The Player-to-Coach Transition Is Hard

Are you a first-line manager (or higher)? Or maybe an aspiring individual contributor with eyes on a management role? If so, please take five minutes and see if this could apply to your team or even you.

What attributes often nominate someone to a management position? Unless your organization has a “those who can’t play coach” mindset, it’s probably aspects like initiative, proven success, subject matter expertise, and institutional roots/loyalty. Those are all excellent strengths, but they can also make the transition hard or stunt true success, despite continuing ascension of the career ladder. Let’s drill into why.

At Rubrik, I work among a cadre of MVPs and repeat winners, many of whom are arguably the best in our industry. They are true territory conquerors.

So why would they change?

The ones I admire challenged their personal status quo because they saw raising an army of warriors like themselves to be the true path to global domination. They could only do so much on their own. But if they cultivated strong traits in others, they could be ten-fold more effective and even prepare the next generation of leaders and teachers.

What about the limelight?

This is a real struggle. If you are one of the best, you’ve had the spotlight, the trophies, the shout-outs, and more. It feels good!

Becoming a manager changes the goal line, though. It means that your “trophy” is the success of your players, and those shout-outs are often absent your name. You win when your team wins, lose when they lose, and hardest of all—you aren’t in absolute control.

Unless you’re the management messiah (and out of twelve, even He had one betrayer, one denier, one doubter, and at least two hot heads), you’ll have players who fall short of your expectations. They’ll make mistakes you would have avoided. They’ll move slower or overstep when you think you would have toed the line with finesse. We’re human and you were probably one of those earlier in your career. After onboarding their players, good managers coach through those deficiencies; they don’t substitute themselves into the game.

Letting go of that control isn’t easy. It means you may lose some battles (or sales, campaigns, etc). Not all of your players may work out and you’ll learn through that as well. If you’re learning from good role models, though, you’ll see that empowering your people to make hard decisions, teaching through failure, and lifting your people up while you cheer from the background is the true path to greatness. You will learn from your team, and you’ll hopefully even feel a bit insecure or jealous at times, because you’re hiring better players than you are/were (that’s a good thing!). If you do all that, your organization will succeed because you’re about more than just your name. You’re about the people around you, both near and far.

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