How to Create a Winning Record with Player-Coaches

First-level leaders who play the player-coach role in your organization make a significant impact on every metric in your business: employee productivity and engagement, customer satisfaction and loyalty, innovation, and financial performance.

Founded in 1869, Major League Baseball (MLB) is the oldest professional sport in the United States and often dubbed, “America’s Pastime.” Throughout its near 140-year history, hundreds of people have served as team managers. These are the head coaches of the team responsible for everything from player development to on-field coaching decisions. For many years, the vast majority of managers served in a coach-player role, where they not only made coaching decisions for the team, but also filled a position on the field and a spot in the batting line-up. In fact, the manager role today historically was called the head coach or team captain. 

Have you ever wondered, Why do baseball coaches wear uniforms?

It’s steeped in the longstanding tradition of the player-coach role. Over the years, 220 professional ball players have been player-coaches. The last one on the field was Pete Rose, who both managed and played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1986. So why did such a common practice become obsolete? There are many reasons. The player-coach role fell victim to accountability conflicts, lack of practice time, and a wide range of other challenges such as multitasking when the stakes are high.

Player-Coaches in Your Organization

Two years ago, FranklinCovey set out to study the biggest challenges of leading teams in today’s world. Although many challenges surfaced (e.g., working in a virtual environment, leading people to perform work you haven’t done yourself, etc.), the No. 1 challenge facing team leaders, specifically those leading at the first level in an organization, is being a player-coach. The term, “first-level leader,” was designed specifically to address leaders who have transitioned from being the best individual contributor to getting work done with and through others. In many ways, this is exactly what a player-coach historically accomplished in MLB. However, while major league baseball teams recognized the inherent challenges of being a player-coach and moved away from the dual role, your organization likely has embraced first-level leaders serving as both player-coach at a rate like never before.

Don’t believe us? 

Take a look around your organization. How many of these situations, as well as the range of other possibilities sound familiar?

  • Project managers who also are accomplishing project tasks 
  • Store managers who are stocking shelves and serving customers
  • Sales managers who also carry a sales “number”

The short answer is likely, “Most, if not all.”

The Broad Reach and Impact of Your Player-Coaches

First-level leaders who play the player-coach role in your organization make a significant impact on every metric in your business: employee productivity and engagement, customer satisfaction and loyalty, innovation, and financial performance. They are the creators and carriers of culture for their teams and directly influence whether top talent stays or leaves. They are frequently responsible for the quality of the customer experience, and first-level leaders and their teams are the biggest source of product and process innovation. Your first-level leaders are the “difference-makers” in your business.

The role has always been tough, and today’s realities make the role even tougher. People skills typically account for 80 percent of success in this role. Yet many people are promoted because of their technical capabilities (i.e., player skills). Both new and experienced first-level leaders can struggle when it comes to excelling at leading teams in today’s workplace.

A Solution that Works

As a result of our research, we crafted The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team, which is a special collection of carefully curated content from proven FranklinCovey offerings. The repurposed mindsets, skill sets, and tool sets provide first-level leaders with relevant and practical resources to help them excel in this tough and demanding coach-player role.

Practice 1: Develop a Leader’s Mindset

Explore the critical mindset shifts that will maximize your success as a leader of others.

Practice 2: Hold Regular One-on-Ones

Increase engagement of team members by conducting regular one-on-ones, deepen your understanding of team member issues, and help them solve problems for themselves.

Practice 3: Set Up Your Team to Get Results

Create clarity about team goals and results; delegate responsibility to team members while providing the right level of support.

Practice 4: Create a Culture of Feedback

Give feedback to develop team member confidence and competence; improve your own performance by seeking feedback from others.

Practice 5: Lead Your Team Through Change

Identify specific actions to help team members navigate and accelerate through change and achieve better performance.

Practice 6: Manage Your Time and Energy

Use weekly planning to focus on the most important priorities, and strengthen your ability to be an effective leader by applying the 5 Energy Drivers. 

Patrick Leddin, Ph.D., is an associate professor, Managerial Studies Program, at Vanderbilt University, and a senior consultant at FranklinCovey. He is the author of “A Winning Culture in Government.”

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