Is the Problem the Player or the Coach?

"I don't really know if my team is performing at maximum output but I can't tell if it's more of an issue of my management (including me!) or the talent of the team itself. Do I have a "coach" or a "player" problem to deal with here?"

May 8th, 2024   |    By: Wil Schroter

Founders — at what point is the problem our ability to manage versus the capability of the talent we manage?

Our entire startup is fundamentally limited by the quality of our talent and the quality of our management. So how do we know when we're tapped out on either? If we don't have a firm understanding of where our team is limited, we can't address fundamental issues that prevent us from growing.

Yet it's easy for managers to blame talent and for talent to blame managers. How do we as Founders assess both to determine who needs attention? First, we need to understand what the limiting factors are.

Turning Water Into Wine

At some point, no matter how good of a manager we are, we cap on the quality of our talent. For example, if LeBron James were to teach me how to play basketball, no matter how good a player or coach he may be, he's still going to be limited by my ability as an athlete, which is limited at best. He's not going to turn water into wine with me. At best, maybe some diluted vinegar.

As managers, we have to be able to assess the upper limit of our talent and if we're really doing our jobs well — test that limit. But the other end of the spectrum is understanding when the level of talent just isn't that high, and no matter what we do, we're not going to coach that person into the NBA.

Yes, we can coach bad players and maybe turn them into slightly better players, but the reality is that if we really want a better outcome, we need better players. We all deal with what we have at the time, but as managers, we have to keep upgrading players if we want to win more games. Wow, this is a lot of sports analogies.

Great Coaches versus Bad Coaches

How do we know if the problem isn't the player but the coach? We often assume that just because we're put in charge of people, we're good at it.

A great coach will be constantly pressing their team to level up with new challenges, and when they struggle, training them to be better. Great coaches are very rare. They are so great that the team performs at epic levels simply because they are great coaches.

Conversely, a bad coach will be satisfied with doing nothing other than responding when there are problems, and assuming no problems means there's nothing to do. Most people are bad coaches, not because they are "bad people" but because they either don't have the drive to be great (it's hard!) or because they don't realize they should be doing more.

I mean, really, when you ask someone if they are a great coach and they say "I think so!" the question would be, "By what measure?" You'd be surprised how poorly we benchmark these measures.

How to Solve for Both Problems

As Founders, we should be forever freaked out about this problem, but fortunately, there's a way to address it. It starts with resetting all expectations or assumptions for every person in the organization to zero. Forget their resume, or where they came from, or what a great job they did 2 years ago. Reset everyone. Now for the managers (including us!) ask yourself, "What are they doing that is pushing the team to perform 2x better than before?" Sales goals, code shipping speed, customer support ticket response times, you name it. Who is doubling output? If the answer is "no one," then the problem is "everyone."

Then, let's move to talent. We need to ask: "Why hasn't this person performed 2x better than they did last year? Have they been given that challenge? If so, why haven't they responded positively?" We can't fault people for challenges they've never been given, but we can't say that people are performing their best if they aren't being challenged.

When everyone is properly aligned and challenged, we get to see where the true problems lie, and more importantly take action. This is how great teams are built, and championships are won.

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In Case You Missed It

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Can I Have a Boss Again? (podcast) As a Founder, what happens when we're forced into going back to reporting to someone else now that we've tasted the freedom of Founderhood?

Is it Worth Trying to Change People? We can't change someone's personality, attempting to do so is a waste of energy, a waste of time, and definitely a lost cause. Put your time and effort into someone else!

About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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