Vince Lombardi, the former head coach of the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins for whom professional football’s championship trophy is named, was not a great football player. By contrast, Wayne Gretsky, arguably one of the best hockey players of all time, was quite unimpressive in his time as a professional coach. Clearly, there are skills that make great players and those that make great coaches, and the differences are critical to understand as a young leader. This article will provide you with 5 key traits that can help you become a great coach in your career field, even if you aren’t the best or most experienced player.
Being promoted ahead of your peers, especially into a role in which you supervise them, can cause some obvious challenges. Others may feel entitled, as though their work or tenure should have granted them the promotion. The friction you may feel at this moment can cause major problems for productivity and for your success as a recently promoted leader. There are two ways to handle such a situation:
1. You can demand the respect of your team by launching an offensive against any perceived insubordination.
This strategy may actually work, but it will almost certainly cause avoidable turnover in the process, thereby diminishing your outcomes. In fact, if you choose this path, you may find that the problem staffers quit or are terminated, but so might some of the more solid members of the team. If you behave like a tyrant as a recently appointed leader, you will lose the respect of your team. I strongly advise you do not take this route.
2. You can earn the respect of your team by first showing them respect.
I was once promoted twice within just a few months, so my boss became my colleague, then she became my employee. I had a lot of respect for this individual, and it was important to me that I demonstrated that to her. She did not need to be broken like a wild colt. A much younger, less experienced employee of hers had just become her supervisor. She already was broken. At this point, her fractured ego needed to be repaired, not shattered.
While you must be careful to not be apologetic for your promotion-you deserve to be in charge; that’s why you are-you must be empathetic to the impact it has on the individuals now calling you “boss.” Ask for their input on ideas and projects, lean on them for their expertise, and express gratitude frequently for what they contribute to the team. Keep in mind that demonstrating respect for your people does not mean that you should flex too much on key issues. You are the new boss, and you need to own the authority and responsibility that the position carries. If a member of your team is unwilling to show you the same respect, they have no place on your team at all.
Confident humility is one of the greatest indicators of true leadership. Posturing and attempting to lord over your new team is a sure sign that you aren’t ready for the role you’ve been given. By the same token, fear of conflict must be replaced with commitment to resolution so that you maintain a strong position when necessary.
Embrace Your Strengths; Don’t Sweat Your Inexperience
All too often, young and newly-appointed leaders feel that they should hide their inexperience so that they can be respected by their subordinates. Let me let you in on a secret: they see right through it. While it’s imperative that you embrace your strengths to instill confidence, it is equally critical to be willing to acknowledge that you are learning along the way. You are going to make missteps along your leadership journey. If you commit to learning from those missteps and acknowledging them as they occur, they won’t be held against you. On the other hand, if your main concern is appearing infallible, you will expend LOTS of energy and will eventually be found out. Then, you will lose credibility and trust. Everyone is new at something at some point in their life. Choose to be relatable to your team as a human being who is learning and growing, and they will learn and grow along with you.
Many of your coworkers may be overlooked for that next promotion because they don’t understand what it takes to win. On a sales team, for instance, you will frequently have a “ball hog,” that individual who is talented and competent, but would rather lose a deal herself than let another member of the team make the play.
To show that you are ready for the next step, think about the big picture. What processes need to be changed in order for your team, department, or business unit to be more successful? Who are the right people for a given project? What can you do from your role to most significantly impact the results achieved? What sacrifices need to be made so that goals are reached and exceeded?
Recently, a member of my team approached me to say that an assignment I had given her was probably better suited for someone else who was more skilled in that area. She emphasized her willingness to complete the task herself, but said she thought the team would probably achieve better results if a different team member with different strengths handled it. In exchange, she was willing to take on a mundane and undesirable project from that team member. She understood what needed to be done and relinquished the glory herself for the glory of the team. She passed the ball to the most skilled shooter on the team so he could score. That was leadership if I’ve ever seen it.
Build a Winning Team
Once you get the leadership title, your success will often be hinged not on your own production or performance, but on that of your team. You can influence that success through inspiration, training, setting and enforcing expectations, and process improvements, but you cannot achieve success unless your staff does the same. Keep in mind that a team comprised of individuals much like you will not be nearly as successful as a diverse, multi-faceted team. This means that as a new leader, you need to find the person who will best fit into your plan regardless of personal feelings. You are hiring a team to accomplish a business goal, not to surround yourself with friends and people who will not challenge you as a leader. When asked why I am successful in my career, I always answer that I hire the right people and make them want to stay. If you do the same, you will have results you never dreamed possible.
Identify and Utilize Your Assistant Coaches
There is a cohesion among teams that can be stressed to its limit by new leadership. Changes will need to be made, and some of your staff may feel that their world is spinning out of control if you don’t give them some consistency to hold onto. The glue that binds all of the working parts of a department or work group is the people themselves. When you take on your new role, identify leaders on the team who are on board with your vision and utilize them. Let them know that you trust their input and their role on the team and that you need them to ensure the success of the mission. Ask them to step up in a supportive way during meetings and day to day operations to remind their peers of the goals you are trying to reach. Get their honest feedback (check your ego at the door for these discussions) on how you are doing and what you can do to improve relations with the other staff and general morale. Most importantly, make sure these assistant coaches know how much you appreciate the impact they have on the team’s success. They will make or break the group dynamic, so guard and cherish these relationships to maximize your achievement.
You Can Do It!
Crossing over from player to coach is daunting by any standard, but you can do it! You know the game, you know the keys to success, and you know how to inspire the team. Step into your new role with your head high and your mind open. Get out there and coach your team all the way to the championship, and when you make it, celebrate!