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  November 19, 2010
A Matter of a Few Inches...


I’ve known Mike now for about 10 years.  He and I met while attending an entrepreneur class at MIT in the late 1990’s.  He is the consummate entrepreneur; starting, building and selling a variety of companies that provide a variety of products and services.

He was in town a few weeks ago, so we had the opportunity to sit down and talk over a long lunch. During the course of the conversation he asked me about my business and how we were doing during this economic downturn.  I told him OptiFuse was having a really good year with revenues up over 30% from 2009 while maintaining our basic cost structure.  

Mike asked me a few follow-up questions and then shocked me with the following statement, "if you were working for me...I probably would have fired you for only increasing sales 30% this year...or at least put you on notice that I expected better of you".

He then went on, "It appears that you have set the bar for yourself and for OptiFuse way too low...with the overall market size and your miniscule market share...the breadth of high-quality products that you offer...and your low price structure...as people look for low-cost alternatives...my expectations would have been for you to achieve triple digit growth...why are you satisfied with just 30%?"

His statements floored me.  I rationalized several factors of the market that perhaps he didn’t understand...but he was still unimpressed

I have mulled our conversation over and over in my head.  Here I was thinking that we were doing pretty well...when in fact...my expectations were maybe fairly low. Perhaps it took some perspective from someone on the outside to jolt my reality and comfort zone.

I suppose this is the role of a coach.  A coach is someone who can remove themselves from the day to day activities and focus on the "big picture".  

I recently read an article in Fortune magazine where Bill Campbell, a coach to both Steve Jobs (founder and CEO of Apple) and Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) has decided to stay with Steve Jobs due to the recent friction between the two companies (he felt that he needed to make a choice). 

Now my first thoughts weren’t about either Apple or Google but rather that both Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt actually have a business coach in the first place!  However the more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense.  

Sports superstars all have head and assistant coaches, strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionists...Academy Award winning actors have acting coaches, directors, dialogue coaches and trainers... it makes complete sense for business leaders to have coaches as well.

The role of a coach can take many forms.  The effective coach leads through experience, they are motivators, they are organizers, and they are teachers.  Most importantly, they are an external set of eyes and ears who may see things in with different perspective than you.

An effective coach will help you to establish goals and help you to create strategies that will help you to achieve those goals.  They will help you to visualize success and help you overcome the mental roadblocks that prevent you from achieving the life that you want to lead. 

The ineffective coach will act as a "yes-man" just agreeing with your assessments rather than pushing you to become a better person.  They will allow you to rest on your past achievements rather than helping you to achievement more in the future.  They will enable you to be complacent with who you are rather than the person you can be.

You might say, "I’m doing alright by myself...I don’t need any help". 

That may be indeed the case...but I also think that Steve Jobs could make the same argument (personally I believe that he’s done alright these past 25 years)...but he still understands the importance of constantly improving.

Myself...I am happy with the person I am...but I know that I also get too comfortable and could use a kick-start every once in while...it has occurred to me that I need a coach...maybe you might need one too...

You don’t need to be the leader of a Fortune 500 company to have a coach.  What is important is that you understand the need for a coach and that you can improve your life with such a person at your side.

Remember...sometimes the only difference between a pat on the back and a kick in the butt is just a few inches...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we work hard to earn your business...but we believe that we can still do better.

Jim Kalb

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