Manage Like a Coach for Gold Medal Employees

July 12, 2021

Behind every great athlete is a great coach. After all, athletes don’t make it to the biggest sporting event in the world without a bit of guidance, correction, and encouragement. While your employees might not be trying to land a double-double dismount like Simone Biles or break a world swimming record like Michael Phelps, you can still learn a few tips from coaches of top athletes on how to manage employees so they stick the landing.

Manage Like a Coach

According to the International Olympic Committee, “A good coach is positive, enthusiastic, supportive, trusting, focused, goal-oriented, knowledgeable, observant, respectful, patient and a clear communicator.” Sounds like a management style that works off the practice field too. Here are some key qualities of top sports coaches that can help you develop gold medal employees.

“It’s important to always ask yourself, ‘Who are you leading? What experience do you have with them? What is your mission?’ It’s not like one leadership style works in every situation.” –Coach K

Adjust Your Leadership Style for the Individual

Even if you’re not a basketball fan, you might have heard the name Mike Krzyzewski, also known as “Coach K.” He’s led three teams to a golden victory, so he knows a thing or two about coaching star athletes as individuals and on a team. “Communication is a big thing. I talk to each of them about their habits and favorite plays,” he shared with Harvard Business Review. “At one of my first Olympic practices, Jason Kidd, one of the great point guards, asked me what I wanted him to do. I said, ‘Just be you.’ You don’t want to change them. You just want them to mesh their extraordinary talents with those of the other guys. It’s important to always ask yourself, ‘Who are you leading? What experience do you have with them? What is your mission?’ It’s not like one leadership style works in every situation.”

Management Tip #1

As a manager, you have to set a standard for the team as a whole, but be sure you adjust your management style based on each individual employee so you can help their talents shine. What works for one doesn’t always work for another. So pause and ask yourself Coach K’s questions and think about what this employee specifically really needs before heading into your next one-on-one.

Help Employees Reach Long Term Goals by Setting Manageable Short Term Goals

Back in the summer of 2008, Michael Phelps and his winning streak were the only thing anyone could talk about. While his own hard work and determination were vital to his success, his coach Bob Bowman was there every step of the way. In a podcast interview on Inside with Brett Hawke, Bowman shares how he helps his swimmers set small goals that ultimately lead to long term goals and success: “The most important goal we’re all going to have is what are we going to do right now. I call that the immediate goal. What decision am I going to make right now that leads to the next step, that leads to the next step, which leads to the next step, which leads to the next thousand steps. That’s what I mean by having clear goals. You have a plan, and you have it broken down into things that you can actually sink your teeth into.”

“The most important goal we’re all going to have is what are we going to do right now.” –Bob Bowman

Management Tip #2

Your employees probably aren’t trying to make it to Paris in 2024, but short-term and long-term goals are no less important. Help your employees discover what their long term goals are so you can work together to create those smaller, achievable daily, weekly, and monthly goals that will win the prize, whatever that may be.

Develop Trust with Your Employees

If your employees don’t trust you, they won’t be interested in anything you say. Same thing goes for a coach. “There was trust and respect, which went both ways. She respected me as her coach, and I respected her as an athlete who was making a choice to do this,” says Aimee Boorman in an interview with Sarasota Scene. As coach to one of the greatest athletes of our generation, Simone Biles, Boorman certainly knows a thing or two about coaching.

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Boorman says the most important thing she teaches gymnasts is “that they learn how to communicate with whoever they are working with, whether it’s a co-worker, boss, or employees. The line of communication is so important because everybody has something to say. Usually with these kids, I need to know if they’re not feeling well, or if they are sick or injured, or even sad, because it’s going to affect how I deal with them. When you feel safe with someone, you can talk with them in a very respectful way that they trust. They should be able to carry that through life and in their relationships, moving forward.”

Management Tip #3

Prove to your employee that they can trust you through open communication, by showing them you have their best interest at heart, and by helping them succeed. Scheduling regular one-on-one meetings with employees where you give them feedback and give them time to give you feedback and focus on having productive conversation can help foster a trusting relationship.

What do you think? Are you ready to help your employees set a world record? Okay, maybe just help them have a record sales week or knock that next presentation out of the park. They deserve a gold medal for that too.

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Danielle Cronquist

Danielle Cronquist is a copywriter for BambooHR. Her six years as a professional writer are supported by a degree in English with a minor in editing. At BambooHR, she focuses on creating content that gives people the tools and knowledge they need to do great work and create great workplaces.