Published on 17th November 2022
Lessons In People Management from Sport’s Supercoaches
This is the age of the supercoach. To football (soccer to my US colleagues!) fans, Pep Guardiola and Emma Hayes are as recognizable as the current superstars they coach. Their role in those teams’ successes is beyond question.
Think of Dave Brailsford in cycling, Richard Williams in tennis, Toni Minichiello in athletics, Clive Woodward in rugby etc. There has been a dawning recognition that these coaches are perhaps even more important than the players themselves. Their careers are not cut short by the ageing process and they can create a template that outlives even their own tenures.
Such has been the modern emphasis on coaching that these figures are no longer ‘managers’ who once touched every element of the running of their clubs. They focus on first-team coaching and obsess over how they can get an extra ounce – the fabled “marginal gains” – from the talented squads they possess.
Crossing The Sports/Business Divide
In the business world, frontline managers are expected to be communication maestros, strategic architects, experts in delegation, and so much more. They must demonstrate an executive presence (or charisma if you prefer) and a firm grasp of emotional intelligence. An abundance of leadership skills such as compassion, empathy, and self-awareness is also required. But for the same reason Pep Guardiola doesn’t manage every aspect of Manchester City, a line manager doesn’t necessarily make for a good career coach.
Overcoming The Barriers
Our recent Worklife Coaching Report revealed that certified external coaches are widely considered to do the best job, achieving the highest overall score for their performance (100%).
Yet of the employees we spoke to, almost half (46%) said the coaching community in their workplace consists of internal leaders who are interested in coaching. For over a quarter (28%), it was their direct line managers who provided the coaching.
So why do businesses persist in expecting line managers to coach employees? The report goes on to examine the barriers of adoption to the widespread use of external certified coaches.
It reveals seven hurdles – 1) perceptions of privilege, 2) generational distinctions, 3) gender differences, 4) uptake and engagement issues, 5) funding matters, 6) establishing a clear return on investment, and 7) resourcing variables – and then offers recommendations on how to overcome them.
Thankfully, there are now scalable offerings available that enable organizations looking to extend coaching beyond the executive levels of leadership. New approaches combined with easy-to-use technology platforms allow coaching to be offered to many more employees, conveniently and cost-effectively.
Over time, however, our understanding of what coaching is and what it can do for an organization has expanded considerably. So too has the target audience.
Coaching’s Mainstream Makeover
Coaching has even crossed over into pop cultures, inspiring a hit TV series in Ted Lasso, about a sensitive, modern man who bakes, purveys homespun wisdom, and is ultrasensitive to the challenges his people face. Originally mocked, he goes on to succeed, having developed a strong bond with his team, owner, fans and backroom staff.
Our research shows that 90% of employees want to engage in a coaching program if offered the opportunity to do so. I don’t think by any stretch that Ted Lasso is the reason, but I think through personal training, sports and lifestyle, we have greater exposure to coaching now to improve ourselves.
I believe supercoaches have a lot to teach us about managing people in our everyday working lives. They are paid to look after expensive assets but also to treat them as human beings and unpick what makes them excel.
Whether you’re Tom Brady or Simon from Accounts Payable, you’re still vulnerable to events outside your control. You may well need strategies to help you positively address opportunities and confront obstacles, those ‘confidence gremlins’ [mentioned in the book The Squiggly Career for those interested] that are often in your own mind, that could potentially hold you back from achieving your full potential whether on the sports field or in the workplace.
In the last year, I have had a (formal) coach for the first time in my career, and have experienced the benefits first-hand. My one regret is not having had one earlier in my career!
Finding Your Purpose
In elite sport, the difference between success and failure is often vanishingly small and much of the business of winning happens “between the ears”. Understanding human psychology, drilling down to what motivates people and building on innate gifts is just as important in an office as on the training ground.
Take a coach like Chelsea Women’s Emma Hayes who is inspiring a generation of future female footballers. Women’s football is on a roll, and she typifies the ambition, role-model exemplar, strength of purpose, understanding of different personalities, and leadership grit needed to succeed. And as a mother of sporty daughters, this resonates with me a great deal.
Coaching has changed in modern sport just as it has in the modern workplace. Once, bullying and intimidation were seen as the way to get things done, but with significant downsides. Thankfully these are no longer acceptable, tolerated, or allowed.
Similarly, in business, the threat of losing a job for life with salary and pension was once enough to ensure high levels of retention. That’s no longer the case. People can easily move and a new generation has been brought up to think about their emotional needs and lifestyle requirements. Work has to have purpose and meaning, leaders need to be authentic and rewards not merely monetary.
Our research shows that a coaching offering has a positive influence on candidates evaluating an employer – just 3% say it has no influence on their decision-making. And most employees see a coaching program as being core to helping them develop into leaders, excel in their current role, improve their people management and communication skills.
We Are Not All The Same
My eldest daughter is studying in the US where the athletics faculty is set up to not just develop technical skills, but the whole athlete holistically – psychology, motivation, nutrition, strength and communication skills. She is a goalkeeper, and like every student athlete, receives one-on-one attention as well as being coached in team tactics and formations.
Her education is not just aimed at making her the best keeper she can be but also a rounded person with the life skills to succeed and be happy. The coaches are attuned to make her the best version of herself, not taking a cookie-cutter approach to mould her into someone else.
As managers, we need to adopt a similar approach, and provide the fostering, educative tools and appropriate infrastructure that people need to unleash their talent to flourish as individuals and team players.
Sparking The Passion And Spirit
There’s a wonderful word in the Welsh language ‘hwyl’ that encapsulates the passion and spirit that is ignited when people are stirred. If we coach, share, are attentive and act on needs when we see them, then we may see something similar in people who have a clear purpose, believe in their actions and are supported by the right environment to achieve their goals.
Coaching will remain essential support for leaders at the upper echelons of the organizational hierarchy. However, it can also serve as a valuable support system for every employee when delivered in a scalable and employee-centric way. You can now offer external certified coaching with ease and at a low cost, freeing up managers to focus on their many other line management duties. It also gives your employees that precious safe space to focus on their development, perhaps even becoming a leader themselves.
For me, coaching is the ultimate leadership development tool. So why not share the benefits with all your employees?
First published on Randstad Risesmart’s website, June 2022.