- Strategies for Effective Data Leadership
- Avoiding The Player Coach Dynamic
Avoiding The Player Coach Dynamic
Hi there, data aficionados 👋
You’re tuned in to edition 4 of Strategies For Effective Data Leadership and it is great to have you here.
This week I’m taking a look at an the interesting ‘player/coach dynamic’ which often plagues newly minted data leaders and holds them back from achieving their true potential.
I will discuss what this is, and strategies you can employ to avoid or overcome it. Let’s go!
The Player Coach Dynamic
The player coach dynamic occurs when a team leader or manager is also a direct individual contributor themselves. In data specifically, this might mean that the team manager is not only responsible for leading the team, but they are also involved in performing analysis, writing code and building dashboards etc.
These leaders find themselves with one foot in each camp. They are both a player and a coach simultaneously.
Causes of the Player Coach Dynamic
We typically see people falling into the player coach dynamic early on in the journey towards data leadership. Newly promoted leaders, particularly of small data teams, are perhaps the most likely to find themselves becoming player coaches.
The person is promoted to leadership so that they can manage the team and represent the data function to other stakeholders around the business. But due to a combination of team size and ongoing demand on the team, the new leader is unable to fully step away from hands on data work.
So, they are stuck both performing the duties of a manager as well as those of an individual contributor.
Pros and Cons? Is this actually a bad thing?
I believe that it is less than ideal to be a player coach. Often, I see it as a sign that the data team is under resourced. But others may disagree.
THE PROS ✅
Arguments for player coach being a positive thing usually focus on the assumption that data leaders need to stay close to the data and the tools so that they can maintain a stronger understanding of the work their team is focused on. This is entirely valid. Losing your hard fought data skills as you transition to leadership is not an easy prospect for many to face.
THE CONS ❌
Being a data leader and being a data analyst are two completely distinct jobs with an utterly distinct set of skills required to succeed in each role.
If you’re being required to tackle both simultaneously, your likelihood of succeeding at either is severely diminished.
Data leaders will frequently find themselves involved in very high level, strategic conversations with stakeholders from across the business. It can be extremely challenging to shift from being involved in those conversations one minute, and then performing a deep dive analysis on a crucial piece of work the next.
Context switching is a killer.
How to Avoid The Player Coach Dynamic ⛔️
If you find yourself in this situation, then I recommend devising a strategy to get out of it as quickly as possible.
If you’ve been promoted to be a manager, then that should be your focus. If you don’t want to be a manager and prefer to remain hands on with data work, then you’re in the wrong role.
Be Candid With Your Own Manager 👩🏽💻
Conversations about our careers should happen the day we start them.
The second best day is today. Does your manager know how you feel about the current dynamic? Have they been made aware that the team is under resourced?
Being clear and upfront about this will help you to start to transition away from it.
Learn To Delegate 🏉
Delegation is a core component of being a manager. If you don’t delegate, or don’t know how, your effectiveness as a manager is severely restricted.
If you’re not delegating work to your team, ask yourself why?
Do you not trust them to execute?
Are you better at it than they are?
Are you a micro-manager?
Letting go and trusting our teams to get the job done without us is essential to effective leadership.
Move On If Needed ⛸
If you’ve tried all of the above and your not able to shift the dynamic, it may be time to look for other opportunities.
If you’re focused and driven towards growing your career as a leader, then being stuck in the player coach dynamic is only going to hold you back.
It may be that the organisation you work for believes that manages should simultaneously be doers.
The longer you stay stuck in the Player Coach Dynamic, the longer it will take you to develop key leadership skills and the sooner you’ll burn out from constantly switching context.
Remember: You want to spend as little time as possible stuck in the player coach dynamic.
⚡️Whenever you are ready here are a few ways I can help you: