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Are you managing when you should be coaching?

Inside Business

Posted: May 2, 2008 12:34 a.m.
Updated: July 1, 2008 5:02 a.m.
I grew up watching John Madden coach the Oakland Raiders. In an era when most NFL teams had thick binders filled with rules and associated penalties for players, Madden went the other way.

There were only three rules when you played on Madden's Raiders: First, be on time; second, pay attention; third, come dressed to play.

He didn't need to say, "Play like hell when I tell you to" because it was understood that on game day, that is what players were supposed to do.

Madden guided the Raiders to an overall record of 103-32-7, leading the team to seven AFC Western Division titles and a victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Out of all the head coaches who have won the Super Bowl, Madden and Vince Lombardi are the only ones to have never had a losing season as a head coach.

What made Madden so successful? He did not manage; he coached his players.

Madden operated under the assumption that the players he was to mold into a team were adults. His simple rules were developed with the understanding that if a player could not follow them, they had no place on the team. In a sense, they served as the everyday evaluation to determine whether someone was worthy and capable of being on the team.

Once that foundation was set, Madden and his subordinates could then coach the players, regardless of age or tenure, on how to play the game and win.

Madden repeated to his players that "The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else."

The players understood. And they responded. His winning percentage while coaching the team was .763, the best of any head coach in NFL history. Madden was a catalyst for growth and change of the players and of the team. During those years hundreds of men wore the Raider uniform, so the message was carried through the seasons to every player.

All too often, managers today see their role as enforcer of rules. Be on time, they tell employees, or I will have to "write you up." Be a team player, employees are told, or we will have to find another spot for you. Show initiative, or you won't get the raise you hope for.

Managers spend more time dealing with the problems caused by the behaviors of some employees than they do trying to get the best from all employees. Instead of spending time mentoring and coaching employees to become better, managers have become record keepers of employee misdeeds, dealing with problems that have no place in today's workplace.

Arriving late to work, taking long lunches and breaks and leaving early are some examples of common problems facing managers. How much management time is spent documenting this behavior? How much management time is spent counseling the employee on the need to be on time? And how long is a late arriving employee kept on the payroll serving as an example to others that this kind of behavior is tolerated and accepted?

Under the Madden system, if a player couldn't be on time, they didn't belong on the team. It simply was not tolerated. No one invested time, energy and effort trying to correct this unacceptable behavior. There were no written or verbal warnings; Madden didn't have the time or patience to counsel someone who was expected to be on time and wasn't. Madden made it clear that he expected adult behavior from his adult players.

What made Madden coach and not manage? Coaching molds a person's attitude, behavior and skills.

Madden did his best to motivate and counsel his players to help them identify and realize their full potential. He led by example.

Madden was a goal fanatic, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, an excellent listener, open to feedback, supportive, flexible and focused on learning and fun. Being a football player may look like a lot of fun, and it can be, but it is also physically and mentally demanding. It is not for the weak; the average NFL player career is less than four seasons.

Yet when those players were on Madden's team, they responded. Treated like men, they acted like men. With winning as the goal, they responded by winning. They saw the coach as a coach, someone who was teaching them to succeed, interested in their development and success, and they responded in kind.

Why don't more managers coach instead of manage? The answer is simple. Whatever you may think, you can't win at anything with the wrong players on the team.

The question for every manager is: Do you have the right people on your team today?

Kenneth W. Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, bringing business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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