4 Myths Of Leaders As Coaches

Could I COACH you? Sure. A great coach blends emotional intelligence (EQ) with listening, tailored questions, making few statements, discussing, and curiosity, for the coachee to locate their own best path for success. In coaching, high EQ transforms to high IQ. EQ is a part of the business leadership equation but not the entire business equation of leadership – otherwise marriage counselors would be the greatest CEO’s!  When we have a high IQ we know so much that it’s hard to listen when we feel we already know the answer. We just give ear-service to be polite, until our IQ kicks in and we finally say, “Ok, look here’s what we’re going to do!”

“But Jim, you could not coach my team, you don’t really know our business!”  

One of the best coaches in the NFL – ever – is Hall of Fame nominee kicking coach Doug Blevins who worked with the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and New England Patriots. He now has his own kicking school and is the coach for 26 current NFL kickers! He is wheelchair bound since birth due to cerebral palsy, and has never kicked a football. He is a fantastic award winning coach, and yet he has never DONE the activity he is coaching so successfully. Because of his relevant knowledge of physics, kinesiology, speed, and leverage expertise he knows how the ball will go straightest and furthest from your foot. He got kickers to overachieve beyond their wildest expectations, leading to incredible results and the admiration and respect of so many people. A great coach has the knowledge and it is their ability to engage people in their own human development that makes them great; it’s less about the job role or product industry.

Could I LEAD your organization? Well, that is a different question. The skills it takes to be a great coach are critical in the abyss of people development for a great culture or engagement.  Being CEO in a specific industry requires skills, expertise, and specific knowledge that is very different than coaching knowledge. A CEO requires skills of strategy, acquisition, and business intelligence. Leaders, either by title, or by being a competent manager of key tasks can get results, even if only in the short-term. The better leaders blend IQ and EQ for long-term success.

To win today is more about engaging our minds and hearts, not just our hands and feet.  

The 4 Myths of Leaders as Coaches*  

1. Everyone can be a leader – not true. Leaders are first born and then made. And if the #1 trait of leadership is self-awareness, that requires real interest and effort to want to improve that characteristic. Some people in leadership positions may not be interested in transparency, curiosity, or flexibility. If they are less interested in developing self-awareness and they aren’t authentic to their values and others’ values, then effective leadership may not be within their reach. Sometimes the attitude of these “leaders” becomes, “I don’t need ‘development.’ I already have the title.”

2. People who reach the top are leaders. This is not necessarily the case. People with the most money didn’t necessarily earn it. Many of this country’s wealthy inherited money. So, just because of luck, circumstance, and unknown factors, some people who rise to the top with titles and money are not necessarily leaders. Leadership is defined, not by title, rather the defense and promotion of our values and others’ values. If we have followers and clear values, the highest and lowest levels of any team can be full of leaders. It’s not at all related to being on top. Real leaders are found throughout every level of every organization.

He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk. ~ Mark Twain

As Jim Collins in Good to Great points out through his research, leaders at the highest level maintain the trait of humility. Bo Jackson, for all his talent, when asked about his accomplishments simply shrugged at his success, saying “I dunno, I can and I do, and I’m not sure of much more than that.” What a gift, beyond his athletic ability, to reach the greater gift of a deep sense of humble leadership.

3. Bosses are great Coaches. This is rare. The thought that you can be great at both inspiration and technical skill – that is rare. We can, like Warren Buffett, inspire people and know acquisition and business development strategies, moving people toward a vision. We all know the greatness of Warren Buffett – but try to name 3 others who can do that. Being a great boss and coach is like adjusting flaps on an airplane to balance wind up for urgency and down for patience at the same time.

I wasn’t trying to build great basketball players, I was trying to build better citizens through basketball. ~ John Wooden

4. Leaders deliver results. Not always. Some successful leaders can improve behaviors, performance, and results when they are overly involved. Effective leaders gain others commitment, attitude, and motivation to do the right things when the leader isn’t present. Coaches lean into leadership through effective personal interaction. Leaders in organizations also need to lean into the management of systems, processes, and tools for sustainability, beyond just employee engagement.  

Talent + Engagement = Strength   

I have a colleague Andrea, who draws a corollary between great coaching as being the tugboat guiding ships to sea. In her story, the ship may be  the leader, team, or new hire and the tugboat, is the coach. The business leader requires IQ and perspective to be the big ship going to sea. Sometimes the leader needs a tugboat to simply ride alongside as an escort and concierge to success. And sometimes the tugboat as coach has to push-back on certain poor leader behaviors to assist the team leader from running aground or sinking on the jagged rocks in the sea of business.

Coaches have knowledge of people development – The Engine of business leader’s results.

*modified from Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones HBR Sept. 2000

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