Kindred, Coaching and Peak Performance

Legendary runner Dave Wottle, demonstrating that it’s the result that matters*

Imagine you are talking to a friend who is naturally gifted at sports — perhaps, tennis or golf, but any sport will do. They tell you that it is their intention to go professional and turn their hobby into a fulltime occupation.

After you congratulate them and wish them the best of luck, one topic that would naturally emerge would be to explore who would be coaching them on the next stage of their career. If they’re joining a team, naturally a coach will be provided. If it’s a solo sport, they’ll have to think long and hard about their coaching partner, as they transition into the world class player that they hope to be.

But then imagine that they told you that they were going to get there without a coach and just figure things out of their own. That they think their talent and passion will transform them into the best in the world at their chosen discipline. What would you think their chances of becoming best in class? It would be pretty unlikely, I think you’d agree. Indeed, if anyone knows a top player in any sport who coaches themselves, we’d love to hear about it.

And yet, when our friends make the same decision in the context of business — to start a company, that they hope will become a massive success — most of us wouldn’t even think about coaching and perhaps surprisingly, most founders don’t either.

At Kindred, we think that this is the wrong way of approaching peak performance in business and we’re announcing today that every CEO in Kindred Fund II will get a free year of external coaching when funding is complete. Other funds might see this as a cost, but we see it as an investment in creating world class leaders and teams.

When thinking about coaching in business, many people make the mistake thinking that it’s a kind of remedial step. A kind of tool used by CEOs who are struggling and who grasp at coaching as a way to cope or improve poor performance. We’re not suggesting that this isn’t one way coaching might be used, but our focus and intention is on making really good CEOs, great.

There are three areas that we will suggest our CEOs focus their coaching sessions around, although the balance and focus will depend on individual cases, experience and personal strengths and weaknesses:

1. Clarity of purpose

It’s absolutely essential that a great leader knows what they’re doing and why. While we expect our CEOs to be very good in this area already — or we wouldn’t have invested in them — everyone can optimise their performance.

2. Effective Leadership

Great leaders need to build great teams in order to build great companies. While the gifted amateur approach can get people so far, there’s many leadership tools available that have been developed and honed over the years. Giving CEOs access to the right ones can create demonstrably better results.

3. Balance

One of Kindred’s constant refrains is to remind our CEOs that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. In other words, how you lead your company must be sustainable over a long period of time. Every CEO will need to work out an individual plan to look after their own health, deal with stress and how to manage their relationships outside work. They ignore this aspect at their peril and every successful (and unsuccessful) CEO will have a war story about when this aspect of their lives went badly wrong — or very nearly did.

How will it work, in practice?

Firstly, we’ll write this commitment into our Term Sheet, to show that we mean business.

After that, the CEO finds the coach they want to work with. It has to be the CEO’s decision as personal chemistry is vital to the success of the relationship. We have a whole roster of coaches to select from, but if the CEO has worked successfully with someone in the past, we’re very open to recommendations.

Once the CEO has made their decision, they agree to meet the coach to a timetable of their choice, which would normally be once or twice a month. Naturally, all coaching sessions are totally confidential and Kindred will get no feedback from the coach whatsoever. Indeed, every coach we work with has very high ethical standards around this, so even if we wanted to, it’s simply not an option.

Sceptics might ask why we’re spending money on a service that we don’t have to. While we agree that it represents a significant cost to a small fund like ours, our philosophy has always been that if we create a bigger pie in the first place, we’re happy to take a smaller slice of it.

Quite simply, we see coaching as creating better performance within the portfolio and thus, one of the best investments that Kindred can make.

We hope other funds will borrow the idea for their own portfolios.

*Dave Wottle’s amazing 1972 800m race is always worth watching again.

Kindred is a new early stage venture capital fund based in London that practices equitable venture.