Coaches, not Managers

"It's the coach's job to make judgments and be critical about players." - Gregg Popovich

Amidst the celebration and noise of the Spurs championship celebration, a scene was captured on camera between Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Coach Gregg Popovich. In their embrace, you can hear Kawhi telling his coach "Thanks for pushing me".

This scene is so meaningful to me, because it really shows how beneficial and powerful a relationship between a player and coach can be. Kawhi didn't say "Thanks for playing me" or "Thanks for trusting me", he said "Thanks for pushing me".

NBA players get paid millions of dollars to do what they do. You would think all that money would be motivation enough to push oneself. Would it be unreasonable to expect a player being paid more than many will see in their lifetime to be able to improve on their own? Even Coach Pop himself said, "These guys are grown men. They don’t need me to say ‘Remember the Hornets, fellas."

The truth is, self-help can only go so far. Our minds have an image of our behavior, our strengths and our weakness, and they don't always match up with reality. In the words of Richard Feynman, "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool."

No matter how self-critical someone is, they'll never be able to see the entire picture of themselves. They must seek an outside view if they want to improve behavior that's hidden to them. Our brains are built around adaptive cognitive biases, which shape our perception of reality and misconstrue the facts of it. These biases are useful from an evolutionary standpoint, but impair our judgement of ourselves.

The best coaches (and the best managers), the one who really get the most out of their team, are the ones that are able to successfully challenge their players. The ones who actively push their team by identifying weak spots and solidifying strengths.

While it's never good to be overbearing and controlling, the absence of any feedback is stifling. It leads to people stagnating in their skills, as they're improvement is limited to only what they can see. There is no outside feedback counter-acting the blinders of their mind.

The managers role, in my mind, is all about feedback. Their behavior should mimic coaches, "making judgements and being critical". A manager that plays it safe keeps from making waves, but is little better than no manager at all.

When Kawhi Leonard started his career with the Spurs, he wasn't a superstar. He wasn't MVP material. There was potential, but had he been left alone, he never would have earned Finals MVP on a team featuring Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili. It took a coach who challenged Kawhi to grow past his shortcomings; to gain confidence, play to his strengths and not fester on his weaknesses.

As a manager, as a leader, as a parent, are you actively pushing those around you? Are your relationships built on vulnerability? Are you spending real time thinking about how you can grow those around you?

Are you managing the good, or are you coaching the best?

Further Reading

A few weeks after writing this, I ran across an article by Havest Business Review titled You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach. Seems to hit the nail right on the head.

[T]he single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching.

I've also posted a follow up on Giving Meaningful Feedback.

Enjoy this content? Check out my upcoming book, The Non-Conformist Leader.