A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.
-- Coach John Wooden
Recent feedback from a long-time Sunday Coffee reader:
I read this week’s newsletter, ‘Are You Coachable?’, with disappointment because it took the approach that coaching was needed because something was broken. Something needed to be improved.
You see, for several years I worked for a manager who perceived himself as a ‘coach.’ 1-2 times per week he would give me ‘a little coaching.’ What proceeded was an exhausting, humiliating, condescending, mind-numbing exercise that left me feeling like ‘he must think I just fell off of the turnip truck.’
Coaching and feedback became negative notions to me. To this day, I use neither. Not once did coaching include a positive. I finally got to the point where I had to say, ‘am I doing anything right?’ Obviously, I was. I’ve earned more recognition and promotions than most. I’ve also learned how NOT to lead.
Shouldn’t coaching also celebrate the wins, large and small? Shouldn’t coaching recognize and encourage the positive as well as provide thoughts on areas of opportunity? Shouldn’t a coach provide balance?
The answer to these questions is an absolute “yes,” from my point of view as a coach. Coaching should focus on a person’s strengths and challenges.
(To clarify, the coaching article in question was simply focused on those who had specific challenges but weren’t necessarily open to receiving coaching. It did assume there was an issue to address.)
But as this reader, who requested anonymity, points out, many people in business, sports and life believe that “coaching” should focus on the negative – fixing your screwups. Come down hard and fast in the moment for maximum impact!
Nowhere is this approach more visible than in sports.
The first exposure to “coaching” for many people is in sports. It might be as a child on a soccer team or as a teenager in a high school sport.
In these settings, coaching can take on a wide variety of forms, mostly determined by the coach’s personality, experience and upbringing.
This coaching runs the spectrum from gentle and positive to brutally negative. It’s the stereotypical hardcore, screaming, spitting coaches that seem to etch in people’s memories.
You’re thinking about a coach right now, aren’t you? I’d love to hear your experiences in those settings. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
College Football Coaching
This stereotype really comes to life in college football.
Football is a tough sport. Bodies crash violently at full speed. A game can be won or lost in an instant. A simple mistake can go down in team history.
That’s why, to be successful, football coaches also must be tough. They must stoke the fires of anger, drill their players to go to war against the other teams.
You see this while watching college football on TV. Lots of coaches lose their minds. They grab jerseys. They yell and curse at players a few inches from their faces.
But that’s okay, people might think. Coaches need to stoke the fires of anger and hatred to motivate their teams to victory! It’s the only way to get through to them!
Or is it?
Coaching with ‘Love’
As we enter the first week of college football season, it’s worth noting that Dabo Swinney, the coach of the reining college football champs from last year, said his Clemson Tigers won because of “love.”
In his first interview after winning the national championship last year, an emotional Swinney said, “And to see my guys fight, just believe. I told them tonight, I told them that the difference in the game was going to be love. It’s been my word. My word all year’s been love. And I said, ‘Tonight we’re going to win it because we love each other…”
Do you agree with this approach? Is there room in sports, or business, for “love”?
After all, sports are a metaphor for business and life. Maybe that’s why lots of business leaders try to emulate the tough, negative approach. I believe this will get some short-term results but in the long run, will have diminishing returns.
In my experience, you’ll achieve better long-term results with a balanced approach using positive reinforcement to make incremental changes in very specific behaviors. Modifying habits changes behavior and results.
That’s my approach. What’s yours? What are your experiences with coaching or being coached?
In the comments below, please share your experiences and approaches with coaching in sports, business and life.