6 Things You Need to Know Today to Help First-Level Leaders to Win

First-level leaders who play the player-coach role in your organization make a significant impact on every metric in your business: employee productivity and engagement, customer satisfaction and loyalty, innovation, and financial performance.


Jun 9, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; View of an official baseball on the infield before the Atlanta Braves game against the New York Mets at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This week Major League Baseball (@MLB) celebrated the start of its 2019 season. It was the earliest opening day in the history of the MLB.

I invite you to take the season’s start as a chance to learn a leadership lesson that directly connects baseball history to new leaders in your organization.

The Player-Coach was once very common in baseball…

Founded in 1869, MLB is the oldest professional sport in the United States and often dubbed, “America’s Pastime.”  Throughout its near 140-year history, hundreds of people have served as team managers. These are the head coaches of the team responsible for everything from player development to on field coaching decisions. For many years, the vast majority of  managers served in a coach-player role, where they not only made coaching decisions for the team, but also filled a position on the field and a spot in the batting line-up. In fact, the manager role today was historically called the head coach or team captain.

Have you ever wondered, Why baseball coaches where uniforms?

It’s steeped in the longstanding tradition of the player-coach role. Over the years, 220 professional ball players have been player-coaches. The last one on the field was Pete Rose, who both managed and played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1986.

Why did such a common practices become obsolete?

There are many reasons. The demise of the player-coach role fell prey to accountability conflicts, lack of practice time, and a wide-range of other challenges of multitasking when the stakes are high.

Player-Coaches in Your Organization

Two years ago, FranklinCovey set out to study the biggest challenges of leading teams in today’s world. Although many challenges surfaced (e.g., working in a virtual environment, leading people to perform work that you haven’t done yourself, etc.), the #1 challenge facing team leaders, specifically those leading at the first-level in your organization, is being a player-coach.

The term first-level leader was specifically designed to address leaders who have transitioned from being the best individual contributor to getting work done with and through others. In many ways, this is exactly what a player-coach historically accomplished in MLB. However, while major league baseball teams recognized the inherent challenges of being a player-coach and moved away from the dual role, your organization has likely embraced first-level leaders serving as both player-coach at a rate like never before because of the realities and complexities of your business.

Don’t believe me?  

Take a look around your organization. How many of these situations, as well as the range of other possibilities sound familiar?

  • Project managers who are also accomplishing project tasks?
  • Store managers who are stocking shelves and serving customers?
  • Sales managers who also carry a sales ‘number’?

The short answer is likely, “Most, if not all.”

The Broad Reach and Impact of Your Player-Coaches

First-level leaders who play the player-coach role in your organization make a significant impact on every metric in your business: employee productivity and engagement, customer satisfaction and loyalty, innovation, and financial performance. They are the creators and carriers of culture for their teams and directly influence whether top talent stays or leaves. They are frequently responsible for the quality of the customer experience, and first-level leaders and their teams are the biggest source of product and process innovation. Your first-level leaders are the “Difference-Makers” in your business.

The role has always been tough and today’s realities make the role even tougher. People skills typically account for 80 percent of success in this role. Yet many people are promoted because of their technical capabilities (i.e., player skyills). Both new and experienced first-level leaders can struggle when it comes to excelling at leading teams in today’s workplace.

How to Help Your Player-Coaches to Win

As a result of their research, my friends at FranklinCovey identified 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. The mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets in these practices provide first-level leaders with relevant and practical resources to help them excel in this tough and demanding coach-player role.


Explore the critical mindset shifts that will maximize your success as a leader of others.

  • Are you focused on getting things done on your own or through and with others?
  • Do you see yourself as a steward of the organization’s culture?
  • Can you put yourself in the shoes of others and help them to see their contributions to the team?
  • And the list goes on…

Practice 2: HOLD REGULAR 1-ON-1s

Increase engagement of team members by conducting regular 1-on-1s, deepen your understanding of team member issues, and help them solve problems for themselves.


Create clarity about team goals and results; delegate responsibility to team members while providing the right level of support.


Give feedback to develop team member confidence and competence; improve your own performance by seeking feedback from others.


Identify specific actions to help team members navigate and accelerate through change and achieve better performance.


Use weekly planning to focus on the most important priorities, and strengthen your ability to be an effective leader by applying the 5 Energy Drivers.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash