“Great players rarely make good coaches.” This seems counterintuitive. Wouldn’t someone who excels as a high performing individual  contributor be best suited to lead a team?

Baseball gives us two examples where this is true. One of the best examples may be Alan Trammel, an All Star player, who had 43 wins and 119 losses in 2003 as a manager.   However, some of the worst or most inexperienced players make excellent managers. Tommy Lasorda played mainly in the minors and went on to win two World Series and four pennants.

How is it that a mediocre individual performer comes to be an incredible leader?

Struggle – It’s hard to imagine someone like Michael Jordan struggling in basketball. He seems to have the abilities and physical characteristics needed hard wired into his DNA. This may be something that would hamper him as a coach.  Someone who comes by a particular skill naturally does not need to think about it. There is no analysis, close observation or studying of subtle nuances, which builds into a vast library of information that can be used and disseminated to others. When pressed about specifics or what to do if you have issues, that is when the star performer tends to fails They simply don’t know how to respond and may return with you “just do it.” (Thank you Nike)

Passion (bordering on obsession) – To make it into the major leagues, you have to love what you are doing.   Drilling for hours a day, pushing your body to its limits are required and you have to want to do it.   To make it into the majors when your natural ability is limited passion must come into play. It is constantly reviewing your performance to get another 1% out of yourself. It is considering every angle, no matter how outlandish, to get a modicum of advantage.

Respect – Defeat is common for the mediocre player. This can develop into a sense of real accomplishment when success is attained. The star athlete, while relishing in a win, can take it for granted. The mediocre player can show respect for all the necessary stars that have to align for a win to be earned.

Teamwork – It is not uncommon on teams to rely on the star player to make things happen. Hand off the football to the fastest running back and watch them go down the field. It is that easy (sometimes). But the mediocre player needs to understand how the team as a whole will behave.   When they are handed the ball, they need to be able to predict the actions of the other players, know what their capabilities are and how they will behave in any given situation. Who knows the play? Who is most likely to adjust when necessary?

Networking – The star player is not always required to work well with teammates in order to win. The mediocre player may rely heavily on others to win. They need to get to know their teammates intimately and help them whenever possible in order to receive help in return. The star player might think more about their individual performance whereas the mediocre will need to think of themself as one part of a unit.

All of these combine to form the battery of knowledge and skill that the mediocre player attains over years struggling with what they love. It is this experience that prepares them to know how to work with players at many levels to pull together a cohesive and winning team.

The moral of the story is that your best employees might not make your best managers or leaders.  You will be best served to consider what is actually required to be successful in a role and use this to make your selection decision.  If you aspire to be a manager or leader, consider using the approach of conveying how you meet the requirements of the future role.