The Importance of the Coach – Lessons from the Field

I recently celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary in France, and we were lucky enough to be in Paris when France won the World Cup. I couldn’t believe the incredible amount of people swarming the Champs-Élisées from all directions in celebration of their country’s achievements. This experience led me to explore the phenomenon of the World Cup that takes over the hearts and minds of so many nations. This year’s tournament has been especially interesting because most of the typical favorites of winning the championship were eliminated and, in some cases, didn’t even qualify.

Interestingly, most, if not all the players, on a National World Cup team are considered superstars, earning millions of dollars, and belonging to elite soccer clubs. How is it possible that some teams would perform so well and others flounder? After careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that the coach is one of the biggest factors in distinguishing these teams. There are coaches who are able to extract the very best from each player; to pick up on the chemistry between certain players and ensure they are on the field together as often as possible. There are coaches that are able to have the difficult conversations with players who are under-performing; and there are those coaches who can turn any ship around when things are moving in the wrong direction and/or sinking.

As I dug deeper, one coach’s name kept popping up who’s achievements really stood out for me: Pep Guardiola. After retiring as a player, he joined Barcelona B as their coach and subsequently, in 2008 became its team manager. In his first season as manager, Guardiola guided Barcelona to what is called a ‘treble’; winning La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League – making him the youngest manager to win the Champions League. Just a few years into his coaching career, in 2011, he was named FIFA World Coach of the Year. Having managed Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City; he has won 23 titles since 2008, a figure which no other coach can match. He has won 57% of the titles he competed for as a coach – that really says something! Just to give you an understanding of how exceptional that is, the runner up is Laurent Blanc with 15 trophies, followed by Joe Mourinho with 13 trophies.

In my opinion, his coaching abilities really shined during his tenure with Manchester City. He finished the first season that he joined them without winning any trophies – a first in his coaching career. The following season, he guided the team to the best season in the Club’s history; winning the Premier League title, the League Cup, and finished with a record breaking season of 100 points and 84.2 win percentage!

So what is it about this man that allows him to take a great team and make it phenomenal? In a recent interview, Guardiola stated that the key to his success as a coach is adjusting to the players that he has and trying to extract the best of out them. He focuses on understanding the players’ strengths and ensuring that they play according to his strategies because “Although the players are great, they might not know the best way to play”.

Isn’t that the key to mentorship in any field – and especially business? Raw talent isn’t enough. Hard work isn’t enough. Passion isn’t enough. We might not realize our own potential, how we measure up against the competition and our peers. Sometimes, what is missing is a helpful guide who can help to channel the talent, the hard work, the passion, to make the necessary introductions, and to connect the dots into a winning strategy.

As a business leader, be the Guardiola of your company. Understand your executive team, what their strengths and limitations are. Help steer them in a direction they didn’t even consider to draw out their highest potential. Furthermore, whether you are a CEO/President or a rising star in your organization, get yourself a mentor! Most of the players that Guardiola coached were superstars in their own right – and yet he made them better. Whether you join a leadership peer-to-peer advisory board, such as PEO, or you find a personal mentor, do not loose out on the opportunity to exceed your own expectations.

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