George Carlin used to do a bit about the differences between football and baseball, making the case that football was the more serious game. Football is played on a precisely marked field which is always the same size. Every baseball park is different. Football is rigidly timed. Baseball can go on forever. In football when you make a mistake you get a penalty. In baseball it’s just an error, whoops!

Every manager wants to create an environment where people feel engaged and focused, but whether or not you are successful depends on how you approach the process. Some managers take the football approach about mistakes and penalties. When a team member does something wrong, they get corrected. Sometimes that comes in the form of a written warning, while other times it comes as a flaming email.

Have you ever worked in an organization like this? It’s not usually much fun. People live in such fear of screwing up that they rarely take risks. There’s no incentive to collaborate because it just increases the possibility of getting blamed if a project goes wrong. And you rarely see people coming up with new ideas because that might mean getting singled out. Everyone keeps their heads down to stay off the radar.

That’s not a place most people want to work, and it’s certainly not a place that brings out the best in those smart, talented people you worked so hard to recruit and hire. Today’s smart managers are getting out of the correcting habit, and getting into coaching instead.

What’s the difference? Here are a few:

  • Coaches Expect Mistakes – If we’re doing something new, we’re always going to need a few tries to get it right. Coaches schedule time for debriefs, and take the time to give guidance and advice about how to get better.
  • Coaches Track Progress – Sometimes we take two steps forward and then a step back. If the steps forward aren’t recognized, then the step back becomes a huge discouragement. Coaches see both the progress and the challenges, and recognize both.
  • Coaches Find Tools – Sometimes learning a new skill means getting the right tool for the job. That might be a real tool or it might be a resource like training or mentoring. Coaches help their team find the resources they need to get better, and know that progress comes from practice.

Making the transition from being a corrector to being a coach can be a challenge. You might need a coach of your own to change those habits! But the important place to start is recognizing how you’re approaching your team and your management habits, and then trying to change those habits one day at a time.