Business Coaching: Soft Art or Hard Science?

By David Mizne

What is business coaching?

When I first heard about this phenomenon, I was skeptical. And the more I learned about coaching, the more skeptical I became. It seemed so soft, doing internal work to become more self-aware and a better leader? Really?

As it turns out, coaching systems vary greatly and can focus on any or all aspects of business management and leadership. Some programs focus on creating processes and systems, others engage the client in personal growth or leadership development work.

I have personally participated in an IEP intensive, Wisdom 2.0, and other programs and events that have transformed my confidence, awareness, and leadership from the inside out. There is tremendous value in accessing new interpersonal skills, thought processes, and learning how to deal with perceived shortcomings.

For harder science, my exposure to systems and applications like 15Five, OKRs, and 4DX have helped me to develop the skills which are also necessary for success – communication, goal-setting, and analyzing performance through metrics.

While these experiences were all beneficial for me, they still didn’t answer my curiosities about business coaching. I reached out to Martin Kamenski, CEO of EMyth, one of the earliest and most successful coaching platforms, based on the principles in the best-selling book by Michael Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited. Martin shares insights on the value of coaching and the comprehensive strategy that EMyth has to offer business owners.

The Value of Coaching

Q) Some people have resistance to coaching because of perceived value vs scarce resources (time, money, and energy). How do you respond to that resistance?

Sure, a lot of business owners have resistance to getting help. Many people have a hard time asking for the help they need even when they don’t know how to change a difficult situation. The resistance we often encounter with business owners is a kind of resignation, a real sense that “this is the way it is”:

  • 60+ hours work weeks.
  • Earning way less than they’re worth.
  • Not being able to take vacations because “What disaster am I going to find when I get back?”
  • Not having employees they can really depend on who’ll treat customers like they would.
  • Never feeling like the market values their product or service as much as they do.

When we can engage a business owner in looking at their own resignation and show them tried and true solutions for their frustrations, they often come to understand that owning a business doesn’t require suffering in silence. We can guide and support them through the step by step process of building a business that really works and really serves their life.

When business owners realize they need help, that’s the moment when change becomes possible.

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And, we’re as interested in our clients’ lives as we are in their businesses. You can’t separate the two. If a business doesn’t support the life that a business owner wants to live, what’s the point? No one starts a business to earn a bit more than minimum wage and to barely have time to spend with their family.

The first questions we ask every client are:

  1. What do you want your life to look like?
  2. What would the business have to look like to serve that life?

Sometimes business owners know the answers immediately and sometimes it takes them weeks or months. That’s fine, because we have plenty to do together working through the most immediate frustrations until the answers emerge.

When they do – whether it’s a desire to buy a home, take 2 two-week vacations a year knowing the business has the systems and people in place to run like clockwork, growing 3x, or preparing the company for sale…etc… Once a client gets clear about what really matters, they change and the business changes. And it’s an honor for us to be a part of that process.

We have a video on our site that tells the story of a client, Jared, who owns a coffee shop in southern Oregon. He struggled for years to find balance between the business he loved that was growing faster than expected, and the family he loved that was missing his attention. In his first year of coaching, he wasn’t so focused on improving the business’s financial performance. His work with his coach changed the way the business functioned, giving him back 10 hours a week to spend with his kids. You can’t put a price on that.

The Entrepreneurial Myth

Q) EMyth is the Entrepreneurial Myth that an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run that business. In your experience, how do many of these technical folks who start a company attempt to gain management expertise? Can entrepreneurship be taught, even if someone is not necessarily a born leader?

You’re right, most people who start a business are not entrepreneurs or managers. They’re what we call technicians. They’ve developed a skill and decided to build a business around that skill in the hope of gaining more freedom and independence than they had working for someone else.

Plumbers open plumbing businesses, doctors open medical practices, hair stylists open hair salons. All believing that if they understand the technical work of a business, they understand a business that does that technical work. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Coaches help leaders to change relationships with themselves, the business & those they impact.

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It’s like saying that someone with beautiful handwriting could write a great novel. Technicians go to work in their business. Leaders, who are part manager and part entrepreneur, go to work on their business. For a technician to grow their business beyond their own ability to produce results, they simply have to commit to making the transition from working in their business to working on it. Those are skills that anyone with the dedication and interest can develop.

Prior to becoming CEO, I was an accountant who started, operated, and eventually sold my accounting practice. Even for me, somebody whose skill-set happened to be in the world of business, there was so much about running a business that was beyond the technical work I was so comfortable with: Knowing how to hire the right people, how to price my services, how to differentiate myself in a crowded market.

These are all things for which I had no experience and no toolkit. Looking back, if I had had an EMyth coach guiding me through the process, I could have saved myself endless hours reinventing the wheel in marketing, sales, systems development, and creating the right company culture.

So to answer your question, many technicians simply access the internet for resources on how to run a business and be an effective leader. There are TED Talks, workshops, downloads, webinars… but there’s too much content out there. How does a business owner sift through what’s useful and what’s not? How do they know who to trust?

All of our business solutions are integrated through a perspective about how to create a business that truly works, providing owners with tools to make the changes they want in their business and the support to hold themselves accountable. Some examples of desired changes could be:

  • building the vision of the business
  • aligning the business values with the owner’s
  • creating a cashflow forecasting or an inventory control system

There’s a thread that runs through the EMyth curriculum that connects all the pieces of a successful business in a seamless way. This equips owners to lead, inspire employees, drive results and makes it possible for the company to weather inevitable storms.

What is Business Coaching?

Q) Business Coaching often seems to address personal challenges in order to become a more effective leader. It seems like EMyth helps with more of the structure and science of management. Can you tell me more about what you do in that context?

No matter what sense of promise business owners bring to the start of their business, the tragedy is that many will end up closing their doors or falling into some degree of resignation. We know that more than 80% of all businesses fail. The “lucky ones” will inevitably come to recognize that it’s just not working.

  • It could be anything or any number of things:
  • Too many experiences of not finding the right people.
  • Not meeting sales goals month after month.
  • Not having enough cash to pay the bills on time.
  • Hearing the same complaint from customers once too often.

And, if business owners are really honest with themselves, they’ll realize they need help. That’s the moment when change becomes possible. Business coaching from our perspective is about guiding business owners in changing their relationship to themselves, their business and the people they impact so the past no longer predicts the future. Then the results they can only dream about become reality in the present.

Frustration and a desire to change fuels the coaching relationship which is unique and personal to each client. Most clients want us to help them hold themselves accountable for producing the results that matter most. It’s a process, and each step accumulates to create real change both inside the owner and outside in the business.

Our coaches are skilled in asking just the right questions that bring our business clients to the right answers for themselves. It’s invaluable to have that kind of support. At the same time, our comprehensive library of business solutions–processes, guides, and templates–helps them build the systems that produce consistent, predictable results and leverage their new-found leadership strength.

Real growth in a company, in revenues, profits, and cash, comes from improving the way the business operates and the way the owner leads. This focus on both systems and people produces a result that’s greater than the sum of the parts.

Perspective is Reality

Q) Your coaches are trained in the “EMyth Perspective”. What is that?

Note: This was a naive question on my part. Martin shared the method with me in detail. It is incredibly comprehensive and too much information to share in this post. Simply put, the EMyth Perspective is a model for how to productively relate to the development of your business, your own growth as a leader, and the results that you want your company to produce. You can learn more about it here.

EMyth pioneered the idea that a business is a reflection of its owner. When we talk to business owners for the first time, they often see the source of their frustrations coming from something outside of themselves:

Our marketing department can’t generate enough interest in my product.

My employees are disengaged and turning over too frequently.

I don’t have managers I can count on.

Our job is to help our clients turn their outer-directed frustrations into frustrations they can do something about:

  • If your marketing department is having a hard time attracting new customers for your product or service, do you know who your best customers are?
  • How might you be more clear about what you do and how you’re different, so you can connect with your most probable customers?
  • If you have high turnover, are you engaging with your staff and helping them feel valued and appreciated?
  • Are you ensuring that they’ve made the connection between their goals and the vision of your company?
  • If people aren’t on the same page or your managers aren’t as dependable as you need, have you made your expectations clear to them?
  • Do they understand the vision, goals and strategy of the company so that they know how to lead their teams with autonomy?

If a business is truly a reflection of the owner, then the owner is not just the problem, they’re the solution. Every business owner has the power to resolve their frustrations once they’re able to look beneath the surface at their source. That’s an eye-opening realization that can change everything for a technician turned business owner.

Martin Kaminski

Martin Kamenski is the CEO of EMyth, the business coaching company that has created meaningful change in the lives and businesses of tens of thousands of business owners over the last three decades. He is also a contributor to EMyth’s blog and the host of its monthly podcast, “On It”.

This article was first published on 15five.com.