Great Business Owners are Coaches, Not Players

By Donald Cooper

The people who start and grow businesses from the ground up are generally fearless initiative takers. Nothing stops them. They do it all and, if they’re good at it they succeed — for a while.

Eventually, the business grows to the point where it has employees and then managers and supervisors. But typically, the boss keeps taking the initiative, keeps giving people a job and then taking it away from them a little bit at a time. And the very initiative-taking that built the business now limits its growth and drives good people away.

Here’s the thing. Initiative doesn’t exist in the air. It exists in people. And when we take it, we take it away from people. Good people leave in frustration and the rest stay and take “I don’t give a damn” pills. I see this happening all the time with clients.

One of the biggest challenges as any business grows is for the founder or boss to make the important transition from being a player to being a coach. Players take initiative. Coaches give initiative. That’s how it works.

So, do you see yourself as a player or a coach?

In sports, the difference is clear. Players play and coaches coach. You never see a football coach run out on the field in the middle of a game, take the ball from a player and run down the field himself.


Because there are clear rules about coaching and playing and there’s a referee who will blow his whistle if coaches try to be players.

Sadly, in business, there are no clear rules on coaching and playing — and there’s no referee. So, bosses (coaches) often grab the ball and run with it while the players stand on the sidelines. As the people in charge of the rules, the bosses are also the ones with the whistle and they never blow that whistle on themselves

To rate your ‘coaching ability,’ click here to download my business tool.

Give your people specific tasks and projects. Make sure they have the training, resources and empowerment to succeed and that they understand why the task or project is important.

Ask them, By when can we agree that this will be completed?

This creates urgency and accountability. Document their completion commitment and follow up at appropriate intervals to see how it’s going. The world is run by those who follow-up. Let them know you’re there to help and guide them (coach), but at all times they will keep ownership of the task or project.

In addition to tasks or projects with specific deadlines, give them ongoing responsibilities and then let them do their job. Every once in a while, ask how things are going. Look for opportunities to praise and thank while simultaneously looking for opportunities to coach without taking the initiative away. You’ll be amazed at how your good people will become great and how non-performers will become obvious.

So, what will you do to make the important transition from player to coach?

Remember, if there is a heaven, there’s an express lane for coaches. They grow their business by growing the people in it.

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now a Toronto-based business speaker and coach, he helps business owners and managers rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability. 

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