The Coach-Entrepreneur

There is a lot of talk these days about mentoring. Many members of Generation X and Generation Y (Millennials) have told researchers that having a mentor is of high importance to them. As a Baby Boomer, I take great pleasure in being called upon to mentor other entrepreneurs. But as the CEO of our family of companies, I made the mistake of also thinking that I could be a mentor to some of the up and coming leaders in our organization. Over the years, this realization has become more apparent to me and its subtlety is what tripped me up.

By my definition, a mentor is an advisor and nothing more. The mentee can take what the mentor offers and do with it what he or she wishes. A mentor typically has no “skin in the game” where the mentee is concerned. As a result, the mentor freely dispenses advice and opinions without an agenda. CEOs should not try to be mentors within their own companies. Why? Because they clearly have an agenda which is first and foremost shaped around what is in the company’s best interest. In my experience trying to be a mentor to a handful of leaders in our firm has not worked effectively. They are deferential to a fault because I am the CEO. They listen to what I have to say differently than if I were outside the organization. For example, when I challenge them with a particular question or premise, they take it as gospel. The relationship of the CEO to any member of the team is going to be such that a true mentoring relationship will be very difficult.

So, what is an appropriate role for a CEO to play in developing leaders within his or her company? I have found that becoming a coach is the right path to take. Let us use sports as the metaphor here. The coach is a teacher. He/she may call the plays from the sidelines until a sufficient level of expertise and trust is developed with the players to allow them to call their own plays. A coach should be wise and compassionate; yet there are times when he may be appropriately demanding and exacting.

Gen Xers and Millennials are well-served to understand the distinction between coaching and mentoring. I believe that a future leader should have both. Find a mentor who is older and has plenty of experience outside the company. By building extensive relationships throughout the community, one can usually connect with someone who may be willing to serve in a mentoring capacity. Then, try and establish a coaching relationship with a superior inside the company, assuming the individual has a coaching personality. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with certain people in positions of authority who are insecure and have power issues. I submit that it is healthy for the organization to move away from the boss-employee mentality and develop an attitude of coach-player.

CEOs and members of their teams can be fulfilled by a healthy coaching relationship. And an outside mentor can be the icing on the cake.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Kelly Factor

My wife and I ate dinner at an old 1960s vintage diner while on vacation recently. Our server was Kelly and she was absolutely terrific. In fact I told her she should come and work with me. Why was I so impressed with Kelly? She was genuine and authentic. This translated into her being very personable. Not only was she friendly but she clearly was very interested in providing us with the best dining experience possible. Kelly checked on us regularly, was witty and her countenance literally beamed.

It was obvious from the minute we sat down that Kelly was fully invested in her job. She had “skin in the game” so to speak. She greeted every customer that walked in the door, even if she wasn’t their server. And when a customer departed she acknowledged them similarly. There is a great lesson here for us entrepreneurs. When someone throws themself into their job like Kelly did, it not only is obvious but it is infectious. My wife and I both left the diner feeling more upbeat than we did when we walked in.

While sitting in the booth listening to some great old rock and roll tunes (from the 60s of course) I got to thinking about what makes Kelly tick. As Simon Sinek would say, what is her WHY? It was pretty apparent from what she said and her demeanor that Kelly is all about building trust and lasting relationships. Thus, everything she does for her customers is foundational in this respect. At one point she stopped by to see if some barbecue sauce had been delivered – it had not. She ran off to the kitchen and got it. When she returned, she explained that someone else was bringing it and then there was a minor disaster in the kitchen that caused the sauce to get waylaid. The fact that she felt a need to explain what had happened told me that she really wanted to earn our trust.

As entrepreneurs we need to have “skin in the game” as do all of the people we work with. It’s pretty evident when someone is simply going through the motions. While on the same vacation, we ate at another restaurant where our server was nice, but it was obvious she was just doing her job. She made no effort to engage us in conversation and build a relationship of any sort. Our experience in this restaurant and with this server was fine. But it serves in stark contrast with our Kelly experience.

Skin in the game means doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy. Skin in the game means going the extra mile for everyone involved – customer, company and other team members. Skin in the game means taking the wins and losses personally. Skin in the game means sometimes doing something that is less advantageous for us and more advantageous for someone else.

We know when we’ve become fully invested in whatever we’re doing. The results will be evident when we see that everyone involved had the kind of WOW experience that we did with Kelly.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.