Managerial Leadership – Lessons From Athletics


When thinking about coaching, the image that most naturally comes to mind is an athletic coach. Consider a set of responsibilities for the coach of a basketball team, for example.

They include:

  • Analyze the competition and determine strategies to defeat them.
  • Recruit, retain, develops talent.
  • Build team work to create synergy and optimize performance.
  • Help each team member to understand his or her role(s) to contribute to team success.
  • Make sure the team, and the individual players, continually improves its performance.

The coach’s bottom line is the overall won-lost record, with particular emphasis on victories in the most important games. In other words, the job of the coach is to get results through others.

Players are the ones who execute, not coaches. But if the team is unsuccessful, the coach is the one held most accountable. You cannot get rid of all the players when the team is not performing, but you can fire the coach.

A great coach gets the best possible performance out of his or her players and does so consistently over the long term as experienced team members leave and new ones come on board. Legendary coaches have impressive won-lost records but also demonstrate other qualities that make them stand out from their peers.

There are myriad lists one can come up with regarding what makes for a legendary coach in athletics; these are the qualities that make my top 10:

  • Understands the game exceptionally well
  • Has a keen eye for talent, especially talent that is underdeveloped
  • Motivates and inspires the players on an ongoing basis
  • Assigns roles that get the most out of each team member
  • Develops the team to perform at a higher level than the sum of its potential talent
  • Builds confidence among the team members in their abilities to succeed
  • Makes effective tactical decisions during the game as adjustments to the strategy
  • Runs highly effective practices to improve team performance
  • Develops meaningful relationships and establishes trust with the individual players
  • Operates under a strong value system is fair and consistent

While this list captures the points that strike me as most important, if you pushed me to add one more, it would be the ability to put the game in perspective so as not to take things too seriously.

These qualities have direct application to coaching in the work environment. It is important for a managerial leader to have solid industry knowledge and to be able to identify the talents that people have. Working down these 10 items, the only one that may not fit that well at first glance is running effective practices.


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