A Tale of Two Coaches: What Kind Are You?

There’s more to coaching than sharing your expertise. The way you communicate that expertise is as important as the knowledge itself.

How Your Leadership Is Impacted by the Way You Coach

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/vm

Years ago I went golfing with my friend and colleague, Dr. Victor Oliver. I had played quite a bit as a teenager, but had set aside my clubs when I became an adult. At the age of forty-three I decided to take it up again.

I bought a new set of clubs, reviewed the rules, and even read a couple of golfing books. However, I was still lacking the one thing you must have to succeed at the game of golf: confidence.

I sliced my first drive, red-faced as the ball bounced into the tall grass and disappeared. Unfazed, Victor declared. “You have a great swing, Mike. You’re a natural. You’ll get the hang of this in no time.”

Rather than dwelling on my failed attempt, Victor’s assurance immediately turned my mind to the next shot. I couldn’t wait to take another swing.

After a few more shots, I was within striking distance of the green. As I approached the ball and began to setup for the shot, Victor gently interrupted me.

“For these kinds of shots, I always imagine I am sitting on the edge of a bar stool. I lean forward with my back straight and head down. Then I just take a nice, full swing … like this.”

“Got it,” I nodded. I then mimicked his stance, took a slow, steady swing, and put the ball right on the green, eight feet from the pin.

“Beautiful, Mike. I told you you were a natural.”

Over the next several years, I played golf with Victor numerous times. I always played my best when I was with him at my side. His gentle, reassuring voice gave me the one thing books, expensive clubs, and even lessons couldn’t: confidence.

I also occasionally played golf with another friend. I’ll call him Frank (not his real name). He was a good deal older than I, but a great golfer—even better than Victor. But the two were complete opposites when it came to coaching.

I still remember the last time I played with him. On hole number three, I sliced a drive into the deep rough. Certain it was unplayable, I dropped my club to the ground, and sighed.

“Well, that was a helluva shot,” Frank grumbled. “You didn’t finish your swing. You just kinda … kinda gave up on it.” He then frowned and snorted.

With that, he stepped up to the tee box and pinned his tee and ball to the ground in one seamless motion. Then, without so much as a practice swing, he blasted his ball straight down the middle of the fairway.

It was picture-perfect. Just like on TV. Speaking to no one in particular, he announced, “That’s how it’s done!”

He stood tall.

I felt small.

Unfortunately, this scenario was typical. Frank was always quick to point out my faults. If I happened to hit the ball well, he would say something like, “Well, you got lucky on that one, didn’t ya, kid?”

Not surprisingly, I always played my worst golf when I played with Frank. He chipped away at my confidence, and my performance unraveled as the game progressed. He made me want to quit.

In reflecting on these two different coaching styles, I realized I have a choice in how I lead.

I can either focus on what my teammates are doing right and thus increase their confidence, or I can focus on what they are doing wrong and thus increase their self-doubt. Both styles have an impact on their performance. And both have an impact on my effectiveness as a leader.

Question: What style do you use in coaching those you lead? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Erin Bishop

    A great application for parenting, too. Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/VoiceOverGrille VoiceOverGrille

    Michael, good stuff as usual.

    I find the hardest part of coaching (I am a Voice Over coach) is when you have a person who is inherently down on him or herself and lacks confidence. The more confidence we can instill, the easier our job becomes. The 2nd hardest part is when that person has allowed themselves to be molded, cast and fired into solid pot of pessimism. That’s the work of you know who.

    We are all moldable. It’s who we choose to allow to mold us. I’m just trying to be good clay in the hands of the Master Potter. And then passing that along.

  • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/ Cynthia Herron

    Thanks for sharing this! Loved your example of effective coaching styles. Positive, constructive feedback will always win hands down over brusque negativity. I pray I’ll always be a “Victor.”

  • http://twitter.com/quirkycity Heather C Button

    I am working on being the former and catching myself when I’m about to be the latter. Hopefully I will recognize it earlier, and build up the person’s confidence enough to try again. Now, if I could only practice it when I coach myself…

    • Jim Martin

      Heather, your last sentence brings up something important. I wonder if some of us are more like Victor with others while we are more like Frank in the way we treat ourselves.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

        Great application, Jim. Thanks.

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Definitely the first. When you go with the second style you aren’t inspiring confidence and not giving people a high level to rise to. I’ve been lead the second way most of my working career, no wonder I ran to self-employment.

  • http://twitter.com/ReneFerret rene ferret

    The way i lead my team is encouragement, promoting their growth and helping them overcome their self doubts and fear :)

    • Jim Martin

      Good for you, Rene. And–for them!

  • Jim Martin

    Great post, Mike. Your description of your friend “Frank” brought back a lot of memories. Played one of the longest games of my life with a guy like that one time. It was the last game with him. Not fun.

    Good point that you make in this post about leadership. I want to remember this.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jim. I appreciate you!

  • Sandra M

    Yes…I’m immediately reminded of parenting. I’m immediately reminded that I am by nature a “motivator”. At times I teeter between both.

  • Cyndi

    Thanks for the lesson. I’m not sure which style I’ve employed in the past, probably a combination of the two depending on my mood, but you can bet after that illustration, I’m going to adopt the build up, don’t tear down method! Thanks.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Good for you Cyndi! Make the change and watch your interactions change.

  • http://twitter.com/HarcourtsDapto Michael Garside

    I very rarely comment on blogs however I really like this post and it struck a chord. Thank you Michael, outstanding lesson!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Michael.

  • http://www.emilycapito.com/ Emily Capito

    This message transcends coaching or management – this is a general rule for all relationships! How many of our marriages would be 100x more fulfilling if we and our spouses focused on what we do right rather than what we do wrong? When you look at great networkers or superconnectors, they are consistently focused on what is great about the people they meet, as if they can’t even see the faults. A great lesson to be more like Victor and less like Frank in all our interactions.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Emily. That’s a great reminder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bbasilico Brian Basilico

    Any Analogy with golf… get’s my attention! Nice Post!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Golf seems to connect with lots of people Brian. What did you get out of the post?

  • http://www.workyouenjoy.com/ Adam Rico

    Someone once told me “Life is like a microscope, what we focus on gets larger.” I’ve found this to be so true. I wonder how many friendships and opportunities “Frank” unknowingly sabotaged because of what he focused on. I’m sure Victor attracted friends and opportunities regularly. I love being around people like Victor and I hope to offer the same sort of encouragement to others in my life.

  • NatePennington

    Hi michael. I sent you an email but with the amount you get probably will never see it. I live in clarksville, tn and am an elite marathoner (2.19.35 PR)..if you’d ever want to get together to run I’d love to learn from you and answer any questions you may have on running. My site is http://www.rundreamachieve.com. Loved the article and appreciate what you have done with your life…truly inspiring. Godspeed, Nate

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Nate. I haven’t seen the e-mail yet. I appreciate your kind words.

  • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

    I worked on application for this tonight – playing catch with my four year old son. He hasn’t quite figured it out, but as we played together I focused on what he was doing right and encouraged him. I am sure I helped him more than pointing out what he was doing wrong – which would be my normal reaction.

    • http://www.leavingconformitycoaching.com/ Randy Crane

      That’s great, Tom! Way to take action!

  • 21stcenturyconfusion

    I agree with your thinking on coaching. I have worked with kids who have parents that continuously degrade their accomplishments while minimizing their successes. I can not think of a more effective method to teach a child to fail! I sometimes wonder if some parents try to get even with their parents by taking out their past pain on their own children.



  • http://twitter.com/msamboy Mike Samboy

    I tend to naturally have a coaching style like Victor. Interestingly, I’m a pretty affirming guy and like to give positive reinforcement. I’ve had some employees over the years who must have been brought up around people like Frank. Positive coaching and affirmations did little. In fact, they seemed to think less of me for not
    ripping into them all the time.

    I tried for years to adjust my style and be more abrasive to those types of individual, but found myself generally unhappy and dreading my interactions with them. I now make it a point to only surround myself with employees who are a good match for my particular management style. I’m not sure if that’s the best overall approach to take, but I’m sure a heck of a lot happier and more productive!

  • http://www.facebook.com/DrJasonBrooks Jason Brooks

    Great blog Michael. I appreciate the perspective as I coach with a supportive, encouraging, and validating approach as well. While some may expect the more directive coaching style, I believe that sustained change and results are built through each person being on their journey of self-discovery, walking side-by-side with a coach who is compassionate and authentic. It may take a little longer…but in the end the results and stories from the experience will be priceless. Thanks again! Dr. Brooks

  • Soumangue

    I enjoyed your story Michael. I strongly believe providing positive constructive criticism is the best way to coach your team members. It’s works and it’s a win/win situation for my teammate and for me.

  • http://www.coachingreallyworks.com/ Abe S.

    This is why it’s so important to find the right coach. I can’t be just anyone. Gotta make sure they are going were you wanna go and giving you the confidence to take that path.

    I like that quote that says something like, “We become like those we spend most of our time with.”

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Right on Abe. Finding the person who meshes with you and gives you the encouragement needed to move forward is critical. How do you seek out these types of people?

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    We started baseball practice in Wisconsin this week, and I learned the JV coach (I’m the assistant) had a knee problem and was uncertain as to how available he’d be to coach. In a quick exchange with the varsity coach (Him: “You might have to coach the team.” Me: Laugh. Him: “I’m not kidding.”), I had to consider my coaching role. The JV coach knows baseball. I know baseball players. The JV coach teaches but also, at times, tears down. I learn and, at times, build up.

    I love your illustration, Mike, and know how much of a difference the Victors in this world made/make in my life. I hope I can pass the favor on to others.

    • Jim Martin

      I wish you the very best this season – especially if you coach the team. Sounds like these kids will be fortunate if you do.

  • Ed Hill

    I coach broadcast personalities and for true performers this is the absolute best way to coach. Enjoyed your tale of two coaches! Victor is my kinda guy!

  • Lisa Hains

    Just great!—powerful!–and positive thoughts!!!
    Thanks so much Michael—for making the world a better place through your work!!!

  • http://twitter.com/Africa_Agric Chris Sperling

    thanks Michael,I can totally relate to the golf example> fortunately I have a great encouraging golf partner. It has helped me to see how this encouraging attitude helps people to flourish!

  • http://twitter.com/ianharber Ian Harber

    Great post! I’ve also learned that I perform better when I have people encouraging me rather than discouraging me. As a student, I have a hard time with grades. People’s tendency is to say, “Ian, you’re smart! How can you possibly be doing so bad?” I understand the heart behind it, but it only makes the situation worse. It’s when people point out what I do right and then encourage me to work on everything else that I start to do better.

    I want to be a leader like Victor and like those who encourage me. Thanks for the lesson!

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Unfortunately, I believe I tend to fall into Frank’s type of coaching more often than not. It’s the style I was raised with and the style I default to. What advice do you have for those who struggle in their coaching style?

    • http://Thefieldgeneral.com/ Chris Coussens

      I don’t know about “advice” but here is what i do. I have a tendency to be critical when I am not intentional, so I’ve developed some coping mechanisms:
      1. I set aside some specific time weekly to “Appreciate” team members. Look back on the week and see what’s good, what I can recognize.
      2. I’ve asked my direct reports who are managers to systematically come to our team meeting with suggestions on who has done something I can recognize. Keeps this visible to me, and I think adds something to the attaboy when it comes from a level up.
      3. This is new. I’ve set aside some specific time to review each employee and what their strengths are and what I like about what they do. I haven’t done this yet, but my plan is that anyone I can’t answer that question about, I will actively pursue it. I have some specific employees in mind already.

      My hope is by taking these specific steps, it refocuses some of my energy explictly towards the positive. That helps me have some momentum in that direction.

  • Julie@ComeHaveaPeace

    I know I want to be like Victor, and the growth in my teams makes me think I’m “more Victor than Frank.” My hope is that I will help each one on the team to reach their potential and blossom under my leadership. I think I “default to my inner Frank” when I allow myself to get physically and mentally tired, when my own focus and purpose becomes clouded, and when my pride gets in the way.

    • Jim Martin

      Julie, it sounds like you are very self-aware. Sounds like a real strength to me that you recognize the areas when you are move likely to revert to Frank’s style of leadership.

  • Hanno

    Mr. Hyatt, I really enjoyed reading this blog post because a friend recently put me in touch with Dr. Victor Oliver to talk about working as an editor. Even though he was a complete stranger to me, I felt understood, affirmed, and encouraged by him in that one phone conversation.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      He is an amazing man. I am not surprised by your experience.

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  • Lalit

    I prefer Dr. Victor

  • http://twitter.com/Teams_First TeamsFirst Directory

    My youngest plays soccer on a travel team. When she started there were 4 teams in her division – team “a” was at the top and team “b” was at the bottom.

    Team A got a new coach – who had a great reputation as a soccer player – but he was a “Frank” type of coach – any time a kid made a misstep she was called to the bench for a reprimand – great plays were rarely commented on – but goals were rewarded. A few individuals thrived under his praise but it ended up pitting team mates against each other and in the end despite having the best individual players in the league the team only finished middle of the pack.

    During the season I listed to the other coaches in the league and the team with the smallest players who struggled at first had a coach like Victor. In fact during one game where our team was leading at the half I overheard his pep talk – and he told the girls exactly where they were doing things right and encouraged them to keep doing that with a few suggestions on how to get into scoring position that would build on what they were doing.

    That team pulled ahead and ended up winning the game – that is the day I decided that we were going to see if we could move teams.

    Two years later that team of undersized players not only won their Level 4 and Level 3 divisions but finished 8th place in our province while the team with “Frank” at the helm finished in 52nd position.

    Where teams are involved Leadership style has a huge impact.

    • http://www.leavingconformitycoaching.com/ Randy Crane

      What a great real-life example! Thank you for sharing it.

    • Jim Martin

      What a great example! Thanks for sharing this.

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  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colon DeLay

    The coach model has been very crucial for me in formal and non-formal ways since

    What was incredibly cool was to recently find a training/education program that works in this same manner–so, not just book knowledge and leadership theories, but spiritual growth focused, with mentors and coaches to guide and model, and personal leadership experience fashioned into it too. The Master of Arts in Christian Leadership program I’m in now functions this way. Essentially, it’s a Christian MBA. (evangelical.edu)

    And with a BIG focus on Authentic Leadership and Servant Leader and Transforming (models) and the desire to have leaders like this in businesses and ministries (in the wake a huge Wall Street, leadership, and business failures) it’s both versatile and valuable training. Like your article shows getting to the core of one’s attitude, or even understanding why it’s like that in the first place is super important.

    (I can think of more than a few bosses out there who could benefit for a hard look at their leadership style!)

    • Jim Martin

      Lisa, what an interesting program! So glad you are having such a good and rich experience.

  • Brenda March

    Great point & perfect analogy, thanks for sharing!

  • http://CaptivatingCappadocia.com Duke Dillard

    Excellent post. Thank you for sharing this story. I connected with both kinds of coaches. I have had them both and have unfortunately been both. This post excellently fulfilled the task of showing the problem, helping me to identify with it, and then showing me a better way.

  • Randy Stroman

    True coaching is not about the knowledge inside the coach, but about the ability of the coach to draw out awareness from inside of the student.

    • Jim Martin

      Randy, I like this! Thanks very much.

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  • Dick Brookes

    Great insight. Harvey Pennock the long term golf coach at the University of Texas took the same approach. If a golfer made a mistake, Harvey would watch patiently, and then walk over to him and quietly say, “Why don’t you try this?” There is certainly a time to tell someone without ability that perhaps there is something else they should try, but to succeed in life you have to know that SOMEONE believes in your – great coaches know that and they always have a “glass is half full” mind set – especially toward those they are coaching.
    Dick Brookes – Interim Senior Pastor; Cambridge, New York

  • http://www.VictoryChristianCoaching.com/ Marianne Clements

    I can certainly relate. When I was re-learning how to water ski, I got very frustrated with someone who focused more on what I was doing wrong and seemed to grow more and more impatient every time I fell. I contrast this to my uncle who first taught me how to ski — he was gentle and encouraging and I learned how to ski very quickly.

    I used to be a critical person, but now I’m an encourager — thanks to God.

    Have a Victorious Day!

  • http://twitter.com/LazoVuckovich Lazo Vuckovich

    This is a great post — it made me look back at my previous coaches, and at my ability to coach.

    Playing college baseball, I came to realize that some teammates needed an arm put around them while others needed a foot in the butt. After my playing days, I coached some Legion baseball — the same applied.

    In the end, it came down to what Mr. Hyatt says above — confidence. Those lacking confidence needed the arm around them, while those with too much needed the foot in the butt.

    Good post — made me reflect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rmw1221 Bob Wright

    The last paragraph of your post should be posted at the desk of every manager! Thank you for sharing this!

  • http://twitter.com/samsonvarughese Samson Varughese

    Great read. I just had a question. How do you help your team members recognize where they need to improve and hold them to a higher standard while still encouraging them and helping them realize their strengths?

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Great question. Do you mean team members that are you are supervising or team members that are peers.—I think they are handled slightly differently.

  • MIchael Moak

    Honestly, I think I’ve been guilty of being a “frank” at times in my life. But, my heart truly desires to be a “victor”. Thanks for this post Michael. It has made me think about my privilege as a husband, dad, and pastor.

  • Jake Garrett

    The thought of casting a negative light over anything that your coaching client is doing just seems to defeat the whole purpose of working with some one. Back to Rule #1 – If you can’t say something nice, just shut up!

  • Dan

    I play a good amount of golf and am fairly good at it and I think you’re over thinking things here. Sounds to me like the “Frank” character was just a dink (to say it nicely). The lesson is don’t play golf with dinks.

  • Jon Nyberg

    Mr. Hyatt,

    I was happy and surprised to see this post.

    You see, I grew up with Dr. Oliver. He helped raise me along with his own sons. I spent many days and nights at the Oliver’s – years in fact! And, I have such fond memories of him and Dixie.

    Please do say “hello” to Victor for me, if you get the chance.

    You won’t remember me, but I’m certain you remember my incredible mother, Marcia Nyberg. She was with Victor for many years and helped launch Oliver/Nelson in Dunwoody.

    Best regards,

    Jon Nyberg

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Great to hear from you, Jon. I do remember Marcia. Unfortunately, I don’t get the opportunity to see Victor often. I really miss him.

  • http://www.strategicplanningforgrowth.co.uk/ Jane Bromley

    I love the story! What a great message. You can coach people to believe in themselves and bring out the very best in them or you can point out their errors.

    Confidence is incredibly powerful. I once had a boss who pointed out every error I made with Excel – there were many. He would watch over my solder for the next mistake! It was sheer torture. Strangely, when I left that company I didn’t make Excel errors again. ..

    Compare that with Jason Collins, a founder of a company called Apogee in the UK. Jason believes that all his team have inspiration and amazing ability within them – and that is his job to pull it out. No surprise that Apogee’s revenue and profits are growing at well over 15% pa.

    Coaching someone to see their own power and excellence is an honour – and brings out the very best in us too.

    Thanks. Jane

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