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Growing as a Coach

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

As Superman rescues Lois Lane 500 feet in the air from falling to a certain death, he tells her, “It’s OK miss, I’ve got you.” Astonished by this first encounter, she asks “You’ve got me - - who’s got you?”

Gallup organization’s research shows clearly that today’s workforce wants to be coached, not managed. Being a good coach takes a lot of skills that are not taught in management 101 or 201. A lot of supervisors and managers work for people who don’t have a clue as to how to be an effective coach. A twist on Lois’ question seems to fit these managers, “You’re going to coach me? Who’s coaching you?”


Watching professional sports teams often gives us the wrong ideas on what goes into coaching. Logically, we think that people with million-dollar salaries who have the title of “coach” would know how to coach. But upon examination, many of them do not coach well; they are really managing, many of them apply a high percentage of negative behavioral techniques to get players to do what they want them to do. They yell, berate, and intimidate. They set people against each other.

The New Orleans Saints “coaches” even went so far as to reward players for deliberately hurting other teams’ players. Former NY Giants, Jets, and Patriots “coach” Bill Parcells made a career (a pretty successful one in professional football) out of insulting players and assistant coaches alike, treating them horribly, yet winning a lot of games.

Yes, these people make an impact, but what they do isn’t coaching. It is mostly manipulation. And today’s workforce is not responsive to manipulation.

Coaching Is Not About “The What”

We all know that you don’t learn to fly a plane by reading a book about pilots. Or by reading instruction manuals. And you don’t learn coaching by studying great coaches, reading their books, or watching videos of them in action. These things can help you decide why coaching is worthwhile, learn the behaviors of great coaches – the “what-to- do” aspects of coaching. But learning the “how-to-do” that works for you is something entirely different.

Coaching Is All About “The Why”

Business world coaching is first and foremost about having a coaching mindset. A key part of a coach’s way of thinking is that coaching is an investment in people – and that they deserve that investment. Without these beliefs, it is unlikely you will take the time to work with someone as a coach. When the pressure is high, you will revert to management practices and people will see you as two-faced and untrustworthy.

This means you need to make a knowledgeable decision: do I believe that coaching is the way to work with people and will I make the sacrifices necessary to earn their trust as a coach? Unlike the NFL or a university, the title of coach is not awarded by the team owner, athletic director, or by the press. It is given by the players, the people you coach.

The Real Deal

Ken Niumatalolo, football coach at the United States Naval Academy, sees his career choice as that of a real coach. Young Will McKamey, a plebe at the Academy, called his dad to tell him what it was like to try out for the team. “The first words out of his mouth were, ‘Dad, he gets it,’” McKamey recalls. “He said, ‘He doesn’t just know my name, he knows everybody’s name. He’s the real deal.’

“What Coach Ken does is hard,” says J.D. Gainey, commanding officer of USS Hopper, a guided-missile destroyer. Niumatalolo was an assistant coach at Navy when Gainey played offensive line in the mid-1990s. “Coaching 18- to 22-year-olds whose performance directly impacts your life and family, getting them to choose right in the face of adversity, hardship, and fatigue, is hard to do. Motivating these kids to bring it as hard as they can daily, as well as asking for unconditional trust in all decisions made for the program, is really tough. I didn’t realize it until I was in the same situation with 300 sailors and a 9,000-ton destroyer under my care.”

The bottom line: You don’t have to be Superman (or Superwoman) to be a great coach. You need commitment to WHY you want coach and then must be intentional about making the investment in each of your direct reports. Why do you want to be a coach?

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