Helping a manager or leader understand what coaching is and how to do it may involve a steeper learning curve than one expects. The reason for this is simple: many managers and leaders are sports fans, and as sports fans, they see coaches on the sidelines getting upset, throwing tantrums, and getting ejected from games. Even the best coaches in the sporting world get upset and lose their temper now and again. Coaching, then, is often associated with yelling, lecturing, pep talks, and Gatorade. However, this is not what coaching is all about. Because there are so many pre-conceptions associated with coaching, it may be beneficial to define coaching by giving examples of what coaching is not.
Say No to Babysitting
An effective coaching style brings the best out of people. It doesn’t matter if you are in a corporate coaching position or an NFL coaching position. The best coaches somehow bring the best out of people. As one holding a corporate coaching position, it is your responsibility to bring the most talented people into the organization. Performance issues can be traced back to some level of incompetence, whether it is the lack of a certain skill, a skewed paradigm, or a lack of general knowledge that went undiscovered. When you hire people that show great talent in certain areas and lack talent in others—especially the areas that are the most crucial to the business—you set yourself up as that person’s coach and should plan to deal with performance issues sometime in the near future. If you know this going into hiring someone, you know where some of your coaching energy needs to be spent. Given this, a coach is a leader that can anticipate and mitigate performance issues. A coach isn’t a well-paid babysitter.
Bridge the Trust Gap
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said, “Men [and women] trust their ears less than their eyes.” Much, much later, the ancient Roman poet Virgil said, “Trust not too much to appearances.” Trust is part of the foundation of any healthy relationship. There is no way you can be an effective coach if your subordinates do not trust you. Many would-be coaches mistake respect for trust, but they are vastly different. Subordinates will likely respect you because you are their boss, and in many cases, for that reason only. Peoples’ respect in this case is a finicky thing; their respect will ebb and flow like the tide. One minute the tide is high; the next minute, the tide is really, really low. If this is the case with your subordinates, they simply respect your position, your title, or your office. They don’t respect you as a person, and they don’t respect you as their leader and coach. A leadership/coaching position doesn’t earn the trust of your subordinates right out the gate. You have to earn their trust. If you earn their trust by word and by deed, you will likely become an effective coach for your team.
Strategically Position Your Players
The 1996 to 1997 season for the Utah Jazz, an NBA basketball team was the team’s best ever. That season, they posted a franchise-best record of 69-18 after losing the 6th NBA final game to the Chicago Bulls. The whole team played their hearts out. They knew their positions, did their jobs, played as a team should, and experienced a huge amount of success. Throughout the season, the Utah Jazz announcer, “Hot” Rod Hundley, could be heard saying the phrase, “Stockton to Malone!” to the point of cliché. As one of the most heavy-hitting duos in the NBA, John Stockton and Karl Malone propelled the Utah Jazz into the NBA history books.
So, here’s a question to think about: What would have happened if long-time Jazz coach Jerry Sloan would have played Stockton and Malone in opposite positions? What would have happened if Greg Ostertag, Jeff Hornacek, and Shandon Anderson played in different positions that year as well? Yes—the idea is ridiculously laughable. Why would you play a guy that is clearly a center as a guard? Why would you play a forward as a guard? It doesn’t make any sense, does it?
Let’s bring this back to business, but ask the same kind of questions. Why would you play a salesperson as a bookkeeper? Why would you play an accountant as an IT professional? Why would you play a writer as a salesperson? As a coach, you need to position your team strategically in order to get the most out of them. How do you know where a person belongs on the team? That’s easy: get to know them. A coach isn’t a blind leader.
Oftentimes, it is easier to define a thing based on what it isn’t rather than what it is. An effective coach isn’t a babysitter. An effective coach doesn’t expect trust. He or she earns it. Also, an effective coach isn’t a blind leader. He or she will position his or her people in a way that will allow the organization to get the most out of their talents, skills, abilities, and knowledge. Yes—an effective coach is much more than this, but it is a good place to start.
How would you define what an effective coach is?