Are you a “Star Player” or a “Head Coach”?

Are you a "Star Player" or a "Head Coach?"

A big lesson I’ve learnt in leading people and teams, is the need to think more like a “head coach” than a “star player”. 

Most of us get promoted to positions of people leadership because we were good at what we did. We became experts of our function or domain. We were the “star players” in our position.

As people leaders we can’t resist getting on the playing field to demonstrate our prowess to those who work for us.

This dynamic leads us to over rate the value of our domain knowledge and skills, and under appreciate the critical role we play in making others successful.

We avoid making the hard prioritisation choices and having the confronting conversations about performance and people misalignments that exist in our teams. 

If you have had the opportunity to perform a people leadership role when you did not have domain experience and weren’t a star player, you learn more quickly what it means to become the head coach of your team. 

My experience as CEO of ninemsn, a digital media business, appointed to the role with no previous media or advertising experience, changed my perspective dramatically. 

I learnt, because I had no choice, that exercising my knowledge and skills on the playing field had far less leverage than being focused on the bigger picture issues of team purpose, priorities and alignment of our people, technology and money invested with what we aimed to achieve.

Don't get me wrong, having the domain skills and having been a star player is a good thing and people leaders do need to step on the playing field from time to time.

Just be careful that you prioritise your time on the bigger picture concerns of the “why” and “how” things are done in order to be sure “what” you are doing is relevant and productive.

I recommend a mindset that always looks to understand and recognise the potential of people and the team around you and commits to clearing obstacles to their performance.

Are you a “head coach” or a “star player”? Find out what the people you lead think.

Image citations:

Michael Jordan Photo by Steve Lipofski /

Bill Belichick Photo by Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0