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Don’t Be “The Coach”

by | Collaboration

Is the near-constant feedback you offer making you a less effective co-worker or leader?

I used to play basketball at a local YMCA over lunch, but when my travel schedule picked up a few years ago I decided the risk of getting hurt wasn’t worth the enjoyment I got out of it. Over the past few months, I’ve been playing organized basketball with some friends again and have caught “the bug”, so today I thought I’d head over for a little lunchtime hoops.

Everything started off fine, but after a few times up and down the court one guy on the team started giving me explicit instruction. “OK,” I thought. “He’s right, and I need to keep that in mind.”

The next time down the court he offered critique to me about a play I wasn’t even involved in. The next time down, he yelled at me for missing a rebound that had jolted off the rim in an unexpected direction. This went on, and on, and on for about a half hour. Finally, I decided that there were other (more enjoyable) ways to get exercise, and I left. I just want to play ball, have fun, and get some exercise. This is not my world, it’s just a pickup game of basketball. No identity on the line here.

As I was driving home, I was thinking about how many times in my life I’ve encountered “The Coach”. They are the person who is giving near-constant feedback about work, to the point that they become annoying, and eventually irrelevant because no one listens to them. Their words lose all sense of urgency, because everything is urgent all the time. They adopt the position of offering feedback about everything to everyone, whether or not it’s needed. Worse, it’s impossible to actually implement all of the advice because it never stops.

Profiles of “The Coach”

The over-zealous manager: Hovers over you, and offers course-correction advice before you have a chance to realize your mistake and learn for yourself. At the heart of it all is a compulsive need to control. They simply can’t let go.

The know-it-all co-worker: Offers unsolicited advice, and often spouts obvious tidbits of “wisdom” after-the-fact in order to show that they knew what was coming before it happened. (Only they didn’t, because… you know… they didn’t say anything until after.) They are full of thoughts about how you can improve your performance, but rarely take any correction themselves.

The swooping executive: Will occasionally mingle with the rank and file employee, but only to offer a quick spurt of timeless wisdom (without any context for whether or not it’s needed) before jetting back to the office. There is nothing wrong with sharing wisdom and advice, but it should be within the context of relationship and a genuine concern for the other person’s success.

The worst part about “The Coach” is that they are self-appointed. No one is asking them for advice, and after a while no one really listens to them. They are just more noise to navigate.

How to avoid becoming “The Coach”

Before offering feedback, make sure the other person is open to it. “Hey, can I offer a few thoughts…” or “Would you be open to some advice?” can go a long way toward nullifying any anguish or hard feelings.

Don’t offer constant critique with no encouragement. If the only thing another person hears from you is what they’re doing wrong, they’ll tune you out. Also make sure to tell them what they’re getting right.

Contextualize the feedback. Explain why it’s important not just for the other person, but for the team as a whole. Doing so makes it less about your opinion versus theirs, and more about raising the bar for everyone on the team. Don’t let it be about you and your ego, but make it about the outcome you’re committed to.

Yes…we need coaches. However, don’t be “The Coach”. Instead, offer feedback that is timely, contextualized, empathetic, and helpful in the context of the outcome you’re committed to.

Are there other ways you’ve seen “the coach” show up in your life and work? Please share below.

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Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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