Think about the best coaches, the ones who will go to their respective Halls Of Fame based on their coaching achievements. Now think about players who are in their sport’s Hall. The lists don’t often cross – in basketball there are only three: John Wooden, Bill Sharman, and Lenny Wilkens. In golf, I can’t think of any Hall of Famers who were both great players and renowned teachers. In the NFL, maybe Dick LeBeau will get there as a defensive innovator – he’s already in as a player – but that’s about it. You can look up baseball and other sports – it’s not a long list anywhere.
The fact is that the best players are usually not the best coaches. Most of the great coaches were average players during that aspect of their careers. I played a lot of sports and was in the “average” category. From my own experience I know that I had to pay a lot more attention to technique and strategy that the guys who had way more skill than I did, and I suspect that’s true (at a much higher level) with all of the great coaches. As a mediocre golfer, I got better by practice (although I still am pretty bad) but also by learning about swing flaws, and now drive my friends nuts by analyzing every swing I make while they just swing and play pretty well. Which of course got me thinking about how this is applicable to business.
The best salespeople I know were also notorious for not paying attention to “technique.” They are just gifted in sales and lousy in things like administration and filing expense reports accurately and on time. Great salespeople often make horrible sales managers because they can’t explain how to do what they do. Ask an artist to explain the creative process and you get a very different answer from an academic. The latter will talk about psychology and biology; the former about inspiration.
When someone know what it’s like not to have natural ability – the gift of superior skills – they work harder to become proficient. They take nothing for granted. So the question is this: is it better to hire a naturally gifted star, knowing that they will at some point become frustrated in a larger role (the transition to management) or do we hire the person of above average skill who has worked hard just to compete?