Let me pose a simple question to you. How many of you can remember sitting on the sidelines during a football game and yelling out to the coach "Hey coach, put me in; I can get the job done"? I do not know about you, but it has been a long time since I suited up and ran out onto the field as a defensive tackle. As a matter of fact, I believe that Lyndon Johnson was president at the time. Maybe it wasn't football, perhaps it was some other sport, but the act was the same. We wanted the coach to pay attention, so we yelled. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it made the coach mad.
What was it that made the coach so important? On the one hand he controlled any possible shot you had it playing in the game you loved so much. On the other hand, there was the importance of his skill at imparting the knowledge he had about playing the game. This skill was critical because it gave you a better chance at succeeding in your chosen sport.
It was the way in which these two coaching functions came together that allowed another function of coaching to come into play. If your coaches were anything like mine, they were first, and foremost, motivators. Each of us normally looks for control, enrichment, and motivation from those we look to as coaches in our lives.
In Management in the Fire Service, 4th ed. Carter and Rausch tell us that, "…a distinction must be made between coaching and counseling, terms that are often used synonymously. Coaching, which is as much a part of an officer's job as counseling, concerns assisting firefighters and lower-level officers to gain greater job-related knowledge." Even such a solid bureaucratic organization as the U.S. Army has recognized the importance of the leader as a coach.
Many years ago, a methodology was introduced that required both superiors and subordinates to communicate at the beginning and end of each performance rating period. In this way goals could be jointly set, agreed to, and performance closely monitored by both parties to the coaching equation.
One of the benefits of this method of interaction was that it allowed for the development of a set of coach and players relationships. It brought the players closer together. I recall this type of interaction from my many decades of service and the active and reserve forces of our nation. More frequent interactions began to occur during the rating period. In many cases this led to surprising improvements in the performance on the part of the players involved. You ended up with better coaches and better players.
Let me suggest that this is a two-way interaction, because the person doing the challenging has to work that much harder to stay ahead of the person who they are stimulating. Think of the benefits for any organization when this system of coaching and challenging takes hold and begins to spread. Knowledge, training, and skills become important elements in the day-to-day operations of the agency.
Under this self-motivating system of operation, people see the benefits of striving for greater knowledge in the organization around them. They begin to seek knowledge because it is important for them to stay abreast of the skill levels of their coworkers. These folks see people moving upward in their department as a result of their ability to demonstrate a higher level of knowledge and operational skills.
Over the years, people have told me that they see this way of operating as the, "I don't want to look stupid in front of my friends" approach to fire department operations. When properly cultivated, this can be a tremendously rewarding and successful style of coaching and leadership.
Imagine what it might be like to work in a fire department where people actually started to enjoy working with one another: a fire department where there was constant, challenging, back-and-forth interaction. Think of what a positive, challenging environment this could be.