Bill Russell, George Halas, Tom Landry, Frank Robinson all did it. These, and many others were at some point “player-coaches”. Some head coaches, others as assistants to coordinators. Sometimes it even worked out well (i.e. Russell), for a time. Sometimes it was necessity, other times a novelty.
Michael Jordan did it a bit different and played for the Wizards as a part owner and President of Basketball Operations. Honestly not sure if he kept the president role while playing, but it brings up a point that is certainly not trivial. Adding “owner” into the mix.
There is a whole business issue around a “player-coach” model. At is core, it is when an employee carries both an oversight or management role and the role of those being overseen. Think a Sales VP who sells and manages the sales team. That person is a sales manager and a salesman. Again, sometimes this happens from necessity, sometimes by accident, others by design. Does it make sense? Does it work? Maybe, probably depends on who you ask but overall it seems to not be the best or optimal set up.
Now let’s make it worse yet at the same time much more common. Now we have Owner-Player-Coach. Take many small business owners and you will see this play out. Sometimes it is necessity as it takes money and time to create truly management level employees. Equally often, it’s by design, maybe subconsciously, where the owner wants to do those roles. Perhaps he or she is the only one in the company who can, or maybe they just think that. Ego and stubbornness often play a role here.
In startups it is simply the reality, not every new business gets VC money to burn (big secret, most don’t). So not only is the owner also the player and coach they are also the assistant coordinators, player personnel manager, equipment manager, travel coordinator, uniform washer, etc. You get the drift.
This is a version what is John Warrillow (Built to Sell –book and podcast) referred to as the “owner’s trap”. Now if it is consciously by design then great, it is a lifestyle business actively chosen by the owner. However, if the owner thinks they are creating real value in their business they best think again. I am not discounting necessity; we all fight this. I suppose I am not discounting parts of the other side either. We have all made decisions to “just do it ourselves”, it was just easier that way.
Same as in sports though, we owners and advisors do need to honestly step back and ask, “is it working?” In sports a win loss record doesn’t lie. Winning percentages, playoff appearances, and championships tend to make things clear. Nowadays, these may be joined by TV ratings, attendance, etc. Even in sports, sometimes good enough is simply good enough. Many teams or owners are content will be doing pretty well, making some playoffs, strong following but never getting that championship. A lifestyle business choice as it were.
I must add the direct comparison is probably not fair to businesses, since the sports leagues are not real-world business life or rules. At high levels there is revenue sharing, TV deals, merchandise, etc. As such, even lousy teams and owners see their value increase due to the others. All the owners are “in business” together, they just compete against each other on the field. Business owners don’t have that dynamic to work with.
Back to the “score”, is it working for you? Owners need a way, a process to dispassionately assess what is and isn’t working. Some use Key Performance Indicators, others a board of advisors, others use their gut, while some don’t use anything. The last two are most small businesses, and again it is often by necessity. That is why it is a trap. It is not a trick mind you, but rather a sticking point common to most business owners.
Is there a way out? Sure, probably many ways. I will even say “it depends”. There is not a one size fits all but there is a great starting point for an owner to get some answers. This takes us back to John Warrillow, and the Value Builder Score. It is a complimentary survey that scores the eight, statistically proven drivers of company value (hint the Owners Trap plays into this). Hit the link, take 20 minutes to complete the survey and learn if you are building a value business.