How is a coach different from a trainer, a manager or a mentor? Although they are often used interchangeably, for the sake of this article I’m going to differentiate that the coach must be concerned with how individuals perform within a team. While that may include helping an individual perform at his or her best, a coach really deserves credit for much more. From little league to college, coaches must often function as a recruiter, a teacher, an evaluator, a scheduler, a public relations practitioner, a motivator, a planner, and ultimately, an expert in changing behavior.
I don’t profess to be an expert on coaching. I’m an observer and an interpreter by profession and recently I was given the privilege to serve as an editor on Boomer Consulting’s Guide to Change Management. Today I’m just reminding you about three little aspects of Change Management (and coaching) that are so basic they are sometimes forgotten: Practice, Fundamentals, and Motivation.Change is usually uncomfortable. Practice changes that!
"You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”
I believe that you generally perform your best when you are relaxed and comfortable. We may call it habitual or instinctual but either way, being able to perform a task without having to think about the steps involved generally gives you an advantage over a competitor.
Attributed to Charlie Parker, legendary jazz saxophonist and composer.
Practice is what turns a new technique into a habit. You can tell me and/or show me how to do a new technique but until it becomes habitual, it’s not going to be comfortable. Are you ever frustrated by the unwillingness of team members to adopt a new practice or use a new technology? Do you include practice opportunities in your training? Do you have the ability to coach the technique over a period of days in order to make it habitual? We commonly teach that it takes about 21 days to develop a habit. Although a change can be implemented immediately, an effective coach knows that resistance to change will be lessened with practice.
Practicing bad habits makes you good at being bad.
"You can write your signature a thousand times a year but at the end of the year it’s going to look the same unless you make a conscience effort to improve each time.” Lou Holtz, Hall of Fame football coach.
Fundamentals are the building blocks of good techniques. If you lay a foundation of good fundamentals, change is easier to implement. Without practice, a fundamental skill can be lost.
Building on Coach Holtz’s example about improving a signature, an obvious fundamental would be an understanding of the cursive form of English letters. Without that understanding, you could mimic and perhaps even improve an existing signature but you wouldn’t be able to teach a team how to create a new one.
Carrying it a step further, I trust you were once taught how to make capital cursive letters – how proficient are you now at making Q’s and Z’s? If you haven’t been making an effort to improve your signature, do you think your signature is more legible now than when you first learned how to write?
From a tech perspective, a paperless environment might seem successful when first implemented but how well does it perform in the long run if you have not taught a unified naming convention? How many of your help desk calls could be eliminated if your user was in the habit of trying a reboot before asking for help?
An effective coach recognizes that individuals have different abilities and experiences and when necessary, breaks complex tasks into fundamental steps. Recognize that something habitual or instinctive to you may be the result of your experiences. A teammate might not have benefitted from the same amount of practice.
Winning is everything. But winning can’t be reliably measured by the score.
"A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” Attributed to Larry Bird, Hall of Fame basketball player.
Motivation is a complex topic with multiple tactics. I’m only going to discuss one facet.
The only thing that truly defines a leader is whether or not he or she has willing followers. Therefore, ultimately a leader must be primarily concerned about the common good of the team.
I believe that winning is a powerful motivator. However, for nothing other than convenience, many of the games we play have time limits. Sometimes "championships” are decided by the way a ball bounces on a single play, a gust of wind at an inopportune time, or an injury to a key team member. Should you let something you can’t control define whether or not you are a winner?
President Dwight D. Eisenhower is commonly credited with saying, "Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” A dictator can impose change without caring about his subjects – but recent events prove this isn’t a very good era for dictators. An effective coach finds and celebrates victories in little pieces in order to provide motivation for positive change.
Practice, fundamentals and motivation are three critical ingredients to coaches – whether they are little league or corporate coaches.