How does a CTO know when they need a coach?

A path through the forest

Image courtesy of Colin CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the words of Bill Gates, “Everyone needs a coach”. This sounds like a slightly flippant answer. Let me expand on it with my own experience.

I am proud of my work in all the roles that I had as a start-up and scale-up CTO.

But I learned how to be a CTO the expensive way.

By this I mean that, for most of my career as a CTO, I learned by making mistakes again and again and slowly improving over time. These mistakes were paid for by the companies that I worked in. These were also paid for by my teams and I because of impact that these mistakes had on both their and my wellbeing.

As a start-up or scale-up CTO we constantly face new challenges and need to learn new skills.

Making mistakes is inevitable when we are learning. But we can learn faster. And we can reduce the costs of our mistakes and our learning for the companies we work for and for ourselves and our teams.

Much later in my career I started working with a professional coach.

I continued to make mistakes. But my coach supported me to reduce the negative impact of these mistakes by avoiding some common pitfalls and by identifying when things were going wrong sooner. They helped me to accelerate my development by enabling me to learn faster from my experiences. They enabled me to make better decisions by better understanding myself and the situations I was in. They supported me to build better relationships with my teams and peers. They also helped me feel calmer, more in control and less alone when I was finding my role very stressful.

These benefits were cumulative. The value of the improvements in my performance as a CTO vastly outweighed the costs of coaching for the company I worked for.

I also benefited personally, in both the development of my skills and in my awareness and acceptance of myself and of those around me.

If I was able to go back in time to the point when I first became a CTO and offer myself one piece of advice, it would be to get the support of a CTO Coach.

A CTO needs a CTO coach if they want to improve their performance. If they want to serve their teams better. If they want to learn faster.

Thanks to Marc Adler for asking me this question in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the Rands Leadership Slack and inspiring me to write this article

Further reading