In today’s so-called V.U.C.A. world, people who are visionary, courageous, original, adaptable, and action-oriented are the ones who succeed.
We are living in an increasingly:
- Dynamic or changing environment (from the book “Moonshots – Creating a World of Abundance” by Naveen Jain, 2018, let’s look at just a few facts: about 100 years ago, the amount of knowledge in the world doubled every hundred (100) years. During World War II, it doubled much faster, within twenty-five (25) years. In the so-called third (3rd) industrial revolution, which began with the emergence and widespread use of the internet in the last decade of the 21st century, the amount of knowledge doubled within twelve (12) months. In the era of smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT), it doubles every twelve (12) hours!?!)
- Complex and interdependent business environment (according to research by Carnegie Mellon University, the percentage of knowledge needed to perform our work and possessed by ourselves has been decreasing from decade to decade: if this percentage was 75% in 1986, it dropped to 15-20% by 1997 and was well below 10% by 2012),
- indicating an increasing need for teamwork, collaboration, and information exchange. This also means that successful individuals will be those who combine the roles of a trainer and a coach within themselves, with the aim of developing unlimited potential hidden in individuals they lead or collaborate with, especially in the development of teams’ (untapped) potentials.
It is necessary to differentiate between the words “coach” and “trainer,” but both roles are roles that modern leaders (in various fields, not just in the workplace) need to play in the development, motivation, and work with their employees.
The main difference between a trainer and a coach lies in the fact that a trainer prepares a program for the trainee (employee), provides intensive guidance, actively gives instructions, and suggests related solutions. On the other hand, a coach approaches this differently, in a more indirect and less actively engaged manner. Using questions, a coach encourages and supports the trainee/colleague to find the best possible solutions on their own, essentially “teaching them how to fish” (the word “coach” derives from the English word “coach – carriage” – the task of a coach is to take a person from point A (the current state) to point B (the target state), just as a coachman directs the horse in the right direction or the intended direction). Experience shows that this personal involvement of colleagues (the opportunity for active co-creation) leads to higher motivation and better results compared to other approaches. Of course, the choice of approach (or the intensity of your active influence) also depends (primarily) on the complexity/criticality of the situation and the level of competence, personal and professional maturity, and motivation of the colleague or team you are leading.
In the following three parts of this series, I wanted to bring together various good coaching practices from top sports coaches in different sports (basketball, football, volleyball, handball, skiing, etc.) and invite all readers to reflect on how these practices can also be applied in leading different (non-sport or business and other) teams.
EXPERIENCES OF TOP SPORTS COACHES FOR THE BUSINESS WORLD
Now let’s take a look at some secrets or good practices of top Slovenian or international sports coaches and consider which principles or guidelines we could apply in our work or in leading our team of colleagues (note: we can also consider using these tips in leading other teams – in life, we don’t only lead in business; we can lead a music or sports team, a cultural association, a firefighting group, etc.).
JOHN WOODEN – “THE COACH”
John Wooden is considered the greatest coach in American college basketball (NCAA) of all time, known as “The Coach.” During his tenure (the 1960s and 1970s) as the head coach of the UCLA team, his team won ten (10) national championships, including a record-setting seven (7) consecutive championships, which remains unmatched to this day. In addition to that, he holds the record for the most consecutive victories in the NCAA tournament and has had four perfect seasons – seasons without a single loss – along with numerous other records.
Several books have been written about him, including his autobiography. Particularly interesting for the business world is his Pyramid of Success, which, with its fifteen (15) building blocks, lays the foundation for sustainable success and fulfillment (applicable to both business, sports, or private life).
Here are some of his golden principles, which can practically be applied to successful leadership of (business) teams or individuals:
- Success is a peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction when you know you have done your best to become the best version of yourself.
- Talent doesn’t always win – the team is important. The effectiveness of a team is related to team members supporting each other and behaving non-egocentrically/selflessly (source: https://johnmaxwellteam.com/2020-the-effectiveness-of-teams/)
- Every day, strive to become a little bit better. Great things and positive results will follow (results are a consequence of getting better every day).
- Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable.
- Blend idealism with realism and add hard work.
- You can make mistakes, but you only become a failure when you start blaming others for your mistakes.
- You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your reactions to those events.
- People want to believe that you genuinely care about them and that your interest is not solely based on your own benefit or what they can do for you.
- We must challenge ourselves to constantly improve.
- Focus all your energy on what you can control.
- The leader’s best ally is their own example.
- Progress comes slowly but steadily and reliably if you are patient and faithfully prepare for it.
- Balance means keeping things in the proper perspective.
- Act quickly, but don’t rush.
- When opportunity arises, it is already too late to prepare.
- If you spend too much time learning tricks in your field, you may not learn them at all.
Alberto Giulani took on a very demanding position as the coach of the men’s volleyball national team in 2019 and quickly gained immense support from the team and the Slovenian audience. The peak of this support was reached when the team won a silver medal at the 2019 European Championship, which was held in Slovenia.
What does his “boss” – the president of the Volleyball Association of Slovenia, Metod Ropret – say about him? Pay attention to the key highlights that are also applicable to team management in business situations:
“Look, I must say that in general, we have been quite fortunate in the selection of leaders and coaching staff for the national team. If we evaluate that we truly hit the mark with Giulani, then if we realistically assess the work of Slobodan Kovač with some time distance, it was also completely adequate within the goals and expectations. We had the achievement of qualifying for the World League, which was later taken away from us, as well as the first qualification for the World Championship. The team had relatively good performances, although there could have been some improvements in detail. Now, Alberto Giuliani has fearlessly stepped into these big shoes. He is self-confident, and he is a different type of person – extremely open, pleasant, and suitable for the media. Above all, in my eyes, which is very important, he is a person with an exceptional sense of leading a team throughout the long period of national representation, as volleyball usually entails. Especially when it comes to managing the workload, relaxation, and the demands that this year’s season required, one simply needs to have enough sensitivity, tact, and, above all, a genuine connection with the team so that it can breathe. After all, the team had three peaks, which they played through in the same lineup from the beginning to the end. Starting with the qualifications for the Nations League, then the Olympic Games qualifications, and culminating with the home European Championship. These guys don’t complain, they don’t seek free time just for the sake of it or for any other reasons. However, they are not machines, and of course, they need periods of relaxation. And I think Giuliani played an incredibly important role in this and gained the team’s favor.”
What does Giuliani say about himself:
“On every game, I want to win. I know that such a mindset has both positive and negative aspects. But that’s how I am, and that’s how I think. We have an excellent team, and with a good strategy, we can achieve many things,” believes the Italian expert. The highlight of the season will be the EuroVolley 2019, which will also take place in Ljubljana’s Stožice Arena. “I don’t want to approach this action as an obsession; I want to live it as a dream. After the two previous competitions, we will see what we are doing well and what we are doing poorly, so I believe that we will be truly ready for the highlight of the season,” he added. He gathered the players with the help of the coaching staff and players, not discovering warm water: “I love working with young talents, but before such important events, you need to establish a framework. There is not much time to integrate a large number of new players, but I welcome the move to have boys who otherwise wouldn’t be there play in the European League last season.”
The Slovenian Handball Federation (RZS) terminated the contract with Montenegrin Veselin Vujović on November 27, 2019, just a month before the start of the 2020 European Championship. His successor became 46-year-old Swedish coach of Serbian descent, Ljubomir Vranješ, a handball player with numerous successes in the Swedish national team, including seven medals, including silver at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
What did the president of RZS, and also an experienced businessman, Franjo Bobinac, say about his selection? “We were looking for an expert with top-notch knowledge, an excellent coach with extensive experience. We were looking for someone with international experience, someone who has already won medals, whether with national teams or big clubs. We were looking for someone who, in addition to analytical work, also has the charisma of a leader, which is crucial in team sports. He is ambitious and believes in the Slovenian team,” said the head of RZS, explaining why they chose the 46-year-old Scandinavian with an impressive handball resume.
In my opinion, Ljubomir Vranješ played a significant role in the success of the Slovenian men’s handball national team at the 2020 European Handball Championship, exceeding the expectations of both the experts and the general public, considering that the team was without a coach just a month before the tournament.
What makes Vranješ successful, and what can we learn from it in terms of team management in the business world:
- He possesses leadership charisma: he can inspire his players with his positive energy and instill a love for the game, resulting in smiles on their faces. During the matches of the Slovenian national team that I watched during the 2020 European Championship, there was evident good chemistry between the coaches and players, positive energy among the players themselves, and a willingness to work hard for their teammates and the team’s crest.
- He uses the principle of co-creation in his leadership: he is a democratic type of leader who actively involves his players and coaching staff in processes (work, decision-making), asks for their opinions and ideas, and then, based on diverse information, can make better decisions.
- He is credible (also thanks to his achievements as a player) and instills trust in his players, especially by remaining calm in critical situations: when, for example, they were losing a match and the players’ energy was dwindling… Vranješ communicated through timeouts that he trusted them, that they had solutions, and that they should step by step give their all, with the result being the outcome of their effort and mutual support.
The leader is largely responsible for the team’s success.
In 2017, the leader off the court was crucial for the success of the Slovenian men’s basketball team, who won the gold at the European Championship in Turkey – Igor Kokoškov, a person who was not destined to become a basketball player due to a car accident that changed his life’s path when he was 18 years old. Today, we can say that it was not an accident but rather fortunate that the world gained such an exceptional leader who dedicated his greatest success to the Slovenian team.
Igor Kokoškov stands out with his composure in crisis situations, instilling trust in the players, and, above all, he is an excellent example of a “servant leader” – a non-egocentric leader who selflessly creates conditions for his players to shine and express their full potential and talents.
What does Kokoškov do differently from other coaches and selectors?
Certainly, his calmness and emotional composure even in the most critical moments surprised everyone. He is well aware that every leader transmits their thoughts and emotional states, their energy, to the players.
More than others, he managed to instill a winning mindset in the team’s culture, which begins and ends with the leader. Kokoškov is also a master of managing players’ energy. In the grand final, it became clear that even the most successful and powerful human beings possess a limited amount of energy, which they must know how to replenish. His decision to call a timeout and give Goran Dragić, the indisputable hero of the final match, who visibly lacked strength and energy, a break will go down in history, not only in sports but also in team management. Even great leaders like captain Goran Dragić need to rest and replenish their energy resources. This move by Kokoškov might not have been so surprising if Luka Dončić had still been in the game.
This showed another great leadership quality – trust. Trust in every player he selected for this championship. The team achieved victory despite the fact that two of the best players had to leave the court early. Perhaps this was also a strategic move to confuse the already exhausted opponent, causing them to weaken in decisive moments.
Personally, what impressed me about Kokoškov was his positive leadership and encouragement to tap into internal sources of strength. He is always focused on problem-solving rather than analyzing problems. He knows how to assign each player their natural role, meaning that he knows the strengths of his players and builds on them while developing them. This goes beyond the qualities of traditional leadership and resembles top-notch coaching, as defined by the Slovenian Coaching Association on their website.
Despite all his visible achievements, he remained in the background, almost invisible. If it weren’t for the cameras capturing him so successfully, we would hardly know who this exceptional leader and excellent coach in one person is. With him, we got an excellent example and role model of leadership worth emulating.
Why is such successful leadership a bit harder to find among most of today’s business leaders?
Because it requires a balanced and healthy personality from the leader’s side, operating from the perspective of an adult ego state towards the interlocutor (equal position, I’m OK – you’re OK), respecting the interlocutor and trusting their capabilities and autonomous, sovereign, and quality decision-making. It involves acknowledging that even the leader is not perfect, that they have certain shortcomings, and that their team members may know more about a specific situation than they do.
And it requires non-egocentric leadership, a servant leader who selflessly creates conditions for team members to maximize their potential, talents, and consequently achieve positive results.
Mag. Janez Žezlina
Cooming shortly: in the 2nd part, we present to you good leadership coaching practices in the field of football and basketball (Josep Guardiola – Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City; Juergen Klopp – Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool; Phil Jackson – Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers; Željko Obradović – Partizan, Real Madrid, Panathinaikos, Fenerbahce).