“Everyone’s a coach these days,” my friend Elwin said. At the beginning of my journey, I thought “founder coaching” would suffice. But Elwin encouraged me to write down my framework and unpack my approach.
The Concentric Engagement Model: Individual, Team, Business.
I worked with dozens of founder teams in different roles. Over time, I began seeing patterns of how individual behavior, team dynamics and business success were affecting each other. The most painful observation was working with companies without really having the founder onboard: Be it coaching a team or introducing OKRs, lack of founder buy-in would render any organization-wide initiative pointless.
A concentric model started to emerge in my mind: The biggest long-term leverage in business is talent development: and the most important talent to develop is the founder. A better founder will lead a better team. A better team will build a better business.
This was ultimately why I chose to concentrate on founder coaching. I have aligned my coaching framework along these three levels. Working with founders at the center creates the biggest leverage on organizational change and business growth.
Coaching Focus = Resilience, Openness & Intention
For the longest time, I was looking for a simple framework that would help me capture the essence of what my coaching was about. It all started with the concepts of clarity and confidence. But I needed to go deeper: What kind of clarity would founders need? Where will their confidence come from?
The venture game is an intense rollercoaster. From the outside, press only covers the outliers. Early in my investing career, I noticed: Between the stars and the fatal crashes are a lot of companies that are “just getting by”. Being able to pick themselves up every day again is one of the core founder skills. Resilience is key.
Resilience is about committing to being your best self for the long-haul. Founding and then running a company is a marathon. You need to take care of your energy: Your mental and physical health are at the foundation of your leadership role.
- On an individual level, building mental and physical resilience is achieved through healthy routines and mindful habits.
- On a team level, collective confidence, clearly defined roles, and psychological safety stand at the core of resilience. These will strengthen trust and encourage spontaneity.
- On a business level, resilience is about understanding the multiple layers of sustainability. How can your business model reach profitability? How can you finance your business until it reaches profitability? How can your operating model provide guidance and stability?
Openness is about being true to yourself and others about how you feel and what you believe in. This might sound simple—but, acknowledging your internal emotional state requires practice—voicing them clearly and respectfully is an art.
- On an individual level, you start by giving your own vulnerability and emotions the space they need. You step away from the torrent of FOMO and busy-ness in order to pause and reflect.
- On a team level, working to build trust and designing interaction in an inclusive way encourages your colleagues to show up as their best self.
- On a business level, openness takes on a different meaning: Distinguishing relevant signal from useless noise. How do you remain open to innovation? How do you ensure participation and engagement from all stakeholders?
Ultimately, planning and goal setting is one of the core competencies defined by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a professional body for coaches. I knew that one of the pillars was going to be rooted in setting good goals. Intention framed the concept in a bigger way: not only was my work about goals but about the continuous focus on what really matters in a founder's life.
Intention is about setting inspiring goals that truly resonate with you, and that requires your continuous commitment. It means being mindful about investing your time and energy in the most relevant areas of your life—both within and beyond your business.
- On an individual level, setting good intentions is a question of focus and staying true to your priorities. If “productivity” equals efficiency, “intention” equals effectivity: then you know you are working on the right things.
- On a team level, it is about aligning expectations and providing clear guidance—and thus, safety—for everyone around the table.
- On a business level, it is about mindfully investing scarce resources into what drives sustainable business. Intention comes in the forms of OKRs or strategic plans.
How Does My Framework Translate Into Coaching?
The hardest part about this framework is to try and pull apart the different elements. Resilience, openness and intention are vectors, and working towards them is never black and white. I still have tried to visualize examples of my work with clients:
Bringing It To Life
Starting out, I thought "wow, coaching VC-backed founders sound like a tight niche..."! It took me months to figure out I needed an even tighter proposition. Here are the three personas where coaching for resilience, openness and intention brought transformative results:
- Founders who were looking to formulate their life philosophy as their accelerating companies forced them to step into their CEO role. This happened mostly after a surging market demand (COVID-induced health tech boom; D2C founders turning into media darlings) or substantial financing rounds.
- Founding teams who aspired to work holistically on their business as it grew past the 50-80 employee mark: How can we design for financial sustainability (resilience) and set goals (intention) for the entire organization?
- Leaders in transition who were looking to plot their next move. Two groups were significant to me: VCs who resonated with my past in venture and CXOs who were getting ready to start their own company.
Looking back on the last year, one insight is clear: My work continues to evolve through every human I work with.