I have coached girls softball for nearly 15 years. I have witnessed players develop and excel in the sport, and I’ve seen others leave the field at the end of a season to never play again. I have competed against hundreds of coaches over the years and clearly some are more effective and influential than others. Those who have been more successful are focused on being a coach rather than a critic.
Here are some examples:
Coach - Meets players where they are at. Focuses on developing their strengths and the things they find satisfying about the game.
Critic – Focuses on what they have done wrong with little or no guidance on how to change or improve the deficiency. You can’t ask your power hitter to bunt if she hasn’t acquired that skill. It’s unfair to expect great things when those skills don’t yet exist.
Coach – Makes development a priority with a mindset of deliberate practice and reinforcement. A coach wants the girls to be better players in August, which is eight months from now.
Critic – Spends more time talking down to the girls and sometimes in a punitive or blaming way. I’ve seen coaches storm out of their dugout and yell, and I mean “YELL” at players. I see the defeated reaction of helplessness and embarrassment from the player while the coach executes his perceived power to publicly criticize his player.
Coach – Delivers positive feedback when the players are doing something right. He catches them when they are doing something that is worthy of being acknowledged.
Critic – Tends to say less about the positive, because, that’s simply the expectation. Of course, they should be doing what’s right!
Coach – Gets the players involved in their own development. It’s a mutual approach in the players’ development with each identifying her own areas of opportunity with guidance from her coach.
Critic – Emphasizes specifically what the players need to work on and develop. This tends to be more of a statement or a command rather than a mutual conversation.
Coach – Is an approachable person. Players can ask for feedback and position questions without the fear of retribution or public humiliation.
Critic – The girls will avoid this person at all cost. Fear of intimidation, embarrassment and negativity are all there.
So, what does softball have to do with leadership? Think about a game of softball like a day of work. Think about a season of softball like a year at work. Some days are better than others. Some leaders are better than others. As a leader you can make or break someone’s work day or work year just like a coach can with his players.
Are you a coach or are you a critic? If coaches don’t get it right, good players leave the team. If leaders don’t get it right, good employees leave the organization.
Here are 10 suggestions to move from critic to coach:
- Create a culture of learning. Talk about learning. What did you learn yesterday? Today? Tomorrow? Continue dialogue on learning.
- Spend time one-on-one with employees talking about their development. Be a mentor with the intent to help them get better.
- Have the employee generate ideas and action items on how development plans will be executed. They become owners.
- Focus on employee strengths and the things they enjoy. Capitalize on things they are good at and find satisfying.
- Allow time for development. Give people time away from their work if it helps in their development.
- Create a 12-month growth plan. Monitor progress and continue to support your employees. Failure to plan growth will prevent growth.
- Show that you trust your employees. Empower them to pursue their own development and emphasize your belief in them.
- Allow risk-taking. Provide them the opportunity to grow and develop, knowing mistakes will be made. Your job is to support them and help them learn from their mistakes.
- Provide background information so employees feel part of the big picture and they understand the “why”. This can be helpful when mistakes are made.
- Support team members through positive feedback rather than continuous evaluation.
Be the leader who wants your players to develop and advance. Take a self-less yet deliberate approach to supporting others in their success. When they succeed, you have succeeded.
Every new day begins with possibilities. It’s up to us to fill it with the things that move us toward progress and peace.
- Ronald Reagan