The Surprising Skill Successful Coaches Share

On Saturday, I got to be a guinea pig in an experiment on leadership, coaching, and motivation.I didn’t plan for this.  It just worked out that way.The laboratory?

My local CrossFit gym.

The experiment?

A group workout, where were matched up to work in teams of two.  Saturday’s workout was a 5000 meter row on the rowing machine.

It was set up so that each team member would row 500 meters, then we’d hop off the rower and their teammate would row the  next 500 meters.

It’s a high intensity workout, with each 500 meter effort taking somewhere between 90 seconds and two minutes.

There were sixteen rowers that morning: eight teams of two.   We were matched up by general ability to make it a friendly competition between the teams.

I was the first of my team to row.Sitting in the ready position before the timer went off, I could feel a slight surge of adrenaline go through my system.3…2…1…GO!

It didn’t take long to feel the burn.  Rowing hard is an intense workout.

After the first 500 meters, I got my first break.  I was going to get to do that four more times.

Getting on for the second round is when I transformed from rower to guinea pig.

In that second round, the other group began to cheer on our first group.  In their desire to encourage us, each rower began to root us all on and support us in our efforts.

Rationally, I have no doubt that all eight meant well.   They all had good intentions to help. But viscerally, what I experienced was fascinating.

Each of the eight had their own style of encouragement.   Depending on the style, my body (and my motivation) responded quite differently.

There was one camp of coaches who were predominantly enthusiastic.  They would say things likeYou’re doing great!  Way to go!  You’ve got this!

I noticed that my body responded to this coaching well.  I’d find extra reserves to exert even harder through my 500 meter intervals.

Another camp of coaches were predominantly fiery and intense.  They would say things like Come on!  Don’t give up!  You can go even harder!  With this coaching style, I felt my body sag.  Listening to them was more draining than energizing.

Inside, I yearned to get one of the first coaches back.  Or at the very least, for this fiery group to just stop saying anything.  They were doing more harm than good.

It turns out that what I experienced intuitively on Saturday has been borne out in the research.  Sports scientists have found that athletes respond poorly to negative feedback. Coaches interactions with players affect players’ hormone levels and have both a short and long term impact on performance.

Science has spoken:  Encouragement and being positive works better.

Athletes aren’t the only ones who respond poorly to negative feedback.  As a leader, your job is to help people achieve their highest levels of performance. Think about the leaders who have best inspired and motivated you.  What was their predominant style and tone?

If you’re in the fiery/intense camp of coaching, it can be hard to take a look in the mirror to see what’s really there.  You may have great intentions and think that “intensity” is helping.   You might think “But that’s just who I am.”

But like with many aspects of leadership, it’s not about your intentions.  It’s about results.How do your people perceive you? How do you know?

What practices do you use to encourage and support those you lead?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Leave a Comment

Connect with Alain


I am interested in...
(please select all options that apply)*

I can be reached at...

What would you like Alain to know about your role and/or organization, and what you'd like to achieve?