As an athlete and a sports fan, I’ve been inspired by events such as the World Cup, Wimbledon, and the Super Bowl. As I watch these incredible athletes give it their all and compete at the highest levels under extreme pressure, I can’t help but reflect on their coaches and how important the coaching relationship is to their success. In business, too, an exceptional coach can help take someone from good to great.
I grew up playing competitive, fastpitch softball. My softball coach had a legendary 40-year career with more than 1,000 wins, and inspired many young athletes like me. I played many positions during my time on the diamond—including, ugh, catcher—when my team didn’t have one. Coach decided I could BECOME one. I hated catching. I had to interact with Coach between every pitch. We had to strategize, analyze, and help our pitcher execute. What I grappled with was the OVER-communicating he thought necessary. He was tough on me and I got the brunt of his frustration—often in those between-pitch moments. I experienced his positive messages, negative feedback—he was a master at slamming the clipboard—and especially body language. (I think he invented the eye roll.)
Despite my frustration with those interactions, when I look back at the coaches who’ve truly helped me grow, my softball coach was at the top of the list. He believed his players could excel well beyond their current skill set. Exhibit A: Taking a girl who’d never caught a day in her life and trusting she could get her team to the championship.
As I think about the proven keys for successful coaching in business, there are some undeniable sports parallels. Consider some of our takeaways for effective coaching:
- Coaching is personal. Every player is motivated by something different. Find out what that is and ask a lot of questions. When I asked Martha Higgins, Chief HR Officer of Boston Private Bank for over 10 years, about coaching, she echoed this personal approach: “I coach the whole person (head, heart, gut). People are complex beings; we need to meet people where they are and work from there. Coaching is about helping people to be self-generating and self-correcting, cultivating habits and practices that make an impact and create change for a greater purpose.”
- Listening is key. An effective coach isn’t afraid of silence. In team meetings, Coach would start with his players first and ask what we thought of our effort. And then he’d stop talking. The silence felt like an eternity, but it forced us to reflect on the game. In business, a post-mortem is essential to improve work from project to project. If the project leader starts by asking the team for their perspective, employees can truly reflect on what’s working, what’s not, and generate ideas for how to adjust.
- Balanced feedback is essential. As a leader, it’s important to share both the positive praise and the constructive feedback. There were times when Coach’s constructive feedback seemed more prevalent than acknowledging we tried our best, even when we fell short. Martha Higgins agrees with the necessity for feedback: “If done effectively, feedback helps people to raise their consciousness and be more intentional about the choices they make. I find the power of inquiry to be the most effective mechanism. What would you have done differently if you could do it again?”
- Body language is powerful. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. Well, Coach only needed a facial expression to deliver his message to me, loud and clear. I’m sure we can all think of a time when we walked into a colleague’s office and we knew if they closed the deal or not, just by the look on their face.
Gifted coaches have an ability to see potential. They bring out the best in every individual and tailor their messages (both verbal and non-verbal) to each player. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. To get the best out of someone, you must consider their perspective, get in their head, and find out what motivates them. (News flash: It might be different than what motivates you.) Luckily, Coach discovered quickly that we were both motivated by the same thing—winning. If achieving that meant making me a catcher, then let’s PLAY BALL!
Anne Teutschel is a consultant at Exec|Comm, a global communication skills consultancy. Teutschel brings more than 15 years of communication skills training, coaching, and facilitation experience to her clients. Her extensive background in communication, presence, and presentation give her the capacity to understand business from many perspectives. She brings real-world experience, and a strong understanding of competitive business markets to her clients and the classroom. For more information, visit http://www.exec-comm.com.