How to be a Business Coach

What kind of a coach-consultant are you?

Reliable Retainer: The main role of this type of coach is to help management avoid trouble, pref­erably without making any more waves than necessary. Knows the company history, why things are done as they are, helps ensure sta­bility. Examples are the tradi­tional accountant, legal advisor, or statistician.

Cheerleader (often titled “confidential advisor”): A pos­sible variation of the Reliable Re­tainer who may perform similar duties but with the primary mis­sion of assuring management that everything is okay. In danger of becoming a “yes-man” or syco­phant, saying only what the client wants to hear.

Problem Solver: Called in to analyze and cure a specific problem, to upgrade a system, or develop a new approach when ex­isting methods no longer suffice. Maybe an analyst-researcher, liti­gation specialist, engineer, finan­cial management innovator, or marketing sleuth. May handle one-of-a-kind problems or repeti­tive situations. Often brought in to assist internal staff but could meet resistance from inside, since their employment suggests that the regulars could not do the job.

Forecaster: There are various types. The methodical viewer of the future understands data sources and forecasting method­ology, constructs alternative sce­narios, clarifies assumptions, and explains the implications of each scenario for the client – in a scru­pulously objective manner, with­out recommending what should be done about it. The occult seer or visionary ma deal more with signs and hunches, the flash of prophecy or innovative but un­supported recommendation that can make or break a company. A sub-species, the Devil’s Advocate, maybe the harbinger of threats and opportunities who pushes management out of its rut and into new ventures.

Idea Generator: From the general to the specific, this may be the creator of broad strategies, the researcher-inventor, or the prod­uct developer. Also maybe the innovator in marketing, adver­tising, internal human relations, manufacturing management, or distribution. The ideas ma come fully developed by the individual coach. More likely, they will re­quire inputs from other consul­tants and company people before they are ready for implementa­tion

Take-Charge Guy: There are several variations on this. The hero to the rescue may be engaged to save management from its own mistakes or may become the in­terim replacement until a new chief executive is found. The pro­fessional mean s-o-b from out of town is brought in to do the hatchet-job management disdains to perform. Or the turnaround specialist is ex­pected to show management how to lead the firm back to glory. Other than in turnarounds, these are not truly coaching assign­ments, since they diminish rather than enhance the roles of the reg­ular players. In any of these roles, the Take-Charge Guy usually starts with a problem, since the mission implies that the incum­bent management is somewhat lacking incompetency.

Rasputin: The insidious varia­tion of the Take-Charge Guy, who insinuates himself with a key executive to exercise power from behind the scenes, more in the ul­timate interests of the mentor than of the client.

Kelly Person. This is an aug­mentation to existing staff. May be the replacement for people on vacation or sick leave; maybe part-time support in an overload situation; or maybe a tryout for a full-time position. (Full credit to the Kelly organization that popu­larized the term.)

Second-Opinion Diagnosti­cian: The CEO needs affirmation of a pending decision. Or the CEO may distrust an internal rec­ommendation and wishes an inde­pendent evaluation. The consul­tant’s role may be a truly objec­tive one. Or it may be merely to take the heat off the insiders and spread the responsibility.

Leech: The consultant who tries to become indispensable to the client, preferably by being very good as a coach, perhaps by unduly prolonging the assign­ment, perhaps by creating such as mess that only the consultant could unscramble it, or always finding a new problem that no one else can solve.

Finally, there is a type of coach I have long admired:

McGoozler: The first master of this art was lobbyist-consultant Howard McGowan, who repre­sented several Pacific Northwest industries in Washington, D.C., in the late 1940s. As he described it, the “McGoozle” is the fine art of putting the other person in the position where he has to do what you want him to do – but making him think it was his own idea. The McGoozler not only must create the scenario but coach other participants in their roles.

For example, a political situa­tion could be so manoeuvred that a Senator would be “inspired” to initiate some legislation that would help his constituency, even though its main benefit would be to some other area. Within a cor­poration, a counterpart might be to manoeuvre a marketing execu­tive into supporting a risky re­search effort (obviously wanted mostly by the R&D people) be­ cause it would enhance the corpo­rate image in the marketplace.

The opportunity to pull off a classic McGoozle is rare – but im­mensely satisfying. One example enabled the assembly of the site for Seattle’s “Century 21” World Fair of 1962. Of several sites under consideration, the most desirable covered several run-down blocks near the waterfront just northwest of downtown. But it also in­cluded a National Guard armoury, a Catholic Church, a Synagogue, a Masonic Temple, and a stadium owned by the Hi h School Dis­trict – none of which wanted to relinquish control over its prop­erty and each politically powerful enough to prevent any thought of condemnation. As coach-consul­tant to the Washington State World Fair Commission, I sug­gested we co-opt each of these key groups into the plan for the fair, by incorporating their facili­ties into the fair as focal points for religious, cultural, athletic, or other events; making investments in upgrading their buildings; and guaranteeing their return to the original owners in better condi­tion than before. The proposal converted potential opponents into enthusiastic supporters of what became the first financially successful World Fair.

Obviously, each case raises eth­ical as well as practical questions for the consultant-coach. Some of these include:

– Do I understand the role my client really wants me to play? 

– Can I play that role, successfully and in good conscience?

– How far can I go in disagreeing with my client and still be useful?

– What is my relationship with others in the company?

– What if my work makes others look bad, jeopardizes some­one’s job?

– What is my own real objective; am I just doing an assignment or am I trying to get hired by the company?

– How can I maximize my con­tribution and still help others contribute?

– Which, if any, of the insider in­formation I pick up may I use in other ways, for my benefit or for other clients?


1 thought on “How to be a Business Coach”

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top