Leadership 101: Four Lessons From The Coach’s Playbook

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Just recently, I gathered my whole team together for a 2018 planning session. As with many business coaching teams, we do our planning after the start of the year because we’re busy working with our clients in December and January. Most of the year, we’re on the road, so our annual planning session is an opportunity for us to come together and practice what we preach, taking the time to tell each other the truth, get all our issues out on the table and set goals for the quarter and coming year.

As you can imagine, when you gather in one room with a bunch of type-A personalities who spend every day pushing others to be better, it can get a little intense. But, I wouldn’t give it up for anything, and it’s important that we — as coaches — put as much pressure on ourselves to move the ball forward in our own lives and businesses as we do for others.

The truth is that it’s often easier to see where others need to improve and course-correct than it is to see what changes we need to make ourselves. And this goes for everyone in a leadership position. Here are four ways I’ve learned to cut through the egos and the expectations and help business leaders and their teams achieve their personal best:

1. Listen. That’s all.

It sounds so simple, but it can be very difficult for people who are used to running things to begin by listening. In my case, you can be sure that in a room full of coaches — or any group of strong personalities — you’re going to get a lot of brutal honesty disguised as constructive criticism. The same is true of most entrepreneurs and businesses owners, and that’s okay. As a leader, the best thing you can do is listen and not respond until the other person is finished. Coaches and CEOs alike have a tendency to want to “get in there” and problem-solve. There’s a time for that, but if we don’t start by really hearing the other person and thinking about what we’re being told, we won’t get very far.

2. Realize (and admit) that you’re not perfect.

You’ve been doing this for years, right? It’s your business and you’ve planned your entire year out — possibly down to the minute. You know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Well, guess what? You’ve got a lot to learn. We all do. The minute you think you know it all is the moment it’s time to get back to basics. Invite other voices and opinions. Troubleshoot areas where you might need help. Get vulnerable. Trust me, as a coach, I can’t be of help to anyone else if I’m not willing to look at my own strengths and weaknesses in an honest way. The same is true of anyone running a business or leading a team.

3. Tear it down and build it back up.

You’ve started listening. You realize you don’t have it all figured out. Well, now it’s time to take the well-crafted system you’ve got in place and tear it down. That’s right. Step back and look at what you’ve done in the past and ask, “Is this really the best way?” Find all the things that are not working or could go wrong, and shine a light on them. Now’s your chance to get honest with yourself and your team and fix what’s broken. Once you’ve got your new plan to a place that feels right, solidify it and put in the work to make it happen. Systems and people can always improve.

4. Be a lifetime learner.

A superior track coach will always be looking for the best shoes for her team to wear and the most efficient ways to train. Any football coach worth his salt will spend hours watching game video and developing new plays to help his team win. As a business leader, it’s your duty to do the same for your team members to help them improve. Adopting a student mindset is something I talk about a lot. You’ve got to keep learning. Not only that, but you’ve got to have a passion for it. Read voraciously. Stay current on what the top business leaders in your field are doing. Incorporate their best practices into your own style, bring those lessons to your team, and never stop learning.

These tips could apply to anyone in any organization but, typically, business owners and executives need additional reminders. Take the time to listen, improve and share what you know. As a coach, I demand these things of myself and my entire team. If the teacher is not constantly improving, then the students will suffer. So, put on your coaching hat and do the work to stay at the top of your game. If you do, then your whole team wins.