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Non-executive director or business coach – which would be best for your SME?


Non-executive director or business coach – which would be best for your SME?

Picture3044 - Business ExpressBy Paul Owen, MD, True Sales

At some point, most small and medium enterprises (SMEs) reach a point where they feel the need for professional support – for guidance and expertise to help smooth the path to growth. There’s no set format for that support, but one common route is to appoint a non-executive director (NED). It’s certainly a strategy that can work. However, it could be argued that appointing a business coach would be a better route to success for many.

If your SME has reached a crunch point and needs support, be sure you consider the value a business coach can bring before you race out to find an NED.

What does a business coach do?

A business coach supports business leaders with mentoring and strategy, helping to remove blockers to success and to apply long-term, growth-focused thinking. As such, using a coach can reap plentiful rewards. By comparison, a NED provides less of a mentoring role; their support is more with strategic decision-making rather than helping CEOs to develop.

The value of mentorship in the business world has been well established. Mentors can help business leaders to maximise their potential by enhancing their skills and growing their confidence. This has a knock-on effect on shaping the future of the businesses that those leaders run.

Clearly, accessing the right kind of guidance is fundamental. While for some SMEs that will mean going down the NED route, others will derive greater benefit from personalised coaching that develops the CEO and/or other members of the leadership team. But how do you go about finding the right support?

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Many NEDs are individuals who have achieved impressive success in growing their own business. The issue is that that success is not always down to the individual’s brilliance. They may have an amazing product or an inspired marketing campaign. That doesn’t mean they are an all-round expert who can support any other business with skills development and strategy. NEDs may also lack mentoring skills – after all, coaching isn’t something that just anyone can do.

Business coaches, meanwhile, will certainly have the mentoring skills that enable them to support leaders to develop their skills. Those who don’t have proven credentials in terms of their coaching skills won’t be in business for long. These mentoring skills mean that business coaches can deliver advice that works across a range of sectors. Consider it as the business equivalent of Ted Lasso’s move from American college football coaching to ‘soccer’ coaching – the skills required to do the coaching are the same, irrespective of the sport.

Experienced business coaches can provide a broad range of support that helps SME leaders tackle a wide range of issues. They can focus on strategic matters that support scaling and also help to address growth blockers through dynamic, hands-on mentoring, rather than the more hands-off NED arrangement. Doing so provides powerful insights and confidence building that business leaders can use to drive success in their companies in both the short-term and the long-term.

Increasingly, smaller businesses are coming to appreciate the value of the mentoring that business coaches can provide. The coaching industry is growing rapidly as a result. Figures from the International Coaching Federation, for example, show that the sector grew from a value of $15 billion in 2019 to reach an estimated $20 billion a year later. As an understanding of the role of business coaches grows, so too does demand for their services.

Working with the right business coach can be a transformative experience. It can help individuals feel they are levelling up their business skills and strategic thinking. It can help leadership teams work more closely and effectively. And it can transform companies’ fortunes, helping to overcome short-term issues and set the scene for longer-term growth.

The key point here is that it must be the right coach. If your SME is ready to level up its leadership team’s skills and hone its strategic direction, it’s important to invest time in finding a suitably qualified and experienced business coach. Reach out to contacts in your network for recommendations – those who have used excellent coaches will be more than happy to shout about the positive impact they have enabled. The right coach will be someone that you gel with, as well. If someone looks good on paper but you don’t get the right vibes when chatting with them, it’s probably best to look elsewhere if everyone is going to get the best out of the arrangement.

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