What Does It Take to be a Great Coach/Guru/Leader/Adviser?

tiger woods

It’s a question I actually called into the local sports talk radio show a few years ago – “Do you think the best players make the best coaches?” Unfortunately, the question never made it on the air, so I was left to figure it out on my own.

It seems that the evidence is fairly clear that there is no need to have been a superstar player in order to become a great coach; otherwise all of the  successful sports teams would be coached by former all-star players, which is not the case.

Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, and arguably one of the best pro football coaches in history, never played professional football, although he did play at a small college. His opposing coach in the Super Bowl, Pete Carroll (my favorite coach in any pro sport), also just played college football. Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champions.

And it’s not just sports that I think this question is relevant to. Are the most successful sales managers at a company the former top salesmen? Do the best students become award winning teachers? Are the best editors former best selling authors?

Again, my belief is that it is not necessary that you were the best at some functional skill in order to become successful at helping teach that skill to others. But is it even necessary to have at least had some experience with what you are trying to coach or teach or provide guidance on? 

My belief is that it helps tremendously to have had some personal experience. I think there’s more trust if your players and students know that you were once in their shoes and as a result you can  empathize a bit more with them.

But I don’t think it is necessary.

Does an editor have to have written a novel in order to be good at helping authors edit their novels?

Does a drug counselor have to have been an addict in order to provide outstanding help to someone who is recovering from addiction?

And at some point, the capabilities of an athlete or a student are going to surpass those of the coach or teacher; does that mean the coach or athlete can no longer provide useful advice?

Again, I think the answer to that is obvious. Why else would Tiger Woods hire a coach? He’s the best golfer of his generation, and certainly a better player than any possible coach he could find, yet he still finds value in having one. Why does a successful book author still find value in having an editor, even if that editor never wrote a novel? Why would a CEO hire a business coach?

I think the answer is that no matter what skill level we achieve as an athlete, no matter what success we have had in the business world, or how many best selling novels we have written, or how many “A”s we have earned as a student, there is always room for improvement. There is always the goal of  moving forward. And it seems the more successful people are, the more they realize the value in seeking the advice of a coach or a mentor.

And it’s those same traits that make for a successful coach or guru; the desire to continually learn coupled with the passion to share that knowledge with others to help them get better.

I was shocked a few months ago when I came across this passage from the book of a highly successful self-help guru. This guru is worth millions of dollars, and at one point in his book he is talking about money management. Here is the passage I find troubling:

“I get a lot of calls from brokers wanting me to do business with them, and I always ask how much money they make…If they don’t make more than I do, there is no reason to do business with them.”

If everyone thought like this, Tiger Woods would never use a coach, Bill Gates would never need a financial advisor, and John Grisham would never use an editor.

But they do, and I think that’s a good lesson for all of us.