Hey coach!

When we think about coaching, our minds often leap to an image of a professional sports coach. This coach stands behind the bench or on the sideline, usually with a dissatisfied look on their faces (no matter the score), and a clipboard in hand. Some coaches are quiet and reserved, while others seem to be constantly yelling out instructions or words of encouragement to their players.

The public image of the coach is only part of the job description. Like many business leaders, great coaches need to fulfill two critical roles in order to have a winning team.

The coach as strategist

Coaches make many crucial decisions for the team – what line to put out, when to pull the goalie, and who to match up against key players on the other team. These are strategic decisions based on the current assessment of the situation (the score, how the other team is playing, and how the referees are calling the game). These strategic decisions are the more visible aspect of what coaches do.

Good business leaders must also play the role of the strategist. Similar to a sports coach, business leaders assess the current situation, observe what the other teams (competitors) are doing, check the scoreboard regularly, and adjust their game plan in order to win.

Not all decision making falls on a coach.  For winning teams, both in sport and business, players have discretion to make in-game choices. In fact, some of the most successful teams are those where the coach makes very few decisions during the game. In order to create a team (in business and in sport) that has the confidence to make in-game decisions, coaches must spend time developing talent.

The coach as a talent whisperer

The less visible aspect of coaching, is the role they play in talent development. In sports, this role occurs on the practice pitch, in the gym, and in the dressing room.  Great coaches regularly have one-on-one conversations with players, recognizing that every player has a unique skill set, and will respond to different types of feedback.

In this role, the world’s best coaches have a mental model about what high performance looks like, and provide ongoing feedback to players about how their behavior matches or differs from best-practices.

Business leaders need to play this role as well. They help employees unleash their potential by setting clear expectations and providing regular feedback on performance. In understanding what high-performance looks like for all positions on the roster, coaches and leaders understand the importance of acquiring the right talent for the team.  

Balancing the roles

Great business leaders need to wear both hats to be successful.  They could be brilliant strategists, but without developing talent the capacity of the team will not increase.  Without talent development, the best available players in the market may not be attracted to the organization since A-Players want to work on winning teams with other A-Players.

Likewise, a leader who is a master developer of talent without also operating as a strategist will miss opportunities to successfully respond to market changes and competitive forces.  They need to see patterns, identify new threats and opportunities, and ultimately be the primary change-agent in the organization.

How would you assess your capabilities and time spent in these two critical roles for leaders?

Article by Tim O’Connor