Perhaps one of the most important leadership competencies I ever learned was when my high school football coach taught me an effective football technique called the “forearm shiver.” When I was a sophomore on the varsity football team, Coach McCauley held high expectations for me, as he had coached my brother, Bob, eleven years earlier. Bob had set a rushing record that stood for over twenty years in my home town – and he did it as the team quarterback!
After testing me for a potential quarterback position, Coach McCauley soon realized that I had little of the athletic ability that my brother possessed. After several days of trying to place me in various skill positions, he finally found a position for me on the offensive line. Though I was a tough guy, I was also slow, undersized, and had never lifted weights. However, I always felt this coach must have seen in me a potential for talent as he seemed so committed to getting the most out of me. Still, I could see his frustration growing as he struggled to find the right position for me on the team.
One day, he asked me to stay after practice and meet him at “the sled” – a dreaded contraption used to make lineman better at “firing off the ball,” using proper form to drive the opponent off the line of scrimmage. It was a hot, August morning and Coach McCauley and I were the only people there. He said to me, “David, I thought you were more like your brother, but you’re not.” I lowered my head, knowing it was true, but the words still hurt.
He went on to say, “But, you are tough, and I like that.” I became encouraged. He continued, “I know you can lead this team… if you work hard and play to your strengths. I want to show you a technique that will leverage your toughness and give you the advantage you need to excel.”
He then proceeded to show me this devastating technique—the forearm shiver. Starting with my hands at waist level I would make a quick, powerful step into the opponent while driving my dominant forearm up into the chin area with a quick and powerful motion. When done correctly, the full power from my legs, hips, and shoulders would be behind the extended forearm. He had me practice this technique on the seven-man sled pads – slowly, at first, until I had perfected the motion. Then he ordered me to repeat this motion over and over. “Do it 50 times quickly.” After I had completed this exercise, he then had me practice the same technique from a three-point stance while moving down the row of pads after each hit.
We practiced this skill for what seemed to be an hour. I was exhausted, but thrilled. The forearm shiver provided me with a sense of power – and, man did it work! Coach had me practice this before and after each team session until the movement became instinctive, and when it was leveled on unsuspecting opponents, the sound of the hit was even more satisfying. I used this technique consistently – and over time, expertly, and no one could successfully defend against it. By my senior year, I became an all-league offensive guard and an all-county middle linebacker. Coach McCauley had given me a tool to leverage my strength, which, alternatively, minimized my weaknesses. More importantly, upon reflection, he taught me a far more valuable lesson about how to rise to my leadership best:
Good leaders take a genuine interest in their disciples. They find their strength, and they coach them to leverage their strength to great success.
Ultimately, as a leader in business, you will not be rewarded for how many people you lead; rather, it is how many leaders you create that will matter most. The coaching process is as follows: Teach first (encourage and guide), then have the individual practice. A good coach challenges individuals to be the best they can be, and sometimes they will resent him or her for it. However, this resentment does not last forever, as invariably, they discover that the lessons taught were some of the most valuable of their lives.
As a manager, you must remember these lessons when coaching your staff, and help your team members develop the necessary skills that provides them with the confidence to succeed, and that propels them to higher levels of performance. When doing so, you will be rewarded with a type of performance from your team members that inspires everyone around them to do better, and increases the overall success of the entire team.
Good coaches do this, and the best leaders are good coaches.
Leaders who coach well develop future leaders who perform well. Like Coach McCauley, great business leaders:
- Take a genuine interest in their people;
- Commit themselves to helping potential leaders become better leaders;
- Identify and focus on strengths versus weaknesses;
- Provide meaningful guidance;
- Speak from experience and wisdom;
- Encourage, Empower, Enable, and Energize;
- Communicate with courage and tact – “courageous, considerate communication;” and
- Have a sixth sense for timing.
Doing all of these actions right as a leader-coach will help you strengthen relations, deepen commitment, and foster self-motivation and personal development within your employees and teams. However, please remember the First Rule of Developing Leaders…
Development begins with people who are “developable!”