Management Principles and Team Sports

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

Welcome to the Friday Five — “Craig’s Top Five List.

If I had my way, coaching a team sport would be a prerequisite for any management position.   That’s how strongly I feel about it; coaching a team sport will teach you so much about managing people in such a short time, it should be mandatory for any job involving leadership.  “There is no mention in your CV about coaching a team sport?” I would lament, “That’s unfortunate”.

Coaching team sports is the perfect training ground for the aspiring manager.  The best coaches prepare before games, are complete concentration during games and review extensively after competition.

Coaching team sports is the perfect training ground for the aspiring manager. The best coaches prepare before games, are complete concentration during contests and review extensively after competition.

Already spent thousands of dollars on management seminars?  Refuse to relinquish your management books?  No problem; still for  just a little sweat equity, I can quickly and efficiently immerse you into the best management and leadership laboratory.  By being the person behind the bench or standing at the sideline, you will experience and be forced to apply many of the advanced concepts of leadership.  You will simply accelerate your understanding and use of leadership principles.

I hesitate to share with you that coaching a team sport was where I had my greatest management breakthroughs and how I refined my management style and tested several principles.  I hesitate because I have already experienced the stigma of being a person who appreciates sport, and rejection from many who consider sports the domain of the neanderthal.  I have many times heard the intolerant refrain “Here we go again; not another sports story”.  I have been incessantly reminded that the workplace is for work and sports are for weekends, big screen TVs and La-Z-Boy armchairs.

Still I persist on this rainy Friday — I emphatically assert that team sports are the best teachers of aspiring managers.  And, the good news?  This will be the most affordable hands-on management course you will ever take.

To begin, I am asking you to change your focus from the athlete to the person more or less behind the success of these athletes — the coach.  The athlete, in the spotlight, produces that awesome catch, that scintillating save or that incredible slam dunk.  The coach, the puppet master of sorts and in most cases humbly working behind the curtain, generates the context that permits and inspires excellence.

An insider view of the coaching environment allows you to appreciate that talent or individual capacity is just one determinant of success both in sports and in life generally.  This hands-on opportunity will convince you  that the motivated and creative coach can significantly improve the performance of the team, whether that be in sports or in the workplace.

Without further ado, today’s “Craig’s Top Five List” identifies five ways that coaching a team sport can influence and strengthen your management style:

  1. Delegation: Since the coach is not permitted on the playing surface, the coach must relinquish responsibility for completing the assignment to the players — it is immediate and unequivocal delegation to the players.   The coach oversees the work and is responsible for the overall approach; the players are assigned specific duties within the overall system.  Starting with a principle of delegation is important in the workplace, because it is instinctual for managers to feel a need to maintain control and believe that they are the ultimate experts in their area of work (which may in fact be true).  By finding a logical place for work assignments in your area, you are then challenged to find a more fluid way of ensuring that work is performed.
  2. Time Constraints & Intensity: Nothing says focus like a deadline.   Coaching a team sport teaches the coach to be absolutely present during competition  — the epitome of concentration.  Because most sport is played at a high level of intensity, the coach is often offered just one opportunity to make the right decision.  This means that time, before and after competition, is critical for preparation.  Every reasonable outcome must be anticipated and a response to these eventualities must be developed.  The principles of concentration, anticipation and preparation are just as relevant in the workplace; however, workplace managers have the luxury of making plans and decisions in what comparatively seems like slow motion.  If you can perform effectively in a game environment, effectiveness in the workplace is a given.
  3. Communication: If the coach cannot do, he must invest in his capacity to say.  Communication is the most powerful tool in his toolbox.  He must be able to teach complex concepts with absolute clarity.  He must be able to inspire and motivate so he can lever top performances from players with different abilities, strengths and learning styles.  In the heat of battle, he must express his ideas with the right energy so he can infuse calm and patience where there is time, and urgency where the clock is an impediment.  He must apply the correct tone and strength to correct and where necessary discipline, so that the player understands and accepts the message.   Is communication an important skill in the workplace as well?  Absolutely.  As a former coach, I can see how lessons I learned coaching have allowed me to recognize opportunities where communication can support the effective management of the team.  In this regard, I coined a term called “management by opportunity”.  Although preparation and planning were still essential, as a manager I was constantly on the lookout for opportunities that would strengthen the working environment; and, of course, communication was the principal tool for this reinforcement.
  4. What a Team!: Have you heard the expression “You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”?  If you read the coaches handbook (sic), you will find this quote framed and highlighted in large bold print.   An aspiring coach prays everyday for an abundance of talent.  In fact, he would love a mix of talented athletes who play every game at a high level of intensity and who get along with their teammates and who listen and have a deep passion for learning.  Yes, all that would be good.  Mix all these ingredients will a little luck and everything should, might work out fine.   Coaches understand the importance of maximizing their talent in every way.  First they must find the best players available.  Second they must invest in developing the full capacity of these athletes.  And of course, they must mold this mix of capacity and personality into a well oiled machine.  Coaches are also great teachers.  They know that practicing the way you will eventually play a game is the best way to improve performance and that repetition of necessary skills over a period of at least six weeks changes destructive behaviour into supportive behaviour.  To often in the workplace, we manage the work and the employees are a consequence of this need.  That is, employees are merely there to do the work.  The coaching approach would say manage the employees to complete the work.  From this perspective, employees are a resource to be developed.  The more we invest in the people, the greater the completion of the work and the higher the quality of this achievement.
  5. Performance Review: Coaches are quite simply “students of the game”.   They consume vast amounts of bad coffee trying to remedy the smallest problem.  The saddest tale is of the lonely coach who has no co-coach with whom to commiserate.  Coaches crave an advantage and can regularly be seen trying to squeeze the last drop of hope from a seemingly dessicated thought.  The irony is that those who invest in the journey of search will invariably discover platinum — the means of motivating a demoralized player, the tactic that will paralyze a seemingly invincible attack.  The manager in this new model becomes the facilitator — the person that removes obstacles to performance.  The person who understands through study the best way to maximize performance and output.

Why coach a team before you take on a position of leadership?  Quite simply it makes sense to explicitly understand what it means to manage before you lead.  Further, you will experience fewer setbacks and have less to correct if your employees are not your guinea pigs.  Remember, only doctors and lawyers have the privilege of “practicing” for a lifetime.

So are you coaching yet?  For those of you who are coaches, what has been your experience?  Please let me know and I will participate in the dialogue.

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