Coaching teams to greatness: 5 core management truths

Managing any organization is comparable to coaching a team. In fact, most organizations refer to employees, co-workers and colleagues as their teammates. Everybody has a specific role to play within the larger context of the "game," and there's a shared end goal of winning.

Although an unlikely pairing, the tactics Bob Knight, famous for coaching 902 NCAA Division I winning basketball games, and Mike Ditka, former NFL player and coach, used to achieve their respective success can be translated into the healthcare environment. The coaches shared their perspectives on a keynote panel at the Becker's Hospital Review 2nd Annual CIO/HIT + Revenue Cycle Conference in Chicago.

Joined by Nader Samii, CEO of National Medical Billing Services; James Coffin, PhD, president and CEO of SourceMed; and Robert Wise, president of Free Conference Corp.; in a panel moderated by Scott Becker, publisher of Becker's Healthcare, these leaders shared lessons on preparing teams for success and how to remain an effective leader in the long-term.

1. Create a culture of accountability. A fundamental element of a successful team — whether on the court or in the office — is establishing a culture in which each individual team member understands the importance of his or her role, how they fit into and contribute to the rest of the team, and the need to execute their responsibilities to the best of their ability.

Mr. Samii gave the example of the renowned high school football coach Bob Ladouceur, who stepped into his role in 1979 when he was just 25 years old. "Ladouceur was a great coach because his approach included a commitment to excellence — he valued doing the little things right," said Mr. Samii. "He created a structure in which teammates were accountable to each other. It was about giving a perfect effort vs. perfection. … To him it was about building character with the kids. He never talked about winning and losing, but doing everything right from a process standpoint."

Mr. Knight added it is the leader's role to provide team members with all the resources they need to perform at the highest level.

"That's the coach's responsibility, to make sure that he gives the kids tools that are going to be of help to him in the future," Mr. Knight said. "Teaching kids self-reliance is important. Teaching kids that they've got the tools, now let's get the job done, that's what our responsibility is."

2. There's a time, place and way to communicate passionately. Being a good coach often means being tough on players. Certainly, there are some instances when raising your voice or using stern language with team members or employees is necessary to convey the message.

"If you care about [people], you coach them hard," said Mr. Ditka. "You're going to find out about their character, what they're made of. Can they stand up to it? The team comes first. If you yell at somebody and they get offended, that's not somebody you want on your team."

To put it succinctly, Mr. Knight said, "If you [never] yell at someone, it means you don't give a damn about their success."

However, there's a difference between coaching tough and coaching respectfully. The question of whether leaders need to be politically correct has become top of mind for many, especially as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump boasts his propensity to be politically incorrect as a signal of strength.

Despite the increasing popularity of being politically incorrect, Mr. Wise contends leaders should not make this their modus operandi. "It's great to be passionate — employees want to see that, it engages them," he says. "It's OK if a curse word comes out once in awhile, but in terms of being politically incorrect, one must draw a line. As you get passionate you need to be careful about what you're saying."

3. Enjoy what you do, and embrace the tough days. Business leaders and coaches are only human. Just like everyone else, they endure periods of burnout, high stress and possibly overall dissatisfaction. However, it's important to be able to determine whether such negative emotions are temporary or permanent, and if the latter, it may be time to reconsider your position for the sake of the organization.

"You have to enjoy what you do," said Mr. Wise. "There are times when you'll feel burned out, but overall you must enjoy it. It's about setting an example and motivating those who directly report to you, and about the employees under them. You have to set goals for them and create a vision that everyone buys into so everyone feels a part of one team."

Dr. Coffin agreed. "You have to motivate yourself every single day. I had 13,000 people working for me at Dell. Walking around campus, they can never feel that you're down on the company. It's hard to do that every single day. It takes a huge amount of energy, but you have to do that every day."

4. Make sure players are in the right position. Recognizing individuals' talents alone isn't enough; rather, matching that talent with an organization's core values and priming that talent is of utmost importance, said Mr. Samii. "It's about getting the right person in the right seat doing the right thing," he said. "We have really talented people, but if they are struggling, we spend time thinking about what they do well and what they're passionate about, and find a new home for them."

Additionally, not every person can do all things, and leaders who recognize individual strengths — and weaknesses — can help guide a person to success. It's a matter of working with the tools you are presented to enable people to excel. "Not every kid can shoot from 18 feet. Not every kid can throw the ball over the plate," Mr. Knight said. "You do your player a disservice if you try to make a quarterback out of a linebacker."

Finding that balance, that sweet spot where people are performing their best and growing those talents, is one of Mr. Knight's favorite parts about coaching. "The neatest thing to happen in coaching is for a kid to realize what he can do," he said.

5. Ask questions. Although coaches and leaders are at the top of the organizational flow chart, they are dependent upon those that play or work on the team. Just as not every person can do all things, one coach or leader doesn't know all things.

Asking questions and gleaning insight from teammates is what helps coaches and leaders do their jobs effectively. By taking internal stock of teammates and ideas, leaders are better equipped to make decisions and guide individuals.

"If I look back on what I think was most important to anything I did in developing players and teams, it was [that] I was never afraid to ask questions. I never wanted to think that...I knew everything," Mr. Knight said.

What's more, the term of every coach and leader will one day come to an end, and asking questions and surrounding one's self with the right people is the best way to ensure continued success.

"My kind of management philosophy is if I walk into the room and I'm the smartest guy in the room, I'm in the wrong room. I hire really smart people to work for me, let them do what they do best, and make sure they hire really smart people," said Dr. Coffin. "Hire people that are going to take our job some day."

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