the leader coach:
Exposing Your Soul
Much has been written and much has yet to be written about Leadership and the Leader. Our endeavor is not to step into the broad topic of Leadership, with its many nuances of strategy, organizational design and structure, execution, and various management practices and styles. Rather, our focus will be on what we believe is the least developed skill of many of today’s even most proclaimed leaders, the art of people development, or coaching, and more specifically, the role that the leader plays as a coach to his or her team.
There is absolutely no doubt that ‘Leader Coach’ is a loaded term, and quite frankly, probably means something different to all who hearken to the call. Each of us has vivid images of great leaders and great coaches that have either directly or indirectly influenced our lives, or the times in which we have lived. These leaders and coaches come from all walks of life, professions, and humanistic roles. When you hear the word leader, who is it that comes into your mind to personify this powerful word? Take a minute, and think about it. Who is the leader that most comes to mind for you? As we have conducted experiments in a variety of settings, we have found that the response to this seemingly straightforward question has ranged from heads of state to local figures of whom you and I have never heard. They could include: Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, George Washington, Jesus Christ, or Mahatma Gandhi, Cal Ripken Jr, Nelson Mandella, and on and on. Amazingly, this is just the personification of the word. Try typing the question, “what is a leader?” into Google, or any other search engine, and you’ll receive about 211,000,000 responses. Bottom line: there is no right or wrong answer to this question. It is as individual as the number of people to whom you ask the question.
A similar inquiry about coaches, and our minds and memories lead us to think of giants such as Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, and a host of others.
For purposes of this exercise, the most simplistic answer, and the premise from which we are operating, is that a Leader is a person who compels another person to want to follow. Two simple words separate the wheat from the chaff; compels and want. Many managers and people in positions of power motivate subordinates and get results by resorting to tactics that promote fear, or simply rely upon the raw power associated with the position they hold. In these scenarios, it is the rare person who is able to compel another to want to follow them. We have all worked with people like this, and recognize that they are not someone that we would willingly subject ourselves, our character, or our careers to except as a last resort. For this reason, the term leadership, especially when utilizing this definition, becomes very personal. It cries out to our values and the very essence of our beliefs, and is another reason that all players have every right to expect that their coaches will be people of high character, great strength, and personify the tenets of courageous leadership.
Pick any modern day politician and view the differences of opinion that the mere mention of his or her name will evoke from people in the office, around the holiday dinner table, or across the country. Blue state, red state, conservative, liberal, ethical, non-ethical, its all a matter of perspective, paradigms, and beliefs. The politician’s closest followers, believe with their whole heart and being, that the person they are supporting and working for is the answer to our political problems. Yet, at the same moment there are those that live in a state of diametric opposition to this person and his/her political beliefs. Fortunately, in our democratic two-party system, where majority rules, even those regarded as the greatest leaders never were followed in unanimity, nor were they handicapped from leading because of it. Nonetheless, there was a special something that these leaders had at their disposal that compelled their followers to want to follow.
Much has been written about, and even debated, as to whether leaders are naturally born, or can be created. The good news, and the other “ah-ha” for us, as we assembled this definition, is that anyone can become a leader. Anyone. If, and granted, it’s a big if, they have the heart, the desire, and the willingness to work hard, and more importantly, to expose their soul. Be it as a parent, teacher, manager, scoutmaster, friend, neighbor, subordinate, or work peer – any of the folks in these roles can compel another to want to follow a direction that he espouses because of the relationship. We believe that it is this very difference in the nature of relationships found in the workplace that separates the manager from the leader. We promise you that there is more to come on the manager vs. leader later. Suffice to say that we believe that managers manage things and true leaders lead people.
We’ve discussed the term leader, now how do we tack on the word coach? Even among the world’s greatest leaders, few actually fill the role of Leader Coach. Again, leaders compel others to want to follow them. Yet, that does not mean that followers are completing their assignments with the needed quality their role demands, or to the best of their ability, or reaching their full potential, solely because they are allegedly being influenced by a leader. Exercising their will to follow a leader, is merely the first step in the establishment of a coaching relationship. That’s where the coach steps up and in.
We asked you before to consider those that you admire as leaders, now we’ll ask you to challenge yourself and document some of the best coaching that you have either personally experienced or indirectly witnessed. For sports fans it might be Red Auerbach, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, or a plethora of the great baseball managers that seemingly play musical chairs at the end of each season. For self-helpers it might include Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Anthony Robbins, or Zig Ziglar. For each of us, there are probably one to five people from our past that we could label as a critical coach in our lives. Someone that we called upon that we trusted at a critical moment in our lives to help us be the best that we could be, or the best that we could be in addressing a specific issue or opportunity in our lives. It might have been a sports coach, a history teacher, a chaplain, an insightful friend, a parent, a spouse, or even one of our own children. Never under estimate the lessons that we can learn through the innocence of a child of any age.
In business today, Executive Coaching has become a critical function in many corporate-level offices, and we’ll briefly touch upon the role of the Executive Coach later. As noted in the preface, this form of coaching is different than the focus of this work. The largest distinction between the two roles is that the Executive Coach is largely on the sidelines and engages in coaching only before or after action. An example of this would be United States Tennis Association (USTA) tennis matches, where there are strictly enforced rules against coaching during a match, even to the point that hand signals and body movements can not be shared between coach and player. As a result of this imposed limitation, the coach has no direct ability to impact the match results, and therefore is also denied direct responsibility for the results of the team or individual he is coaching except in the actual preparation.
The Leader Coach on the other hand is on the field with the player. The Leader Coach is also ultimately accountable for the results achieved by those on his team. This is where the magic lies, and what makes this role so impactful, and hopefully attractive, to those of you either already in the role, or contemplating entering the arena. As we have said, it is not for the faint of heart. Success can also be met with disappointment. However, as Theodore Roosevelt wrote years ago:
“There is always a tendency to believe that a hundred small men can furnish leadership equal to to that of one big man. That is not so…Nothing can fully take the place of the indispensable work of leadership.”
The role of Leader Coach is incredibly rewarding, yet is chosen and performed by only a few. Just look at how the role of player-coaches has virtually disappeared from nearly all professional sports. At the same time, even in it’s hey day, there were only a few that could rise to the challenge. By definition, a player-coach or player-manager was an individual who simultaneously participated as a player while also serving as either a head coach or assistant coach for the team. Still found in semi-pro or amateur ranks, as well as in foreign sports leagues, the role has largely disappeared from American sports.
Yet for many decades, the player-coach was very commonly found in professional basketball. NBA Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens, to mention just a couple, were in fact rostered player-coaches. In the mid 1970’s this was a common practice mainly because of financial restrictions, and was considered as a cost-saving measure by many struggling teams. Today, the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players’ union prohibits the use. Nonetheless, Bill Russell the coach, achieved great success because of Bill Russell the player, stunning the world by winning the championship the last year that he played.
Major League baseball can also boast some name players who were also either a coach or a manager while at the end of their respective playing careers. Yogi Berra was a Player-Coach for the New York Yankees in 1963, and Pete Rose was the Player-Manager for the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1986, achieving success both on the field and in the dugout. Since that time, contracts, and more defined roles for managers, coaches, and players has precluded this from occurring again.
Hopefully the success enjoyed by such notable player coaches will encourage you to want to step into this role. We certainly have enjoyed our respective times in the tank! In fact, our experience is that being the Leader Coach is what makes the role of leader both interesting and meaningful. But, stepping into the role of Leader Coach is not a whimsical decision. This role comes with responsibilities beyond those found in the job descriptions of the Leader or the Manager. For an elaboration on what these added responsibilities entail, please read on, and we hope to both enlighten and inspire you. But for now, some more basics.
Before we go much further we should settle on a lexicon that we’ll be using for the remainder of this book. Terms that we have used and will continue to use include:
Leader: The person that is setting an organization’s direction and compelling others to want to follow for any of a litany of reasons.
Manager: The person that has administrative responsibility for a job or function, and directs the work of others to complete necessary components of this logistical or functional responsibility.
Mentor: The person who can provide assistance to a player by sharing experiences and technical skills.
Coach: The person who helps others reach more of their potential
Leader Coach: Read on and you’ll find out, but it includes cool stuff like: motivating, inspiring, and influencing behavior. Being able to leap buildings in a single bound is also not beyond the realm of possibility!
Player: The person the Leader Coach is coaching and leading, and the recipient of this motivation, inspiration, and behavior modification.
Subordinate: The person whose work is directed by a Manager or Leader.
Manager vs. Leader
We discussed earlier how Leaders differ from Managers. It is not our intention to make “Manager” a derogatory term, in fact we see filling the role of Manager (in the work place at least) to be a prerequisite to becoming a Leader. The manager fills the critical role of facilitating and directing the performance of subordinates while ostensibly controlling resources. This role is administrative in nature, and in essence exists to insure that the work actually gets done. Plans are developed, projects are launched, work is delivered, and status is reported. Sounds like a lot of fun right?
From a people development perspective, the manager insures subordinates receive feedback on the quality of their work products, performance appraisals, and either merit or cost of living increases that adhere to established and published company policy. All of these managerial tasks in the realm of people leadership are critical, but remain largely administrative in nature. Insuring that these basics are addressed are the minimum requirement, and the foundation for any superior-subordinate (Leader Coach-Player) relationship to exist and persist. Failing in these fundamental personnel tasks will insure that a manager’s tenure and credibility with the player(s) will most assuredly be a short one. Players need to know that they can rely on their managers to meet their basic [organizational] needs. Likewise, not completing these tasks will also brand the manager a failure insofar as the organization is concerned, because it too relies upon the manager to complete these basic tasks. Another limitation that will occur in the absence of these tasks being completed in a timely manner is that the relationship between the manager and player cannot go any deeper, much less become more committed, because the basic needs of the player are not being addressed. That’s why we see filling the role of the Manager as a prerequisite to that of becoming a Leader. Without the foundation of being able to do one’s basic role, the move to the higher level of relationship – Leader, is not possible. Of course, taking that relationship even an additional step, to that of Leader Coach, would surely remain beyond the realm of possibility.
The Field of Coaching and the Leader Coach
We discussed the role of Executive Coach earlier and the advantages it offers senior leaders and teams in our work place today. Coaching is truly coming of age, and many of the topics we discuss in this book are based on a few of the general premises within the field of Coaching. The field of Coaching is a study and practice where Terry has had some formal training and experience, yet we don’t approach this work from the perspective of the “paid-for-hire” Executive Coach. What we are more interested in is the role of the Leader as Coach. So how do we define “The Coach?” The most basic definition of a Coach that we can come up with is: someone that partners with a player to help the player be the best at what the player intends. In this way, the Executive Coach and the Leader Coach are pursuing the same goal, to wit: “helping the player be the best at what he or she intends.” Examining our definition, there are three loaded components namely partners, best, and what the player intends. Although each of these concepts will be fleshed out with more detail later, we’d like to briefly describe why we feel these are loaded terms.
Partner: United with another in an activity. Approaches an activity and a relationship with a degree of mutuality, where both are working together. This level of mutuality differs significantly from the superior-subordinate relationship where the superior directs the focus of the subordinate.
Best: Of the highest quality. The key to this attribute is that the term Best is defined and measured by the player’s abilities and not the leader’s assessment. At some later time, if the player’s best and the leader’s assessment of the player’s needed best are not aligned, then the leader may need to make other decisions about the player’s viability for the role. This sensitive area is one of the most critical when the Leader becomes the Leader Coach.
Player Intent: We will discuss Intention in detail later, but the aim of coaching is to help the player define what it is that they want to achieve (their intention), and to then help them achieve it to the best of their ability. Again, this is not necessarily where the leader’s intention is placed.
The Leader Coach is…
Simply put, the Leader Coach is the Leader who chooses to take the additional step and becomes a Coach. Heretofore we’ve used the term coaching to mean that aspect of leadership involved with people development. But, the Leader Coach approach goes beyond people development. It is a way of leading, not just in the realm of people development, but also in the areas of performance, planning, and management. In the coaching approach to development, the Coach works with the player to help uncover answers, insights, and approaches that would best serve him in his own development. By this, we mean that coaching conversations are not directive in nature. The Coach’s goal is for the player to uncover the direction and put the actions (as identified by the player) in place that will help the player achieve what he or she intends. An example of this is the manner in which law schools rely upon the Socratic Method to help the student garner an appreciation of legal and scholarly principles through a practice of asking the student questions rather than supplying information through direct lecturing.
In the typical leader relationship, the Leader directs the Player to take a certain action, which the Player is compelled to deliver. When the Leader steps into a Leader Coach relationship, the Leader Coach actually challenges the Player with the intent of uncovering the direction or action that is required for the Player to be a successful contributing member of a project, team, or to address specific performance issues. We will discuss the mechanics of this leadership style in Chapter 10, which comes with incredible benefit. By taking coaching beyond what is typically viewed as a developmental conversation and into performance conversations, new “right” answers are uncovered for the both leader and the player. And, the player is able to contribute at a much greater level in the direction of the business and in his or her role.
The Leader Coach is not…
The most difficult aspect of this approach to leadership is establishing purposeful and constructive habits. We have both led large organizations with corresponding level of responsibilities. With these responsibilities came the pressure to deliver. It is unrealistic for the Leader to always play the Leader Coach role. In fact it would be more accurately termed an approach rather than a role. Plain and simple, there will be times when the Leader will need to take command and use a directive style. There will be times when the Leader needs to be a good Manager. There will be times when the Leader Coach may desire to have a coaching conversation, but the player is not willing to be coached. And lastly, there will be times when the player wants to be coached, but the Leader will need to make the call that coaching would be inappropriate for this relationship at this time. So, let’s not confuse all of these roles; what allows the leader to comfortably shift from one role, or attitude, to another, is that he is in congruence, has earned the respect of his team, and knows the needs of those whom he serves. These are all additional terms that we will define in great detail in later chapters. Our focus throughout this book will be on that beautiful moment when the Leader is also the Coach. And it is in these moments of leadership when two souls will be exposed.
A Commitment with Boundaries
We’d love to close the chapter and move on after building to such a powerful and touching moment, but there are some additional things we need to discuss about the Leader Coach-Player relationship before we move on.
The first concern is that the Leader Coach role may not be appropriate for every person you lead. This is largely a one-on-one proposition. The first thing we learn as Coaches in that there has to be a coaching contract established between the Coach and Coachee (player). There is no coaching relationship unless the player wants to be coached. Therefore, this is very personal, and not a role to be taken on, or entered into, lightly.
The second concern we have is the establishment of boundaries. When it comes to approaching business problems and improving performance, using a coaching approach may yield the more expansive and creative results we’ve discussed. However, before the Leader Coach steps into personal and professional development, the parties must agree on proper boundaries that will be set and respected by both of them.
To begin, the Leader Coach needs to be invited in to certain aspects of the player’s world and emotions. Next, the Leader Coach needs to truly consider whether to enter, even if invited. This is where the Leader must be cognizant of what issues are, and are not, appropriate for him to consider within the confines of the coaching relationship
One important consideration that is often times overlooked by both parties in their zeal to establish a meaningful relationship is that the Coach also maintains a responsibility to the organization. In the scope of this organizational responsibility, the Coach, when resuming his role as Manager/Leader, may have the task of completing a performance appraisal. In these instances, the Leader must assess performance in the harsh, real world, terms of whether a player gets to stay on the team or is asked to move on; whether he or she will be promoted, as well as setting the amount of a person’s pay increase, which in itself can be a source of consternation for both participants. There will be certain players where it will be very prudent to set strong boundaries as to the extent and degree of the coaching relationship. In certain relationships both parties may feel very comfortable discussing emotions and how they impact behavior and results. Yet, in others discussing emotions and value sets may be best served by leaving them totally off-limits.
So as to minimize problems from ever arising, it is extremely important that all of these types of concerns be addressed in the course of a frank discussion between the Leader Coach and Player at the very outset of the relationship. Just as it is possible for a parent to have different forms of relationships with each of their children, “loving them differently while loving them all the same,” so too is it possible with a Leader Coach and his players. We hope it’s a discussion and a relationship you approach with an open mind, an open heart, and a soul willing to be exposed. It will be a period of growth and exploration for you both, and most certainly a benefit for all concerned in the future.
Okay, some heavy stuff for the first chapter of what is intended to be a light hearted approach to an extremely important concept in Today’s relationship-based world. One lesson that remains very clear in the lives of great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt is that leadership is not something we turn on and off, or something that that we leave at the office. It is a way of life. The higher the office held by the Leader Coach, the more important that he be a true Leader Coach all of the time, possessing those qualities of leadership that we will outline in the next few chapters.
To be a coach one has to be willing to be coached and to continue his own journey on the path of knowledge and growth. A Leader Coach has to be a servant leader, dedicated to serving those over whom he has stewardship. Their success becomes the Leader Coach’s success, and is often a good barometer about his own value to the organization. A Leader Coach should be a leader of leaders, which is one manner in which the leader coach can exponentially reach more people and develop more disciples.
leader coach evolution model
Find out how as you become more fully focused on the player's needs, we make our souls more available to them.
leadership coaching coefficient triangle
Relative Performance in Each Dimension
Observe that on each axis there are five levels, ranked 1 to 5, loosely denoting the following levels:
1 - Low Priority; almost never performs related tasks or abdicates responsibility for it (as in cases of annual reviews and other managerial forms of reporting).
2 - Occasional Attention; while largely ignored will perform the bare necessities.
3 - Meets Requirements - average performance is maintained.
4 - Exceeds Requirements - obviously a priority for this individual. Consistently pays attention to these tasks.
5 - Always Exceeds Requirements; models the attributes of this portion of the triangle in every aspect of life.