Sideline Coaching In the Workplace

Sideline Coaching In the Workplace

Yesterday I authored a blog post for 10,000 Beds, the 501c3 nonprofit organization. It referenced the ineffectiveness of sideline coaching by parents, in both addiction treatment and soccer. You can read it here.

Today I’m talking not about soccer or addiction treatment, but about sideline coaching in the workplace, prompted by personal experience. And let me begin by clearly stating that there are appropriate times for sideline coaching a manager or leader, and there are clearly understood instances when you should not.

Leaders lead. They make decisions based on information provided by staff, their own research, current trends, and historical data. Staff has the responsibility to be thorough and timely in providing pertinent data. And in some rare instances, staff also has the responsibility to advise their leader (boss, manager, CEO, VP, etc) when they know that a decision made is incorrect.

When is it appropriate to challenge a leader’s decision?

I’ve been the leader and I’ve been the sideline coach. To be frank, I prefer being the leader. However, there have been moments in my career when as the sideline coach, my input changed a leader’s trajectory of thought. Has that happened to you? If so, how did that happen?

Ask yourself, are you the type that challenges a leader just to be divisive, or are you the person who supports by actively participating, sometimes needing to provide counteractive information?

When challenging a leader, timing is critical, delivery is critical, but the most important detail is accuracy. You better have done your homework! Challenging anyone’s position or decision is not to be taken lightly and if you do, you better have data and reasoning to back your stance, not just a gut feeling.

Let’s talk about the over-zealous detail guys.

You know who I am talking about. The one that always finds a small detail to challenge, and often he’s correct, but in the big picture it just doesn’t matter….do you have one on your team?

I do. And it’s been a learning experience to understand the difference in the way we think, and to appreciate his detail-oriented questions for what they are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still irritating as heck, but I can deal with it. I acknowledge his point, and clearly state that although that tiny, tiny detail is real, it’s insignificant in the big picture. TOTALLY insignificant.

Bottom line: leaders need to recognize that they don’t always see every detail, because they are often thinking big picture and looking from the top down, but team members also need to recognize that they definitely don’t see every detail because they don’t need to, they are looking up from below (frankly, it’s not in their pay grade). These overly zealous detail folks can be irritating, but they shouldn’t be ignored. They see things many of us “big picture thinkers” miss.

But what about the person who is 100% supportive, and not challenging or adversarial at all? What about the person who has a critical piece of information that could change a leader’s train of thought? This person most likely approaches the leader differently, and there is probably also a mutually respectful relationship of sorts already in place. This person can send a quick email or tap on the CEOs door and be noticed, and listened to. Even this person may not have information that changes a decision, but their input matters and everyone knows it.

Leaders make decisions based on input from their team, their staff, their colleagues, their board, and their own due diligence. Leaders are paid to do this. They are paid to lead, to decide and to inspire excellence by doing so. They are respected for these abilities.

To lead. To decide. And to inspire excellence by doing so.

It’s appropriate to provide new information to a leader when you feel it’s something they are not aware of that might change a decision they are about to make. In my personal experience, 99% of the time they already had the information, but that doesn’t mean you should not share.

Where the risk comes, is when you continually second guess a leader’s decisions and repeatedly share information you believe should change their direction, and more often then not, they steadfastly choose to stay the course. At that point, you need to nod your head and say OK, thanks for listening to me! And retreat. Because in the end, it’s their decision, it’s their job.

One last thing…an effective leader is willing to listen, but also knows when to say he or she has heard enough. A strong leader welcomes input, but also knows when to forge ahead.

In an open corporate environment, staff members are encouraged to speak out, share their thoughts, and collaborate. This model empowers the staff and garners respect for the leader.

When decisions become the result of a team effort, everyone wins.

Sideline coaching is a sport we all engage in, but to be effective it must be part of the corporate culture, it must be carefully thought out, and the leader and the sideline coach must be equally engaged in the process. Teacher’s pets aren’t very popular in the workplace. Strategic, collaborative efforts lead to success for everyone.

Remember, it takes courage to speak up. But courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.


Jean Krisle is the CEO/Founder of 10,000 Beds, Inc. a 501c3 nonprofit organization with the mission of recovery. She is currently #OnTheRoad4Recovery, traveling the US to elevate awareness, change perceptions around addiction and recovery, and connect with people affected by addiction. Jean speaks to teams to inspire success after change, whether it’s recovery from addiction, a personal loss, or a new challenge. She also speaks to CEOs to inspire vision, collaboration and stronger leadership for greater success.You can connect with Jean at the 2017 ETHOS conferences in Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Or you can reach her at jean@10000beds.org. You can also support 10,000 Beds by making a contribution today to help provide scholarships for those without resources seeking help for addiction.