Ready to Play Ball in Business?

There are many similarities between the traits that successful sports coaches possess and what it takes to be a great manager. At a macro level capable sports coaches know how to make their team work in harmony and, one of the defining qualities of a good manager is their ability to help guide people so they can reach their full potential.

Looking at the micro level what traits do sucessful sports coaches have that could be applyed to leadership in a business environment?

Coaches encourage the ball to be passed

One person playing a team sport isn't soley responsible for winning the game, therefore great coaches will always encourage and foster the team to work together. In an organisational context this means good leaders must learn to delegate and empower.

In sports, the context may be easier, because it is usually a little more obvious when the ball needs to be passed. At work this can be more difficult, which is why so many organisations have all sorts of frameworks in place.

There’s situational leadership, which talks about when you need to be directive and when you need to be supportive of your team, rules for prioritising your work, rules on what can be delegated and what can’t. We need to use all these frameworks to then decide when the ball needs to be passed.

Coaches appreciate diversity

This follows naturally from the lesson of passing the ball, in that the team benefits from a group of talents to pass the ball. The more diverse the team the more skills they will likely possess. Strong team composition is about more than just differing strengths though; it’s also personality types, backgrounds, age groups, gender and ethnicity.

Coaches motivate and build trust with their teams

Knowing how to motivate your people to perform at their best is an essential part of being a great coach. It requires not only understanding each team member’s personality, but building a foundation of trust. That way, they feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback. 

Effective feedback is based on empathy and a focus on a positive future. As a manager, it’s your job to help your team perform at their best. Sometimes, that requires you to give uncomfortable feedback – both uncomfortable for you to talk about and for your team member to hear. As you give feedback remember that this is to help your team improve. You may be surprised how a more positive frame can positively impact the individual receiving the feedback.

Coaches ‘Maximise the effectiveness of meetings’

Successful coaches keep communications simple and meetings short. This is a valuable reminder that meetings shouldn't be longer than most people’s attention spans, trying to convey too much information in one go can often be a waste of time.

Coaches help people to think for themselves

It is commonplace for employers to invest in staff training and motivation schemes. How much better would it be if they focused on developing people’s attitudes and thinking so they solve more problems themselves and became more self-motivated? In essence, great coaches are not only coaching operationally they're coaching for changing behaviours.  

Coaches are empathetic

Top coaches bring out the best in their team by treating them as multidimensional persons. They understand that every individuals performance could be affected by their personal life, so they get to know each of their players on a personal level to adapt to their needs.

Coaches focus on the bigger picture

While getting to know the players on a personal level is their job, most notable coaches also focus on working out how to put each member’s quirks together to make a formidable team.

Coaches have shared goals with their team

Integral to team cohesion is a shared goal among all group members. While each team consists of individuals with different roles and interests, their individual goals must support the team goal and not supersede it. Teams will struggle when an individual places their needs above the rest.

Coaches step back and let their players shine

The greatest coaches understand that it’s their job to work behind the scenes to guide their teams, and then step back when it’s time for the big moment. Likewise, the best managers should inspire their team to be their best.

A successful coach will need to have excellent people management skills to make sure their team is in synch and that they reach their goals—whether it’s winning the season championship or an individual player having their highest score ever.

Coaches have good self-awareness

Having self-awareness and a clear definition of your core values allow coaches to impart advice that comes from the heart, and when words are genuine the team is more likely to hear them out.

Coaches keep their head in the game — not on the scoreboard

Business is like sports in the way you must score your goal of making a profit to stay in the match. But when everything becomes about winning, it all becomes a loser’s game. Playing just to win is a broken concept. Great coaches gauge their team’s performance not only on the scoreboard, but on their spirit—both on- and off-the field.

Key takeaway

Whenever a person scores — whether in sports or business — it’s always for the benefit of the team. For leaders who want to keep on growing it’s a good idea to take inspiration not only from the feats of high-performing athletes but also from the brains responsible for such efforts.

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