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.

About the author

Jane Finette

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.

  • Max Mantey

    For people who play sports you know very well how impactful a coach can be on your life. I know first hand lessons I was taught playing hockey and golf all my life will carry over into the real world someday. Great coaches help out so much because they make you channel your energy to positive things. Especially as you are growing up there are many paths you can take in life. For me personally, sports and the coaches i’ve had has helped me stay on a path I think will one day be successful.

  • Claire Salvucci

    Having a great coaching figure can play a significant role in one’s life. I have personally had bosses and coaches that have shaped my motivation, work ethic, and ultimately my overall success. This article correctly states that coaches will “push you” to become the best version of yourself possible.

  • David Kidd

    You argue that a coach is someone who wont judge you and offers the best advice, as opposed to a mentor who had a prior relationship with you. In theory I can agree with that, but in practice no. As a young adult I had the opportunity to work with many sport coaches, teachers, and business “coaches” who essentially teach you that their way is right and you should follow what they say. I’ve found that coaches take no initiative in your life and go through the motions for a paycheck. In contrast, a family member, friend or colleague who you argue are not “coaches” have provided me with much more sound advice and have influenced my life in a much more positive way.

  • Amanda

    While I really like the idea that a coach is different than a mentor, I have found that they overlap greatly. In my personal experience, coaches are there to support you and push you to do your best, just as many mentors, but I don’t believe that they are nonjudgemental. In my experience, playing soccer and swimming, improvement comes from learning and practicing more but a coach’s job isn’t to just tell you what to fix but show you how to fix it. They are going to have you implement their ideas into your technique. While I wish I could say coaches are just a mirror, I have found them to be opaque glass, where you see your reflection muffled by their ideas, opinions and thoughts.

  • Robert Neville

    A great coach almost becomes like a parent to you. They see you at some of your highest highs and lowest lows but are always there for you. A good coach will have a very big impact on a young persons life and can motivate you to push yourself and become a better person. I still have coaches from high school that I am still in contact with and still use their advice and guidance in lots of the decisions that I make.

  • Max Mantey

    Call to Action- I posted the article in LinkedIn and also sent it to my high-school hockey coach via linked in. I decided to post it on LinkedIn rather than Facebook because I have found I get more feedback on this particular outlet. I feel that is because LinkedIn is more geared towards people looking for progressive business ideas and articles while Facebook is more strictly social.

    -My hockey coach liked the article a lot and it was great to reconnect with him. Through high school he was a mentor/role model for me in many fascists in life. He was my coach freshman through senior year where he gave me leadership roles during my junior and senior year. Giving me the ability of having leadership roles has helped me learn many valuable lessons of running a team. He also wrote my letter of recommendation my senior year that was sent to potential colleges. I bring up these events specifically because I want to give credibility to the impact he had on my life in high school. While I’m lucky to have great role models in friends and family, having that sports aspect was a great addition that I will never forget. A coach see’s you when you are at your most competitive. I believe coaches also get to see true character in their team because sports can bring out the best and worst in people. I wont forget all the lessons he taught me especially when it came to holding yourself accountable and trying your best no matter the situation. I’m glad he was there to help shape me into the person I am today at a very moldable time in my life.

  • Nicholas Carter

    Call to Action:
    I chose to do my call to action on the article, Coaching Isn’t What You Think It Is, But It Might Be What You Need. For my call-to-action, I chose to analyze all of my previous coaches and teachers, and rank them based on the impact they’ve had both on my life and in progressing as a human being. Growing up I’ve had numerous coaches and teachers that have made an impact both positively and negatively on my life. I’ve grown to realize what type of coach makes a positive impact on me. I embody a coach who values honesty, hard work, commitment, and someone who demonstrates true care and support for their athletes on and off the field. After reflecting on these values, I’ve developed a better understanding of how impactful these people have been on my life and I want to challenge myself to be this type of person for others and especially correlate this into my work field and business environment. I want to challenge other to reflect on the role models in their life, like I did, because it demonstrates the impact that other have on your life and the differences one person can make. I’ve developed and instilled Respect and Integrity in my everyday life and I challenge others to take a step forward and identify what they truly value.

  • Danielle Flynn

    Over the years I have played multiple sports, including club/travel sports to school sports and have always found that a coach to player relationship is something that is very overlooked when talking about sports. A coach can be anything from a mentor to a second parent to a friend. Not only do coaches expect the most out of you on the sports court/field, they also expect the most out of you in other areas of life. Personally, my high school basketball coach is still someone I keep in touch with to this day. I babysit her daughters and to this day still see her overtime I go home. Not only was she a mentor to me, but a second parent and someone I could go to when I didn’t want to go to my mom or another friend. Something that stuck out from the article to me though that I don’t necessarily agree with is the fact that coaches are “nonjudgmental”. Since I am so close to my high school coach over the year after high school I have seen a different side of her and heard her inputs on the players from my team. I believe a coach is judgmental, but does a good job of hiding it in order to keep team unity.

  • Ben Heiserman

    Because I did not properly plan ahead for this week’s call-to-action, I decided to use the same media outlet of Reddit.com to provide outreach and marketing for the Unreasonable Institute. I decided to include text with each of my submission posts explaining the general mission of Unreasonable Institute and why I was posting about them. I also focused to specifically submit my starting at 5 pm ET, which is generally the start of the most usage of reddit.com. I even changed the title of one of the posts I submitted, just to see if that would change anything. This was all done to no avail, as my posts were even less successful than last time. I think I should have chosen an article that general “pops out” at you more. It’s not that this article isn’t interesting, because it certainly is. I think it more has to do with the fact that the title does not elicit a strong emotional response, and a popular article needs a good emotional message to convey the ideas of the article.

  • Noah Green

    I really like how this article distinguishes the true definition of a coach. The business world is a unique place, because it is up to you, nobody else, who will determine your fate. Nobody is going to be your mentor, hold your hand, and help you make every decision. That is not the way it works. A coach is someone that guides you into making the right decisions. It is interesting how the article lays out what a coach does and everything has some sort of “you” in it. For example, a coach challenges you, holds you accountable, push you to understand your values, embrace your strengths and trust your instincts. I also really like how the biggest difference between a coach and a mentor is how a coach doesn’t just open up to himself and provide connections, tips and tricks etc. rather he lets you call the shots but is still there for support. The best way to learn is by doing. Great article!

  • Kade Hanson

    Call to action:Hosting a discussion on past, present, and future experiences, sharing our stories and lesson in correlation to the information gain from this post.

    Being on a college sports teams iv experienced a lot. Iv seen a few coaches and met many from the university. I played sports all my life and have met a wide variety of coaches in my life. I understand where this article comes from when it talks about these types of coaches. I have been though a lot in my life and know many people who see personal coaches more towards the therapeutic realm. Keeping in contact with these people is a huge part of my life. They are my friends, my family, and still my actual coaches. For my call to action i decided to host a values talk about this article and how my teammates, roommates, and friends can connect to the steps and values taken from this article. This talk led to a lot of personal stories, lesson, and even more goal setting. We discussed how we can be our own coaches and how the coaches of our past still resonate with us today. The last main thing we pulled from our discussion is how we can be coaches to others. Our little siblings, our internships, our volunteer work, or even being a parent. This discussion led to great discussion and an even greater appreciation of my own coaching over the years.

  • Kevin Marshall

    My call-to-action was to send this article to friends and family from different age groups and to get their responses of personal experiences and opinions on coaching and how beneficial it has been or it hasn’t been in their lives.

    Being a collegiate athlete, I have had my fair share of coaches from parent coaches, volunteers, paid coaches and coaches that are doing it for a living. I have given coaches more and more respect over the years. Especially the ones that show respect and commitment to what they do. I have seen and been with coaches that don’t put in the work to become a successful coach, by not learning new skills, not listening to their players. While on the other side I have seen and been with coaches that are the opposite and are working with players in working on a two-way-street rather than believing what they say is right all the time. They encourage input from outside sources so they can become a better coach. For my call-to-action I sent this article to some family and friends from different age groups, to get their input of personal experiences and if they agree or disagree with the article. To see if age varies on personal views from coaching. Here I would like to share a few quotations of some individuals and their responses. Brandon Marshall (Age. 15) “A coach isn’t just there in your life, he should be more of a friend, because he will go through the tough times and best of times. Kyle Marshall (Age. 13) “Coaches are there to help you reach your top potential.” Brian Marshall (Age. 47) “I agree with several of the authors statements, however, I don’t like the “coaching fellowship” is only available to women between the ages of 25-35. Seems to be a rather sexist and discriminatory position for a coaching organization.” Alec Olsen (Age 22) “ Coaching is interesting in how the author stated that the coach needs to encourage personal growth. You find time and time again other forms of coaching or mentoring doesn’t allow for personal growth, just the right answer. These are just a few of the responses I received when sending the article out. It was interesting to analyze what the different age groups took from the article. I also explained to them how I’m taking a class called “Principles of Coaching” and we are learning many of the same characteristics and values of coaching that were talked about in the article.

  • Sarah Nelson

    Im curious as to why the Coaching Fellowship is more focused on women between 25-35 rather than everyone between 25-35? To me, it makes more sense to focus on young people as a whole because that will have a greater impact on a generation. Coaching is a very interesting concept that I have not really read about in the business world before this article. When I think of coaches, I think about the coaches I have had in my life through the multiple sports i have played growing up. Coaches push you to be the best version of yourself and like Danielle said, they are judgmental. As humans it is impossible not be judgmental. Having a non-bias person come in and help you set goals can be helpful, but it can also feel impersonal. I agree that coaches in the business world will better employees and executives and it’ll be interesting to see if coaching becomes more prominent in the future.

  • Alessandra Orlandini

    As a collegiate athlete for the last four years I have had many coaches throughout my life, some great and some not so great. For me playing a sport gave me structure in my life and my coaches gave me the constructive criticism I needed not only to help me on the court but also helped me to be better in my life. For me coaching as only been something i thought I had seen when it comes to sports but after reading this post I realize I have been coached throughout my entire life by various people. I thought it was an interesting outlook to look at coaching through a business sense. Coaching is about getting you to your peak performance, I think that if you aren’t reaching a peak performance then your coach is not pushing you to your full potential.

  • Kunal Patel

    Right when I read the line”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” I immediately related this to my own life and I can easily remember my club soccer coach back home and all the memories I have with him. For 8 years on and off he had been my mentor and taught me so much about myself and the game of soccer and with that mentor you are able to give meaning to your life towards something you enjoy. After reading his article I can agree with Alessandra below that I have been coached all throughout my life whether from professors, parents, or sports coaches.

  • Reid Trauernicht

    Coaching is so important. There’s a reason that a great coach makes a great student, team, or employee. This is the reason schools are using mentorship opportunities more and more now. I’ve had mentors in middle school, high school, and I’ll have many in college and the professional world. They help bring guidance and shape you into a better student and person. Coaches are even more important than mentors; the connection is inevitably much closer. I’ve never been coached for or in a job, but I’ve been coached for years in sports. My lacrosse coach told me what I did well, helped me identify goals and challenges, and he saw a diamond in the rough so he stuck with me through thick and thin to make me a better player. I learned more in that one year than I had in all of the years prior and after. Coaching is crucial and this is a brilliant idea I can’t wait to see what it becomes. I may even have to hire a coach for me in the coming years.

  • Hunter Ward

    This article really relates to some past experiences in my life. One experience that stands out is when there was a coaching change on my soccer team mid season. My senior year, my high school soccer team had trouble performing at the level the athletic director expected of us. At this point in the season, we had only won one game and lost the rest. For this reason, my coach was fired and a new one was appointed. At first we were highly stand-offish of this new coach because we knew he was there to fix the soccer team. We were under performing and we were relatively threatened by this new person trying to control us. In the end, it was a blessing for our team that we had a new leader. He was able to fix our weak spots and we able to form team chemistry to the degree that I thought wasn’t ever possible for this team. So in conclusion, I believe that the correct type of coaching can be very beneficial, no matter how much you may think that you don’t need one.

  • Gregory Clemmons

    This article reminded me of a similar article that was featured last week on unreasonable on the importance of great bosses and great mentors. In that article it focused on the different management styles and how a great leader is effective no matter their style of leadership. Last week’s article relates significantly to this one. I think the most important conclusion that can be drawn from both of these articles is that certain leaders and coach figures stand out from the crowd and help the people being coached to be better professionals and better people. Its these leaders that we need to seek out and strive to be like.

  • Emily Butler

    I really like the attention to the inner change that coaching brings. It’s interesting because I never really thought there was a difference between mentorship and coaching I just always assumed they were the same concept. But I really agree that coaching is more important for changing who you are versus changing and teaching others. It’s more of a challenge for yourself which I personally find very fascinating.

  • Victor Ribakare

    I agree with everything Max just stated. Sometimes a great coach can instill skills in you that alter the way you carry yourself. With all that my parents have taught me; I received a lot of insight through many coaches that were more applicable and longer lasting.

  • This is a fantastic article! Excellent for the distinction it draws between coaching and mentoring also. It’s an important one, but very infrequently understood.

  • Michael Kaelin

    For someone who would like to be a baseball coach one day, I found this article very helpful and informative on not only the duties of a coach, but the impact a coach can have. The quote I connected with most was, “a coach is someone you don’t have a prior relationship with.” I liked how one of the main focuses of this article was to show that coaching doesn’t proceed bad or poor work. I also liked the comparison between coaches and therapists and how they can have a very positive effect on our daily lives. Having someone who is unbiassed and is there to assist you without any prior opinions or prejudices. Thank you for the post Jane

  • Michael Potter

    I have played baseball for 16 years of my life competitively and feel as if this coaching persona is strongly related with my situation. I have had coaches who lay back and watch as if we were to figure things out on our own. This is the same as not really having a coach. There are benefits from this, but more detriments and downfalls. On the other hand, I have had coaches that I would rather not have had. These are the ones that are negative and provide a hostile environment for learning and growing. Although there are negatives in this situation, I would choose this over no coach every time. Through thick and thin, you ultimately learn from failure and trial & error. Coaches that seem like barriers or blockades in your way of improving can also be seen as challenges that help you learn as well. I believe coaching in the entrepreneurial world is very much the same. Coaches are there to provide you with pathways to success as well as obstacles you need to overcome. Very helpful and relatable read!