What CEOs Can Learn From Head Coaches About Collaboration
This Sunday, 100 million people are expected to watch the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. Whether or not you’re a fan of either team, or even football in general, you can tune in to America’s biggest game to appreciate one thing (besides the commercials): how successful leaders get the most from their people.
The head coach at your organization
In the business of sports, CEOs are still the CEOs. But on the field, head coaches run the show. Just as business leaders try to get the most from their employees, coaches answer for the performance of their players. And much like CEOs are responsible for growing the business, coaches are responsible for the ultimate—and binary—bottom line: wins and losses.
Coaches come from different eras, schools, and coaching philosophies. Some make their names by engineering explosive offenses while others are dyed-in-the-wool defensive masterminds. But there are common traits that we find among coaches who find success at the highest level.
Among them are “a proclivity for collaboration and communication, a willingness to delegate tasks when appropriate, and a disposition for curiosity and continuous learning,” as Boris Groysberg, Evan M.S. Hect, and Abhijit Naik, researchers from Harvard Business School, identified in a recent article for Forbes. Their research shows that these traits apply not only to coaches but to leaders at all organizations.
We’re inclined to agree.
Collaborate to win
At NLI, we know from research that successful leaders actively include different sets of experiences, ideas, and philosophies in both strategic and day-to-day conversations. Studies show that inclusive teams are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, six times more likely to be innovative or agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. In other words, when leaders include more voices at the table, it leads to more creative, valuable, and innovative outcomes.
These benefits underpin our perspective on how to build smarter, more effective teams and is a core tenet of our scalable solutions.
The research bears out this belief. Collaboration via inclusion is a key to success both off and on the field. It’s no wonder that successful coaches demonstrate this “proclivity for collaboration and communication.” For example, Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams keeps the lines of communication and collaboration open with all his players and staff. As Robert Mays put it in an article for the Ringer, Mcvay has turned “meetings into collaborative attempts to not only learn the game, but solve it.” And they do it as a team.
Learn to grow
Successful teams get better with practice. That’s the rationale behind growth mindset—the belief that skills can be improved over time, rather than being fixed from birth—and the reason successful coaches exhibit a “disposition for curiosity and continuous learning,” as Groysberg, Hecht, and Abhijit noted in their piece.
Leaders that create growth mindset cultures help entire teams see challenges as opportunities, not as threats. It pays off in a number of ways: from adaptability in the face of digital transformation to performance management transformation.
Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, reminds us that athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Mia Hamm have had a growth mindsets. They never “rested on their talent; they constantly stretched themselves, analyzed their performance, and addressed their weaknesses.”
To borrow from a prolific figure in another sport, the legendary basketball coach John Calipari has said, “A successful person never loses, they either win or learn.” The same can be said of successful business leaders, teams, and organizations.
Think like a coach
When you settle in for the main event this weekend, keep in mind how those teams got there, and how they’re not so dissimilar from your team at your organization. How can you put to practice the traits that make great coaches and great teams great?