Alisa Cohn is an executive coach and was named #1 Startup Coach in the World at the 2019 Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Awards in London. She is also one of the Top 30 Global Gurus for Startups of 2020.
Speaking ahead of the Women in IT Virtual Summit, Europe 2020, she talks about prioritising diversity, working virtually and why it’s always a good time to launch a startup.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to events like the Women in IT Europe Summit having to be held virtually which, Alisa Cohn, believes, could benefit a wider audience.
Cohn is excited to be part of an event that supports women in a traditionally male-dominated field and enables them to network and access professional development. Networking is, she believes, a core skill in developing a career.
“Events like the Women in IT Summit ensures you keep networking, which is vitally important for career progression. Just because we’re working remotely across the world doesn’t exempt us from networking,” Cohn stresses.
“We now have more opportunity to pick and choose how and when we connect to advance our network. Take the time to reach out to old acquaintances by email, via calls and videos. Host remote cocktail parties or better still register for educational conferences and webinars like the Women in IT Summit. It’s only an extra hour and a half on video and really worth it.”
Focus on action
As an executive coach, Cohn boasts some big-name clients on her books, a tribute, in part to her compassionate, empathetic and direct style – she calls it like it is. She says: “I’m also really focused on action. I love to have insightful conversations, talking about the bigger picture. And it’s important to me to know what you’re going to do with this new idea or behaviour or tool on a random Tuesday afternoon. I can be quite irreverent, and I believe the people I work with find that refreshing.”
Unlike mentoring, where someone provides guidance based on their own experience, coaching is all about collaborating on finding the most productive way of solving problems. It also helps to remind clients about what they already know.
Cohn’s coaching style is adapted to suit clients’ needs in their journey to a desired goal – an approach that has enabled her to build rapport quickly. This helps them to “feel safe” and to share their thoughts which, in turn, leads to solutions.
Work and COVID-19
Coronavirus has meant working differently. Cohn states: “I’m being called into more meetings more often and with more intensity. We’re all dealing with a lot more uncertainty. I wrote an article called Planning For a Future You Can’t Plan For – in which I’m helping my clients plan for a future they can’t plan for.
“My clients and I have now adapted how we work to focus on shorter planning cycles; doing a little and stepping back to see what happens. It can feel like a more complicated way of working but has seen me exercise a lot more empathy mixed in with a little bit of tough love.
“I’ve also been helping my CEOs to activate their humanity and channel that constructively into recognising what people now need from them; which is a combination of certainty, direction, confidence and vulnerability. It’s complicated to know when to be which.”
Make diversity a priority
Along with the importance of networking, as an executive coach and award-winning startup coach, Cohn is well aware of the need to improve board-level diversity and advises her clients to make it a priority. This means not just relying on a CV and experience. Cohn tells the story of a client who hired a woman for a senior role and enthused about her abilities. But he admitted that he wouldn’t have considered her based on her CV and experience alone. The lesson was for employers to be more understanding and open-minded when hiring.
“I think it’s important to realise that you’re looking for diversity, which brings its own benefits,” she argues. “It’s helpful to think about the bigger picture of how that person is going to fit into the puzzle, not just via their qualifications or résumé.”
Things will get better
The ability to connect virtually has made it easier to reach out to people around the world more regularly. So, despite the difficult times, there is no reason to give up. That includes starting up a business.
As Cohn points out: “There is never an ‘ideal time’ to launch a startup. If you really think about it, it’s a reckless thing to do!
“Still, I firmly believe that if you have a good idea, and you want to be a founder and an entrepreneur, then any time is an excellent time to start.
“There’s undoubtedly still funding for the right idea. I’ve had three or four clients land funding during this environment.
“What you need to ask yourself is ‘do I have a commercially viable idea and am I passionate enough about to spend the next ten years of my life on it? Also, do I have the will and the experience to withstand the ups and downs?
“The good news about doing it at this time is things are probably going to get better.”
Cohn advises that everyone should take advantage of the current situation to take a step back and assess their life and work. She concludes: “See what you want more of and what you want less of and which of your values are most important to you. And then set a course to do that and put one foot in front of the other. Don’t let little obstacles stop you. And that’s the message I always have for everyone and especially now.”
Hear more from Alisa Cohn at the Women in IT Virtual Summit, Europe 2020 on September 15. Register here.