What It Takes to Be a Coach Article by: Jim Rohrbach

Do YOU have it?

I’ve been in the coaching game full time since the end of 1992. I’ve coached hundreds of people over the years and am even working with leaders to help them go from being “managers” to coaches. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what it takes to be a coach, so let me lay out what I think are the essential elements:

The love of helping others succeed. It’s no accident that I listed this first. If you don’t understand that the only way to win the game of coaching is to help others define what success means to them, then help them get it, you’d better consider other options. It also means you’ve got to check your ego at the door, ’cause it’s all about the players — not you.

Hunter vs. Farmer mentality. A great coach typically has a “Farmer” mentality, willing to grow his people over the long haul. Many organizations promote top performers to be managers (coaches), then watch them stumble in this role. An example from the sports world: Isaiah Thomas was the star player of the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons during their NBA championship years. But he has stumbled as an executive for both the Toronto Raptors and the New York Knicks.

The joy of playing the game. I LOVE pick-up basketball — I’ve played at the “Y” and outside on the playground for over 40 years. (I’m gonna take up golf when I get old …) The guys I play with KNOW that when I’m in there, “Da Coach” wants to WIN. With my clients that means that I will do whatever it takes to prepare them to “win” their game — whether it’s giving them a book to read on networking skills, rehearsing sales interview questions before big appointments to even asking if they’ve said their Mission Statement every morning.

Character counts. People can spot a phony a mile away — if I’m asking certain things of my “players” I’d better be walking the talk myself. So I read books on networking (and lots of other business topics), use consultative interview skills with my own prospects and never miss a morning reciting my Mission Statement. And it doesn’t hurt to be a “character” either — think Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, Red Auerbach.

Willingness to learn. Innovation through learning is one of the keys to success — great coaches are great students of their game. In my case, I have a learning goal of reading 40 books a year and listening to 20 audio programs. Some people wonder how I do it — I tell them it’s just part of my job. My clients are looking to me for ideas to help them improve, and these ideas are NOT going to come from watching the Cubs blow another game on TV …

Willingness to teach. It appears the best coaches are also great teachers. Examples in sports: Tommy Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots. And “ZenMeister” Phil Jackson— with both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s known for giving philosophy books to his players! Some people say Jackson is just “lucky” because he had superstars Michael Jordan, Kobe and Shaq — baloney! Phil was able to expertly teach his role players how to fit in with the stars — that’s why he has so many championship rings.

Patience. Every teacher knows the patience it takes to instill good habits or change bad ones. It can be frustrating for me at times to go over the same concepts every week with a client, yet I always take the position that there are no bad clients — I just must not be delivering my message in a way that the client will “get it.” Luckily, these experiences are few and far between, but they come up often enough for me to know that in order to help my clients “win” I’ve got to hang in there through the rough spots.

Accountability. Coaching without accountability would be like a parent lecturing their kids on not crossing the street, then ignoring it when they do — you wouldn’t want to be guilty of THAT, now wouldja? So you’ve got to hold your “players” accountable for doing what they say they’re going to do. I believe this can best be accomplished through a “Socratic inquiry” with the following questions:
“What would you like to achieve, by when?” Let’s use an example of a branch manager of a financial services firm who wants to coach a financial advisor. When he asks this question, the advisor might say that he’d like to net an additional $30,000 by the end of the year. This is a good start — having the FA define what he wants by a specific date.

  • “What would it mean to you if you could do that?” This is where the branch manager can elicit the underlying “why” of the advisor’s monetary goal. The responses the coach/manager gets will uncover the FA’s true motivation: Maybe it’s for putting his kids in a private school, perhaps he and his spouse wanted to travel to Tuscany for their 20th anniversary, an ailing parent might need additional financial support, etc. This is where the “coach” and the “player” have the opportunity to deepen their relationship if the coach gently persists in drawing this out.


  • “What can I do to help?” As a show of support, the coach/manager wants to indicate to the FA that he is willing to help in any number of ways: Remove minor administrative hassles, upgrade the office decor, host client social events, underwrite a portion of the cost of hiring a coach, etc. Again, probing for specifics is what makes this work. (Of course, following through on any promise is critical.)
  • What behaviors/activities would you like me to hold you accountable for, in what time frame?” Talk is cheap — the rubber meets the road when the FA commits specific, measurable behaviors in a designated period to his coach/manager. This can range from once a week to once a month, depending on the FA’s needs and experience. By consistently following through on this, a coach/manager should be able to help an FA do what he needs to do to get not just more money, but to fulfill the FA’s underlying desires. And that’s the essence of the coaching relationship.

(As an aside, any sales professionals should be asking these same questions of their prospects and clients to deepen their relationships.)
Corrective feedback. You know enough to give “high five’s” when your clients do well — to be a great coach it’s important to give effective feedback when they don’t. Even though I stole Mike Ditka’s nickname (I hope he never finds out that I call myself “Da Coach” or I might be in BIG trouble, my friendt!), I don’t believe belittling someone is productive. While I don’t want to pull any punches, I “review the game film” of events, then let clients know where they might have “missed a block.” An example: After a sales call, my client does not set a follow up appointment with a prospect. When we review what happened and this becomes apparent, I don’t yell, “What are you, stupid or something???” Simply calling the client’s attention to it usually is enough for him to not make the same mistake twice.

Marketing and sales. During “March Madness” one year I saw legendary Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski hawking American Express Cards — if it’s OK for him, it’s OK for me. Like it or not, to get to the top of any profession, you’ve got to be willing to market and sell your services. I view these functions as “communication with a purpose.” And if your purpose as a coach is to expose yourself to the greatest number of people you can help, why would you want to rob ANYONE out of experiencing who you are and what you have to offer?

I love this game! There’s nothing I like better than the kick I get from helping my “players” score early, score often, get into the end zone and do the “touchdown dance.” And I don’t see myself doing anything else for the foreseeable future — if I’m a reasonably good coach now, imagine how good I’ll be in 20 years. Heck, by then maybe the Cubs will hire me as manager so I can lead them to win a World Series! (Nah — why would they wanna go and do a silly thing like THAT …)
Success Skills Coach Jim Rohrbach, “The Personal Fitness Trainer for Your Business,” coaches business owners, entrepreneurs and sales professionals on growing their clientele. He has helped hundreds of individuals to achieve their goals since he developed his first coaching program in 1982. To arrange a Free Consultation with Jim, go to www.SuccessSkills.com.