“When shelter in place and COVID news breaks, that’s when I decide that I have to get out of the biz and move on from the agency hustle.” That was the sentiment of Ben Lee, co-founder and former CEO of Rootstrap, an award-winning digital agency based out of LA and Montevideo. Lee was one of many digital agency owners whose priorities shifted drastically as the world was upended in the face of a global pandemic.
No business and no person have been unaffected by the COVID crisis, and many have taken the opportunity to reevaluate their work/life balance and what impact (positive or otherwise) they’ve had on the world. Lee was no exception, detailing his decade-long navigation of the digital agency space and his ultimate decision to leave it behind in his post Why I Left the Agency I Founded.
According to him, the pandemic “was this explosive eye-opening thing. I knew my life and everyone’s lives were never going to be the same. I had never been so insecure running a company with so many distributed employees, knowing that I wouldn’t be permitted to travel to my own office for a very, very long time.”
It was a personal crisis on top of a global crisis and leaving wouldn’t be an easy decision. The agency had garnered Lee the opportunity to work with the likes of Google, Spotify, and Masterclass. It had led to accolades such as being named to Inc.’s 30 Under 30 as one of the most dynamic young CEOs in America. And according to Lee, he’s “loved every minute of the work that I’ve gotten to do.”
So where do agency owners go when they step away from the companies that they’ve spent years building? For many, Lee included, the shift has been toward sharing the knowledge gained from those years of experience. That is the mindset that has fueled the rise of the executive coach.
It might not be a new concept, but with younger, yet still seasoned, entrepreneurs entering the space, executive coaching has carved out an even more important role in the overall health of startups and established businesses looking for ways to increase performance from the top-down.
And the results generally speak for themselves. According to a study by the International Coach Federation (ICF), “When monetary gains are an expected outcome, coaching generates a very good return on investment (ROI) for clients. By design, not all types of coaching lead to monetary gains for the client (or their company). Accordingly, only 40% of respondents indicated that they had seen a financial change (personally or company) as a result of coaching. Almost two-thirds of those who experienced a personal ROI indicated that they had at least made their investment back. The median personal ROI indicates that those who seek a financial gain can expect a return in the range of 3.44 times their investment.”
But it’s not all about the numbers. What was once brought in to wrangle rogue executives, coaches have now taken on roles closer to that of mentors, identifying goals and creating a pathway for a company to achieve them.
That’s one of the reasons Lee made the change. For him, it came down to pursuing a lifelong passion for education. According to his post, “What I really want to do is help agency owners and tech entrepreneurs. I’ve been obsessed with wanting to build communities and physical products and basically being the vitamins for people wanting to start services and companies.”
And education is a space where he’d already dabbled when he taught a course at theUSC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism called “Storytelling through Augmented Reality.” Of course, the COVID pandemic seemingly supercharged the desire to make this pivot from dabbling to full-time.
And for Lee that also meant a holistic, whole-life approach to coaching. Helping clients win accounts and build scalable products, is the end, but not necessarily the means. Through his own struggle with Lyme disease, Lee became more dedicated to health and well-being and curbing one of the most overlooked causes of failing businesses: burnout.
That’s why he’s added biohacking to his coaching methodology. Described as “do-it-yourself biology… for many “biohackers,” this consists of making small, incremental diet or lifestyle changes to make small improvements in your health and well-being.”
The biohacking tent can include sleep hygiene (getting better, more consistent rest), intermittent fasting, nootropics (cognition improving supplements), cognitive behavioral therapy, etc. All can be utilized for better all-around performance coaching, and obviously, with the fear of infectious disease looming large, this approach has never been more valuable.
But good intentions and a mission to pursue a more positive impact are only as good as those impacted. Fortunately, the ICPs study also found that beyond healthier ROI numbers, coaching is now seen as a generally overall positive experience. According to the study, “the vast majority of clients also indicated that they were very satisfied with their experience. Further confirming the success coaches are having is the fact that almost all (96%) clients indicated that they would repeat the coaching experience given the same circumstances that lead them there in the first place.”
It would appear that executive coaching will continue to be in-demand as CEOs shift focus in the face of crisis. But with that shift also comes new leaders in the space with the knowledge, and more importantly the passion, to coach them through.