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The player-coach syndrome

By Gerard Murphy, 8th April 2019

One of the things that professional sports does not allow their coaches to do is run out on the field and take a pass, kick or a snap for their players.

Yet in the corporate space, we consistently see leaders doing the work of their team members because they want it done right or they want it done now and they haven't got time to teach and/or coach them through the job or the task at hand.

Consequently, when that happens, they're robbing their team member of their ability to prove that they are competent and capable of completing the task. Furthermore, in doing so, the leader inhibits their team members ability to display character - persistence, determination, or commitment - to the task etc. What the leader is really doing, is robbing their team members chance of proving that they can be trusted.

If this behaviour continues for an extended period of time, it becomes very easy for the leader to assume that particular person cannot be trusted to do their job.
This can compound pretty quickly, particularly for those leaders who deem themselves "too busy" more often than not.

The thing is, the attitude of "I'll just do it myself" is generally not malicious.
The leader's management of this player-coach syndrome is an important one for performance because it breeds mistrust from both sides. The leader feels they cannot trust their team member and their team can feel this.

Feeling that your leader does not trust you does not breed a high performance culture.

The stress hormone cortisol is released time and time again so even when potentially given the opportunity to prove oneself, that team member is not feeling great and will most likely perform poorly.

What can make matters worse is that the team member actually might be performing well when the leader is not around. In our experience, leaders who do not develop a coaching habit will often have the excuse they don't have the time. Even if that team member is performing well when the leader is not around, if that leader is time stretched and "always busy", they won't be capturing data from the team to appreciate that team member is in fact, performing well and can be trusted.
This is a slippery slope to sustained poor performance.

One of the reasons leaders might 'just do it themselves' is the rationale that the team member cannot do as good a job as they can. This is often true, especially if the leader is the founder of the company and a "quality technician".

If you're a technician first, then a business owner, you should expect that your players cannot do the job as good as you.
Your job is to get them to your standard, and if you're really good, they'll become better than you!
That should be your goal.

The truly great leaders we work with have integrated a coaching habit into their leadership, combined with disciplined structures to enable their players to connect in a way that they take ownership of their team/s, and ultimately, turn their vision into reality.

For us, leading is coaching.

One of the primary jobs of a leader is to help, support and enable their players to improve and grow as individuals. In other words, "Make your players better so they do the work!"

Lead as if you were a sports coach and you can only ask questions back to your players when they come to you with a question.

Yes, answer a question with a question.

  • "What do you think you should do?"
  • "If you were me, what do you think I would say / do?"

If you are a leader finding yourself doing too much of the actual work (often referred to as 'stuck in the weeds'), then we challenge you to consider you are not coaching enough inside your team.

Remember though:

  • Coaching is not barking orders and solving problems for your team members.
  • Coaching is asking great questions so they come up with the solutions.

This is one way that you can manage the player-coach syndrome inside your corporate team.