On Player/Coach Balance

In the past, I’ve shared thoughts on work/life balance. Contrary to my opinions in that piece, I believe there is a balance to be struck between player and coach. In a startup, everyone has to be a producer. Too much management impedes progress. The coach’s job is to communicate a clear vision and the incremental steps and expectations to realize it. Outside of that, coaches are an opportunity cost. That’s why having the right team is critical. Scale necessitates increasingly complex org structures. Startups are crippled by them.

I find playing and coaching equally gratifying. As a coach, you relish in the success of the team. As a player, that success is more direct. In my player world, the successes are in learning. Despite being a mediocre developer, I love to code. Designing and building applications is intoxicating. It’s creative, complex, and incredibly stimulating. The muscle you build for learning new paradigms, languages, and frameworks is a superpower. You learn how to learn. Over time, you start thinking about everything from first principles.

It’s easy for me to get lost in solving technical problems at the expense of my role as a coach. This week, I ported a couple of internal applications to Azure – building virtual network infrastructure, configuring app services, implementing deployment pipelines, and securing it all. It’s tough to switch hats from player to coach with this type of work, let alone maintain a balance between the two. But it’s absolutely necessary.

What I always revert to is value provision. Start with customers and work backward. I constantly ask the question: Is the work I am doing at any given time positioning Liberty Supply to provide the most value to customers? The answer to this question is the best proxy to achieve player/coach balance.

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