Photo by Justyn Warner

Be my coach, not my boss.

Recently I have dealt first hand with the differences between a boss and a leader. Both as a boss, learning to become a leader…and an employee…working with bosses.

I have been a big fan of emotional intelligence for ages and I recognise that this is a major player when it comes to being a good boss. They say it’s not just managing work, but managing people — and that takes leadership. And I’ve definitely struggled with this as a boss too. It. Is. Hard.

You have to push yourself so much further than you are comfortable to be a good leader. If it comes naturally to you, then I applaud you…seriously (and give me your tips!)

So constantly thinking about this concept, from enduring bad bosses to great bosses, and also trying to become a better manager myself…I was really blown away by a very very simple statement from an innovation panel a few weeks ago.

“It’s not about being a boss, it’s about being a coach,” said Kate Mason, People and Culture Director at Coca-Cola.

That is what I had been searching for.

So here’s what it means to me to be a coach, not a boss.

Why I really like the coach metaphor:

Like Netflix, I like to view my workplace as a sports team. We are working towards one shared goal, we are competitive, we are supportive, we play well together, collaborate, we hold each other accountable AND we want to win.

To be a good team, you need great coaches. Otherwise you will never win.

A really great example of this has already been written about the San Antonio Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich, which you can read here from Time Magazine by Daniel Coyle. (Who has a book on my reading list about cultures of highly successful groups.)

In my first hand experience I think back to my most memorable coach, Coach Heather. She was my high school lacrosse coach and she balanced the line of firm, fair, and friendly. She pushed us to grow, pushed us past our comfort zone, to perform and we achieved. We were undefeated in our district. I did things that I didn’t think I was physically capable of, like sprinting over 20, 100 yard sprints in a row…that’s over 1 mile of straight sprinting. And above all else, she loved us. She was a great coach. Most of those qualities are exactly what you need in a great leader as well.

Don’t be a boss, be a coach.

Push your employees. Be fair. Be understanding. Care for them as human beings. Be friendly. And work hard, together.

On being the boss:

As a boss, I have managed a few people now. As I said, it’s hard. Especially when you don’t even want to show up for the day. But what I have learned is that my friendly approach to leading has created bonds between myself and my team that creates a wonderful environment. An environment that in turn helps us achieve phenomenal outputs.

I teach them the tools, so they can be strong with their tactical skills. I try my best to empower my team in anyway I can, involving them in meetings and hearing their ideas. I push them when I know they can do something, but are a little bit scared. They can run the sprint. I know they can. They just need someone to trust that they can do it and help them get there in the end.

Yeah sure, it gets tough. And sometimes feedback (especially in creative and design) means thick skin has to be grown by all parties, but that level of honesty and communication is required in the simplest of relationships. That’s how you grow. If everyone agreed all of the time, we would never explore past our comfort zones.

I guess, unknowingly, I was trying to act as a coach.

So when I felt off and could feel myself veering from that positive and effective leadership positioning, I now know its because I wasn’t acting out of a coach mentality. I wasn’t in the coach headspace, a place of understanding and patience. The headspace that creates highly effective outputs in a comfortable, fun, achievement oriented and fast paced environment.

Luckily for me, I think I was in the headspace a majority of the time (though never anywhere close to perfect). I say this because I have kept these relationships after leaving various roles. And I am glad to hear stories of how they continue to grow and push themselves to this day. I like to believe, and truly hope, its because I was tying to be a coach, of some kind.

(You have no idea how often I struggled with not knowing if I was being too friendly, getting too close to my employees, especially as a young manager. But looking back with a coach outlook, I realise all coaches are friends with the team members, otherwise no one would perform IMHO.)

On being the employee:

I have been working on pin pointing what the difference of why I work better with some and worse with others. (Often blaming myself in the process). And it seemed to all come together when I heard those words, “It’s not about being a boss, it’s about being a coach.”

My best leaders are the ones who are my coaches. They help be achieve my best output. Be my smartest and most creative.

I was very lucky to have worked under two founders in San Francisco that lead me and helped me grow into who I am today. They pushed me and supported me at every step. They called me out when I wasn’t shining and they gave me opportunities to shine even brighter. Without them I wouldn’t have the career that I have, right this very moment. And I now realise, they were just absolutely incredible coaches.

I now also understand that we all put out our best output when we are being coached well.

You need someone who isn’t EVER GOING TO TEAR YOU DOWN OR MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH. You need someone who is there to help you grow in a positive way to achieve your best output.

Never mistake that something is all your fault. That you are dumb. Or slow. Or not enough. That you deserve to get spoken to in any form of communication that can be associated with yelling, screaming, raising a voice or tone with you. Ever.

A good coach wouldn’t ever make you feel that way. Nor would an effective leader.

It’s not about who is to blame or being bad at your job.

Bad bosses or bad employees.

You are simply going to perform if you have a coach, not a boss, on your side.

Whether it’s getting your team to the finish line, to the championship, to the finals…to an MVP, through a pivot, to a product launch, to a prototype, to your MoM % growth…all you simply need is a great coach.

Photo by Anna Sullivan



Growth, strategy & innovation. IRL: Abstract Artist, Startup Lover, Motorcycle Enthusiast, Ex-Fashion Blogger, Dreamer, Creator, do-er, idea gal, & sarcasm