Is an Executive Director Like a Head Coach?

Almost all the time.

A number of years ago our good friend, Rick Church, President of CM Services in Glen Ellyn, IL, used the title Head Coach on his business card. At the time it struck me as a bit too cute and cliché to be taken seriously. While I may never use this as my actual title, I’ve come to understand the value and importance of the analogy.

Much like head coaches are not directly responsible for selecting players, executive directors do not select who become association board members, or even association members. However, just like coaches, executive directors are held responsible and accountable for results. Perhaps all too often, executive directors need to be aggressive about their management roles and decisions in the face of opinionated board members, much like coaches must be with team owners.

I recently had to point out to a passionate and committed board of directors that wanted to be directly engaged in the recruitment and hiring of a senior member of their staff that association staff is much like the “coaching staff” for a professional sports franchise. Any staff position, regardless how senior, but accountable to the executive director, needs to be the exclusive domain of the executive director, no matter how involved that senior staff member may be engaging with a committee. The reason is simple, just like a coach, everyone on staff needs to be a team player and the executive director is ultimately responsible for crafting team participation. Personally, I’d rather have a team of average performers who can perform as a high functioning team than a collection of stars who are unable or unwilling to work together.

There are other useful comparisons between team sports and associations, but for now this will do. And, a hat-tip to our friend Rick, sorry I didn’t see the power of this analogy when I first saw your business card.

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