The One Thing That Makes a Coach ‘Good’

What makes a good coach?

Interesting question, but it’s the wrong one. Oh, that question has all the right words. They’re just in the wrong order.

If you want to talk about what makes a good coach, we can list a bunch of coach-worthy attributes — things such as charisma, assertiveness, fairness, consistency.

But again, that’s not the right question.

  • The right question is this: What makes a coach good?

The difference between those two questions is subtle but significant. In the former, you’re focused on the coach. In the latter, you’re focused on the team. What makes a coach good in any competitive field comes down to one thing: Winning. And over the long haul, there is one defining thing above all others — far more important than the coach’s charisma, assertiveness, fairness or consistency — that leads to winning.

Talent.


The Case For Less Coaching

I’ve been in the real estate world for nine months now, and I’ve learned a lot. It would be easy to discount a newbie’s take on an industry, especially if you’re a veteran, but that would be unwise. Fresh eyes see things that have become generally accepted and dare to encourage the fresh mouth (pun intended) to say, “Um, why exactly are we doing that?”

One thing I’ve noticed in real estate is that many of its most historically successful practitioners tend to not do real estate anymore. Instead, they do coaching.

Really talented people leading really successful real estate groups pay tens of thousands of dollars to a person they talk with once a week who holds them accountable for actions and decisions designed to help grow their business.

In so many cases, this investment is out of line with what actually helps leaders do what the coach is trying to guide them to do, and the coach takes on an outsized importance in developing the business.

It’s not that coaches or coaching is bad. It’s not. Everyone needs some coaching every once in awhile. What’s bad is the overemphasis the real estate industry seems to place on coaching, especially when it comes at the expense of talent — both their own and that of the people they’ve hired or could hire

  • Talent matters more than coaching. Period.

Hiring and retaining good talent is the most challenging task real estate teams seeking to grow have. In my short time in the industry, I’ve seen more faces come and go than during my decade in the electric cooperative world. High turnover is not a good recipe for success — and it often is the sign of a fundamental problem, in either the business in general or hiring practices, specifically.

One way to reduce the turnover is to allocate your resources wisely, and if so many thousands of those resources (dolla dolla bills) are going to someone who can literally do nothing to execute any decision to help you make money instead of to those who can, you’re doing it wrong.

I understand that these coaches have had tremendous success in real estate. That’s what’s put them in a position to coach. But if you’re a successful real estate person yourself and have a decent businessperson’s head on your shoulders, you should be relying on your own smarts, intuition and feel of the local market you want to own to make the decisions that shape your business.

Now, to be fair: This is not an issue owned by the real estate industry. It just has a different name in many other industries: Consulting.

Again, I understand the value of a good consultant. Yet too often I’ve seen and heard it used as a crutch by organizations and managers too afraid to look at the available data and make the tough decisions themselves — and then stand behind them with their shoulders square facing the inevitable criticism that comes to everyone who chooses to be a leader instead of a mere manager.

One organization I was a part of had roughly 100 employees and spent several hundred thousands of dollars a year on consultants for its marketing department alone. That’s on top of the six-figure salary the Chief Marketing Office was taking (and here I purposefully avoid the word “earning”) to not make any substantial decisions on her own. Not only did her staff have little respect for her because they saw she couldn’t lead through her own ideas and strength, but good people left when end-of-the-year raises were capped at 3%, no matter how much of a rock star you were.

Split those hundreds of thousands of dollars among your top performers and how many of them would have stayed longer?


The Difference Talent Makes

So let’s get back to our original question: “What makes a coach good?”

It’s talent. It’s always been talent. It’s always going to be talent.

The 1927 Yankees are generally recognized as the best team to ever play professional baseball. Six future Hall of Famers graced the lineup on that one year’s squad, including Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt, Lou Gehrig and a portly chap by the name of Babe Ruth,

The team was managed (coached) by Miller Huggins, who had come to the Yankees from St. Louis in 1917 after five thoroughly unspectacular years in which his teams lost 415 games while winning only 346. His team never finished above third.

From 1918 until he retired in the middle of the 1929 season due to illness, Huggins won nearly 60% of the games he coached, compiling a 1,067-719 record, appearing in six World Series and being on the champagne-popping end of three of them. Only one time from 1921 to 1928 did his team finish anything but first or second in the American League.

So what happened? Did Huggins read a manual on how to coach baseball while on the train from St. Louis to New York? Or did his success have something to do with those guys named Lazzeri, Hoyt, Gehrig, Ruth, Combs and Pennock, all eventually enshrined in Cooperstown? (Side note: Huggins had just one future Hall of Famer on any of his St. Louis teams — the great Rogers Hornsby, from 1915 until Huggins’ departure.

This isn’t to suggest that good coaching doesn’t make a difference. Yes, former Bulls coach Phil Jackson and former Lakers coach Pat Riley are rightly recognized as genius NBA coaches, yet how bright would their stars shine today if not for guys named Michael, Scottie, Magic and Kareem?

The argument could be made that Hall of Fame players might not be such without good coaching, and that’s fair and hard to counter with data. It’s tough to find a way to conclusively prove whether Michael would have been Michael without Phil or if Magic would just be Ervin without Riley, but I throw my chips down on “You bet your last dollar they would have been,” just as Ruth would have been Ruth without Huggins.

But even if you want to give the credit to the coach for turning good ballplayers into great ones, you’re still recognizing the primacy of talent over coaching. Phil Jackson could have spent 10 hours a day, seven days a week for five years with me, and I still wouldn’t have been a better option than Jordan to take that jumper with the game on the line. Even great coaches lose without talent.

Talent matters.

More specifically, talent matters most.


The Key Takeaway

So the lesson in all of this for business leaders, regardless of the industry. is simple: Invest more — much more — in your talent than your coach. Pay your top performers a bonus. Bump their salary. Find ways to make their lives inside and outside the office better. Not only will you reduce your turnover and avoid brain drain, you’ll attract more talented people to come alongside you.

Don’t believe me? Look at LeBron James. Wherever he goes, talent follows. First it was Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Then it was Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. Now it’s Anthony Davis in Los Angeles. People want to be around greatness. So if you’ve got some great ones, reward them — regularly and lavishly.

Then, set about weening yourself off your coach. No one knows your business better than you. If you’re lacking something in business smarts to grow your business, perhaps now isn’t the right time to grow. Spend your time becoming business smarter so that you can organically lead your company’s growth.

Then, stand up and stand out like the general you need to be and lead your team into battle. You’ll be flanked by better troops more likely to make you look good.

John Agliata has been in the marketing and communication arenas for more than three decades. Reach him at johnagliata@gmail.com.


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