Volume 17 | Issue 2 | Year 2014

Everything I said to my son’s Little League team has the essential ingredients for success for any coach:

  • Making the team members believe in themselves;
  • Mandating that the entire team work together;
  • Pushing the team to achieve success;
  • Encouraging a winning attitude;
  • Creating a team culture that supports all these things.

Think about it: The people who helped make you successful in sports, school, or any part of your life that required your best performance were the ones who constantly challenged you, inspired you, drove you, and didn’t take less than the best you could be—and they were right to do so. Our goal as business leaders should be to do the same with our people. But most times, we just don’t.

That’s because most businesses don’t have coaching cultures and leaders who are coaches; they have management cultures and leaders who are managers. Coaches cannot thrive in management cultures that expect its leaders to pay attention to individuals more than to the team, handle problems reactively, focus on reforming the poorest performers, avoid conflict, and mostly just step back and let people do their jobs. A coaching culture expects the exact opposite of its leaders: to believe the team is more important than the results of an individual, get involved before action is needed, focus on the top performers who deserve their attention, embrace conflict, and always get on the field and practice with the team.

What if I told my Little League boys to work as a team and play with a winning attitude but didn’t practice during the week or scrimmage game situations? We might never have won a game. It’s not enough to talk about it. The same is true in business: We can’t simply say we want our leaders to coach their teams; we need to show them how to be coaches. But for too long, the business world has lacked a clear and effective instruction on the skills, disciplines, and executable tasks necessary to turn leaders into coaches.

So why aren’t there more coaches and coaching cultures in business? Is it just the absence of a book like this? No. It’s because coaching is hard. Coaching doesn’t just happen. Coaching takes time and constant effort to make it the core of a business’s leadership principles. Coaching does not work if it is optional. These lessons must be implemented and made mandatory. We can’t simply try and fit coaching into our days. It never fits. Consider the first coaching activities we will cover in this book: practicing and scrimmaging. Professional business teams, unlike any professional sports teams, rarely practice. Why? It’s not because we don’t know that practice is essential to a team’s success. But practicing takes time to set up and weeks and months of constant work to achieve great results. How can we possibly squeeze it into a list already overflowing with high-priority tasks? There’s just no time! But everyone says that. We may be busy, but are we being productive?

Coaching makes us productive, but that productivity can be hard to wait for when we always feel we need some results now, now, NOW! That’s another big obstacle to creating coaches and coaching cultures: There is little instant gratification in coaching. Gratification comes in achieving better results months down the road. When I show business leaders how to practice and scrimmage, they never leave the room saying, “Genius!” But while the overall results take time, the change in the team’s morale just from paying attention to them and instilling a winning attitude happens much, much faster.

Truth is, there’s a bigger reason we resist the changes needed to turn managers into coaches: We’re afraid of what we might find. We’re scared that when we begin to coach our people, we will find out that those people are not as good as we thought. That doesn’t only make us scared, it makes us selfish. We don’t want to deal with and take responsibility for all the inevitable work and conflict that comes from this change. Nobody likes making the tough decisions coaches need to make to move people up or out of the organization. Instead, we say things like “If I have to get rid of that guy, I will have to confront him directly and then do all his work while I work to replace him, and I don’t want to do it.” It’s much easier to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Yet it never does. To become a coach means challenging everything you think and do as a leader today.

Most of us have heard the phrase “work on your business instead of in your business,” but I want to give you a coaching twist on it: Work on your people, not for your people. I believe leaders are paid to pay attention to, develop, and motivate their people and teams to perform better. I want to contradict the principles of management cultures you have been hearing and using for years and confront the things you have done in the past and believe to be right. The fact is, I have a lot of half-read business books on my bookshelf written by people who have no idea what my “world” is like. I wanted to write a leadership book that people like me might actually finish and feel that—finally—there is a book that speaks “our” language.

The Leadership Playbook: “Creating a Coaching Culture to Build Winning Business Teams” will be published in August 2014, (Gotham Books).

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