On a beautiful Saturday this past May I sat at a baseball field in Raleigh, North Carolina, watching 40 or so youngsters participate in a baseball camp. I have a connection to the Broughton High School field going back over 30 years. As I sat on the bleachers watching the boys, I shared with the father of another camper my fondness for the place, and my connection to it. I explained that Wiley Warren, for whom the field is named, was a former coach of mine. “You know,” he said, “I remember a number of old coaches fondly, but I can’t say the same about any old bosses.”
That observation stayed with me and caused a great deal of personal reflection. I strive to be more “coach” than “boss.” What distinguishes great coaches from average ones? What can we learn from great coaches that will enable us to improve those we lead and manage? How can we take lessons from sport and apply them to our chosen profession?
One can debate whether great coaches are born or bred, but there are elements of great coaching that can be adapted by anyone in a coaching capacity.
- Knowledge and Expertise
Mastery of the subject matter allows great coaches to break down complicated problems into manageable parts then reassemble into the whole. Great teachers never stop learning, and their zest for knowledge inspires those they teach. The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden noted, “Knowledge is never static or complete.”
- Passion and Enthusiasm
Great coaches possess a love of the game that is infectious. There is no substitute for unbridled passion–it is the soil from which excellence blossoms. Whether it’s helping a mediocre player improve or developing a great talent into an all-star, great coaches get enormous satisfaction from seeing those they lead grow and develop. Seeing my son execute a bunt that he worked hours to perfect and watching a young associate conduct her first client data-gathering meeting are moments of great personal pride. In some small way I’ve transferred my passion to another and seen it in action.
- Patience and Caring
Great coaches understand that the greatest lessons often come from failure or mistakes and create an atmosphere in which calculated risk-taking is encouraged, as is stretching one’s comfort zone. These ingredients combine to inspire achievement well beyond what most people believe they can attain.
We all serve as “coaches” to others, whether in our roles as parent, advisor to clients and colleagues, or friend. Wiley Warren coached thousands of boys over nearly fifty years. His legacy is captured in two photos. One is a black and white photo from 1991 showing several high school players gathered around Coach Warren. The other is a color photo from shortly after he passed away in October 2003. On the morning of his wedding, one of his former players, Ned Mangum, joined with several teammates at the Broughton field to recreate the 1991 pose. In the 2003 photo, in Coach Warren’s place is a chair and fungo bat, a fitting legacy to a lifetime of coaching. It serves as a testament to the fact that the lessons taught by great coaches last long beyond our time on the fields of play.
As leaders of a profession still in its infancy, let’s hope we can help teach similar lessons that will merit our colleagues remembering us with the same fondness and gratitude.
Mike Palmer, CFP
The Trust Company of the South
Raleigh, North Carolina