CEO Chat, Management Consulting

CEO Chat: Coaches and General Manager’s – Which are You?

This past week, my beloved Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) ran headlong into a miracle this week. After four years of delving into mediocrity, the Bills fired their head coach and promoted their defensive coordinator to interim head coach.

As a Bills fan, I’m greatly relieved that the team showed the guts to get rid of their leader halfway through the season and start the hunt for a new coach earlier than the rest of the NFL. (Of course that means this season is pretty much over, but Bills fans knew that back after week 1)

Another question raised was, “Will the Bills get a real football general manager (GM) as well, hire one person to be the coach/GM, or keep the current pseudo-GM?” Since 2005, the Bills haven’t had a real GM, the person who is responsible for putting the team together, and the product on the field has shown it.

While only time will tell for the Bills, today I want to talk about the differences between “GM’s” and “coaches” in the business world.  Each has their benefits and weaknesses to developing your “team.” (For lack of a better word)



General Managers

These are the guys who hire the players (and coaches) for the team. They put the pieces in place, and figure out how to best use each person’s strength to compensate for other’s weaknesses. They are also responsible for going out and scouting which players in college and free agency can make the organization better.  Instead of creating a situation to make the sum of the parts greater than the whole, they see each of the parts and how they can be more than the whole.

In a perfect world, they trust that the people they hire know how to do their jobs without too much prodding.


These are the guys who lead the team, develop the game plan and calculate how the team will best work together.  They take the pieces that the general manager give them and put them together in a way that will maximize their chances for success.

They try to create a situation where the sum of the team’s parts is greater than the whole.

Again, in that perfect world we all want, they trust the people they lead and believe that they can finesse the best possible outcome from their team.


But Benson, I hear you saying, what about the dual-rolled “Coach/GM”? Can’t they provide the best possible outcome for you?  True, but to be honest, outside of a rare few people (in the NFL you know who they are, Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan) most fall short when trying to fulfill both roles. Whether the responsibilities for each are too much, or they lack one of the two necessary skill sets they fall short at one while usually crashing at the other.  In the NFL you too often see coaches wanting both positions – feeling that if they have to lead the group, they should be able to pick who they lead. However, this is more of an excuse to not develop a strong working relationship with the person selecting the team, there’s not the communication and trust between the two to work together for the best results possible.


All I want to say about this is figure out which role you better fill and stick with improving yourself at that. There will be time to develop the other side’s skills at another time when you already have a base of experience to build on.  And this way, at least you’ll be showing improvement and success to one of the other people who really matter – your boss.

This requires a truthful self-evaluation. Which of the above sounds more like you? Do you want to put the pieces in place to succeed and not micromanage them, or do you prefer the challenge of taking what you have in the office and kicking ass with that? Or am I totally off-base here?

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