A BRIGHT IDEA

How do we best support entrepreneurs and how does the entrepreneurship wider culture vary? Kathryn Pope, Gaetane Lenain, Ave Peetri, Lena Gustafsson and Barbara Asimakopoulou report

 

As coaching someone with an entrepreneurial personality different from coaching anyone else? What are the challenges and potential pitfalls? What skills and resources do we need? These are some of the questions we’ve often been asked by other coaches.

What’s the benefit of coaching? What will it help me do that I can’t do now? What results will I get? How quickly will I see these? Is it worth my time? These are some of the questions that we’ve been asked by potential entrepreneurial clients.

We thought we’d share some of our perspectives, insights and experiences from our work – some of which we shared in our workshop at the Coaching at Work annual conference in London on 3 July.

We’re a group of experienced ICF credentialed coaches within the EMEA region who all coach entrepreneurs as part of our client base and collaborate in CSYE (Coaches Supporting Young Entrepreneurs). We’re based in the UK, Sweden, Belgium, France, Greece and Oman, and work across EMEA and beyond.

We’ve found that no matter the culture or context, there are some common traits and challenges we see that are specific to entrepreneurial clients and some challenges and potential traps that we coaches would do well to be aware of.

In this article we share our thoughts on this from our different perspectives.

 

The ‘entrepreneurial personality’

We include business owners and founders, and there are others too. An entrepreneur is a person who sees opportunities not yet taken and makes something out of these. They see things in a new way to many of us, and make use of this perspective. Quite often this turns into a business idea, but the entrepreneurial personality may also be: a doctor constantly developing hospital systems; a manager improving effectiveness; a supervisor changing a process. They’re typically highly valuable, and also often quite challenging.

Within an organisation, an ‘intrapreneur’ can be recognised by their proactivity, willingness to challenge and to improve existing processes or by their new ideas. They can be someone who assembles an informal team around an unofficial project. A core driver is that they take ownership and action – and once they’re in full flow, they’ll often find it challenging to take the time to stop, reflect, review and think strategically.

In our experience, in terms of traits, they’re frequently highly creative and innovative. They see what others don’t, are constantly in learning mode, curious about the world around them and can sense a trend before it emerges.

They are also highly action-orientated and want to make use of what they know. They are quick decision makers. They want something to happen, preferably now. Although they can be very resilient under pressure, patience is not their major strength. Faster, better, cheaper, is quite often their motto.

They’re amazingly tenacious and persistent when working on something they believe in, facing challenges and risks to achieve their goals. But they need to feel progress. If nothing happens, they’ll often become frustrated and walk away.

They’re highly self-driven, good at setting goals and working towards them even if they may resist taking the time to write them down. They often have a vision of where they’re going and a strong gut feeling to support it.

But working with an entrepreneurial personality who hasn’t learned to clarify and share that vision can be a fatiguing experience for everyone. Things seem to change fast, new decisions drop like rain all over the place and their fingers seem to be in every jar. There’s an interesting conflict between the entrepreneurial personality’s need for control and ability to take risks.

 

Coaches – perfect fit

Given they’re self-driven and action-orientated, entrepreneurs often really value coaching. It’s a process that fits their strengths, allowing them to think fast, make their own choices, strive towards results and balance several competing goals (eg, business development vs short term revenue; business building vs work-life balance). Work gets done, adapted to their pace and doesn’t get boring.

It’s also an approach that helps them see and potentially address their weaknesses. Coaching brings time to reflect and to balance the action orientation. It offers a speaking and thinking partner who’ll work without judgement, and no need to understand the details of the topics they ponder. A space to think freely and openly, try out different scenarios and find the best way forward. They appreciate how coaches don’t jump to conclusions, require them to hold back or seek to protect them from difficulties.

An entrepreneur’s ability to think outside the box can often provoke fear in others. Most people are less prone to take risks and drive change, and in order to protect themselves they may hold back and avoid the situation. With coaching there is an openness to exploring that gives the entrepreneur space to fully consider different options and choose a best scenario.

A coach can hold them to working through the effects of each alternative, without opinions on which is best, and hold the space for them to connect to long-term goals and core values, thus empowering the entrepreneurial client to make well-thought-through choices connected with the bigger picture.

 

Coaching entrepreneurs: Common topics

Developing leadership skills in line with business growth

Although the aim of most entrepreneurs is growing their business, many struggle to meet the new demands they face when they need to scale up. But what got them to where they are, cannot always take them further; as a company grows it reaches the point where the entrepreneur can no longer be an active part of each decision. They need to delegate and trust those hired with key decisions as well as embodying the core values.

This can be a challenging personal journey and reveal core beliefs about self and others.

The coach’s role: Supporting a growing and new mindset when facing these business challenges, enabling the entrepreneur to see where they may inhibit the potential of themselves, their employees and their business.

 

Creativity

Creativity is a leading driver of these people’s development and growth, often prompting them to abandon a safe, but possibly suffocating, corporate environment, so they can express themselves and develop and test their business ideas.

However, an excess of this driver can lead entrepreneurs down too many disparate paths, making it hard for them to manage focus and energy. Energy flows where focus goes. An unchecked or unfocused creativity driver is why so many entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed, drained and unsatisfied in their daily professional lives.

The coach’s role: To help them work on their real wants, needs and values, their authentic orientation that fuels their determination and decisiveness, helping them stay focused. To facilitate the entrepreneur in this journey of revelations such as self-awareness, bigger purpose, and the ultimate desired outcomes.

 

Work-life balance

Like many other clients, entrepreneurs also often find this challenging. They seek flexibility and autonomy when they choose entrepreneurship as opposed to perceived more constricting corporate employment. Yet they also face constraints running their own business – there are laws and rules to follow, and competitors may challenge their mission and vision. Autonomy can only come when they can manage effectively all the internal and external factors impacting their endeavours.

Meanwhile, balancing running their own business with a healthy personal life can be a huge challenge for entrepreneurs. They often neglect areas other than their work.

The coach’s role: To challenge them to envision the personal life they want to enjoy, and support them to ensure they take the time to create and manage it.

 

What about the coach?

As coaches working with entrepreneurs we find it crucial to work on our own development and finetune our practice. These clients want things to happen quickly, yet can be in risky and challenging situations. They may have their house on the line or be on the verge of burnout. If you get stressed by such risk-taking, don’t coach entrepreneurs! They need you to be able to hold their reflection space with clarity and calmness, so they can think clearly and make wise decisions.

It can be very easy to be swept away by charismatic clients, while they actually need you to stay clear and unattached. Our role is to hold the space for them to explore and challenge their long-term goals within their value set. When coaching entrepreneurs it’s vital we don’t fall into the trap of giving advice or consulting, or get caught in admiration and excitement, and stop being the challenging conversation partner they deserve.

As professional coaches we make sure we have regular access to coaching and coach supervision. When working with entrepreneurs this is an important way of giving yourself the space to cleanse and reflect, so that we can continue to bring value over and over again.

 

Regional variations and perspectives

Is the entrepreneurial profile the same across global regions? Not necessarily.

The Global Entrepreneurship Index 2018 highlights a number of variations that can guide coaches in their approach to an extent. It reveals differences across geographical regions in terms of entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses, as we can see in Table 1 below.

For example, start-up skills, technology absorption and internationalisation are relative strengths of entrepreneurs in the European region, and risk acceptance and networking are their challenges. Risk acceptance is also a challenge
for those in the Middle East and North Africa whereas networking is a strength.

Risk acceptance is high for North America’s entrepreneurs too.

Labelling all entrepreneurs as “risk lovers” is not necessarily true, therefore, although it is a strong trait in North America’s entrepreneurs, for example. Take the trait of technology absorption. European entrepreneurs tend to be high on technology absorption, while North America and Middle East & North Africa are not so obviously. Indeed this seems to be among their challenges. On the other hand, these regions tend to be characterised by strengths such as product innovation and networking, which also lead to a successful entrepreneurial endeavour.

 

Entrepreneurship ecosystem – Examples

Now let’s get some local flavour, drawing on the contexts within the countries we represent.

 

  • Oman

The Omani government wants to encourage entrepreneurship and has many programmes in place for their support. Most offer training on the basics of running a business and there are also government-sponsored loans for entrepreneurs to take advantage of.

Oman is an old trading nation and thus entrepreneurship seems to run in its people’s veins. Many Omanis with steady corporate jobs dream of having their own company. Many already have one in addition to their corporate job. Their view is that while a corporate job pays right now, true stability and financial freedom comes from having your own company.

 

Oman case study

A senior leadership team member came to coaching as part of a leadership development programme at their company. He was running his own company on the side, and had difficulty managing the two responsibilities, as well as finding time for family and friends. He was always in a hurry and often project deadlines slipped.

During coaching he discovered his management style was very hands on, instead of being strategic and delegating. That meant he not only ran out of time himself, but also inhibited the growth of his team members. Instead of being CEO of his company, he was COE (Chief Of Everything).

His big realisation was that he had hired the people for their skills, but he was actually doing their job instead. He began to strengthen his habit of letting go of the details and trusting people to do their job. He also began to train his team to take responsibility from him.

 

  • Belgium

Belgian entrepreneurs face an almost bewildering range of options as the market is saturated with workshops, webinars and personal development offers. It’s hard to choose where to allocate resources (time, energy and money). To prioritise their investments, an entrepreneur will often rely on the content of a support programme available locally – there are a growing number of incubators and accelerators, not to mention public and private universities, offering support and structure to the would-be entrepreneur. These programmes are financed partly by public funds and grants.

Entrepreneurs don’t always see personal development as a priority, so a smart move for coaches wishing to develop their client base with entrepreneurs in Belgium is to have their services included in programmes offered by incubators and accelerators. A budget is already allocated to coaching, mentoring and training.

 

Belgium case study

A tech start-up founder started a coaching programme after following a workshop on emotional intelligence proposed by an incubator. It served as an eye-opener as to how emotional intelligence could enrich his leadership styles and help him adapt to the very diverse personalities in his team.

Once the leader succeeded in communicating his vision more clearly, the team members aligned themselves with this vision and the results came, in terms of productivity and team atmosphere. Soon the company needed to grow and hire new people to serve more and more clients. With his improved skills, the leader was able to attract the right talent and prepare the team to welcome new employees. A team coaching programme followed the leadership coaching programme.

 

  • Greece

Entrepreneurship in Greece is mainly family based. Business owners tend to start up with at least one family member and as the business develops, other relatives join or if not family, friends.

Start-up skills, technology absorption and internationalisation are some of the typical Greek entrepreneur’s strengths. However, challenges can arise that are rooted in this family and friend interaction where professionalism and close existing connections cross. These include partnership issues, succession planning, communication and cooperation. Other challenges that often arise are regarding the huge bureaucracy, and obstacles in funding and operations.

 

Greece case study

An innovative start-up company with many awards and global exposure had an unexpected challenge five years in. One of the three founding members announced they wanted to leave, with immediate effect, and without any warning. The other partners were taken by surprise. Moreover the partner who left was the IT director, whose responsibilities were at the core of the business concept.

It was a tough lesson for the remaining partners. Appropriate contractual relationships, key man and succession planning are crucial for any company. A critical factor for any company’s continuity is effective and timely communication between all partners as well as among human resources. Take nothing for granted. Coaching supported the partners and personnel on this challenging journey.

 

  • Sweden

In Sweden being employed used to be seen as the safe and preferred way of making a living; the risk of starting a business less appealing for most people. This has changed. Entrepreneurship has been prioritised for several years, and there are both governmental and private funded organisations encouraging people to start a business, and supporting entrepreneurship and company growth. Schools and universities offer popular programmes to inspire students to try running a company for a year, with significant, ongoing support.

There are development programmes, micro-loans and government-funded financing combined with private funding. This has resulted in a rapid increase in new entrepreneurs. The focus in projects and funding is shifting from start-ups to growing enterprises.

One rapidly growing group of new entrepreneurs are the ‘exiters’: people who start their own business later in life. They often draw on their employed and corporate experience, and are frequently consultants or freelancers looking to build and manage their exit. Choosing when, where and how much to work and moving into retired life at one’s own pace is the primary goal.

 

Sweden case study

A woman started up a company providing massage and healthy products. She had a clear personal value set that led her to start her business promoting self-care. While building her company she started to feel increasingly uncomfortable with some aspects of being a businesswoman. She felt insecure about handling administration, struggled with profitability and was shy about marketing. She engaged a coach.

The work centred on her core values and expressing them through her business. As her confidence grew, so did her business. A turning point was realising which competing unconscious patterns of thoughts she was carrying and how they affected her. They were around earning money, being in charge, standing in front.

As she unveiled and translated them into new ways of thinking, more suited to her new career as a business owner, things changed. Her core values now fitted well into her personal way of running a profitable company, acting professionally while giving room for working from the heart.

 

The above hopefully gives some pointers for working with entrepreneurs in different regions. Each client, of course, is unique, and we need to be alert and cautious about over-generalising.

 

The authors

Kathryn Pope is a PCC UK, Gaetane Lenain, ACC Belgium, Ave Peetri, PCC Oman, Lena Gustafsson, PCC Sweden and Barbara Asimakopoulou, PCC Greece

 

 

Table 1

GEI= GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP INDEX 2018
EUROPE REGION % NORTH AMERICA % MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA %
START UP SKILLS 66 OPPORTUNITY PERCEPTION 76 PRODUCT INNOVATION 61
TECHNOLOGY ABSORPTION 63 PRODUCT INNOVATION 72 RISK CAPITAL 59
INTERNATIONALIZATION 63 OPPORTUNITY START UP 71 NETWORKING 56
OPPORTUNITY START UP 59 INTERNATIONALIZATION 71 HUMAN CAPITAL 52
PROCESS INNOVATION 58 RISK ACCEPTANCE 70 HIGH GROWTH 52
PRODUCT INNOVATION 57 HUMAN CAPITAL 70 OPPORTUNITY START UP 47
RISK CAPITAL 53 RISK CAPITAL 67 START UP SKILLS 45
OPPORTUNITY PERCEPTION 51 START UP SKILLS 65 PROCESS INNOVATION 43
CULTURAL SUPPORT 51 COMPETITION 65 INTERNATIONALIZATION 42
HIGH GROWTH 50 CULTURAL SUPPORT 63 CULTURAL SUPPORT 41
HUMAN CAPITAL 49 TECHNOLOGY ABSORPTION 63 OPPORTUNITY PERCEPTION 39
COMPETITION 49 NETWORKING 62 TECHNOLOGY ABSORPTION 36
RISK ACCEPTANCE 48 PROCESS INNOVATION 62 RISK ACCEPTANCE 29
NETWORKING 45 HIGH GROWTH 59 COMPETITION 28

 

 

Case study 1: Changing perspectives

Maria is a creative entrepreneur juggling many different tasks. She writes, teaches yoga and handles company admin. Business was good but things didn’t feel good.

She felt it all slipping through her hands and her joy in her work plummeted as her stress magnified. She hired a coach and they began to look at how she was, how she wanted to be and the current gap. She discovered just how many competing goals needed to be addressed.

Although a solo-preneur her coach encouraged her to call an imaginary in-house team meeting. Naming her different roles, she sat ‘the CEO’, ‘the secretary’, ‘the cleaner’, ‘the doer’ and ‘the artist’ around a meeting table. Physically switching between the chairs while being coached through the different perspectives of running her business, she explored the relationship between the roles, the company needs and her personal value set.

From this exercise, an action plan was formed. Each identified role was given their tasks, a timeline and a weekly schedule as if they formed an entire team. Conflicting goals were clarified or negotiated between the perspectives. Maria began to find the space, clarity and calmness to focus on core goals and see clearly which aspects of her entrepreneurial self needed to be activated and which needed to step back.

 

Case study 2: Leadership and business

Sean ran an IT company developing digital solutions to production follow-up processes. As the concept evolved and accelerated it rapidly expanded from just him, to employing a small group of developers, all his friends. Work went well at first. Nobody really thought much about structures or leadership. However, the business began to grow rapidly and besides still working on product development and sales, Sean was also recruiting new staff. Within a few years he found himself the leader of a company of more than 100.

New challenges surface in business thinking as well as in leadership as a company grows. Keeping ahead of a rapidly developing company poses a challenge for both organising and working in a way that allows a business to continue to take advantage of the new possibilities. As staff numbers grew it became obvious that a leadership style that had worked in the smaller company was now creating a bottle-neck and strangling the efforts of his talented recruits. Sean was still keeping an eye on every aspect and had built a culture where every decision went through him. This process flooded him with calls, emails and text messages, slowing down productivity as many awaited his responses. He needed to step out of daily operative work, be more of a leader and less of a doer.

Sean used coaching to clarify his own beliefs, behaviours and habits and how they were affecting not only his company and employees but also himself. He faced up to his strengths and weaknesses as a leader, realising how he was slowing down and potentially weakening the organisation by trying to make too many decisions. He began to better balance his strong action focus while developing a mindset that enabled more effective growth.

 

References

  • The Global Entrepreneurship Index 2018 was published by The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute
  • The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2018/2019 Report was published by Niels Bosma, Donna Kelley and the Global Entrepreneurship Research Association
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