Oswald Letter

Whom Would You Choose as Your Career Coach?

The other day, a colleague sent me the results of a survey that says Americans would like to have Vince Lombardi or Oprah Winfrey as their coach. That got me thinking. It got me thinking about whom I would choose as my coach. Who should be in the running? What makes each an appealing choice?

I started my list with the two mentioned in the survey results and moved on from there.

Vince Lombardi. As a Green Bay Packers fan, I certainly understand this choice. Lombardi’s success as coach and executive with the Packers is almost unparalleled. He took a struggling franchise in a small Midwestern city and turned it into Titletown, USA. Lombardi was a master motivator, but I think his attention to detail was the biggest contributor to his success as a coach. If you want to understand how the smallest details add up to big-time success, Lombardi is your guy.

Oprah Winfrey. This choice is inspired on two fronts. First, Oprah is an immensely successful businesswoman. Advice and coaching from a woman who has built a media empire would be invaluable, but there’s more. Oprah has demonstrated time and again that she also is a wonderfully caring person. Her ability to listen and her charitable activities show that if you had Oprah as a coach, you’d have someone who would truly care about you and your career.

Abraham Lincoln. This might seem like an easy choice given the fact that the man was the 16th President of the United States. But there are two reasons Lincoln makes my short list of coaches. First, he saw his share of failures in his lifetime. That type of experience in a coach is invaluable. It’s always good to learn from someone else’s mistakes. Second, he stood up for what he believed in. Although it resulted in the Civil War, he had the courage of his convictions. Two reasons Lincoln would make a great coach.

Peter Drucker. Who better than “the man who invented management” to be your career coach? Drucker’s writings showed what type of thinker he was on the subject of management. His years of study on the subject would bring a unique perspective to your trials and tribulations as a manager. Drucker demonstrated that he understood both the business perspective and the human side of management.  If you’re looking for someone who could challenge your business thinking, you couldn’t find a better coach than Drucker.

Jack Welch. Considered by many to be the greatest CEO of our time, there’s no doubt how much could be learned by having Welch as your coach. His antibureaucracy beliefs, advocacy of innovation, and “no bull” approach to management would make him an interesting choice for a coach. My guess is that you had better be thick-skinned if you pick Welch to be your coach. His “tell it like it is” style means he won’t pull any punches. But Welch also brings plenty of energy and passion.

Colin Powell. Here’s a man who was born of Jamaican-immigrant parents in Harlem in the 1930s and who went on to become a four-star general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Secretary of State. He also founded America’s Promise, an organization dedicated to helping kids from all economic backgrounds achieve their potential. Powell possesses the precision of a military mind, the consensus-building skills of a politician, and the heart of a humanitarian. Having achieved so much in his life, he couldn’t help but be an asset as a career coach.

That’s my short list of great career coaches. Each has something to contribute to your career. Since a number of selections are no longer with us, and it’s unlikely that you’ll get the others to become your personal career coach, here’s what I propose. Pick up a biography on each and work your way through this list. You will gain a wealth of advice and perspective from each — the next best thing to them being there!

And since my list is so limited, I’d like to hear your thoughts on who you would like to see as your personal career coach.

Here’s a reading list to get you started

Vince Lombardi — The Lombardi Rules: 26 Lessons from Vince Lombardi–the World’s Greatest Coach (Mighty Managers Series)

Oprah Winfrey — Masters of Enterprise: Giants of American Business from John Jacob Astor and J.P. Morgan to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey

Abraham Lincoln — Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Peter Drucker — The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management (Collins Business Essentials)

Jack Welch — Winning

Colin Powell — My American Journey