Watching the legendary Coach K rule the sideline at the Duke University versus UAE basketball game in Dubai left me inspired about great coaching. That night I thought: "If businesses had championship coaches, what would be the result?"
I am a big believer in coaching and the impact that it has in business, but I remain sceptical of the industry of executive coaching, which in essence is working with a client to reach a specific professional development goal. Executive coaching is often sought after to improve interpersonal and professional communication, enhance personal performance and organisational effectiveness, manage career and personal changes, develop executive presence, enrich strategic thinking, deal effectively with conflict, and build a high-performing team.
All sounds good, so why be cautious about executive coaching?
Typically, organisational coaching approaches do not practise the athletic model, and executive coaches see their role as listeners, not problem solvers. Most corporate coaching solutions espouse enabling the recipients to look at their situation from different perspectives and see answers they did not see before. That is a big change from what Coach K was doing on the sideline.
The world is full of a lot of different types of coaches. Some are focused on helping people find purpose, some are listeners, others are about the experience and everyone having a chance to play, and a select few win championships. I had a great privilege as a teenager to play for a championship coach, Steve Simmons, who took a bunch of undersize boys from central Illinois and created state champions.
So, what is it that championship coaches do, whether in an athletic competition or in an organisational setting?
Great coaches keep it simple. They know that mastering the basics delivers exceptional results, so they spend time helping the players excel in the fundamentals. The great Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight spent hours in practice demanding perfection from his players through dribbling drills and free-throw shooting. What are the basics in business that you need to master to win?
Success comes from coaches who relentlessly push the players to be their best. They know it is their job to help those they are coaching reach deeper than they think possible to achieve grand results. There is a constant focus on the effort being exerted because effort demonstrated in practice determines the result in the game. How much effort do you exert to be the best?
John Wooden of the University of California at Los Angeles, one of the all-time best coaches, said a coach is a teacher. Marshall Goldsmith, a top adviser to corporate executives, believes that a core part of the coach's remit is to give executive advice. So what is required for a coach to give advice? It does not mean the coach must have played the game or been a chief executive, but he had better be an expert in the business.
Championship coaches focus on a few additional common-sense areas such as creating cohesion between the stars, support players and non-stars so the team works together to win. And, of course, great coaches are stellar motivators.
Bob Jeffrey, the chief executive of JWT, in an interview with the Financial Times, described his management style as athletic - maximum performance and good coaching. How much better can your business be by having great coaches?
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center.