Coaching works at every level

Executive summary: Coaching in sports, and virtually every other area of life, results in better outcomes. In business coaching has the potential to create sustainable competitive advantage. Yet it is not widely practiced. This must change. It can change for a nominal cost with a near infinite return.

“…(T)he typical NFL team averages 15 assistant coaches. A college football team generally has 9 full-time assistants….”[1] (Alabama has 10.) The same can be said for virtually every other sport and almost every other part of life where getting the best out of our self or our team matters. Yet it seems that only the most enlightened managements see the value in utilizing coaching as a tool for sustainably advancing their company over the competition. Sustainable competitive advantages, rare though they are, are incredibly valuable.

I am not talking here about “executive coaching” which is generally a targeted effort to help a former high potential, senior manager regain their mojo or is seen as the ultimate perquisite. Rather, I am talking about coaching entry level and first and second line managers as a matter of course. After all, they are not that different from college and even pro athletes. Both are generally young and although many are gifted, especially in the pro ranks, all are far from the best they can be. Moreover, by utilizing a coach, it is possible to have a multiplier effect on individual contributors in the areas of productivity, engagement, retention and culture.

Start with the fact that a first line manager is responsible for the direct labor force. (Much as the offensive line coach is responsible for the line in football.) This is true in professional as well as blue-collar ranks. Even the most junior manager supervises at least a small handful of people responsible for getting the company’s product “out the door”. (Think of the wide receiver coach.) Products can be as diverse as advice on a merger, to making sure the beer is bottled on time so that waiting trucks can be loaded. These “products,” i.e., merger advice, bottled beer, are not substantively different when it comes to the role of the first line manager. Their role is to organize the direct labor force in such a way as to maximize productivity, while maintaining morale (and thus retention) and engagement. These skills are behaviorally based and not necessarily inherent in even the most substantively talented first line manager.

The same can be said for middle managers. Indeed, they have a disproportionate impact on the well being of the company. They manage the managers who manage the direct labor.  The multiplier is essentially that of the second line manager’s increased effectiveness being transferred through the first line manager to the direct labor force. At this point you might well ask, then why isn’t this the case at the VP or SVP level? The simple answer is this level of management, much like a team’s General Manager, has such a broad role that productivity at the “coal face” with attendant morale, engagement and retention can take up only a small fraction of their time and attention. They are too busy with the important work of guiding the company for the months and years to come to worry about what is happening right now. (See my earlier article: BUZZWORDS – TRANSFORMATION on my LinkedIn page or on my website: )

How would such a coach operate and why wouldn’t the manager or the manager of the manager own this role? The answer lies in the nature of the relationship between manager and their employees or managers and their managers. No manager wants to admit to their team that they are not skilled at motivation, irrespective of the fact that it is always painfully obvious to their employees. Managers are even less desirous of admitting that they are struggling with their teams, for whatever reason, to their managers. Add to this that almost all shortcoming in managers are behavioral, i.e., they know the technical aspects of their role, just not how to effectively get it done from a social perspective, and you have the basis for the entry of a coach into the equation.

The coach solves for the one element of the manager-subordinate relationship that is missing, but that allows for sustainable competitive advantage: Confidentiality. A coach for a first- or second-line manager does not have to “live” with the manager 24/7. Nor do they have to be on site on a weekly basis. With technology being what it is, the relationship can be virtual for all but the initial meeting. That meeting should be designed to assure chemistry between the coach and manager and to establish the ground rules of the relationship. The first and unshakeable rule resulting from the initial meeting is that what is said between the coach and manager stays between them unless the manager chooses to reveal it.

The relationship creates sustainable competitive advantage because it allows the manager to improve in the one area that most, if not all managers at any level, are weakest: their behavior towards their teams, their peers and their managers.

It is important that this service be calibrated against its return. The cost for competent, virtual, coaching should approximate $250 to $400 per one-hour session, two to four times a month. The offset of a competent manager, in place, comfortable in the knowledge that they are learning and applying that learning everyday provides an ROI that must approach infinity. Not only does the coached manager believe that someone “higher up” has taken an interest in their career, but their subordinates and peers will see and appreciate the changes. Imagine a team of highly motivated, competent managers, respected by their peers, guiding teams of engaged, individual contributors as they work on behalf of the company. This must be a good thing.

I recommend we give it a try.

Should anyone kind enough to read the above wish to engage me in a conversation regarding what was said, please contact me at: or by telephone at: 904-321-7089.

Thank you and regards.