Picture this. You’re standing in front of 22 people all looking at you for direction. Some are naturally talented and are ready to go in to battle for you. Others are eager but lack the skills they need.
You’ve done your preparation and know the message you want to get across, but you’ve got some doubts in tour head. You’ve never actually done their role and lack the exact skills you need them to execute.
To make matters worse, not only is it the 22 people in your team who are waiting for your address, they also have their parents and grandparents here to see them succeed.
As you may have guessed, we’re not talking about a boardroom address but the far more challenging and fulfilling role as the coach of a junior sporting team.
Whilst many people might not see the link to business and our ‘real jobs’, personally my role as a junior football coach has taught me many leadership lessons that have helped me become a far more confident and ultimately successful corporate leader.
Let’s start at the start.
Building a high performing team
Starting with a group of 22 kids from 3 different school groups is much like the challenge we have in our day jobs. We need to bring together a group of individuals, who might not know each other, have little in common and have varying strengths and development areas.
On the football ground this is easy to identify. Who is struggling with the required functional skills like kicking or marking? Who isn’t a team player and tries to win the game off their own boot? Where are the natural cliques and who are the players yet to fit in with the rest of the team?
Whilst this may be harder to notice in the work environment, the same lessons apply to identify and address.
Spend the one on one time with team members to see their work up close so you can understand the functional skills you need to help them with.
Develop a shared team vision that everyone buys into and is playing for. Spend the time building a cohesive and engaged team with fun activities that build genuine connection.
Understand that different team members require a different management approach and a myopic message to the collective won’t be successful. Spend quality one on one time with the team to build them as individuals knowing that this investment will deliver in spades for the team goal.
Finally, make the success metrics crystal clear so everyone understands what they’re playing for and what their individual tasks need to achieve.
Manage a simple message
We’ve all been guilty of over complicating a message and having it fail to resonate.
Try having two minutes to bring your team together, get them to switch positions, rehydrate, provide feedback on the previous period of play before instructing them on what to focus on in the next. Clearly there is a need to be very efficient and effective with your message.
Especially for a group of under 10’s, now is not the time for any Churchill inspired ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches’ style speeches. Rather we need a simple message of 2-3 things that everyone can understand and act on: “Kick it long and wide” “Move the ball fast” “First to the ball”. These are those tasks that when executed well, will deliver on the longer term vision, in this case winning (not that we technically score in under 10’s, but try telling that to the kids!)
Taking this scenario in to work life helps us realise the importance of regular and simple performance messaging. Those working with an agile methodology are already doing this via regular huddles to address immediate requirements.
The idea of a quarter or half time break is something that could benefit most workplaces. In an incredibly fast paced work environment, taking the time to stop and check to see if plans are on track and what we need to change to deliver on the longer-term goal.
Similarly, the importance of the simple messages for what needs to be done today, tomorrow and this week will break down the bigger corporate goals in to something everyone can understand and individually impact.
Follow what I say not what I do
As touched on earlier, whilst I’m the coach of the football team, I never actually played the game, so often I feel like a bit of an imposter instructing them to do.
This is similar for how many of us may feel in a work sense, especially as we move in to more generalist management roles. Coming from a specific background but now managing a group of different functional leaders is something that presents its fair share of challenges and self-doubt. I’m sure we’ve all had times where we question ourselves asking the accountant or engineer to do something when we have no background in these fields.
Thankfully the AFL, the area I coach in, has a very strong focus of coaching development that all coaches are required to undertake. Through face to face and online training, we’re provided with the relevant skills to be successful as coaches of the players. This isn’t about being able to kick a 50 metre drop punt, or lay a perfect tackle, but rather understand the technical tips to be able to get the kids to do it. From the physical training courses to video and written training guides, we are armed with the skills to be able to pass the skills on (whilst not necessarily being able to be an expert in the skill).
Taking this back to the work environment, a focus on leadership training that provides the leader with the skills to be able to get the best out of their team (vs doing the functional skill themselves), together with a focus on effective communication will ensure the leader is set up for success.
Celebrate the little wins, not just the big victory
A major focus for me as a coach is to set up each player and the broader team with specific areas to focus on each match. This gets back to knowing the team and the individual development needs. It may be executing a perfect tackle for a player, or how we move the ball as a team.
When we nail these things, we celebrate them. These are the little wins, that when consistently done well, will set us up for the longer-term victory.
In a work sense this is critical. Often the long-term vision for the business feels out of reach and untenable, but if we find those little things that every person and the broader team can do every day, and then celebrate them, victory will be on the horizon. This may be the quality standards on a job brief, or the team commitment to timeliness of responding to customer enquiries. Do these consistently well and celebrate doing a good job well.
More than anything, it is a huge thrill in seeing the positive impact that you can create for the kids individually and as a team.
Sure, it can be a lot of work but there is no greater sense of achievement you can get as a leader with life lessons that will help you for years to come. So next time there’s an opportunity to get involved, put your hand up and get involved.
Guest Post by Alastair McCausland, CMO
BKD Executive Leaders create bespoke individual support programs for leaders and emerging leaders, whether that be a coaching or mentoring solution. Utilising an extensive panel of highly successful business leaders, we match individuals to coaches and mentors that provide one on one support dedicated to enhancing the individuals performance.