What do Lee Iacocca, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Newman, Vince Lombardi, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods have in common? They all used coaches and mentors to help them get from good to great.
The first week of May, I will be going to Las Vegas to work with the brilliant speech coach, Patricia Fripp. Her services certainly don't come cheap and the expense comes at a time when it's hard to bring myself to take a financial risk.
But here are three things I know: Profit is the reward for risk, the time to make money is when everyone else is curled up in the fetal position and the best are never cheap. The reason Patricia can charge the fee she does is because the value she brings far outweighs the fee she charges. If that were not true, the market would vote with their feet and people would have stopped paying her long ago.
Like most businesses, my business has not been immune from the economic downturn. So why would I take a week away from my business when it needs me most and spend money that is not exactly falling off trees right now, on a coach?
I have been asked to give a keynote address at the annual convention of the National Speakers Association, in Phoenix, this July. This is a big honor. Being asked to speak to several thousand professional speakers demands my very best. And so, I have hired the very best coach to help me.
So when does a coach make sense? Whether we are talking about a sports coach, a speech coach, a life coach or financial success coach, I think the criteria are as follows:
- The outcome is important to you
- You want or need to shorten the learning curve
- A fresh approach is called for
- You need help getting started or staying on course
If all you want to do is learn to play tiddlywinks, then a coach is probably not appropriate. But if the outcome will have meaningful consequences, however you measure that, then a coach or mentor is probably a good idea.
When I decided to start a new career as an options trader, I had three different mentors who helped me learn my craft. That made sense. The financial consequences had the potential to be either very catastrophic or very lucrative.
Being a good polo player is not going to make or break my career, nor is it going to make me rich. But it is something I place a very high psychological value on. It is important to me. And so, over the years, I have hired professional players and coaches to work with me so I could get better.
Rocking this speech at the NSA convention could have both financial and psychological consequences. Clearly, I want to be wildly successful in front of such an accomplished group – NSA is not the place to fall flat on your face. Not to mention, there will be meeting planners and speaker's bureaus in the audience who have the potential to book me and those audiences have the potential to become clients. Again, the outcome is important to me so I have hired a coach.
One of the benefits of hiring a coach is to shorten the learning curve. Tiger Woods has spent his career playing golf. His coach, Hank Haney, has spent his career studying the perfect golf swing and how to teach it to others. Tiger Woods is, without question, a better golfer than Hank Haney. But Haney's skill set is different. He is a coach. He is able to help Tiger improve his swing - something that even a golfer as great as Tiger Woods is unlikely to accomplish on his own. And even if he could, it would take him much longer, diverting his time and attention from where it is better spent - which is winning golf tournaments.
Could I write and deliver a brilliant speech for the National Speakers Association. I think I could. But how many weeks and months would it take me? What is the opportunity cost? What is lost by taking all that time and psychic energy away from doing what I do best? What is the benefit of all the little tips and tricks I can get from a coach, gained over years and years of study?
Years ago, I had a coach pound on me about what he called the Law of Marginal Return. "Think of it like this," he said. "What is the difference in the paycheck collected by the professional golfer who wins the tournament compared to the paycheck for the guy who takes second? How much does the winning horse at the racetrack pay compared to the horse that finished second? A lot right? And what was the margin of victory? A nose? An extra putt?"
The Law of Marginal Return says that the one little bit of extra effort or preparation that puts you over the top pays a huge dividend relative to the time or effort spent. I believe hiring a coach is often a great way to get that little extra edge that creates that marginal return.
Sometimes we just get stale. We get in a rut. There is an old saying, "We cannot see our own eyes because we see with them." Sometimes, to get out of that rut, what we need is a fresh set of eyes - or a fresh set of ideas - to energize us.
There is a phrase in sports - "mailing it in." It is when a team who has a shot to win or contend obviously does not put forth their best effort. One job of a coach is to keep their team energized - to make sure they are never accused of mailing it in.
The other important benefit of a coach is accountability. The path of least resistance - especially in today's plugged in, always on, 24/7, multi-tasking world - is that good is good enough. To get those marginal returns I talked about earlier requires us to start a little sooner, work a little longer, think a little harder or accept a little more discomfort than the next guy or gal. That is so much easier when there is someone you are accountable to - someone looking over your shoulder, giving you that little nudge.
I not only employ coaches, I am one. I am a financial success coach. My definition of financial success is the ability to support a reasonable standard of living, indefinitely into the future, without work or worry. Should you hire me? That depends.
Is financial security an important objective with meaningful consequences worthy of paying a coach? Do you want a systematic transfer of the knowledge I have accumulated from over a decade of study and working with thousands of clients similar to you? Are you working hard but feel like you aren't getting closer to your goals? And could you benefit from a sounding board for your decisions and honest feedback when you are about to make the wrong one?
The other way to look at it, of course, is what is the downside? Can it be any worse than what you are doing right now? When you are playing probabilities, an action with little or no downside and a lot of upside is almost always the best bet.
Studies show the average investor underperforms their investment by 50% because they consistently buy and sell at the exact wrong time. The higher the return of an investment, the harder it is to actually capture that return because your actions are likely to shave off a large portion of the return.
So back to the Law of Marginal Return - look at the difference between $10,000 growing at 5% over 30 years versus growing at 10%. Would you rather have $43,000 at then end of 30 years or $174,000? If my helping you get on track and then stay on track is the difference between the successful investor and the not-successful investor, what is that worth? Sometimes the real value of a coach is in avoiding the cost of a mistake.
We all place different value on different things. Your decision about whether or not to hire a coach, any coach, really depends on the value you place on the outcome. For me, I am a big believer in finding someone achieving the results I want and learning from them. Experience has taught me that gives me the highest probability of succeeding at something that is important to me.
So I am off to Las Vegas soon. I'll let you know how it goes.
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