The journey of a coach working with professional athletes and teams is filled with fascinating experiences, both good and bad. Either way, they reveal valuable insights and lessons, applicable to almost everyone in their professional and/or personal lives. Sharing some of these with you is Paddy Upton, T20 head coach, speaker, teacher, and author of The Barefoot Coach.
There are similarities in and differences between the CEO’s and coach’s roles, some of which translate to lessons one can learn from the other.
1. Delivering results
In general, CEOs have more opportunity to actively or directly deliver results through taking action and making decisions. Coaches do not take to the field and thus cannot actively deliver on-field performances; in 15 years of coaching cricket, I have yet to score a run or take a wicket. A coach’s role is to do everything possible to set individuals and their team up for success, creating a conducive high-performance environment in which the delivery of results is the players’ responsibility. Coaches thus need to be experts in getting the best performance out of others, including those who might be struggling for form. Unlike CEOs, they cannot step in and take over what needs to be done. Some CEOs could learn from coaches about how to grow, support and empower others, how to give more regular and constructive feedback, and about how to create the best possible environment (culture) for employee success.
(On a side note and relating to feedback, I don’t think there’s any such thing as ‘constructive criticism’. Criticism is criticism, and it’s hardly a useful approach to giving feedback. Criticism constitutes a problems-based focus. Focus feedback on what a better way might be in the future, which is a solutions-based focus.)
Coaches also need to work closely with their immediate reportees, such as their batting, bowling, fielding and fitness coaches, to collectively enhance the team’s performance. Good coaches are really good delegators and trust their assistants to do their job.
Coaches need to be experts in getting the best performance out of others, including those who might be struggling for form.
3. Broadening horizons of learning
Compared to CEOs, most sport coaches come from within the sport, having spent most of their professional career operating and thus learning from that context. Cricket coaches are often ex-cricketers who go directly from playing into coaching.
The upside of this is that valuable experience is kept within the game. The downside is that the same information and knowledge is continually recycled into the system. Many sport environments are riddled with antiquated methods that are followed because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’, and many coaching accreditation courses do little to address this shortcoming. Examples include the over-use of instruction-based sport coaching, where the coach does all the thinking and planning for athletes, and then instructs them what to do. Despite this being an ineffective method of helping people learn and for preparing them to make the all-important on-field decisions, many coaches still employ to this power-based approach. The ineffectiveness of this authoritarian or instruction-based approach is exacerbated when antiquated ideas are prescribed.
Sports bodies can learn from business when it comes providing leadership support and feedback to their coaches.
In comparison, CEOs often move across industries, tend to gain more learning from other contexts and tend to get more exposure to learning about leadership. Sports coaches could learn from CEOs by going beyond what their sports bodies prescribe as required learning and accreditation, in order to learn about best practice from others sports, other leadership disciplines and other businesses. More recently, there has been an upward trend for sports bodies and sports coaches to learn from best practice in divergent sports. Some of the better interventions I have employed in cricket are ideas and concepts that I’ve borrowed from as far afield as extreme sports, to the theatre and movie industries.
4. Coaching for CEOs and coaches
Compared to sports coaches, businesses generally do a better job at setting their CEOs and senior managers up for success, providing them the necessary coaching, mentoring, learning and feedback opportunities. Many CEOs have a personal coach who serves as a sounding board, who gives them difficult feedback and holds them accountable.
In comparison, fewer coaches in sport seek or are provided all important leadership support and feedback. Some sports coaches might even see having a personal coach or mentor as a sign of weakness. However, many-a-coach has remained unaware of the mistakes they were making, or of the problems players had with them. This lack of awareness and feedback, which is prevalent in the sport coaching world, can lead to them repeating avoidable errors and eventually to losing the change room (losing players’ respect) and ultimately, losing their job.
In summary, some CEOs can learn from coaches about creating high performance environments in which others can thrive; including giving regular high-quality and impactful feedback, serving employees learning, growth and development, and in some cases, empowering (trusting) their direct reports. Coaches can learn from some CEOs regards learning from outside of their field, enhancing their leadership capabilities (raising their self-awareness as a leader), and both seeking and being open to receiving feedback and leadership support. Finally, sports bodies can learn from business when it comes providing leadership support and feedback to their coaches.