Want Success as a Leader? Pay Attention to the Coaches

Coaches as Leaders

It is not surprising that in sports we see some of the best and worst examples of leadership in the player-coach relationship.  Recently, the Sport in America survey found 78 percent of respondents say that inappropriate behavior of coaches is the most serious problem facing sports today. Witness the recent firing and resignations of the Baylor Coach, Athletic Director and President after controversy over how they handled sexual assault allegations. The Hamilton Report noted, “In some cases, football coaches and staff had inappropriate involvement in disciplinary and criminal matters or engaged in improper conduct that reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules and that there was no culture of accountability.”

True or not, the allegations created a perception of faulty leadership, and perception is often reality. In Baylor’s case, the integrity of the institution was on the line, and the report forced the Regents’ hand. But problems like these are evident in any field including churches, schools, nonprofits and businesses.

Coaching is a Covenant

At its best coaching is a covenant between leaders and followers, where the coach invests time and energy in the development of individuals.  The most effective coaches are concerned, not just about how athletes perform in competition. They also seek to develop them for life. True, performance is important.  Yet, even more important is develop learning how to play operate effectively well within the context of team, rules and ethical behavior.  If it’s done well, coaches equip players not only for a successful season but also a successful life.

An Exemplary Coach

One of the best examples was former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.  In an interview I had with the late coach, he explained that his relationships with players went well beyond winning and losing. He had created a close “family” culture, which at its core included high levels of commitment, trust and caring between the coach and his players.  He explained, “I often told my players that, next to my own flesh and blood, they were closest to me. I got wrapped up in their lives and their problems.”

Coach Wooden developed players individually, but they also came together as part of a larger unit.  Essentially, the team could achieve incredible success, but at the same time, the individual players could grow in ways that would benefit them long term.  Coach Wooden explained,

“ I wanted them to be considerate of each other. Our players were an extension of our own family. Players often referred to my wife (as) their mother.  And I wanted them to feel close with each other and to know that I was concerned about them as I would be my own children and not just as basketball players. They wouldn’t know this (at) first but I hoped they would perceive it as time went by.”

The Lasting Impact of a Great Coach

The coach clearly demonstrated leadership not only in his championships but also in his lasting influence on players. That influence is captured by the words of former UCLA and NBA great, Bill Walton:  “Coach Wooden represents everything that is good, not only in the world of basketball, but life in general.  He is such a positive influence on everyone.  He has taught me everything I know.  Not so much about basketball, but about life.”

Need Coaching?

As fundraising consultants we have the opportunity to coach clients in several key capacities.  We see many organizations in need of nonprofit strategic planning.  We are excited about our recently released online strategic planning products.  Our four modules will coach you through the steps so you can put together a winning strategic plan for your organization.