Why Executive and Sports Coaching Barely Overlap

Sports CoachingNo successful enterprise is an environment of quick fixes. Results come with time and effort, even if the concept may have dissipated in a torrent of self-help manuals, online listicles and leadership seminars, which, while sometimes effective, are simply too impersonal to serve as catchall solutions.

Then there is coaching — a viable route for struggling executives, but not with a guide who is used to running a very different kind of ‘team’.

Wasted Time

Coach Sean McNulty gave the CEO his go-ahead to deploy Jim Mirabella to his new managerial position. Things seemed peachy in those first few days, up until Mirabella fell under severe depression.

Turns out, the sports coach approach to executive mentoring did more harm than good, what with elementary exhortations like “quitters never win, and winners never quit” being the primary commodity this company shelled out funds for. Yes, Mirabella also got a fair earful of ‘weakling’ and ‘act like a man’ throughout McNulty’s time shadowing him.

Tough love does not always work, especially in a place where the ‘points’ are this consistently critical.

Crunch Time

In his write-up for the Harvard Business Review, executive coach Steven Berglas told of Mirabella’s story, as well as others from a number of struggling-yet-capable new executives. Stepping in after McNulty’s ineffective run, Berglas was able to treat the symptoms rather than the disorder — Mirabella was able to develop a leadership style that was his and not McNulty’s. It was that simple: no game day words needed.

Cases like Mirabella’s where another executive coach has to intervene are far too common, professionals from UK Business Mentoring admit, and they point to the tendency of business owners of defaulting to coaches hailing from athletics for help, even when little to no overlap exists between executive and sports coaching. They echo the importance of identifying a ‘problem executive’ (who only needs training) and an ‘executive with a problem’ (who also needs psychotherapy). Sports coaches are generally ill-equipped to provide both.

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Berglas says that misguided coaching ignores if not creates, the deep-rooted psychological problems preventing executives from fulfilling their role. Companies must keep in mind that to groom an employee for leadership, the employee himself/herself must connect with the method by which it happens.