Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
Coachability is Critical for Coaches as well as Players
Hopefully, at some point in your life, you have been blessed to come across an impactful leader, coach or boss that was able to put you in a position to succeed and motivate you to be part of something better. I will interchange Coach and Leader throughout the article even though you can coach without leading, but you will rarely be a GOOD coach without the ability to lead.
In High School I played for 3 football coaches in 4 years. My sophomore and junior year I played for an intelligent, young, first-time coach who reinforced the skills, discipline, and mindset to make us better. But he didn’t bother to build a connection. He used old school manipulation to try and break me as a young leader and didn’t bother to spend time investing in us or building a connection. Many of the players quit (18 kids total on our football team as a sophomore) but those who stayed grew as players and young men. My senior year, they brought in another young, first-time coach, but this coach was the opposite. He was all energy and excitement without the discipline and emphasis on the techniques. He motivated the players to believe in themselves and each other. He wasn’t pitting people against each other, he instead reached out to those who left the program to bring them back into the fold. He led us to our first ever winning record in the program. He wasn’t responsible for building the program because without the prior coach focusing on skills and mindset, his leadership style would have made us confident but not with the ability to support the desire. Coaching and leading are not the same.
At work I had the pleasure of reporting to an experienced, hands-off leader that would focus on his vision and then let you find your way. Even if it meant walking to the edge of a cliff, dangerously close to falling off. He would never grab you by the shoulders and turn you to a new direction, instead he would gently nudge you, allowing you to regain your balance and let you keep walking until you found the path.
It seems that the vast majority of coaches and/leaders seem to have the common trait of confidence that borders on egotism and for some, they crossed the border and never looked back! In my experiences, many of those coaches and or leaders have been successful because they have had good mentors or came through a good system. They receive coaching only from those they deem worthy enough to “educate” them and over the years they find fewer and fewer people who meet that criteria. Which is why those types of coaches and leaders struggle in today’s world and due to their steep trajectory tend to burn out and crash.
In the book Coach to Coach by Martin Rooney, he states “the first major ability of a coach is coachability.” He goes on to define “coachability” as when you learn something new that is the right thing to do, and you do it. The emphasis is to actually do what you learn. You practice so you can be prepared for the game. Players learn and practice. Coaches are no different.
It can be scary to let go of the wheel and trust those riding the bus with you to take over and share in the driving responsibilities. For those of us with more years in leadership, it typically is not what we have experienced in our own development. But showing a willingness to be coached - even by those who are not a coach - can pay dividends in your own development as well as the trust and growth of your team.
During a travel ball game coaching my middle son, Trey, I was forced to call a timeout to settle the team down and make some adjustments. Before I could start my “lecture”, I was caught off guard when I heard a voice say, “listen up.” My oldest son, Zach, who was in high school, worked his way into the huddle and began to explain what was needed for the team to respond to the situation and stressed he knew that they could execute these changes on the next play. Each player in the huddle was locked on to Zach like he was Coach K of the Duke Blue Devils. He identified the issue, he put forth a plan to address the issue, he showed confidence in them. When he was done, I responded with, “You understand?” An enthusiastic team left the huddle.
In the heat of the game, it’s easy to get caught up in the action on the court and lose focus on what is happening on the bench. You could have players that are not getting adequate playing time for their development, or a key player is sitting when they need to be on the court. As a coach, you are busy coaching. Recognizing this, an assistant stood up and asked, “would you like me to handle the substituting so you can focus on the game?” Perfect! He recognized that I was not performing at my best for the team as a whole OR for the individual players. The assistant coach reminded me that as a leader, we can’t do it all and we have to lead collectively for the success is not found in a single game but in the overall journey of those in the program.
Whether on hardwood or on the manufacturing floor, being open to input is key to empowerment of the team as well as shared purpose. Awareness of both the individual and the collective skill sets is critical for leaders to make sure resources are utilized both efficiently and effectively.
3 Key Principles to Being Coached
You don’t know everything. You must be comfortable with who you are and understand that you are flawed. Be open to feedback. Receive it, discuss it, incorporate it. You can’t immediately put up the defenses and discount what is being suggested. You need to listen. Take the time to understand the perspective. Even if your first instinct is that it won’t work, say to them “Thank you for the input. You gave me a lot to think about.”
Check your ego at the door. It’s not about you and the win. It’s about the growth of your team. You must have a desire to grow so that as a team you will all grow and have a greater impact together. Servant leadership isn’t about the leader. In the example above, I relinquished control of player substitution, and it was a game changer.
It starts with trust. Transparency is needed to trust, and trust is needed to lead. If there is no trust, then you are strictly directing or telling. Not leading. You need to share your fears and shortcomings but be confident in your vision, purpose, and process.
By knowing your flaws, losing the ego, and establishing trust your team will be confident to approach you with insights and concerns knowing that the path you travel is together and for the collective benefit of the team. This is how a coach can coach Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.