really positive. In fact, now more than ever, people have coaches for everything, whether it’s health coaching or pet training or music or hobbies. I mean, there’s hardly anything where you can’t find a coach.

Michael: It does seem to me, though, that this may be an age thing, because I know a lot of people in my generation see it as something you would only do if you needed remedial help. If you are suffering a problem, if you are failing, you need a coach to try to salvage you, but I do think that has completely shifted, and it certainly, as Megan pointed out, has shifted in a lot of other areas.

I try to hire a coach anywhere I need help. I’ve had a fitness trainer for years. That’s a kind of coach. I’m currently taking Native American flute lessons from somebody who’s a world-renowned expert. The reason is if I want to go to the next level, I need expert help. I could figure it out on my own, and I could do it a lot cheaper figuring it out on my own, but it’s going to take a lot, lot longer.

Now, if I don’t learn to play the Native American flute, there’s probably no negative consequence for my life. In fact, it may be a positive thing for the people who have to hear me practice, but if I don’t succeed in business, then everybody suffers. I suffer. My family suffers. The people who are working for me suffer. The community suffers. People who are the recipients of the products we produce suffer. There’s a lot more at stake, so I think that would argue even more strongly for a coach.

Larry: Interestingly, when the impetus to hire a coach comes from higher up…from the board or from higher executives asking a junior executive to get a coach…normally it’s because of a problem, according to the research, but nearly 80 percent of executives who have coaches took it on themselves to find them. So nobody is going to push you to do this unless they think you’re screwing up.

Megan: That’s interesting.

Michael: That’s a good point. I think one way to keep from being assigned a coach in a remedial situation is to hire a coach on your own so you never get in that situation.

Megan: That’s right. That’s a really good point. So, here are some signs that you might need a coach to get to the next level. I like these. First of all, you feel overwhelmed and you’re not sure where to focus. Who among us hasn’t had that feeling at one point or another? You keep missing your goals or maybe you don’t really have any significant goals. Your professional and personal life is unbalanced, and you’re working way too much.

Your sales have stalled or your margins have eroded. You’re not quite sure that you have the right people on the bus. Your hiring process feels risky or unpredictable. Your competitors are getting more aggressive, and you’re fighting harder than ever to acquire and retain customers, and you know you need to grow professionally in order to lead your organization to the next level.

Michael: The one I would add is if you’ve just come off a great success and you’re not quite sure how you’re going to replicate it.

Megan: Right. Or if you’re stepping into a new opportunity and you’re in over your head.

Michael: Guys, if you want to drill down on this, I want to encourage you to take our free Business Health Assessment. It’ll evaluate your business based on seven metrics. This is an awesome assessment. We’ve had over 10,000 business owners and senior executives take this with amazing insight. It gives a personalized score on strengths and weaknesses, and it offers real clarity on where you need to grow and where you could probably use the help of a coach.

Larry: The Business Health Assessment is available right now at or you can just check the show notes from today’s episode at Well, coaching is about reaching the next level, so if you want to get there, you’re going to need one. The second reason is you need a coach because you don’t know it all.

Michael: Boy, that’s an understatement. The worst part of it is we feel like we have to know it all, and the truth is you can’t know it all. The world is changing so fast. If your business is growing, the risk is that it’s going to outgrow you. There’s stuff you need to know sooner rather than later. In fact, if you don’t know that stuff, it’s going to cost you way more than a coach does. So, yeah, you don’t know it all, and that’s okay. That’s the power of hiring a coach.

Megan: Even if you have a business degree or an MBA, there is so much you’re not going to learn in school. It’s kind of astonishing, actually. For example, how to set and achieve clear goals. That’s not something any of us learned in school. Then, more importantly, how to translate those goals into daily actions to drive results and then align your team around it. That whole concept of alignment is so critical and can be really elusive to a lot of us.

Michael: And it’s so necessary for execution. If you don’t have an aligned team, what you get is a lot of sideways energy without execution.

Megan: How to stay focused on your most important priorities and how to find, hire, and develop world-class teammates. That is so hard. Many people fail because they don’t get the right people on their team or they don’t get the wrong people off their team fast enough. That can be a really tough one.

Michael: I’m sure this is taught in some business schools, but it is kind of astonishing that we have so many people involved in our coaching program with MBAs, some of them even with PhDs in leadership development and all the rest, but they don’t get this kind of practical stuff that a coach can give you.

Megan: How to build culture that drives operating results. This is a huge one, another one that is so rarely taught in a formal educational environment, but if you have a toxic culture or just an unconscious culture, your ability to move the needle and drive results and retain people is going to be nearly impossible.

Michael: The reason that’s important is, like we always say, culture is that invisible force that drives operating results, and if you’re unware of it, you’re not driving operating results like you could or should.

Megan: How to delegate. This is a big one. One of the first things you’re going to experience if you’re successful is overwhelm. You cannot continue to do the things you’ve always done and just keep adding to your responsibilities over the years or you’re just going to get buried. How to find new customers and retain the ones you have, and how to learn from failure so it fuels your future success. That’s where we start picking up those beliefs and messages about ourselves that are detrimental over time. They kind of sneak up on us and can take us down.

Michael: That has been one of the most helpful things to me over the years as I’ve talked with my coach. One of the things I love about having a coach is I have, like we say in the South, somebody who doesn’t really have a dog in the hunt. In other words, they’re just in it for me. They’re just there to talk to me. They’re not angling for something, some decision I’m going to make on their behalf or give them what they want. They’re just there to reflect and help me process stuff.

One of the biggest things is failure, because if you’re growing, if you’re pursuing big goals, it’s inevitable that you’re going to fail. You’re not going to hit all of your goals. If you are hitting all of your goals, your goals aren’t risky enough. So you’re going to experience failure, but if you don’t process that in the right way, in a healthy way, that’s going to become…

Like you said, it’s going to metastasize into a limiting belief that’s going to hold you back from trying big things in the future, but with the right coach, when you properly process failure, that’s going to enable you to use that to get even better. In fact, I would say that failure is kind of the seedbed from which future growth comes, but only if you process it properly.

Megan: One of the things we didn’t say earlier but that’s also true under this umbrella of “You can’t know it all” is that you can’t know it all, but also, in the context of leadership, who can you talk to about that? You can’t go to the people who report to you and say, “I’m really struggling. I just don’t feel like I know everything I need to know about this. I’m not sure I can lead us to the next level.”

You can’t say that to your team, but you need a safe place where you can admit your struggles, where you can be honest, where you aren’t dealing with a team full of people who have something to gain from your favor. You don’t have that person internally who doesn’t have the dog in the hunt. So it can not only be lonely at the top, but it can also be dangerous if you don’t have people outside of your organization, if you don’t have a coach who can guide you and speak into your business and your leadership in a way no one else inside your organization can.

Larry: Well, on the point of learning, here’s something interesting for you. Harvard Business Review recently published their list of the top 100 top-performing CEOs, companies whose names you would recognize and some you wouldn’t, but very high-performing companies. Here’s the thing: 61 percent of them do not have an MBA.

Michael: That doesn’t surprise me.

Larry: So the formal education is good but not everything. It’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts. Most of our learning is real-life learning. It’s trial and error.

Michael: It is trial and error, and it’s a lot of failure, and it’s often three steps forward, two steps back, but the issue of failure… It doesn’t have to be your failure. You can outsource your mistakes. You’ll make your own mistakes, but you don’t have to make the obvious ones that someone else has made and learned from. That’s the value of a coach, particularly a coach who has experience across an array of industries, where they don’t see with the same myopic viewpoint you have inside of your industry. I remember back when I was in the publishing business, and it’s absolutely true for the kind of business I’m in now…

You tend to see things through a set of presuppositions or limiting beliefs, and when you talk to people who are in the same industry, the problem is they have the same limiting beliefs. Everybody is looking through the same set of spectacles, as it were, but a coach who has experience across a broader array of industries can bring to you insights and mistakes and lessons that were learned from those other industries that you can apply to your own situation, and it really helps you leapfrog the competition and get to where you want to go faster.

Larry: Well, according to David Larcker of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, there’s a relationship between coaching and getting to the top when an executive believes in continuous learning and development. These are the kinds of chief executives who seek out a number of coaches and advisers to help them.

Michael: Makes sense.

Larry: The first reason you need a coach is to get to the next level. The second reason you need a coach is because you can’t know it all. That brings us to the third reason: you have to work on your business, not just in it.

Megan: This is one of the things we hear most from our coaching clients. They’re struggling with finding the time to work on their business, to strategize, to goal-set, to set vision, because they’re so consumed with the day-to-day operations of running their company. That’s really, really common, and it’s challenging if you are trying to get that time while you’re in the day-to-day. It’s almost never going to happen. You really need to set aside time for that.

If you want to grow your business, you kind of need two things: you need outside perspective that’s not your own, and you need time to think. The more successful you become, the bigger your business gets, the less time you have to think. The great thing about coaching is that it gives you the opportunity to have both that outside perspective and time to think. You’re getting out of your business, you have outside stimuli, and all of a sudden, you have thoughts you didn’t even know were in there that are really important.

Michael: This outside perspective… I heard a fitting metaphor for this the other day. Somebody said it’s like trying to read the label from inside the bottle.

Megan: Oh, that’s good.

Michael: You need an outside-in perspective, somebody who can see how it all fits together. Another illustration I heard is it’s like looking at the back side of a tapestry. It looks like a whole bunch of yarn that doesn’t fit together, but when you get on the right side of it, you can see the design and how it all fits together.

Megan: I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to our coaching program and sat there and had some problem I was struggling with, usually something related to people…a hire I needed to make or somebody I needed to move around or something I needed to delegate and get off my plate but, for whatever reason, just hadn’t done it.

As I sat there and worked through some sort of exercise, all of a sudden, I had a total breakthrough, it became clear, and I left knowing exactly what I needed to do. It’s almost like I came in at 80 percent of the way to the breakthrough, but I just couldn’t get the last 20 percent. I was too stuck in my own thinking, in my own context, and somehow getting that outside input, getting out of the business, created that breakthrough, and I left able to go execute on something that helped us take a quantum leap forward.

Michael: The first time I ever heard about this concept was in Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth Revisited. He talks about working on the business, not just in the business. This is a hugely helpful concept. I’ve done this in the past by trying to set aside time for a quarterly retreat. That’s good for thinking time, but it misses the outside perspective. That’s the missing element.

Megan: The other thing that happens, too, when you’re on your own… At least this happens for me. I’m very operationally oriented in this season of my career. I’m running our business. I have a lot of direct reports, a lot of problems to solve. Sometimes when I get away on my own, all I can think about are problems.

They’re not really big existential problems that are probably the ones I really need to be thinking about; they’re just tactical issues that need to be solved. It’s sort of like my mind is racing. Oftentimes, the value of coaching is that someone is asking you the right questions. I don’t always know the right questions to ask myself, but a coach knows the right questions to ask to get me to those important topics that otherwise would remain ignored.

Michael: It kind of goes to that presupposition good coaches operate with: that you have all of the resources inside of you that you need, but you have a difficult time excavating those without help.

Megan: It’s like they’re buried.

Michael: That’s right. A coach comes with a metaphorical shovel and just helps you dig and helps you get to what it is you want.

Megan: Some of those questions might be things like, “How do you want your business to look in three to five years?”

Michael: Important question.

Megan: Really important, and it’s going to be the foundation of your goal setting and the projects you say yes to and so many other things. If you don’t have that question answered, it’s a real problem. “How can you engineer your own role so that you’re doing more of the things in your Desire Zone and less everywhere else?” Meaning, those things that are your greatest passion and proficiency, where you add the most value to your business. That becomes a struggle the more successful you get. You can get sucked back into things that are lower leverage and ultimately undermine your success and the company’s success.

Michael: I’ve had this conversation several times with my coaches over the years. You know, where is the best place to apply my attention, my energy, my resources? That shifts. That’s different based on the context of the business, based on my level of responsibility, based on my growing proficiency in various areas. So, yeah, it’s a question that has to be asked on a regular basis.

Megan: Then “What about your company culture? What needs to happen to make it better?” That’s one that feels like it’s never urgent until it’s on fire. You can avoid a lot of fires if you ask that ahead of time. “Is your compensation package sufficient to attract and retain top talent?” That whole question around talent. What’s it going to take to have the kind of talent in your company to take you to the next level? That’s a complicated question to answer.

Michael: Right now, at the time we’re recording this, there is full employment virtually. We’re competing for every person we hire. People have options. So if we don’t have an outside-in perspective to tool that up and really make our offer attractive, we’re not going to get the people. Somebody wrote a book called The War for Talent, and that’s exactly what it is.

Megan: “What new customers or markets could benefit from your products?” and then “What processes do you have that need to be reengineered at your current level of scale to be really efficient?” Otherwise, you’re going to use human resources where you don’t need to, and it’s going to bog you down and become too complicated and too expensive. Those are just a handful of questions. There are so many, but these are not the questions we’re asking ourselves on a regular basis. You really need someone with a 30,000-foot view with more experience than you have to point you in the right direction.

Larry: Megan, how long have you been in a business coaching relationship?

Megan: I think about five years.

Larry: And how often do you consult with or meet with your coach?

Megan: On a quarterly basis.

Larry: For one day?

Megan: For a whole day.

Larry: A full day. Is that right here in the Nashville area?

Megan: It’s not.

Larry: So you travel for that.

Megan: I do travel.

Larry: So it takes you, I’m guessing, three days of real time.

Megan: Yeah, unless I’m really putting my foot to the gas and come home right afterward. Actually, I like to do it over three days, because I like to go in the night before, get a good night’s sleep, be in my workshop for the whole day, and then the next day, because my dad and I do it together, we spend the whole next day together in the hotel processing what we’ve learned, and specifically, talking about how we’re going to take it back and apply it to our business.

That’s a little pro tip for you. If you’re in a coaching program, blocking the next day after your coaching intensive is so helpful, because what happens when you go back to your business is you get sucked back into business as usual. There are probably problems that have happened while you were away. People need your decisions on things. If you can just tell them you’re unavailable for that following day, you will make more progress in that day following your intensive than you probably will in the next two and a half months.

Michael: Here’s a pro tip related to that. If you’re in one-on-one coaching, book time in addition to your appointment. I did one-on-one coaching for years, and it was like a 45-minute appointment. Then I would book another hour after that meeting just to process that so I didn’t just get right back into the whirlwind and forget everything we talked about, which is easy to do.

Larry: And when you were in a one-on-one coaching relationship, Michael, about how frequently did you meet with your coach?

Michael: Every two weeks for 45 minutes.

Larry: That’s a lot of time. Either way you slice that, that’s a lot of time out of your life. Give me your one best reason why that’s worth the investment, just the time let alone the fees.

Megan: I could probably give you a lot of reasons. The truth is once you’ve done it, you can’t imagine not doing it. The breakthroughs you get and what you walk away with and are able to apply to your business have exponential return. You make an investment of a day or two days, and what you get back is so much greater than that. You could never get there on your own. If you set little one-hour appointments with yourself and you’re going to just read a book, or whatever, it’s just not the same. Getting out of your business and getting that outside input is incredibly valuable. I don’t think there’s any substitute for it.

Michael: The conversation part of that is really important too, but to use a Stephen Covey model (maybe to apply it in a different way than he did), it’s an opportunity to sharpen the saw. Instead of constantly grinding, trying to cut wood with a saw, and then it gets duller and it gets harder, to take time away and say, “I’m going to sharpen the saw so I can get back in to be more efficient.” That’s part of what coaching does for you.

Megan: I like that example, because so often what we do, particularly when we’re facing problems (and if you’re a leader, part of your job is constantly facing and solving problems), is that we use brute force. We are really good at trying hard and working hard, and we just double down when something is hard and figure that we can get through with brute force. In reality, what we need is a very sharp instrument to cut through, and I think that’s what you get from coaching.

Michael: That’s right: a breakthrough.

Larry: Well, today we’ve learned that you need a coach for three reasons. First, you need a coach to take you to the next level. Secondly, you need a coach because you don’t know it all. Thirdly, you need a coach because you have to work on your business, not just in it. Final thoughts today?

Megan: If you haven’t ever tried coaching or maybe you’ve had a bad experience with coaching, I just want to encourage you that there is a program or a coach out there for you that’s relevant to your season of business and leadership, and nothing is going to help you develop faster. To me, one of the things I love the most is that, as you are developing, you don’t have to do it alone. The pressure is not all on you to figure out everything you need to figure out to be successful. There are outside resources, and all you have to do is find the right coach, and you’re set up for success.

Michael: Well said. I would just say we have our own coaching program: BusinessAccelerator. You can find out more at, but that’s not what this episode is about. What we’re trying to get across is that you need a coach. In my almost 20 years of having a coach, it has been the single most important variable in my success. It’s important that you get a coach if you want to succeed. Again, if you don’t want to change, you don’t need a coach, but I would really encourage you to consider it. Whether it’s our program or somebody else’s, get a coach. It will make a difference.

Larry: Well, this episode is going to push some of us to get of our comfort zones today, and probably that’s a good thing, so thank you both for the insight.

Michael: Thank you, Larry. Thanks, Megan, and thanks to all of you for joining us today. We’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.