Coaching Leadership – Why Winning Doesn’t Always Equal Success

Why Winning Doesn’t Always Equal Success

Ironically, the greatest champions rarely focus on winning. The very best look beyond winning to achieve success. So why doesn’t winning consistently equal success?

The Coaching Leadership Style

Daniel Goleman lists six effective leadership styles in the Harvard Business Review article Leadership That Gets Results. The coaching leadership style is one of Goleman’s six styles that correlates with positive outcomes. 

While other leadership styles have a short-term focus, the coaching style looks to the future. Coaching leaders see the potential in others, and they help others develop into their full potential.

Much like an athletic coach, this style is well suited for helping others develop their strengths over time. In addition, these leaders help others improve by observing and providing an outside perspective. According to Goleman, the phrase “try this” summarizes this approach to leadership.

A Tradition of Championships

UCLA has a long tradition of winning championships in college athletics.

For example, in his 12 years as the UCLA men’s basketball coach, John Wooden won 10 NCAA national championships. Many records set by Wooden and his teams in the 1970s remain unbroken today.

Similarly, in her 18 years as UCLA’s gymnastics head coach, Valorie Kondos Field won seven NCAA national champions. Much like Wooden, many of the records set by Kondos Field and her teams remain unbroken.

While these coaches led their teams to a combined 17 national championships, neither included winning in their definition of success.

Champion Coaches Redefine Success

John Wooden and Valorie Kondos Field seemed to leverage Goleman’s Coaching Leadership Style. These leaders focused on developing the people they led rather than obsessing over championship outcomes. Wooden had to change his definition of success to lead effectively:

“Success is peace of mind that comes with the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you were capable of becoming.” – John Wooden

Wooden, arguably the greatest coach of all time, didn’t focus on winning. Instead, Wooden focused on developing others into becoming all they were capable of.

After some early struggles in her leadership career, Kondos Field also redefined success:

“Real success is developing champions in life, not for your team, not for your business and, I’m sad to tell you, not even for your Christmas card bragging rights. Sorry.

I realized that I needed to fortify our student-athletes as whole human beings, not just athletes who won. So success for me shifted from only focusing on winning to developing my coaching philosophy, which is developing champions in life through sport.” – Valorie Kondos Field

Like Wooden, Kondos Field’s success came through her ability to develop whole people, not just a specific athletic skill.

Why a Focus on Winning Doesn’t Always Equal Success

It seems counterintuitive, but the most successful leaders often don’t focus on winning. Several styles might be more effective at producing immediate results, but those results will be short-lived. In comparison, the results from a coaching leadership style might take longer to develop.

“Being a dogmatic dictator may produce compliant, good little soldiers, but it doesn’t develop champions in life. It is so much easier, in any walk of life, to dictate and give orders than to actually figure out how to motivate someone to want to be better. And the reason is — we all know this — motivation takes a really long time to take root. But when it does, it is character-building and life-altering.” – Valorie Kondos Field

In building their record-setting dynasties, Wooden and Kondos Field point to people development as the core to their success. The coaching leadership style conveys a commitment to those they lead. When we use this style, we say, “I care about you, not just the results.”

The coaching leadership style forges a strong connection between the coach and their employee. The strong relationship encourages continuous feedback and provides a clear direction. As a result, employees confidently stretch and grow in this atmosphere.

While the coaching leadership style is effective, it does have its limits. This style requires a desire to be coached. If employees lack the passion or the vision to strive for their full potential, this style likely will not succeed. The coaching style also requires the leader’s expertise to be one step ahead of those they lead.

The coaching leadership style can be a highly effective approach. While this style will not produce overnight results, winning will ultimately come to leaders that choose to invest in people.


Read about other leadership styles here.

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