Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
March 2014   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Olympic Lessons

Like so many viewers around the world I enjoyed the Sochi Olympics. Such has been my lifelong love of sport that my wife likes to tease that I've got a pair of footwear for most sports somewhere in a closet! Early in the games, as I was watching the biathlon, I was struck with the images of coaches, there in the front row among the crowds, encouraging their athletes to the finish line. The games are filled with images of athletes, with coaches close by. Alongside every successful Olympian is a dedicated coach. Without them these athletes would not have realized their dreams. So is the world of sport really so different than corporate life? I suppose that often it is, but should it be? While few organizational leaders spend any purposeful time coaching, the best embrace this role.

I have often remarked that the work I do today as a teacher and executive coach is not new, it is a natural extension of what has been a lifelong passion. It's the same work I did coaching the men and women who worked on the teams I led. Watching someone else learn new skills and build confidence, do things they hadn't done before, and knowing I had a hand in that, was among my most satisfying work. My work today allows me this same opportunity. Leaders who don't coach miss a great opportunity and a leadership essential.

On my weekends I coach skiing. This year, I'm spending my season with a dozen eleven to fourteen year old athletes, trying each week to help them become better skiers and develop a love for the sport that I enjoy so much. It's that same feeling again and I see a lot of parallels (pardon the pun) to organizational life.

I watch these young athletes ski with a discerning eye (every good coach must be a keen observer first) and then I'll tailor each exercise to improve one of the many facets of skiing that needs some work. I try to pass on what I've learned about skiing well to these young people. This is really what the best organizational leaders, the ones we call mentors do, they pass on what they have learned to those they lead.

Throughout the week while I'm not with them, my mind often drifts to what they need and to how I can use our time together during the coming weekend to help them improve. This calls for creative thinking as I try to come up with a better way to teach what they need to improve.

One of the facets of coaching I enjoy most is the relationships that develop. Good coaching is so much more than passing on technical skills, at times I encourage or console. I try to motivate by helping these young athletes see what is possible. It's all part of the coaching relationship. I think these young skiers know they matter to me and I have the sense that I matter to them. We look forward to our time together. They, with rare exceptions, give me their best. I think this is another outcome of strong coaching relationships: the athlete wants to perform for the coach, the coach wants to see the athlete succeed, they are invested in each other. This is really no different than the relationships I enjoyed as a newspaper executive.

The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius," latin for "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." Isn't this what all good leaders should be doing – helping the men and women they lead reach swifter, higher, stronger. The most effective leaders don't just manage teams, they develop them, they coach.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much dedicated time are you spending coaching?
  2. When was the last time you talked to a team member about his or her potential?
  3. What in your experience is most valuable to pass on?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
March 2014   |   By Dan Gaynor


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