Swift kick in the rear or a pat on the back? – let emotional intelligence be your guide

Great coaching leaders always seem to have a way of knowing how to motivate their employees.  As a business coach I’m always working with CEOs to further develop their emotional intelligence so they can understand and connect with their player’s deepest aspirations and emotions.

Let’s look at Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest coaching leaders ever.  Jerry Kramer, an All-Star guard for the Green Bay Packers tells the following story:

In one of the practice sessions early in his career Kramer missed his blocking assignment on a play.  On the very next play he jumped offside.  He said “Lombardi really jumped on me and reamed me out; he had me feeling awful!  I felt like smacking him in the mouth!”

“I was in the locker room after practice, ready to hang it up and do something else.  Vince came up to me and patted me on the back and said ‘son, don’t you know that someday you’ll be the best guard in this league?’ “Those words lit a fire!

This little vignette is a great lesson for aspiring coaching leaders.  Lombardi knew in a moment on the field Kramer needed a swift kick in the pants.  He also had enough emotional intelligence to know that Kramer was in need of a pat on the back in the locker room.

Had Vince Lombardi not had that level of emotional intelligence or intuition about the player, one of the greatest guards of all time may have gone down a different road!

So how many times during the day are your employees at a fork in the road relative to their attitude, motivation or performance?

If you’re going to be a great coaching leader you are going to be tuned into your team’s emotions and know whether they need a swift kick in the pants or a pat on the back.

The beauty of what Lombardi said to Kramer was the fact that it “lit a fire” in Kramer’s words.  So how important are words?

I’m reminded of a story of one of my clients Scott.  He was a young aspiring insurance salesman.  Scott and I reviewed his aspirations and his plans but given what I had seen in terms of his work ethic, balance, and consistency I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to execute on this plan and reach his goals.  In the coaching session I said, “those look like great plans and wonderful aspirations”.  But I followed up with “honestly I don’t think you’ll get there.  Based upon what I’ve seen of your work ethic and your inconsistency, I don’t foresee you reaching that goal, but I could be wrong”.

Scott came back to our coaching session 2 weeks later and reported “that really pissed me off! And I’ve been in my highest level of focus and production over the last several weeks as a result of it.”  I said to him, “good then it served its purpose”.    

With some clients if I made the assessment that they’re not going to make it, it would send them down a hole or crush their confidence.  In that moment with Scott, I had a sense that he was tough enough that he could take it in and that was exactly what would motivate him to succeed.

Scott and I have remained close over the years and that’s still one of his favorite stories about our relationship.

So what’s it going to be today?  What does your staff need?