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Quarterback to Coach

It’s about that time. Soon, we'll celebrate America’s national pastime, watching body-wrecking feats of athletic prowess, otherwise known as the Super Bowl.

The discrete world of success and failure in the athletic sphere doesn’t always translate to the continuous challenges of the business environment. The theme of transitioning from quarterback to coach is an exception.

Executives in the early stages of their careers are trained, incentivized, recognized and rewarded for the ability to execute plays on the field. Beat a deadline or make budget: get a first down. Crush a sales goal or deliver product by launch: get a touchdown. Beat the competition or innovate new products: win the game.

It’s thrilling to drive a team to success. The rewards and accolades can be addictive.

By the mid-stage of a career, the scope and scale of work becomes too big to run every play. Calling the audibles at the line of scrimmage, grabbing the ball or scrambling on third-down is no longer possible for the leader. Likewise, judging an opponent’s strengths and finding weaknesses in order to adjust to subtle shifts in momentum while engaged on the field is challenging. A singular on-field perspective can constrain and confine.

It’s harder to read the game while playing the game.

To think strategically, a leader must stand outside the game without the immediacy of being in it. Working on the game—not in the game—or on the business—not in the business—means anticipating the future and developing the capacity within the team to manage change. The leader’s role must evolve from executing someone else’s pre-designed plays to developing a high-performing team that can adapt and respond to changing circumstances.

The leader becomes the coach.

It’s difficult to step aside, though, when you’ve been brought up on the highs of being in the game. Here’s why:

  • Can’t trust others to follow the plan.

  • Lack of confidence in the execution of the strategy.

  • No guarantee the players can adjust in the moment or rebound in tough times.

  • Fear of losing.

  • Fear of losing control.

Becoming a coach takes work. It involves:

In the words of former San Francisco 49ers coach, Bill Walsh, who led his team to four Super Bowl victories, it’s the work that allows the scoreboard to take care of itself.

The work of a leader.

As you watch the Super Bowl, take a good look at the coaches on the sidelines. Is it time for you to step off the playing field?

Your team’s success may depend on it.

Jamie Ramsden is a certified executive leadership coach and founder of Adastra Consulting ( A former Chief Executive, Jamie has been coaching C-Suite and Senior executives around the world for over fifteen years.

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