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The Player Coach – Forbes article

Mark Murphy published an article in Forbes called “The Player-Coach Philosophy That Has Nasdaq’s Leaders Invested”. This reminded me of chapter 9 of Challenging Coaching and the section on the player-coach challenge when applying the FACTS.

In the Forbes article Mark said that he sees a struggle between ‘leading’ and ‘doing.’ He says, “How much should leaders engage with employees and inspire them to produce great stuff? And how much should leaders roll up their sleeves and produce great stuff themselves?”

In Challenging Coaching, we use a football analogy to describe the concept of the player-coach. A player-coach is on the field interacting with the other football players, while at the same time managing others. In this hybrid role the player coach is also planning the strategy for the game and developing the team.

Mark Murphy interviewed Bryan Smith, SVP, Global Head of HR at Nasdaq, where this balance is managed. Bryan is quoted as saying “At Nasdaq, you’re definitely thinking strategically over the long term while executing on today,”


The article highlights 5 things that have enabled Nasdaq to get the player-coach balance right:

  • Prioritise – what needs my personal attention, vs can other people do it?
  • Develop a leadership bench so there is a succession plan to identify future leaders.
  • Train leaders to act, through action learning activities, with high potential executives undertaking real life projects.
  • Listen to your people – schedule time to regularly listen to people from different areas of the organisation.
  • Break down silos – regular meetings allowing interaction and collaboration.

I would say that an approach like that described at Nasdaq comes from, and is sustained by individual actions supported by a corporate culture. Having said that, a corporate culture comes from the actions of individuals, and so you could say that the individual leader is crucial for making the player coach concept a reality. The key to making this happen is delegation. This is something my coachees regularly discuss. A person can only be a player-coach if they delegate. If they don’t delegate, they will always be a ‘player’ and never take the longer term strategic view.

The ability to delegate is linked to the mindset of the leader that can be enabling or hindering:

An enabling mindset: “My direct reports are resourceful and capable. I trust them to do a good job and deliver what is needed. Their solution is likely to be better than mine”.

A hindering mindset: “Nobody will be able to do this task as well as I can. I am the expert and I must protect this status. My financial bonus is on the line, so I’m the best person to do this.”

You can see the consequences of these approaches. I also think there is a third mindset, that of protection: ” I have a good team, but they are inexperienced, and already under pressure. They are not ready and I must protect them by not giving them any extra work.” Although this protective mindset comes from a different place, the consequences are the same as a hindering mindset. That is the leader remains a ‘player’, the team is not challenged, stimulated or developed, and strategic issues are neglected.

You could consider the notion of a player-coach as a continuum. In Challenging Coaching we talk about recognising and accepting the current reality, while encouraging the leader to take a small step towards the ‘player’ end of the spectrum. What would this step involve? Then celebrating success to support and challenge towards the next step.

Mark Murphy summarises the Forbes article by saying, “The most effective leaders are a combination of players who gets things done and coaches who tap into others’ great ideas, gets folks emotionally attached to the work, and who help their people reach their full potential.”

I would like to thank Adonica Sweet for highlighting this article and sparking this blog.

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