3 Management Lessons Learned from Coaching


My eldest son (5) just started his first season of soccer. This is his first experience with organized team sports and my first experience as a father of an eventual world class athlete (OBVIOUSLY!). Being at his first game, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own time playing sports growing up and, more recently, my time coaching youth baseball with two buddies. At the time, we were still unmarried guys with no kids and too much time on our hands. Most of the parents, and many of our fellow coaches, thought we were crazy to volunteer as coaches without having kids of our own! Why else would anyone coach, they would think aloud, unless it was to coach your own kid?!?!?

Contrary to their assertions, it was one of the most rewarding and positive experiences of my life. Now, it didn’t hurt that for 2 of the 3 seasons we were really, really good. However, even during that outlier season – that one year of frustrating games and a losing record, we always managed to have fun and we all learned a lot. As with many parts of our life, those challenging times were rich with lessons, obstacles and, thankfully, our share of small victories.

As my life has progressed – getting married, having three wonderful kids and progressing in my career, I’ve often found myself drawing on those experiences as “Coach Mike” at home and at work. I’m thankful to manage a strong, smart and talented team of professionals and I’ve been lucky to work with a wide variety of personalities and team members over the years. These are the three of the lessons that have served me well from my days of coaching:

1. Different coaching styles work for different folks.

This might seem obvious, but I’ve been amazed how many coaches, teachers and bosses employ the same strategy for managing each member of their team.

Some people absolutely respond well to a bit of yelling.

Some will hide in their shell, never to return!

Some need cheering and encouragement, while others cringe mightily at the slightest compliment.

This isn’t about being inconsistent or giving preferential treatment. The key is to still convey the same message and be fair to your whole team while taking into account which approach works for which individuals. Knowing when to light a fire or when to provide some consolation or when to just leave someone alone is an ever-changing and tenuous proposition, but one that can help you win the day when it matters most.

2. Don’t compound mistakes. 

Everyone makes mistakes. I know that sounds trite, but it bears repeating: EVERYONE makes mistakes. I’ve always held firm that it’s how we respond and react to our mistakes AND mistakes by those around us that define how good we are at what we’re doing.This was especially true coaching baseball. There isn’t a hole big enough to climb into when you make an error in baseball.

Everyone’s watching.

Everyone knows you goofed up.

There’s no mistaking what just happened.

But 9 times out of 10, the impact of the error can be minimized by catching your breath and making sure your next action is the right one. Hitting the cutoff rather than overthrowing to make up for your error is a prime example of NOT compounding a mistake. But so often, we either want to overcompensate for our mistake or run away and hide. Neither option will lead to a positive result, so I’ve always preached this simple doctrine: DON’T COMPOUND!

You made a mistake.

You can either make it better by taking a beat and doing the right thing.

Or you can make it way worse by, well, making it worse!

At work, this could mean not taking responsibility for your mistake.

Or not acknowledging that something happened.

Or blaming someone else.

None of these compounding actions help the situation at hand and each actually makes the original mistake worse. Creating an environment were mistakes are expected and understood, as well as having a clear protocol for how to deal with them is key to fostering a team that doesn’t compound mistakes.

3. ‘Because I said so’ doesn’t work.

In addition to coaching, my kids have done A LOT to reinforce this lesson. Just telling people to do something because you told them to might work in the short run, especially if you can be loud and a bit scary, but it doesn’t hold up over the long haul. Team players want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They want to understand how things work and they need to believe that what they’re doing is contributing. This doesn’t mean we have to explain ourselves all the time, every time. There are, of course, times when we just have to give our orders and have them carried out on the spot.

That said, if you can set-up a team environment built on trust and a transparent understanding of the overall goals, then your team is more likely to believe that you’ll help them connect the dots after the game is over and help them understand why you asked them to do something in the first place!

 None of these lessons are rocket science. All the same, they’re not the easiest to put into practice either. Each depends on building trust and accountability that goes both ways. I hold accountability very highly on my list of important traits in a team member, but I always makes sure that my team knows that I’m accountable to them just as much as they are to me and to the company.

As team leaders, coaches and mentors, we need to always look to adapt our styles to meet the situation and the team member. We have to foster and environment where mistakes are understood and there’s a process in place for dealing with them in a constructive way. And we have to show that there’s method to our madness. Follow these lessons to win on the field and in the boardroom. And if you’re as lucky as I have been, you’ll get to run into former players AND co-workers who might still deem you worthy of being called “Coach”.