By Robert Jordan
When your company is stalled or facing transition, there are two ways to get help: adding a new leader to the team or helping the leaders you have be the best they can be. When you need a new leader, an interim, part-time or fractional executive can be on site quickly, leading the change. When you have the leadership your company needs, bringing in a business coach can help him or her rise to the new challenge.
Yes, our InterimExecs RED Team executives sometimes play a mentoring role at companies where they serve. But that is a specific use case to mentor someone who is being trained into higher responsibility. Most interim and fractional executives do not consider their operational roles, even if including mentoring, to be the same activity as a dedicated business coach.
Business or executive coaches are an external resource. They work with the executive on leadership skills and personal development.
As entrepreneurs and small business owners, my partner, Olivia Wagner, and I have long understood the benefits of business coaching. We have met with a business coach and used his services to help us refine our business strategy and cement our professional partnership.
Business coaching offers a distinct form of leadership development. So, I wondered, how do business coaching services do what they do so well?
I reached out to three friends, all successful business coaches, to ask them about what they do, how they do it, and how they measure success. They have difference approaches but similar stories of success.
The three coaches I interviewed — Dave Galowich, Founder and CEO of Terra Firma Leadership LLC; Kim Svoboda, Founder and CEO of Aspiration Catalyst; and Brett Morris of Momentum Consulting — shared their insights over years of experience working with a variety of clients.
What Does a Business Coach Do?
But first, let’s talk about the basics: What does a business coach do?
Sometimes called an executive coach, a business coach works individually with business leaders and/or leadership teams to help them develop action plans and reach business goals.
Unlike consultants, professional coaches don’t tell business leaders what they should do. Rather, their skill set is focused on helping the leaders — from entrepreneurs in new business startups to small business owners to Fortune 500 corporate leaders — create their own roadmap to business success.
Perhaps the executive needs to work on communication skills to get the team onboard with a new business plan. Or a small business owner might need help understanding why he is not achieving what he wants to achieve and the best business approach to clearing those hurdles. Or an entrepreneur with a great business opportunity might want help pitching that business growth plan to an investor.
Here’s how our three business coaches help their clients find success.
Dave Galowich: Focus on the Most Important Thing
“When I sit down with a CEO of a large company, he knows his company better than I ever would. He knows his personal life. He knows his challenges. It would be disingenuous of me to just sit down and start telling them, ‘You should do this, and you should do that,’” Dave Galowich says.
Instead, he tell his clients: “We’re not here to answer your questions. We’re here to question your answers.”
Dave came to business coaching after years as a lawyer and successful entrepreneur who built and sold several companies. He credits that success to his undergraduate education in psychology and communications and the great coach of his college crew team. “I was just putting it to practice over a couple of decades of business experience.”
He enrolled in a selective leadership coaching program through Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership then launched a Vistage group where he mingled with and mentored CEOs.
His overriding theory: When it comes taking leadership to the next level, it’s about creating relationships. And every relationship is built one conversation at a time.
“The first thing I need to do is figure out what they want to accomplish by having a coach,” Dave says. “Is there a leadership challenge they’ve got? Are they having trouble connecting with people and getting people to understand their vision?”
Each coaching session starts with personal pleasantries — How’s the family? Did you have a nice weekend?
“Then we go from pleasant to purposeful: What’s the most important thing we’re talking about today? I tell them when I onboard them as a coaching client that I’m going to ask that question every single time and I need them to be prepared to answer it,” he says.
Kim Svoboda: The Chief Question Officer (CQO)
Kim Svoboda believes that a business coach “should not be the Shell Answer Man. We should be the Chief Question Officer — CQO.”
And the first question she asks clients is: What does success look like for you?
“Nine times out of 10, it stops people in their tracks, because they’re not thinking about that,” she says.
“When we first start working together, we focus on what I call their brilliant vision. What is the big picture? What does success look like? What are you working towards? And I help them get really clear on that, because the more that is spelled out and clearer, the easier it is for them to make it happen,” she says.
Kim, whose work centers on leadership development programs and building high-performance teams that are “excuse proof and goal crushing,” says that telling someone how to fix something is entirely the wrong approach.
“When you tell someone what to do, you raise the level of cortisol in their body because it actually stresses them out,” she says. “You’re giving them advice from your lens and your perspective and from your talents. And they can’t do it like you do it.
“But if instead, you ask them questions and you help them self-discover and you co-create a solution for them, then you raise their level of endorphins. And they can truly see, ‘Here’s what I should do next.’”
And, she says, she has a pretty good idea what’s going on in the company where she’s working. That’s why she doesn’t buy the claim from the in-house business coach for FTX that everything was pretty normal at the discredited crypto exchange that imploded in a high-profile bankruptcy in 2022.
“I think it’s baloney. If you truly know your client and you’re really coaching them, you know what’s going on.”
Kim started her own business after 25 years spent working for technology companies where had a “great executive coach and leadership development. she
“It is amazing to me how many people will still come up to me and say, “You were my favorite manager because you took a personal interest in me. To me, it’s all about putting the right people on the team and then empowering them and giving them wings.”
Brett Morris: Start with Core Values
Clients hire Brett Morris to “help them see something about themselves or the way they operate in a new light. It gives them a perspective that’s new and creates a whole new realm for them.”
He starts with a “core values” exercise.
“That lets me know what their behavioral drivers are, lets me know what their blind spots are, and their standards of behavior.” he says.
“For example, my core values are fairness, authenticity, accountability and respect. Those aren’t what I choose; they are who I am. They filter all the information coming in from the world. The normal self-aware person goes through life believing they’re an objective observer of the world. That they’re fair and just in their opinions. But what we’ve learned is that we all have these core values that filter the information coming in, and how we process that information.
“When we have a major upset, we call that a core value violation.” he says.
Momentum Consulting has a methodology for coaching that centers on two pillars: collaboration and accountability.
“Nothing happens in business that doesn’t happen in some kind of collaborative atmosphere or between more than one party. Our curriculum always goes back to: ‘How is the client building that collaboration? How is the client being accountable or not being accountable for whatever the situation is?’”
The curriculum also has tools that cover topics such as how to listen generously — “not to be a nice guy, but to really build a rapport with somebody to have better sales, or to get your own biases out of the way and see the reality of a situation or your counterpart’s experience,” he says.
And, he notes, listening means more than hearing with your ears. “It’s how we process information, how we hear it, how we see it, how we judge it, what we do with it, are we generous with it, are we judgmental with it? What’s the impact of all of that behavior and thought and talk?”
Brett says he breaks a lot of coaching rules. “And the one that I probably break the most is I talk about myself, because I see myself as a human being. I’m not fully baked as a human in as far as I don’t need coaching. So, I get coaching all the time. Why wouldn’t that be valuable to my clients?”
For years, Brett owned a landscaping business in Texas, “which I loved for its flexibility; I didn’t have to grow up. I could travel the world with a little bit of money and come back and make a little bit more and travel some more.”
But he recognized that he had the capacity for more. “I was the guy people would come and talk to.”
So he sold the landscaping business to his partner and found business coaching. “When I discovered I could do this for a living, is when I was born,” says.
Business Coaching FAQs
Is a Business Coach the Same Thing as a Life Coach?
While there is some career coaching and life coaching involved, a business coach helps people who are facing a leadership challenge. Personal issues may come up , but the bottom line focuses on the business needs, not the personal needs, of the coaching client.
Kim Svoboda says: “The CEO is hiring me to help them improve business results, not to help everybody live their best life.”
How Long Does a Typical Business Coaching Program Last?
While all three business coaches say they have outliers — coaching relationships that are as short as two months and others that go on for years — all three say the sweet spot is 6-12 months.
“There’s an endpoint,” Dave Galowich says. “I don’t want them to feel like their coach is a crutch that they need to keep moving forward.”
Is it Worth Paying for a Business Coach?
Yes! A business coach can be the key to helping you get past hurdles. But first, Brett Morris says, you need to know where the hurdles are. That’s why he starts his coaching clients on the core values exercise. “I want them to learn that they do have blind spots and identify them.”