One Mistake That Could Cost You Your Job

By Stephanie Zonars

“If she doesn’t get outside help, she won’t last.”

That was my friend’s closing thought about working with her head coach. She’s in a support role for a division I team and was lamenting the challenges of working with a coach who is unaware how her attitudes and behaviors impact the team and even athletic department.

The truth is, we all need help.

When I first started my business, I hired a business coach to help me. It was one of my smartest moves.

I remember one time he called me while I was in the middle of something. My tone was pretty flat when I answered.

He asked for permission to give me feedback. When I consented, he told me that potential clients want to work with people who are positive and enthusiastic, and added that I didn’t sound positive and enthusiastic when I answered the phone.

I’ve never forgotten that conversation. It helped me realize how much more I need to project enthusiasm in order for it to really show. I’m a work in progress, but getting better.

Projecting enthusiasm is a blind spot for me. Something other people see about me that I don’t see.

I know I have other blind spots (one reason why I just re-hired my business coach!).

You have them too.

The off-season is the best time to gain insight about blind spots.

Here are three steps to get you started:

Acknowledge your need.

In the book Thanks for the Feedback, authors Stone and Heen denote the three types of feedback:

Appreciation: to see, acknowledge, connect, motivate, thank
Coaching: to help receiver expand knowledge, sharpen skill, improve capability
Evaluation: to rate or rank against a set of standards, to align expectations, to inform decision-making

One of the biggest mistakes coaches (particularly first-time head coaches) make is not realizing their need for coaching and evaluation soon enough.

Most coaches don’t get fired for a lack of strategic knowledge, but rather for leadership deficiencies. [Tweet That!]

Those gaps lead to culture issues, which result in fewer wins.

Washington women’s basketball coach, Mike Neighbors wrote a terrific article about the 418 mistakes he made in his first year as a head coach. In hindsight he realized, “I needed a better plan. I needed support. I needed help.”

Acknowledging your need and opening your heart and mind to feedback is the first hurdle.

Feedback is scary, humbling and sometimes it just plain hurts!

But when you remember that everyone on the planet has blind spots and that this one step alone can catapult your leadership, you realize it’s worth the discomfort.

Ask for feedback.

People avoid feedback conversations because they are uncomfortable. Your boss may not bring issues up in an annual review, and your direct reports may hesitate to be honest with you for fear of damaging the relationship or even losing their job.

So even when you know you need and want it, it’s tough to get honest, helpful feedback in the form you desire.

That’s why you need to ask for the specific kind of feedback you want.

Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington uses a series of forms to gather that type of feedback for both her staff and herself. Staff evaluate themselves and one another, and assistant coaches also receive evaluations from position players.

Hands down, the most effective feedback tool I’ve used is a 360° review, which gives a leader input from all directions (superiors, peers, direct reports) as opposed to just her boss.

If you’re a head coach, you may not work closely on a daily basis with the AD to whom you report. So while the annual review is helpful, feedback from people in the trenches with you every day is even more valuable. And, the anonymous process of the 360° lends itself to more honest input.

If you don’t already have a system in place to receive feedback, ask your HR representative or direct superior for tools available on your campus. Or find a consultant with those resources. Which brings me to my last point…

Find a consultant.

Willingly opening yourself for evaluation can leave you feeling vulnerable, with a natural inclination to become defensive about any less-than-favorable feedback. Walking through the feedback process with an objective consultant will lead to even better outcomes.

A consultant will assist you in assimilating the feedback, looking for themes and implementing action steps.

After all, there’s no point in going through the process unless you are willing to hear what others observe and make some adjustments!

Acknowledging your need for feedback, asking for it and finding someone to walk with you through the process of interpreting it is paramount in your personal and professional development.

And the benefits you reap just might save you from the heartache of losing your job.

One Mistake That Could Cost You Your Job appeared first on Life Beyond Sport.

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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at

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