Are You a Coach, Or a Boss? How to Lead Your Team to Victory



coach.jpgIn the world of manufacturing, it seems like everyone has a boss. Growing up, I remember listening to my dad talk to my mom about his boss. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was bad – regardless, I remember thinking, I don’t know if having a boss is a good thing.  I believed “boss” was a negative term, unless of course you were the boss. To try to understand this better, one day I asked my dad, “Is my basketball coach my boss?”

“Well, kind of,” he replied. He could tell by the expression on my face I had no idea what he meant. “What made you think to ask me that?” he asked. I explained, “I’ve listened to you talk about your boss. He tells you what to do just like my coach does to me.”

My dad then said something I will never, ever forget. “Ben,” he started, “your coach instructs you on how to play the game. He shows you things, teaches you things, communicates openly with you and practices with you all in the hopes that your team will win. He knows what he is doing because he’s been in your shoes.” 

Talk about an epiphany!  In that moment, I realized I didn’t want a boss – I wanted a coach; a teacher, mentor, counselor, motivator. I wanted someone who would help me be better at what I like to do. I wanted to be inspired!

Thinking I now had it all figured out, I proudly told my dad, “You know, Dad, I will never work for a boss.” As any good father would do, he smiled, let out a small laugh and said, “Good luck with that, Benny-boy.” He proceeded to explain how everyone has a boss and that’s just the way it is.

I knew he was likely right, but I continued to wonder if I could someday have a coach instead of a boss. Since having this discussion, I’ve seen and learned a lot throughout my years of working with companies, and the one thing I’ve heard from employees more than anything else is negative comments about their boss or leadership team.

This got me thinking – why do I love my job? Is it the pay, the vacation, the freedom, the awesome people I work with, the people I get to meet every day?  I will admit these are all reasons I love my job, but the most important reason is my coach. The Director of The Center-West office, Justine Burdette, inspires me every day by teaching me new ways of doing things, communicating desired outcomes, practicing with me and motivating me by testing my limits and offering me opportunities to fail. Yes – fail! Failure is the first step to success (just ask my basketball coach!).

What would it be like if everyone had a coach, a mentor, an advisor, a teacher instead of a boss? Thinking back, even if you didn’t particularly like a certain coach or teacher, they likely taught you something or inspired you in some way. They helped you to be better, even if you didn’t realize it or appreciate it at the time.

To start seeing the benefits of this new perspective, try taking “boss” out of your vocabulary. Remove it from the interview process and employee handbooks and replace it with “coach.” This will go a long way to help you start changing how you view leadership roles. Focus on how to coach, teach and motivate individuals to further improve their natural skills. Challenge middle-level management and team leaders to do the same.

From my previous role as a General Manager of a machine shop, I learned to live by five simple rules:

  1. Never tell someone to do something, ask them.
  2. Don’t ask someone to do something you haven’t done previously or are not willing to do yourself.
  3. If you want respect, you better give it.
  4. Remember you’re a team. If one person fails, it affects everyone else on your team.
  5. Take ownership of another person’s failure.  Anyone can point a finger, but not everyone can admit their shortcomings.  

By solely following these rules, I was able to double our company’s sales in less than three years, promote from within and hire eight new individuals. It might take time, patience and perseverance, but the results make it all worthwhile. Consider the impact this new perspective could have on coworker relationships, relationships with management, company culture and your bottom line. After all, there is no better feeling than to have a coworker approach you to say, “Thank you. I am where I am today because of you.”


WOOD_B-WEB2019.jpgBen Wood, The Center-West Business Development Specialist
As a member of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West team, Ben is responsible for working with small to medium sized manufacturers in West Michigan, focusing on Mason, Lake, Osceola, Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Muskegon, Montcalm, Ionia, and Northern Kent Counties. He helps them assess their opportunities for continuous improvement and growth. Ben builds partner collaborations with regional economic development offices, manufacturing organizations, workforce development organizations, and a network of subcontractors to provide the best overall solution to the company.


Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Leadership/Culture