One of the more enlightening things about addressing diverse groups of bankers is the opportunity to test certain ideas. You can obtain instantaneous feedback from folks' comments, body language and even facial gestures that let you know when an analogy or suggestion strikes a nerve.

Over the past year, few analogies that I've used have seemed to strike as many nerves with branch teams as the discussion about the differences between being a coach and being a player-coach. The "alleluia chorus" is often loud.

I point out that our industry committed to "coaching" in a big way long ago. In many banks, managers being required to coach their employees has become one of the most nonnegotiable of all "nonnegotiable" manager activities. And I'm not suggesting that this is a bad thing.

As our industry's front-line jobs have evolved from being almost purely operational in nature into more relationship-building and sales-oriented, higher levels of feedback and motivational input has been required from our managers. "Coaching" became part of our industry vernacular.

That being the case, I suggest to managers that the well-known model of today's sports coaches isn't the one most appropriate for our branches. I advise that we should follow more of a player-coach model used in yesteryear with folks like Bill Russell than the modern coaching model we see today. (And yes, I often have to explain to younger bankers who Bill Russell was and what he did.)

With all due respect to today's coaches, none are being asked to grab a rebound, make a tackle or steal a base in a game situation. In today's games, the coaches are primarily spectators. Yes, they strategize, motivate, teach, etc. But they aren't called on to be actual participants.

In complicated scientific terminology: Their job is to talk the talk, and not walk the walk.

This was not the case when Bill Russell was a player-coach. Russell's job included all the things we currently associate with "coaching." He, however, was actually a participant in the game. And in player-coach scenarios, it is often the personal example set by that leader, as much as his words, which have the greatest impact on a team.

In the case of Russell, he was often the most talented guy on the court. But a player-coach need not be the most talented or even most productive team member at any given time to be effective.

I frequently remind managers that their teams pay every bit as much or more attention to their actions as to the words they say. Their actions will either reinforce or marginalize their words. Simply, you cannot preach one thing and do another and expect your coaching and feedback to have the impact you'd hoped for.

Granted, our managers' job descriptions' are not identical to their teams'. But there are almost always enough common responsibilities for team members to decipher whether their coach follows his own advice and consultation.

For example, it's hard to convince a branch team of the importance of proactively engaging the customers in their lobby when it's something they never see their manager doing. When a preoccupied manager walks through a branch and doesn't acknowledge customers, it doesn't exactly reinforce the behaviors and activities our folks are coached to perform.

Similarly, it's hard for a branch team to buy into the importance of extended and weekend hours if they can set their watches by when their manager heads out each day or can't remember the last time their manager worked a weekend. That doesn't mean a manager has to work the most hours during any given week. But being perpetually absent during extended hours communicates plenty.

When discussing these issues, I'm careful to point out that I'm not insinuating that managers are putting in less work than their teams. To the contrary, managers typically have considerably more time- and energy-consuming responsibilities than their teams, both in and away from their branches. With all of the extra duties placed on them, it's understandable that being involved in some of the more basic branch sales and service activities can fall off of their daily checklists.

But even small amounts of "floor time" shows team members that the activities they are coached to perform are important enough for everyone in a branch or bank (regardless of title) to perform.

Another benefit is that player-coaches are almost always more attuned to the challenges their staff are facing, and can communicate more effectively with them. And that communication tends to have more credibility with their team.

Take a minute this week to make sure your managers remember that, in our increasingly demanding branch environments, coaching shouldn't be a spectator sport.

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