A coach can accelerate your learning and ability to execute more quickly

Alisa, for the very beginning of this conversation, could you tell us how you decided to become a coach?
Sure. I was always interested in the intersection of people and organizations and why people worked towards the mission of the company, or sadly didn’t, so I went off to business school, to Cornell to study this. When I was at Cornell I got all turned around and I focused on strategy and financing accounting, so ultimately I went to PricewaterhouseCoopers and I was a strategy consultant and that was a great experience. I was in the fast track program – 5 years to partner. At some point I had a moment of truth and I realized this is not what I want to do and I had to go seek what I wanted to do, and I met a coach at a conference. I thought, “Oh my Gosh, what is that? That’s what I wanna do.” She was clearly making a difference, she had a lot of passion and spark and I just thought that was the thing I was made to do. To help people and companies move forward faster.

What would be the difference between life and business coaching, in your opinion?
Well, I think coaching is its own domain and its own process. Coaching is coaching. I think that life coaching versus business coaching is mostly what you focus on. Business coaching happens in a professional context, that’s the work that I do. Life coaching is more focused on people’s personal lives.

Also, you work with big companies, as well as with startups. What could be more challenging for the coach and why?
Each is a challenge in its own way. They are very different. Working with startups is coaching leaders who are managing and leading high growth businesses, which means that things change extremely quickly. Things are very fluid. Things change all the time very quickly, it’s really focused on making sure you put in systems and processes to help scale, but also leave room for agility and creativity. Large companies already have their systems in place and really it’s about making sure that they are not too married to their systems and making sure that leaders know how to adapt and change when they need to. Everybody is really focused these days on innovation, so how do you lead innovation and be able to adapt to the VUCA world we live in now, VUCA stands for: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and how do you lead in a time when things are constantly up in the air. I consider both challenging, it’s the question of what specific of executive I’m working with, it’s facing.

That leads us to another question because you have already answered it. Maybe we could expand it a little bit more. A startup is not only a form of doing business but also a way of living. In your opinion, what is the key difference between a corporation and a startup?
One is how you lead in a high growth arena, where you may have talent who is younger and less well developed, but is eager and very committed, and certainly very smart and he is used to agility. That’s different from leading in a large corporative environment where the workforce tends to be a longer term or tacked, more structured. So, it’s really about finding ways to implement structure without killing creativity and for startups recognizing that your business is changing every 6 months, or a year or 18 months, and in a company, maintaining the stability and predictability that’s important for a large company, but also being able to implement creativity and agility in the workforce.

We have some statistics here. One out of ten startups survive business rate. Could coaching improve this statistic on two, maybe three, to survive?
Well, I’m not sure. I don’t know about that statistic. I don’t think that one in ten survives, I really don’t know where that comes from and I’m just not sure if I believe that. Startups are really hard and there are a lot of elements that go into it. But that all said, I think the reason coaching helps startups is because they prevent some from making mistakes. I should have mentioned this before: Startup leaders are very often young, they are often first time leaders. So, not only are they grappling with leadership, but they are grappling with the top job. They are the CEO and everyone is looking up to them. Also, they are founders, so they have to learn very quickly to be leaders, especially in that environment. At the top leaders are under a lot of pressure and everyone is watching them. All of that in addition to their ups and downs to the normal challenges and ups and downs of the business of a startup. With all of that together, coaching can help a startup founder CEO navigate more quickly around all those arenas and also learn to be a leader much more quickly. Speed in the startup world is absolutely the difference between success and failure.

What are some of the biggest challenges that startups are facing in terms of business?
It’s about how do you manage high growth and how do you manage a younger workforce which is eager but may be less experienced and how does the founder CEO ,in particular, become a leader very quickly. I think founders have to manage the internal challenges, the sort of normal ups and downs, that come with being the founder of a startup. It’s really challenging.
For the end of this interview, why should those who are thinking of starting their own business hire a coach?
They should hire a coach because when you start your own business, there is so much you don’t know and a coach can help you prevent miss-steps along the way. Also it is really lonely. No one understands what you are going through and a coach can help you by being a confidential safe sounding board. A coach can, accelerate your learning and your ability to execute more quickly, help you navigate around the pitfalls, help mentoring and groom you as a leader and then also be able to support you in very highs and very lows of a normal trajectory of a startup.

I will also ask you to finish this sentence: Coaching is …
Rapid acceleration.
I just want to say that coaching is a beautiful mechanism for personal and professional development. I personally believe that if we are not growing, we are dying and everybody needs to find the ways for themselves to develop and grow personally and professionally.

Alisa Cohn
About Alisa Cohn 1 Article
Alisa is an executive coach who works with senior executives and high potential leaders to help them create positive permanent shifts in their leadership impact and the results they achieve. She works one-on-one with CEOs and executives and with senior teams to help them work together better and create much impact as a team. She works with Fortune 500 companies as well as start-ups. She also works with executive teams to help them be stronger as a team, have the right conversations and take the right actions to move forward faster.

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