A few years ago, when I was Director for Worldwide User Engagement at Mozilla Firefox, the company brought in leadership development experts to lead our executive team through an innovative nine-month course. I was coached throughout the experience.

For many people, ‘coaching’ triggers instant assumptions. Earlier on in the 90s, big corporations would bring in executive coaches when people were not performing well enough. Word would rapidly spread around the office, as it usually meant someone was on the way out.

For entrepreneurs, coaching helps you find a deeper understanding of the impact you want to make in the world. Tweet This Quote

However, that first access to coaching changed my life. For the first time, I had someone help me work on me—not someone there to teach a skill or share their advice. They wanted whatever I wanted, personally and professionally, and created a safe space for me to talk about it.

Before the course with Mozilla, I had never been coached. I had to wait until I was already an executive—until I had already “made it.” For this reason, I started The Coaching Fellowship. I wanted to make coaching available and affordable to women between the ages of 25-35. My hypothesis is if more young women—and men—have access to coaching, the more they will understand themselves, their values and their skills. For entrepreneurs, this means increased awareness of and confidence in their leadership abilities, and a deeper understanding of the impact they want to make in the world.

So, what is coaching?

Let’s start with what it’s not. Many people mistake coaching for therapy. While therapy is a much needed and important relationship for a lot of people, it’s often about looking backward to examine how what happened in your past continues to affect you in the present. Coaching, on the other hand, looks forward and considers how to get you on your path to achieving your goals.

Instead of giving advice or answers, a coach asks you questions so you find answers for yourself. Tweet This Quote

More often than not, people confuse coaching with mentoring. Your mentor might sit down with you and work through your startup’s business strategy. They might help you identify pipeline partners, work on your pitch, or even open up their address book to connect you to the right people. They are often family members, friends, or colleagues in your professional field, who know you and your work to some degree. With years of experience, they spend more time imparting knowledge.

Coaching is more of an inner journey. Your coach never gives you advice or answers, but rather asks you questions to support you in finding answers for yourself. Actually, coaches believe you already have all the answers you need. They will be your mirror to keep you honest and a sounding board for ideas you wouldn’t share widely. Coaches work with you as a whole person. They know you are the same person when you go to work and when you return home. They work with you holistically because they know that something going on at home might be holding you back at work, and vice versa.

A coach will be your mirror to keep you honest and a sounding board for ideas you wouldn’t share widely. Tweet This Quote

Perhaps most importantly, a coach is someone you don’t have a prior relationship with. It’s rare to have a completely neutral person in your life who won’t judge you for any actions, decisions or thoughts. In many ways, you might not be able to get this from a family member, friend or colleague.

That said, coaching is not an either or relationship, but an additive one. Through coaching, you may realize you need to find a mentor for a particular situation, and that’s great. The point is a coach wants you to be able to use yourself as a resource.

Why does coaching matter for entrepreneurs?

Coaching is unique because it’s equal parts intimate and professional, enabling you to tackle tough subjects and come out of it a better version of yourself. For entrepreneurs in particular, coaching helps you in the following three ways.

1. Coaching holds you accountable. A coach helps you set clear goals and take action, holding you accountable to what you say you want to achieve. Together, you work through decision-making to make sure you’re crystal clear on what you decide to do and why. In this world, and especially for entrepreneurs, there is so much doing in our lives. Once we finish one thing, we’re on to the next. Often, we forget who we’re being. A coach is concerned with why you choose these actions, helping you develop more self-awareness and mindfulness as a leader. They want to make sure you’re showing up to work and life the way you intend to.

As entrepreneurs, there is so much doing in our lives that it’s easy to forget who we’re being. Tweet This Quote

2. Coaching challenges you. As entrepreneurs and leaders, we get to points in our lives where we are no longer challenged on an individual level. Who is going to push you to push yourself? Who is going to give you honest feedback? Mentors will help, but often only to the extent that it relates to your company. A coach is a partner in crime and a mirror, saying things like, “This is how I see you being right now…” or, “What I’m hearing is…” to help you see how you’re coming across to others. They will push you to truly understand your values, know your default reactive behaviors, embrace your strengths and trust your instincts.

Coaches will push you to understand your values, embrace your strengths and trust your instincts. Tweet This Quote

3. Coaching creates a safe and confidential space. There’s so much pressure—external and self-imposed—on entrepreneurs to do well. Society demands us to conceal weaknesses or hesitate in openly discussing failures or worries. We can get to tipping points of hostility and exhaustion. We need to have someone there to help us work on ourselves. With mentors and advisors, at times you might not be sure you can honestly be yourself. With their third-party neutrality, coaches create a transparent environment to talk through difficult circumstances, remind you to focus on your priorities, help you build up resilience, and most importantly ask, “Are you taking care of yourself?”

As a leader, coaching is a gift to help your employees help themselves, ultimately improving your business. Tweet This Quote

Coaching is all about getting you to your peak performance. I don’t hold on to many regrets, but I know if I had access to a coach in my mid to late twenties, I would have definitely made different choices. Once you’ve been coached, a certain part of you becomes a coach. As a leader, this is a powerful gift to help your colleagues or employees help themselves, ultimately improving your business and your bottom line.

One of Harvard Business Review’s largest studies on leadership claims the single unifying characteristic of a leader is their commitment to self development. Leaders are always learning more about themselves; working to get out of their own way and increase their performance. And just like on a sports team, a coach can play a pivotal role.

Ask yourself—do you want to play a bigger game? What is the single biggest thing holding you back? Let a coach help you go from great to exceptional.

Jane Finette

Author Jane Finette

Jane is obsessed with accelerating social change and a strong voice and advocate for women. She is the Executive Program Manager for Mozilla's Office of the Chair, and also the Founder of The Coaching Fellowship, an international non-profit providing executive coaching fellowships supporting young women leaders of impact to solve some of the world’s grand challenges at scale. A former Entrepreneur in Residence at Astia, a non-profit that helps high growth companies by women succeed, Jane cares deeply about women and girls reaching their full potential. For the first half of her career, Jane held senior global marketing roles at leading high-tech companies including eBay and Mozilla. She serves as an advisory board member to social impact organizations, and is also the co-founder of the social mentoring organization Mentor For Good.

More by Jane Finette