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Coaching for resilience

April 11, 2024
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Starting and growing a company is a rollercoaster. You will face a myriad of challenges, setbacks, and uncertainties that can easily overwhelm even the most determined and level-headed founders. You may feel like you are alone, trying to navigate one of the most difficult challenges in your life. You may believe that it is a rite of passage. That you need to weather the storm by yourself to prove that you are worthy of success. That is not the case.

Yes, you will need to face chaos, but you do not have to do it alone. Working with a coach can accelerate your development as she will equip you with tools to build resilience, handle stress effectively, and navigate uncertainty with grace.

Understanding Resilience

Resilience is the psychological and emotional ability to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to change, and maintain productivity and well-being in challenging situations. It is a skill that can be cultivated and strengthened over time. Coaching plays a pivotal role in helping startup founders develop resilience by providing them with valuable insights and tools to cope with various stressors. Below I offer a few examples of how coaches have helped me build resilience.

Leveraging Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment, acknowledging thoughts and feelings without judgment. By practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep breathing, startup founders can reduce stress and enhance their ability to make clear, rational decisions during critical moments.

For example, earlier this year I took Coach Shirzad Chamine “Introduction to Positive Intelligence Course.” Throughout the course, I developed a practice of spending 12-30 minutes a day doing mindfulness exercises which he calls “PQ Reps.” This practice has helped me in my personal and professional life as it allows me to focus on the present and reduce the emotional charge associated with difficult conversations and making difficult decisions.

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

Coaching encourages startup leaders to adopt a growth mindset. This mindset revolves around the belief that one's abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication, effort, and a willingness to learn from failures. Founders who embrace a growth mindset tend to view challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles, allowing them to stay resilient and persistent even in the face of adversity.

Throughout my career, my coaches have helped me identify blind spots and served as accountability partners. This has helped me develop core strengths and overcome attitudes and behaviors that were holding me back.

Setting ambitious and realistic goals

Coaches can guide founders in setting realistic and achievable goals, as well as breaking down larger objectives into manageable milestones. They can also help founders adjust those goals based on feedback from the market.

When launching Cocora.io, I had initially planned on raising a significant round early on to spend aggressively on growth. The more I talked to investors, other founders, and people in the space, the more I realized that approach was not going to be feasible given the current market dynamics nor was it going to be compatible with the vision I had for Cocora. My coach helped me use that realization to change my initial goals. Instead of relying on capital, I would focus on building a very lean organization focused on sales and profitability. This implied more aggressive sales and cashflow targets. I also changed my fundraising strategy to focus on a small number of investors who believed in our vision and were comfortable with me not pursuing VC funds. Modifying both my profitability and fundraising goals, allowed me to focus on building a strong customer base with a small team and raise a round from investors who are strongly aligned with our vision.

Effective stress management

Startup leaders are no strangers to high levels of stress. Coaching equips them with effective stress management techniques, such as time management, delegation of responsibilities, and prioritization of tasks. By learning to manage stress, founders can prevent burnout and maintain their focus on driving their startup forward.

I experienced the power of these techniques first-hand in my work with Federica Vegas. I was falling behind on my sales and fundraising goals and felt that I was losing focus. Yet, as a founder, you have no shortage of distractions and stressors. Federica encouraged me to do a time audit and I ended up tracking how I spent my time every day (something I used to do when I was worked at EY). The time audit and exercise of tracking my time made me more aware of how I was spending my time and served as a forcing mechanism to keep me focused. This helped us surpass both our revenue and fundraising targets.

Practicing Self-Compassion

Entrepreneurs often place high expectations on themselves, leading to self-criticism and harsh judgments when things don't go as planned. Coaching helps you practice self-compassion, treating yourself with kindness and understanding in the face of failures and setbacks. I cannot count how many times my coaches have helped me take a step back from a difficult situation and practice self-compassion. This has helped me become less prone to negative spirals which can evolve into burnout.

Learning from Setbacks

Instead of dwelling on failures, coaches instill a reflective approach to setbacks. Coaches will encourage you to analyze what went wrong, identify valuable lessons from your experience, and apply that knowledge to future endeavors. This continuous learning process not only promotes growth but also strengthens resilience as you discover your ability to adapt and improve.

Embracing conflict

Startups operate in dynamic environments where there is constant friction and you are surrounded by individuals that have strong personalities. Interpersonal conflicts are unavoidable and in many cases can lead to growth. Nonetheless, if not managed properly, interpersonal conflicts can drain your energy and leave you feeling disempowered. Coaches can serve as an objective third party to these conflicts and help you deal with them more effectively.

For example, in one of my startups I had a particularly difficult relationship with one of my colleagues. She and I disagreed on several key topics and clashed constantly. Furthermore, when she was under stress and disagreed with how somebody was approaching a situation, she would pick them apart in public which reduced the psychological safety of our team. She was also brilliant, cared about her team and pushed me outside my comfort zone. At first I would get very frustrated and spent countless hours trying to figure out ways to make her change her approach. These attempts generally backfired and left me feeling even more frustrated. When I told my coach about the situation she gave me a valuable piece of advice “you cannot expect somebody to give you something they cannot give.” I could never expect this colleague to be consistently kind and level-headed. It is not in her nature. What I can expect is for her to be demanding, creative, and point out flaws none of us are seeing. Once I internalized this, I was able to work with her in a more effective way.

Coaching can serve as a valuable resource for founders in building resilience and effectively handling stress and uncertainty. By leveraging mindfulness techniques, cultivating a growth mindset, setting realistic goals, managing stress, practicing self-compassion, learning from setbacks, and embracing conflict, you can enhance your ability to navigate through challenges and setbacks. The entrepreneurial journey is difficult, but it does not have to be a lonely endeavor.