Lead like a coach

When I was in the eighth grade, my father encouraged me to go out for basketball. While I admittedly had zero natural athletic ability, I was willing to give the sport a try. I’m so glad that I did.
In addition to having fun and learning to love physical fitness and team spirit, some of my most important leadership lessons originated from this. The principles of coaching in athletics are closely correlated with leadership in the workplace.
Like any corporate team, an athletic team must adhere to the coach’s discipline to gain mastery of basic skills.
Athletic teams adopt the coach’s game plan by executing brilliant plays necessary to win the game. Teams in the workplace follow the leader’s game plan by accomplishing goals and strategies required to realize organizational mission and vision.
More than numbers
The win-loss column typically measures victories for coaches. For corporate leaders, the victories are measured by profitability, value and stakeholder engagement. In reality, coaches and leaders understand that victories transcend numerical measures of success.
Victory to a coach leader is also measured by teaching important life lessons such as:

  • Learning from mistakes so that continuous improvement is pursued for yourself and for the team.
  • Accepting disappointment with grace.
  • Winning with humility.
  • Learning to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable as we accept stretch assignments.
  • Learning that the team accomplishes more together than could ever be achieved by one extraordinary performer.
  • Learning the importance of teaching those who follow us the same leadership lessons that we learned from our mentors.

Praise and responsibility
Great coaches like great leaders provide constructive feedback when things don’t go according to plan. They also provide ample praise when excellent results are achieved.
I’ll never forget the day that as a ninth grader, I heard Coach Kea say, “Smith, that jump shot looks pretty good.” Simple words of encouragement were all I needed to set me on fire to work harder and to achieve more.
The same is true in the corporate setting. Employees are starving to hear the words: “Well done. Thank you.” from their supervisors.
It’s regrettable that some leaders believe praise is soft. Recognition is not soft at all. It’s absolutely strategic.
Outstanding coaches and leaders own the game plan and the ultimate outcome. There is simply no room for the blame game in greatness.
Revered coaches and leaders don’t offer excuses about poor officiating, competitive interventions or extenuating circumstances. The team always gets the credit when things go well. The coach and leader should always accept responsibility when things don’t go according to plan. Period. End of story.
As you think about your own leadership responsibilities, please know that the lessons you teach your team today are the same lessons your team members will pass along to those who follow them.

I hope you pay it forward when they say, “Put me in, Coach!”

Janet Meeks is the co-founder and CEO of Healthcare Alignment Advisors LLC. With 38 years of experience in finance and health care along with extensive service in the boardroom, Janet Meeks is a sought-after adviser to CEOs and other C-suite executives across a variety of industries. She is also the author of the book “Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before,” that was released in January 2018.