Who Do You Talk To?

Many of you reading this will be running businesses, or parts of, whether they are your own or not. This means that you have many things to deal with on a day to day basis plus trying to do the long-term thinking needed to lead and run the business. You probably find yourself being very busy, possibly working long hours and, if you are honest, being reactive most of the time. When do you get (or make!) time to really think about your business or the way you are operating personally? (Working on the business rather than in it!) Among the dilemmas you face are; making time to tune out and relax, time think about the business, and finding time talk to about the issues and frustrations.

When you are a leader in a business you face a number of challenges at different levels. Ask yourself how much focus you put on to these:

Strategic issues:

  • Assessing the market and what is happening?
  • Who are your main competition - and what are they doing?
  • Medium and long-range goals and aims - and planning?
  • What direction do you want to go in, why and how?
  • Implications?

Tactical issues

  • Day to day challenges
  • Financial aspects, especially cash flow
  • Monitoring and control of your business and the activity
  • Sales and service
  • Personal management style and effectiveness

People issues

  • Staff - numbers, performance, motivation, development
  • Customers and suppliers
  • Colleagues and working relations

As we said earlier, many in your position are so busy dealing with the running of the operation they rarely take time to think about these things in a more detached way. Does this apply to you? This is often compounded by a sense of isolation, brought about by their position too. (Is this familiar?) Who do you talk to about your own style of running the business or handling your people? Who can you share concerns with, without feeling you are weakening your position?

This inability to spend time, or the right amount of time, on these vital areas of your business carries risks! Also, what do you do about your own, personal challenges and concerns? Any sense of isolation and not being able to talk to the appropriate people also has risks. Not many set out to fail in their business lives. Why do they? Often, because the avoid dealing with these risks (possibly even denying them until it is too late.). Sometimes, there may be a combination of circumstances which mean that it cannot be stopped. However, often, disasters can be prevented with the right degree of warning or the right type of support. Many people running businesses, or organisations, are too close to them. They do not have time to work out what they are doing well and to arrange to do more of these things. When things may not be going the right way, they do not consider things objectively. The pressures might build to stress and it seems even harder to share concerns with a third party. This can lead to a downward spiral towards who knows where!

The risks to the business can affect any aspect of it - and the people involved. Beyond that, there are also risks to other areas of your life. If things are going awry, the other part to suffer may be your family or friends. If you are using them as your sounding board, or just carrying bad news or discussing concerns with them it may not help those relationships! (Nor does hiding these things from them either!)

So what can you do if you feel you do want someone to talk to? You can use friends or family, but they do not necessarily provide the encouragement for you to step away and look at things in an objective way. There are various options which you can consider. There is no one "right" approach. You need to consider which seems to be the most suitable for you at the time, given the circumstances.

Advisors: This might be your accountant, someone from your bank or a person you know with a specific "technical" competence who you can turn to. Think about them as someone you can present your situation to and ask for their ideas, or suggestions, about what you could, or should, do. They can be very useful when you need the particular expertise.

Network: Depending on how you operate, you will probably have some sort of network of contacts, whether part of a formal set-up or not. Think about who you know, who has what qualities or skills you can respect or admire and then approach them. (If you are in an organisation, consider colleagues or bosses.) If you have a few friends or acquaintances who are also running businesses, or are people you respect in their field, you may want to consider initiating a support network for you all. (Or create a "mastermind" group.) Arrange to meet at a regular time with the aim of having a short, focused meeting to address specific issues and goals - using your colleagues as a sounding board, and for challenge and support. Do not slide out to a purely social gathering, that can come later!! Be disciplined in the way you work and you will all benefit.

Mentors: A mentor is somewhat different to a coach, though we could go into a long debate about where the differences lie. Typically, a mentor is someone who has relevant experience and expertise to share with you, though they do not necessarily give specific advice. Many of us use mentors at times in our lives, often without knowing it. We find the person we respect and start to talk to them! A number of large organisations have set up formal mentoring schemes and you may have experienced this. There are many mentoring options available through professional bodies or on a local level, although many of these are focussed on helping you to achieve professional qualifications or maintaining CPD criteria. If you want to look for a mentor, you might want to approach your networks and even family and ask for their ideas or recommendations. You want somebody who will be a good listener to act as a sounding board, who can then share ideas from their own experiences about what pitfalls to consider and what options you may want to pursue. The mentoring relationship can be formal, informal or a combination - with a frequency to suit you.

Coaches: This can be an emotive subject these days! The world seems to be filling with "executive" and "life" coaches. Fundamentally, executive coaches will work with you on business and career issues, life coaches work with you on what you want, which may span both work and home. However, the boundaries are often more blurred than that and good executive coaches (who probably have more business experience than many life coaches) will frequently work with you on both aspects.

Coaches will work differently to mentors in that they rarely offer advice. A good coach will support and challenge you on your issues and help you to focus on what you want to achieve. When that is defined they will help you to develop action plans and support you through these, whether by phone, email or face to face sessions. To get good value from a coach, decide what you want to achieve and have some idea of the timescale for this. Although the relationship can go on beyond this, consider the coach as someone to help you achieve specific aims and who will keep you moving forward - as many sports people, musicians and actors do amongst others.

Having a coach may seem something of a luxury or self-indulgence. However, what is the cost of things going wrong or not working the way you want? Coaching can be shown to have a significant ROI and could be one of the best investments you make for you and your business. You want to make sure that you feel a good "fit" with a coach, so look at a few before deciding on who you want to work with and check some of the following:

  • Formal coaching qualifications may help, but they do not guarantee that the coach will be right for you and your issue.
  • What is their experience, their style and the way they would work with you.
  • Do you want all the sessions face to face or do you also want some support by phone and email? What will be most suitable for you?
  • What is their approach to coaching? Do they have particular models or approaches?
  • How flexible are they?
You always have the option of doing nothing!! However, there are risks as we have said and these can creep up on you. You do not have to formally get a mentor or coach, but just talking things over with friends at the gym or the golf club might not help too much. Your family and friends may seem very encouraging. Is that what you need? Sometimes, it is someone who can listen in a slightly more detached way, question and challenge you whilst wanting you to succeed in your career or your business. So it might be worth finding someone to talk to!!! After all, no man (or woman) is an island!

Graham Yemm a founding partner of Solutions 4 Training Ltd. During his years as a consultant he has worked with a variety of major companies in the U.K., Europe, USA, the Middle East and Russia in Sales, People and Management Skills. He has had many years of experience tailoring programmes to address organisational issues around sales, account management, negotiations, sales management and customer service - especially focusing on the communication and personal skills aspects. Graham is a Master Practitioner of NLP and was involved with setting up and running "The Business Group", which promotes uses of NLP in organisations. He is an accredited trainer for the LAB profile programme - "Words that Change Minds". His personal enjoyment comes from helping individuals to take more responsibility for their own actions- freeing them to feel they can make more choices about their lives. Contact, http://solutions4training.com or +1483 480656

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