Coach, don’t manage

Robert Evangelista was riding high.

He was on a bus on the way back from Lake Placid, N.Y. The hockey team he coached, made up of teen-agers from inner-city Detroit, had just done the unthinkable and won the prestigious Can/Am Challenge hockey tournament against some much better-funded powerhouse teams from Canada, New York, California, Massachusetts and Michigan.

That success garnered national attention. Countless newspapers, newswires, television stations and cable networks ran stories about Evangelista’s team. Yet on the drive back to Detroit, the euphoria disappeared.

Evangelista felt a gnawing pain in the pit of his stomach. Even though his team was a success on the ice, at work, his team was on a losing streak.

“I was all gung-ho, but I struggled,” Evangelista says. “I struggled for quite some time. And I always had success as a manager and as a leader, so it was really frustrating for me.”

Evangelista was promoted to manufacturing manager of a General Motors engine plant at the age of 29. He soon found that everything he had learned about managing was not working at his plant, which had 120 employees and an annual budget of $35 million. His management style quickly devolved into “barking orders and pulling my hair out when things didn’t go right,” he says.

Meanwhile, he started coaching an inner-city youth ice hockey team called the Detroit Rockies. He says his first glimpse of the team on the ice was amazing.

“The boys had terrific speed and agility,” he says. “They loved to play physical, and they all shared the same fire. They just didn’t know how to play as a team. We needed to start building a game plan and work it.”

Evangelista’s success on the ice jolted him to the realization that the same techniques he uses to organize, direct and motivate his hockey team could translate to the engine plant. The plan worked. Under his new management methodology, he reduced operating costs by one-third, increased production by one-half and improved quality nearly 40 percent.

The dramatic improvement prompted him to research the management styles of other successful coaches. He delved into the sports wisdom of football legends Vince Lombardi and Lou Holtz and basketball coaches Pat Riley, Dean Smith and John Wooden. He interviewed hockey coach Scotty Bowman, who not only holds eight National Hockey League Stanley Cup championships, but who also won them with three different teams.

He used these coaches’ lessons, along with his own four-part management formula, to write “The Business of Winning: A Manager’s Guide to Building a Championship Team at Work.” The bottom line? Be a teacher, not a boss.

“What I realized was I was spending too much time in the day-to-day details,” Evangelista says. “I had to let go of the details and I had to step back. I had to become a teacher.”

Here is Evangelista’s four-part formula for winning at corporate leadership, which follows the guidelines that winning coaches have used to lead their teams to the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the World Series.

1. Create and focus on a game plan

The game plan encompasses everything the team is about. It ranges from generic issues such as a team’s overall vision or its playing style to the specific moves the players will execute to counter another team in a game. The game plan is a catalog of everything that is taught, reinforced and eventually executed.

2. Develop the players and their roles

With an adequate game plan in hand, the focus needs to turn toward the teaching, training and motivation of the players or employees. Training needs to apply to the job at hand and to the role of each player.

3. Execute at game time

Game time begins with the kickoff or first pitch in sports, but it might not be so clearly defined in business. Basically, the game is the moment when the team must deliver, Evangelista says. The coach needs to watch, possibly make adjustments and keep track of what’s going right or wrong. But now is not the time for teaching; that just distracts the players.

4. Learn from the game after the game

After the game is when the game plan is so crucial, Evangelista says. “A coach can say, ‘We’ve been talking about the game plan every day and what you need to do, and last night in the game, you didn’t do it. We’ve got to work on it today, what are we going to do differently.’ There’s this consistency, so it’s no surprise to a player.” How to reach: “The Business Of Winning: A Manager’s Guide to Building a Championship Team at Work,” by Robert Evangelista, CEP Press, $18.95, (800) 558-4237

Morgan Lewis Jr. ([email protected]) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.