Scott Cook on How a Business Coach Can Improve Your Leadership Skills

by Lorna Collier on February 28, 2011
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If you’re the founder of your company, chances are not too many employees are keen to tell you when you are doing something wrong.

For that, you need an objective outsider — such as a business coach. Or, if that doesn’t work for you, customers who are willing to speak freely about what they like and don’t like about your company.

Scott Cook, the co-founder of Intuit (the publisher of this blog), lists as one of his biggest regrets failing to hire a business coach earlier in his career.

That was remedied some time ago. For the past five years, Cook has used a coach to give him “360 feedback” — a type of coaching in which the coach gathers feedback from everyone around you, then reflects back to you others’ perceptions. The coach also works with you to help you see weaknesses that may need correcting.

“My current guy is an outsider who comes in and does the 360 with everyone, then feeds back to you the impact you’re having with others, both the good and the not-so-good,” says Cook.

Cook decided to start using a business coach about five years ago, when he realized that he was the only person in the company not getting regular performance reviews. (After all, who reviews the boss?) Cook thought 360 coaching looked interesting and decided to give it a try.

“Boy, did I learn a lot,” he says. “I could see through the 360 review that there were a lot of things I needed to change — things where I had bad impacts on people in the company. Founders can do that. If you’re the founder, you can wreak havoc on people’s ability to focus and get their job done.”

Due to his coaching, says Cook, his management skills have “improved mightily — and it feels so much better. I wish I’d done it 25 years ago. Intuit would be an even better place and I’d be a better leader… I really need a coach and I think that’s true of all of us.”

Ready to look for a coach of your own? Cook recommends you find “somebody who can be honest and unbiased, who can tell you the truth as other people feel it but aren’t willing to tell you, and who can help you deal with it and help you be a better leader and people person in your company.”

Those who don’t want or can’t afford business coaching can instead turn to customers for feedback, says Cook. However, customers may have trouble being critical if they are asked to give opinions face-to-face. Cook suggests letting customers submit reviews in writing and anonymously to ensure the most honest feedback.

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