Why Coaching Trees Don’t Work

coach-k-phil-jackson

There’s a belief out there that leadership can be taught. Skills yes, but replicating no.

Take for instance two all-time basketball coaching greats: Phil Jackson & Mike Krzyzewski.

Both have disciples trained under them, yet given head coaching duties the success rate isn’t nearly as high. Why is that?

First of all, people can’t be scaled. You can have a mentor, but the goal of the mentee should never be to clone their model. Leadership is grounded in self-awareness so your style needs to be conducive to your personal strengths. You can’t be anything you want. You can only be the best version of you.

Second, there’s an art of leadership that is instinctual. Almost impossible to teach. Both Jackson and eventual Coach K successors have huge shoes to fill. Their replacements will be forever compared to their career success. Unfair as it is, each leader has to create their own legacy. Leaders are less focused on who came before them and more locked into where they want to go. As technology improves so does the sharpening of people skills. In sports the truly great coaches have a sound strategy, but what sets them apart is their ability to manage superstar egos. No book, online resource or manual can teach you that. You learn best through experience and since each individual is unique there’s no formula for optimal results.

Third, confidence in vision. Many would argue charisma, but that comes from a strong belief in self. The confidence in vision needs to be strong enough to take the team to a level even the leader hasn’t reached before. A leader’s vision should be bigger than themselves which further defends the idea of focusing on the future instead of looking back. Vision casting can be taught, but the size of the goal is directly tied to the confidence of the leader. Most successors aim to maintain past standards, but that’s peering in the rear view mirror. Beyond prior records, data and research, leaders must push on regardless of the struggle. That type of perseverance is a character trait developed over time.

Leadership development is real, but not as simple as following a set number of rules. Great coaches create a legacy that can’t be caught. Besides observing and having a deep appreciation for great leaders, it’s about identifying your greatest strengths and leveraging those on a daily basis for maximum results. Coaching trees don’t work because humans are too dynamic to be simplified down to a system. Train up leaders, but give them autonomy to spread their wings in the way they choose. That’s how a tree really blossoms.