Learning from Jurgen: The manager as a coach

People managers, in any industry or context, have to wear a number of hats. And, as more responsibility shifts ‘to the line’, this remit continues to grow. First and foremost, managers must manage their team, while they also need to show leadership and bring people with them. But what about their more overlooked role as a coach? Liverpool Football Club’s Jurgen Klopp has just reminded us of how important this can be at a time when every competitive advantage is sought by businesses.

The power of a great coach

Now, there’s no doubt that the more effective your team members are, the more success you’ll all enjoy collectively. Agreed? We’ve seen first-hand how this can translate to everything from higher customer satisfaction and employee experience scores to an improved bottom line.

And managers that are effective coaches are uniquely well placed to drive this sort of impact. They do this by raising people up, helping each team member to achieve his/her potential. In the process they create a group that is even more valuable than the sum of its parts. This is where great things can happen.

In the case of Liverpool (and indeed Tottenham) this week, it came in the form of a quite remarkable, Lazarus-style comeback. In overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds against an all-star Barcelona, the players themselves should take plenty of plaudits. But pundits and players all point to one man as the key to this triumph.

There’s no doubt that Liverpool’s charismatic German manager Jurgen Klopp was instrumental. But how did he do it and, in particular, what specifically about his role as a coach made the impossible possible?
I explore this specific case, look at what coaching involves in its simplest form and what pointers other managers can take away.

1. Build trust (and belief)

Having trust between you and your team members is a prerequisite. Without it, coaching just isn’t possible. So, you must be sincere, authentic and fair as a manager. It’s important your team knows that you care about them as individuals. This means demonstrating trust every day by communicating openly, encouraging and empowering them. And once you have built this trust with your team, you can start to coach.

Klopp, who famously wears his heart on his sleeve, certainly ticks this box by being very honest and straightforward with his team. But it goes beyond this. He talked soon after his appointment of “turning doubters into believers” and, thanks to his coaching acumen he has done this with his players in spades.

2. Discover the person

As a manger you’ll hopefully already know what your team members are like at work. But what about away from it? Building a strong relationship necessitates going beyond the transactional and getting to know the whole person. What’s important to them in their lives? What are their career aspirations, hopes, likes and dislikes?

Klopp again excels in this respect. Players who’ve worked with him describe fondly his ‘arm-round-the-shoulder’ approach and almost paternal relationship he fosters with them. In doing so, he builds up their confidence and, ultimately, manages to raise their performance level.

But you don’t have to be on a football training pitch to do this. Spend time with team members, be it by booking lunches, informal 1:1s or at social events and be open with why you want to get to know them better and let them get to know you too.

3. Encourage goal-setting

As a coach, you can play a valuable role too in getting your team members to visualise success and commit to goals. Do this by asking them about what they want to achieve, discussing stretching but achievable targets and making any objectives SMART. But you mustn’t stop there – help them to identify what they need to do to accomplish them and check in regular to discuss progress and offer support and guidance.

For Klopp and football managers in general, there are some pretty rudimentary targets they’ll have. Success in elite level sport is commonly measured at a team level in trophies won and league positions. But, at an individual and team level, there will be powerful underlying motivators and measures of improvement to uncover and tap into as well.

4. Recognise progress and offer praise

It’s important you see an employee’s development as a journey. Naturally for some there will be steeper climbs and bigger hurdles to clear. Your role as a coach is to identify and celebrate milestones, whether publically or privately. Not only will this be rewarding for you to witness and reflect on but acknowledging and praising progress will re-energise your team members and fortify them for challenges that lay ahead.

This is another key area where Klopp’s coaching prowess stands out. He has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to transform good players into great ones and greats into world-class performers.

For me, there’s lots to take from this. But perhaps the most salient of points is of how far a great manager can push his or her team, through their actions and ability as a coach.

In Klopp’s case, it is to the brink of greatness. Practically bursting with pride and almost lost for words, Klopp spoke in the aftermath of their success of his “[expletive] talented giants”. But he too must take the acclaim that comes his way as an exceptional coach and leader.

Get in touch if you’re interested in how our experts could support your leadership development plans or offer guidance to managers on coaching best practice.

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