You're Not The Referee

You're Not The Referee

"I feel like we all know where the goal posts are, but on the way there we keep fumbling over bad days, missed deadlines, and things that are normally clear."

I was helping a young CEO manage his team earlier this week. Because soccer is the biggest game in the world and the World Cup is nearly upon us we started talking soccer language (it seems like the South Africa World Cup was earlier this year).

"As the CEO, you're the coach. You're not the referee."

Often business owners try and reinforce rules, point out all of the wrongs, and flag all the fouls. There's no way a coach could be effective if that's all he did. So what a leader/coach needs to do is make sure everyone knows the game, understands the team’s strategy, and practices the execution of that strategy. Then, get a referee and let your team play.

Know The Game

This is a must. Imagine playing a soccer match if no one knew the rules (even the basics, like put the ball between the goal posts). Imagine then after every play that all of the players, coaches, and even onlookers, would pull out the rule book and scan through it to see if any unfair play was happening. It'd be a nightmare.

Instead, everyone knows that the white lines mean out of play, that a foul inside the penalty area is a penalty kick, and from the classic World Cup of 2006, that you can't head butt someone (video here).

Your team has to know the game, the do's and the don'ts by heart. And they’ve got to know the strategy and direction you’re heading as a company.

You’re Not The Referee

You're not the ref. So bring in a ref. The best CEOs and coaches are the ones that push their players to their absolute maximum potential, while remaining within the confines of the laws (or rules) of the game.

The team needs to know that you're on their side not the side of the rules, but that the rules are there to ensure a clear outcome in the game—safety to the team and the ability to obtain victory.

You'll see coaches often question clear fouls, it’s not because they don’t want to play by the rules, but because they're passionate about their team players, the output of the team, and the outcome of the game. They’re so much on the same team that they work the referee for every possible advantage that they can. All in the name of supporting their team toward victory.

There’s nothing worse than a coach, fellow teammate, or even parent yelling the rules at you while you play. Learn the rules before the match, then let your team play.

A referee can be a governing board (although make sure it's not bureaucratic), or an auditor or administrator who's not involved in the actual output. The key is this “referee” has to know their role as well. Refs aren't on the field to make friends. They're there to enforce the rules, ensure a fair match, and protect the safety of the players.

The coach is there to push the team to win.

Have The Hard Talks

Good referees don't care about the output. They don't care who wins or who plays sloppily—there's very little emotional connection. A good coach cares about everything that relates to their team—divorce, an injury, a drinking problem. They care about their attitudes and are willing to have the hard talks to get the best out of each player. "Are things at home okay, because it doesn’t seem like your head’s in the game?" "It's not like you to be a glory boy or to miss deadlines." The hard talks build the team spirit. Only a coach can do that.

This young CEO admitted that he'd been acting more like a referee, enforcing rules and not really caring about the output. He's shifting over to be a coach.

At the end of the day, the best coaches get dumped with ice buckets and Gatorade, while the best referees are thankful to finish the match cleanly. Both are necessary, but when growing your company, be the coach and hire the referee.

(photo via matt hollingsworth)