For the last 15 years I have been a coach. Not the one of the sports field blowing the whistle, but the coach of executives, business people and entrepreneurs and their teams. I have also been an adult squad swimmer for 17 years, 3x per week, regular as clockwork.

I define coaching for individuals as the ability to see your clients true identify/skills/attributes etc more clearly than they see them, and then facilitating the conditions for their best selves to show up as much as possible. Often this means I tell the hard truth.

For teams, coaching has a similar definition, except a coach will see the best synergistic response from a collective team of people (synergy = where 1 plus 1 plus 1 may equal anything greater than 4), and facilitate the best conditions to enable this synergy to show up as much as possible. This means that nothing is stepped over, as anything toxic usually starts with a very minor transgression, which left unchecked escalates.

This week the independent report on Swimming Australia and the 2012 Olympic Team was released. It showed a toxic culture, abuse of curfew, abuse of rules, bullying, hazing, favouritism and various other assorted nasties.

No names have been named, as it was a confidential review.

What I find quite remarkable is that all the focus has so far been on the swimmers, nearly half of them first time Olympians, and young, and almost zero focus has been on the coaches, specifically the head coach and the team team management.

If I am paid by a client to get the best from their team and I step over any form of mis-behaviour, then I am not doing my job. It usually means I will get fired. However, from a personal point of view, it means I am not taking responsibility for my contracted agreement.

Of the 10 Australian Olympic team swim coaches, 6 of them apparently were not included in the inquiry. I know one of these coaches went to the head coach with his concerns, and nothing was done. This in itself is alarming.

Why is this conversation not been had? Why is the focus almost all on the swimmers?

I do not have the full story, as none of the public does, so unless there are some very extenuating circumstances, 100% of the responsibility rests with the head coach and the leadership team. (I am guessing as well that the governing body of Swimming Australia has much to answer for as well, but that is a different issue, as  they were not on pool deck for the Olympics and their job is not the performance of the swimmers. However their job is to ensure that the team behave to the highest standards, and achieve the greatest possible performance success.) The report indicates that the head coach was only in the role from 2010, and had his hands full with other issues, without much support, and so his performance cannot really be assessed.

I disagree. What is the main reason the head coach is paid? Is he paid to be a coach for the team, using my definition of coaching? Or is he paid to do other things, like administration? Often they may be paid to do both, but anyone in a leadership role who does not clarify the single most important priority and then focus on that, often at the cost of the other areas, is not a good leader, particularly in times of high focused performance.
Someone is responsible for the team culture and performance. Usually that someone is the head coach.

To shift the blame to the swimmers, and away from the head coach/coaching staff is as much the creator of a toxic culture as anything the swimmers did. What is happening is the continuation of a blame based, divisive culture.

In this case the head coach initially denied that anyone came to him reporting incidents, and then recently changed his tune.

How can any team culture be built into a positive one if the leader lies, refuses to take responsibility for the job for which he is paid, and allows the team to take the hit?

Part of what makes a great team is one where people who screw up, at any level, take responsibility. And it always starts with the head coach/leader. They need to be the first to put up their hand, no matter what the extenuating circumstances. And they need to do this with dignity, and without blame. If they don’t they are setting a very poor example. Failure to do this will result in the culture becoming more blame based, lacking in personal accountability, responsibility and trust.

This blame based culture is happening everywhere, not just in swimming?

We are creating a societal culture where holding people to account is rare indeed. Our society wants a scapegoat, wants to avoid responsibility, and wants to be sure the blame is directed ‘over there’, away from us.

The head coach needs to take full responsibility, and he needs to get focused on head coaching. The swimmers need their slap on the wrist, and they need to grow up. Everyone needs to own their contribution. Until they do, the toxic culture will not go away.

Its always good to consider where we contribute to a blame based culture.
Where do you point the finger? Your family, your boss, the tax man, the government?
What  personal behaviours are you stepping over over?
Where do you know you need to own more responsibility? Your behaviour, around money, in your commitments, keeping agreements?

This is not about being a saint. It is about owning our contribution.

For a great story on this, see the story on Captain Asoh. He took a different approach, taking 100% of the responsibility for landing an aircraft in San Francisco Bay, 2 kms from the runway.


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