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Leading with Humility: Moving from full-time Boss to full-time Coach


"He can take his and beat yours and then he can yours and beat his".........Bum Phillips, talking about Alabama football coaching great Bear Bryant


I think we can all agree that in order to develop a culture of continuous improvement, we need to learn how to go from being the boss to becoming a coach.


Coaching athletes really is a great analogy if you think about it. Many of the greatest coaches in history were average to below average on-field performers. The on-field performers are the experts at what they do. Many are, in fact, amongst the very best at what they do in the entire world. The same can probably be said of the athletes you work with each day. I bet that many are amongst the best in the world at doing what they do every day. Think about it. If an employee has been on the job for 10 years, he or she has probably spent around 20,000 hours doing what they do. (that's if they work 8 hours for 240 days per year). They probably forgot more they we will ever KNOW about that job. Who needs supervising? I bet they are pretty darn good at it. One of my favorite sayings is that "it is disrespectful for ME to fix YOUR process. (Why? Because I'm probably not qualified). We know that "supervising" and "overseeing" is completely non-value added work (your customers won't pay extra because someone is well supervised). So what exactly is the value-added work of leaders?


1. Show up. Imagine the team practicing on the field and the coaches staying in their office, managing emails and sitting in meetings? How many hours per week do you find yourself where the value-added work is being done, coaching people? People want to get caught doing what they think YOU think is important. The more often you show up, the more likely people will share problems with you. Which is a good thing! If you only show up very other Shrove Tuesday, the interaction will be superficial: "How are things going?" GREAT! "How bout them Mets?" "Particularly nasty weather we're experiencing, eh?" (Talk about non-value added). The more you show up, the more you will understand how to help them see and solve problems.

2. Ask open ended questions. This is one way to show respect. One of the most under-rated parts of "going to the GEMBA" is by showing up with the intention of learning the truth from the people who really know. By asking open ended questions ("humble inquiry") we are inviting people to help us understand what is really going on. When we show up on the practice field as coaches, we don't go blindfolded, do we?

3. Listen aggressively. Another very hard skill to master. It takes practice and sometimes years to master. Do you ever catch yourself nodding your head like a bobble-head, thinking about what you will say after the other person finishes talking? The opposite of ownership is employee-ism. That is where people believe "they just work here?" It comes from a sense of hopelessness because they believe nobody listens to them anyway.

4. Figure out a way to have fun. Life is short, Give people opportunities to work on teams to problem solve. Why? Because it is fun!!! Ever notice how teams that win the most seem to be having the most fun?

5. Show gratitude. One of the advantages of showing up (going to GEMBA) is you will find yourself in the presence of people who are smart and care about your company as much as you do. In the words of John Wooden (legendary UCLA basketball coach, "Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference."


Managers maintain the status quo. Good coaches take teams to places they never dreamed they could go. THAT is the value-added work of leaders!

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