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Business owners need to be accountable, too

5 min read



One of the more puzzling and precarious realities about how owners lead businesses these days is the vast numbers who do so with little to no accountability. Every other employee is subject to scrutiny and performance reviews. Except if you’re the company king, The Boss Boss. But is that truly viable and sustainable?

Kudos are certainly due to owners for having the smarts, vision, courage and stamina to own the company. Many of you actually founded it. Congratulations. But owners would readily admit that nothing automatic comes with ownership. Infallibility, impeccable judgment and vital leadership skills are not “bundled” with the ownership package. And we all espouse the wisdom of continuous improvement — for our staff.

It just doesn’t occur to many of us owners that we need someone to hold us accountable. It’s an honest mistake. After all, we are accountable every day in so many ways to customers and employees and market forces. We’re constantly having to perform to keep our company viable and yet the vast majority of us don’t think we need someone to answer to.

Why should owners have a coach? Well, here are six reasons:

  1. Less managing, more leading: It’s damn hard to lead a company; the company keeps getting in the way. So do customers and employees and competitors. It’s just about all an owner can do to keep the ship afloat. So much to do. But who’s navigating while you’re doing? Who’s leading? It doesn’t matter how well the ship is sailing if you haven’t charted the destination. Coaches can help make sure we owners are leading, not just managing.
  2. Accountability. Who calls you on the carpet when you fall short of revenue or profit goals? Or those sights you set in your strategic plan? Shouldn’t you specifically be held accountable for that? Who does that? Most of us small-business owners don’t have boards. And while we might “beat ourselves up” privately for falling short, how often does that solve the problem?
  3. Letting your guard down. Whom do you talk to when you’re thrashing about with no answer or, worse yet, feeling in over your head? You know it can’t be any of your employees. Maybe it’s your spouse who probably is qualified to comfort you but not advise you. Or maybe it’s that brother-in-law whom you vent to twice a year at the 19th hole. But, while comforting and familial, are those strategic, directed conversations? And is there follow-up to these? We all have vexing — even frightening — issues and episodes. Coaches can help solve these with usually more objectivity and detachment.
  4. Calling BS on your thinking. So, how many half-baked ideas have you had that nobody called you out on? How many of your staffers have the confidence and job security to tell you, the emperor, that your new clothes aren’t really there? We usually have the opposite problem. Too many “yes men” agreeing with everything we say. We know we’re not right all the time. We hope we’re right way more often than not. A coach can call “a spade a spade” at those times when subordinates really can’t.
  5. Sounding board. You have a lot of good ideas. Some are on their way to being fully baked, great ideas. But if you’re really honest about it, you’re not always sure they’re good ideas. And, many are missing an ingredient or two that keeps them from being great ideas. An outside perspective from an experienced peer is an invaluable ingredient to successful idea generation. Most of your good ideas can be baked even better with the help of a qualified kibitzer.
  6. Asset insurance. If you’re like most of us, your business is probably your most vital asset with regard to your current and future financial security. I bet you have life insurance, long-term health care, and homeowner’s insurance. You may even have key-man insurance which protects your asset in the event of your death. But what protects you from your business dying? Do you have business asset insurance? A coach is a form of business asset insurance. A coach can help you make sure that asset retains its value, so you get your ultimate rewards.

So, why do so many smart owners not have coaches? My experience suggests it derives from two things: affordability and learned behavior.

Yes, coaches cost money. Money you’re not currently budgeted for. But successful coaching usually proves to be a smart investment, not an expense. If it’s truly a smart, prudent idea, then can you really afford not to do it?

The bigger impediment is learned behavior. While advancing in our careers, the majority of us have never had an owner who had a coach. Most of us saw him as being “free” from having a boss. Not having a boss was another sign of success, intelligence, leadership, vision and wealth. We aspired to be that guy. Now, we are.

Coaches are an invaluable resource for us to continue to be that guy. The smartest leaders have worked through this learned behavior and figured out that they need a coach. In other words, they’ve learned that they’re not the smartest guys in the room.

Pat Doody was a founder and co-owner of WONGDOODY for 21 years, a West Coast-based ad agency. As of January 2013, he coaches small-business owners. He had a coach for the last 19 years of owning WONGDOODY. Doody can be reached by e-mail.