A UFC championship fight between Brazil’s Amanda Nunes, and USA’s Raquel Pennington recently captured attention when Pennington turned to her corner and said she was “done”. After telling her coach she couldn’t go on, the 29-year-old bantamweight title challenger listened to her corner, and went back out for the fifth. At that point, FightMetric reports that Pennington took another 19 strikes over the course of 2:36. Pennington was unable to make a comeback, finished the match covered in blood, and was hospitalized directly afterward.

This leads us to the billion-dollar question:

When do you push a team member beyond what they believe they can do? When do you step back, and let them set their boundaries at that moment?


How Do You Know When to Push?

As coaches, our goal is always to bring out the very best in our team members. Ideally, we unlock potential our employees didn’t even know they possessed.“ A coach… helps an individual realize his full potential and maximize positive outcomes,” points out an article in Entrepreneur. Knowing when to coach though, is essential, and there’s a fine line between strategic encouragement, and pushing your employees beyond their reach too fast. “Pennington’s corner implored her not to give up, despite being down four rounds.” Says an ESPN article, ‘change your mindset,’ was the advice she got back from a coach…”

Was her coach right to try and push Pennington further? Should he have listened to her and allowed her to step back from the match?


As coaches, it’s our job to know where to draw that line. And that’s rarely an easy call.

As an article in Chief Learning Officer says, “determining when coaching is a good investment can be challenging.” There are three components to address that will help you, as a coach, know exactly when to push and exactly when to take a step back. The first is keeping your eye on the long-term strategy; the second is knowing your team members’ abilities, and the third is making sure your focus is – not on yourself – but on your employees.


Keep Your Eye on the (Long-Term) Prize

“Coaching effectively supports long-term, sustained employee development,” points out an article in Chief Learning Officer. Coaching isn’t about helping an employee meet this week’s goal. It’s about getting them to a level of consistency and success that lasts an entire career.

If reaching a short-term goal will undermine your team members’ integrity or confidence, consider easing up on the pressure, and keeping your eye on a long-term goal instead. Failure can be an acceptable result in the short-term. Failure provides a golden opportunity for growth, a chance to learn from mistakes, and it often lays the groundwork for major professional development.

On the other hand, sometimes an extra push will unlock a reserve of energy; helping your team members win when they least expect, close deals they didn’t know they were capable of, or demonstrate skills they didn’t know they had. These moments are game-changing. As a coach, keeping your eye on the long-term strategy will help you know whether your employee can learn from a mistake or benefit from a push.


Know Your Employee’s Skills

It’s critical that – as a coach, you invest time and attention in understanding your employee’s skills, emotions, training, and abilities. If Pennington’s coach had had a better understanding of her limits and skills, would he have known when to call it? Amanda Nunes pointed out, “If she didn’t have the right conditioning to fight, the coach should have thrown in the towel for sure. I think my coach wouldn’t have let me go through that.”

Gauging your employee’s skill level is a critical ability for a coach. Coaches must have a deep understanding of what an employee’s training has prepared them for, and when gaps may leave them exposed to risk or error.

This understanding will help you know when to push and when to let up.


It’s Just Not About You.

One of the first mistakes new coaches make is thinking that coaching is about them. A big win. A higher sale. A team that consistently meets their goals. These successes reflect well on a coach. That’s where the danger lies. Great coaches know that – no matter how exhilarating it is to succeed – coaching is all about your team members. It’s not about you. Entrepreneur points out, “Good coaches show team members their potential, help them find confidence in their work, point out the value of what they do, and inspire them to be the best version of themselves.”

Focusing on yourself will blind you to your team’s potential. If you can, however, keep your focus on your employee’s, you’ll have the insights and skills that will help you know when to push, when to step back, and how to get real results.


Putting it All into Practice…

Remember to keep your eye on the long-term strategy, get to know your employee’s skills, and focus on them – not you. These three skills will help you to know when it’s time to push, and when to let your employees gauge their own limits. By walking the tightrope between encouragement and listening – you’ll be in an upper echelon of coaches that get powerful, game-changing results from their teams.


At the core of business success- across disciplines, across industries- lies a handful of truths, best practices, and strategies we must follow as business leaders to achieve the results we seek.

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