All Great Coaches Have This 1 Thing in Common

March 25, 2021 Randy Conley


Virtually every organization I work with wants their leaders to be good coaches.

Gone are the days where self-oriented, command and control leaders rule the roost. The most effective leaders today understand that their success, and that of the organization, is inextricably tied to the success of their people. Leadership is an others-oriented approach, where leaders come alongside their team members and provide them the coaching they need to achieve their goals.

My colleague Madeleine Blanchard, a founding member of the International Coach Federation and co-author of our Coaching Essentials learning solution, often talks about leaders needing the trust of their team members in order to earn the right to coach them. She’s right. All great coaches have one thing in common: trust.

Building trust with your followers and being an effective coach is a symbiotic process. Our research has shown that coaching and trust have a large positive correlation, meaning that individuals who perceive their managers as exhibiting coaching behaviors are more likely to trust their leaders. For the research stat-geeks in the crowd, the correlation coefficient in this relationship is .854. Anything over .260 is considered large, so this correlation is not just strong, it’s a Mr. Universe kind of STRONG!

Good coaching builds trust with team members, but good coaches also start their relationships with team members by focusing on trust. In November 2011, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski became the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history when his team notched his 903rd victory. In a post-game interview Coach K was asked the following question: “What’s the single most important characteristic for a coach to have to achieve the things you’ve achieved?”

Mike Krzyzewski’s answer was simple, yet profound, and is one that leaders everywhere should take to heart if they want to be a great coach. Here’s what he said:

“I think you have to be trustworthy. You have to take the time to develop a relationship that’s so strong with each individual player, and hopefully with the team, that they will trust you. They let you in, and if they let you in, you can teach. If they don’t let you in, you’re never going to get there.”

When Coach K referenced his players “letting him in,” he pointed to his heart. It wasn’t just a casual, conversational gesture. He was making a specific point about tapping into his players’ heart—the emotional core of who they are as a person. Coach K intentionally focuses on developing a trusting relationship with each of his players because he knows without that absolute level of trust, he won’t be able to teach them how to transform their potential into performance.

The same principle applies to leaders in any organization. In order to achieve success, you have to take the time to establish meaningful, trust-based relationships with your team members. If your people don’t trust you, they won’t be receptive to your coaching on ways they can improve their performance. If your team can’t trust that you’ll have their back when they fail, they won’t take the necessary risks needed to move your business forward.

Conversely, trust enables your team to confront the brutal facts of their performance and find ways to get better. Trust allows individuals to set aside their personal ego for the betterment of the team and commit wholeheartedly to pursuing a common goal. Trust is what allows leaders to tap into the hearts and souls of their team members and achieve greater levels of success together than they could ever reach individually.

Trust—all great coaches know that’s the starting the point for earning the right to coach their team members.

Randy Conley, Vice President of Professional Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies, is the author of the Leading with Trust blog. His LeaderChat posts appear the fourth or last Thursday of every month. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyConley or connect with him on Linked-In.



About the Author

Randy Conley

Randy Conley is the Vice President & Trust Practice Leader for Blanchard®. He is coauthor of Blanchard’s Building Trust training program and works with organizations around the globe, helping them build trust in the workplace. In 2022, Randy and Ken Blanchard coauthored Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, which will be joined this fall by Simple Truths of Leadership Playbook: A 52-Week Game Plan for Becoming a Trusted Servant Leader.

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