“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” — John Wooden

Be a Coach First, Manager Second

John Wooden was one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. As head coach at UCLA, he won 10 national championships in a 12-year period, including an unprecedented 7 in a row. What makes the latter even more impressive is that no other coach or school has won the tournament more than 2 consecutive years.

During his career, he developed the Pyramid of Success which consisted of 15 daily habits. This included qualities like industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, and enthusiasm, which culminated in the principle of competitive greatness. His coaching style is best described in this quote from Wooden:

Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.

In its simplest definition, a coach is a person who teaches and trains the members of a team. On the other hand, a manager is a person who is responsible for planning and directing the work of a group of individuals. In order to be successful, you need to do both.

Imagine if Lebron James was being managed in a traditional work environment. He could have been fired for missing a game-winning shot if everything was so performance driven. He would have never met his potential of leading him team to 5 championships in a row, averaging 41 ppg, and winning 3 rings (just sayin’).

“Coach first” mindset would have developed Lebron as a talent. Instead of firing Lebron, the coach would have broken down what went wrong and taught Lebron how to improve so that the chance of it happening again diminishes. And if it does happen again, the coach would know that Lebron put his all on the court, and that is what matters.

In order to adopt the “coach first” mentality, I’ve included some lessons I’ve learned instituting a learning and development culture here at Skillshare.

  1. Potential Trumps Track Record
    Build hiring criteria that prioritizes potential over track record. Focus on competencies that demonstrate that a candidate will excel in your culture. And always, always, always spend time on your A-players over anyone else.
  2. Play to Strengths, Not Weaknesses
    Put people on projects that utilize their strengths and surround them with people to fill their weaknesses. To take it a step further, develop a strategy that plays to the strengths of your team.
  3. Develop Talent
    The shortest road to greatness is investing in your team and promoting from within. There are no shortcuts and a great coach will take the time to see the growth opportunity in each individual.

With this coaching mindset, you’ll be able to push your team to achieve the impossible. Like John Wooden says, “success is pursuing the best in ourselves” and it’s up you as the Manager to bring that out in everyone.