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Improved Leadership Through Coaching
by Sloan Campbell


Nowadays the opportunity to make a strong, continuous connection between leadership and business is like finding the Holy Grail … it virtually ensures your immortality in the business world.

Everyone is aware of the connection between Leadership and Coaching in business, but what is often overlooked is the pure strength of this connection. There is a clearly identified Coaching/Mentoring/Leadership model designed to help develop young protégés for their future in an organization, this is not the type of coaching I am referring to in this instance. What I am referring to in this article is the relationship between coaching in Sports and Leadership.

In virtually any sport, both individuals and teams use the expertise of a coach. The coach assesses strengths, mitigates weaknesses, analyzes performance, instructs on how to improve and helps develop a winning strategy. We expect this approach to coaching in sports but often fail to apply this sound logic in our personal and business lives. (1)

The literary world has been inundated with books from some of the greatest basketball coaches of our time; Dean Smith (North Carolina University), Bobby Knight (Indiana University & Texas Tech University) & Pat Summit (Tennessee Lady Volunteers) that tell of how their players did all the work and they just steered the ship (i.e. lead the way). I am quite sure that each one of these coaches is 100% sincere in stating this sentiment, but did they improve their leadership through coaching or did they just use an existing skill set to perfect their teams? In my opinion, they used an existing skill set to perfect and lead their teams, since they were all former elite players themselves.

I know what you are thinking … semantics … not so !

Could Pat Summit have joined the 800 Win Club coaching the North Carolina University Men's team. Maybe, but I don't think so and … I will tell you why. Coaching same sex teams (i.e. female coaching a female team) allows a coach to assimilate faster (i.e. speak the team language, understand the team politics & become an accepted member of the team quicker), remove the need to break the code of the team and your life as a coach is infinitely easier. Basically you are using your existing skill set to lead your team to success.

Coaching an opposite sex team (i.e. female coaching a male team) forces you, as a coach, to learn to assimilate - to think like your team, to communicate so your team understands, understand the team's politics and finally become an accepted member of your team. Add to this learning curve of assimilation, the regular elements of change that exist at the University and College level of basketball with players graduating, leaving for the NBA or WNBA or getting hurt … and what you have is a climb up Mount Everest, from which few will claim success.

Even though the above mentioned coaches all coach for a living, the same principles apply to those of us in the business world who volunteer to coach amateur teams in our spare time. I know this because I coach an amateur Women's Basketball Team in Ontario, Canada and this incredible opportunity has changed my views & my approach to business and life in general.

How does this prove the strength of the connection between improved leadership and coaching in sports? I am glad you asked. Let's now shift to your relationship with your business team - customers; current or future.

If you are able to implement the same assimilation techniques you used to mould your sports team to shape your business team, your leadership role is enhanced exponentially - you are now able to think like your team (i.e. ability to be more proactive for your customers), speak so your team understands (i.e. improved communication with customers), understand your team politics (i.e. better understanding of internal and external business cultures) and finally to become an accepted team member (i.e. unsolicited repeat business from your current customers).

One of the best descriptions of the leadership relationship (personal or business) is in Kouzes/Posner's book "Leadership - The Challenge", in which they describe the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership:

  1. Model the Way - Titles are granted, but it's your behaviour that wins you respect. To effectively model the behaviour they expect of others, leaders must first be clear about their guiding principles.

  2. Inspire a Shared Vision - Leaders inspire a shared vision. They gaze across the horizon of time, imagining the attractive opportunities that are in store when they and their constituents arrive at a distant destination.

  3. Challenging the Process - Leaders venture out, leaders do not sit idly by waiting for fate to smile upon them.

  4. Enable Others to Act - Exemplary leaders enable other to act. They foster collaboration and build trust.

  5. Encourage the Heart - It's part of the leader's job to show appreciation for people's contribution and to create a culture of celebration. (2)

These may seem like common sense simple practices that anyone could follow to improve their leadership success. However, a precious few people take the opportunity to engage in the leadership side of this relationship - a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. (3)

Does this mean that a business person proficient with opposite sex sports teams (i.e. female coaching a male team) will be successful in every situation or be more successful than the next person in a given situation - of course not. However, the ability to adjust your thought processes to think like your team, understand your team and ultimately become a team member (on or off the court) will create an edge that will enhance the opportunity for you to win more often than you lose - the very definition of winning in sports … and consequently in business.


1. Leadership, Coaching & Organizational Development;

2. Kouzes, Jim & Posner, Barry; Leadership - The Challenge, 3rd Edition, 2003, Pg.13 - 21

3. Kouzes, Jim & Posner, Barry; Leadership - The Challenge, 3rd Edition, 2003, Pg.20 - 21


The Author


Sloan Campbell is a Program Manager at ELCAN Optical Technologies. ELCAN Optical Technologies (ELCAN) is a world photonics leader specializing in the design and manufacture of complex, precision opto-mechanical and electro-optical systems and subsystems for projection display, medical, industrial, automotive, defence, entertainment and telecommunications markets. You can e-mail your comments to the author at .

Many more articles in Coaching in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2005 by Sloan Campbell. All rights reserved.

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