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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Football and workplace coaching, part three: Coach different players differently

I discovered how most people managers approach coaching in 2006 while stocking Beerfest DVDs at the Grand Chute, WI Best Buy. "We have to hold everyone to the exact same standard," the manager barked at me on my first day of the job. "We have to treat everybody exactly the same."

With this comment, the manager, who oversaw an operation of CD and DVD shelf re-stockers during the holiday season, expressed a commonly held yet ultimately misplaced theory of people leadership. The idea that everyone should be treated the same has its place in a Kindergarten classroom, yet falls apart when applied to the workplace. And like most of my insights about people development, I discovered an alternative way to lead while out on the football field.

Football coaches, many of whom work with dozens of players at vastly different skill levels, quickly learn that you cannot coach everyone the same. To coach a sport is to realize that you must coach different people differently. Individual contributors require individualized standards, unique goals, and specific plans for attaining those goals.

As a football coach, it's my job to understand what each player needs in order to achieve a personalized performance standard. An under-sized freshman requires a different performance target and a different approach to coaching than a senior all-state athlete. A talented player who struggles with motivation and consistency requires a different approach than a struggling player who brings energy and commitment day in and day out. And as is increasingly the case in football's new landscape, players who are concerned about the game's physicality need something different from their coaches than players who love the collision aspect of the game.

In the workplace, it's a leader's job to recognize what team members need in order to realize individualized performance goals. A basic skill/will matrix would suggest that high skill and high will performers should be held to different objectives and ought to approach those objectives differently than would a low skill and low will contributor. The role of the coach is to be aware of the variable skills and motivations on their team and to facilitate different coaching conversations based on this distribution.

With that said, there are some commonalities with which to approach all coaching - whether on the football field or in the office, for a seasoned All-American or a new junior associate.

  • All team members require coaching from a trusted source.

  • All contributors need a coach who knows how to collaborate on goal setting and action planning.

  • All players need a coach who won't tell them what to do, but who will ask powerful questions so that the coachee can self-discover.

As a workplace coach, you should be coaching different people differently. What matters most is that you coach all of your people, not to be the same, but to be themselves.

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