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Mr. Rex and Ego?

 Photo by  Vern Ooi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Vern Ooi on Unsplash

The Best Team Players? They know It's not about them.

Those of you who participated in athletics know that, as an athlete, you get to experience a lot of real time "psychology on display through behavior" as player's egos become involved in competing. Hopefully, for most people, the need to "stroke one's ego" gets resolved by the time we reach adulthood . . . but not always.

A few yeas ago I was playing "noon basketball" with a cadre of guys at a local gym. One of the amazing things about this group was that two of the most talented players were over 70!  Yes, 70! By "most talented" I don't mean that they had the most stamina, speed, or leaping ability when compared to the younger players,  but boy did they have skills and the experience to be a great asset to whatever team they played for.!  Both still played on traveling teams against player across the nation. Very impressive.

One of the players, I particularly liked. He was very laid back, competitive, yet encouraging to other players--a guy who was confident enough to play well himself and encourage the best out of others, both those on his team and the opponents as well, a real team-player. The other? Let's just say . . . that it didn't take a Psychologist to tell that his game was a little bit more about stroking his ego than just having fun competing--not that ego doesn't play a role for most of us at some level, some people just hide it more reliably. :)  Anyway . . . let's talk about .

The Day The Ego Demanded "it's Due!"

We were playing one day, as usual, when a new player joined us. His assignment was to guard Rex. Now, a new player, especially a younger one, would have no reason to believe that this would be a difficult task. After all, this is your grandfather--someone your should be able to outmaneuver, out jump, and out hustle. But Rex was an athlete, with a capital A. He could make shots all over the floor and from "way downtown"--far distant from the basket.

His favorite shot was a hook-type delivery off a drive to his right. Those of us who had played with Rex for a long time knew that the best strategy was to overplay his right side, and force him to go left where, although still capable, he was far less dangerous and effective. It was common knowledge and everyone who defended him more than once knew this.

The new player who joined us that day, however, didn't know this. As he tried to guard Rex, this septuagenarian shark, repeatedly drove right and drained the basket . . . time after time . . . scoring easily and, I think, frustrating the younger man's increasingly strenuous attempts to stop his scoring. Finally, the younger man, once again, beaten to the delivery of the shot, exclaimed, "Rex, you are unstoppable!" Rex beamed. But, unfortunately for Rex, the moment didn't last. 

Another player, let's call him Doug, who was known for his less-than-sensitive-candor, impulsively reacted. "It's not hard to stop Rex," he commented dourly.  "That's easy. He can't go to his left."  A statement, that over-simplified guarding this athlete, but never-the-less did communicate the best approach to stopping Rex's game. An awkward silence hung in the air, as players absorbed this Doug's "attack" on Rex's abilities and demonstrated Doug's own need to stroke his ego "against" a player, in Rex, that definitely had superior skills. Some glancing at Rex, uncomfortably, and wondering how Rex would respond.

Well, Rex wasn't one to let such blatant disrespect to pass. He said nothing, at first. I was surprise, but remained watchful.  The next time Rex's team had the ball, Rex, playing point guard, took the ball, drove to his left, executed his signature hook shot, banking it into the basket off the backboard, the pointedly directed a comment to Doug, "So, I can't go left huh?"

Flashes of Junior High School

"What is this, Junior High School?" The thought flashed through my mind.

So, Rex proved he could go left. Doug was "put into his place," and Rex's ego could remain intact--although why it was threatened so much by the comment remains unknown. Or so it seemed for a moment. Doug, unfortunately, didn't have the wisdom to let it go either, and the rest of "noon ball" was marred by a general pensive, irritation punctuated with some general aggressive playing and "bad will."

The funny thing is, for all the posturing egos on display, that day . . . nothing had really changed. We all still knew that the best strategy, when guarding Rex, was to force Rex to go left. No one thought less of him as a player, since all players have strengths and weaknesses to the game. And we were all sure that Doug would continue to comment on things that others would think but definitely not say. While Doug would rush in to fill the void. We also knew that Doug, no matter how long he played--would he even be playing in another 30 years?--would never be as good as Rex.

What did change was that it was clear that Rex's ego was tied up in his ability as an athlete (and so was Doug's, but that's another story) and that Rex would get defensive, react with somewhat controlled anger, if challenged . . . and this trait, could be turned against him, by unscrupulous opponents. That Doug, or others, could easily "get under his skin" with just a comment despite the fact that he was a great player. I can imagine some competitors I have played against in competitive venues, making comments,  "What's the matter, can't you go left?" and goading him into "proving them wrong" ---thereby taking him out of his best game and using his emotion against him.

Ego vs. Team

When Doug made his comment, and Rex visibly reacted, my intuition and experience told me that Rex would have to prove himself by forcing the next shot . . . going left. He did, and it worked, he made the basket. But what if that had not been in a "pick up game" but in a game that counted for something. Was that the right time and place to take the shot?  Maybe. Would a defender, as I did, anticipate his need to go left and position himself to block or alter the shot.  Possibly. But ego doesn't consider what is best for the team only what is demanded to keep the ego intact. 

Rex, it appears, didn't trust the team. He didn't believe that that everyone already saw him as a superior player--even if they recognized that he preferred shooting going to his right. He probably was fearful that others would "believe" John's view or that perhaps it would make it harder if the young man guarding him forced him to operate going left. Some subconscious fear drove his need to respond. Ultimately, however it was driven by his own fears about himself and his ability.

Another ego and it's effect . . . a starter on one of my high school teams "lost it" when his shoe came untied and the coach didn't call a time out to let him fix the problem. He responded by kicking his shoe off, sending it flying over the bench, and starting to hack (foul) other players. He fouled out of the game in the first quarter. I have never seen such a ego-driven temper tantrum quite like it before or since. Playing the rest of the game without our number one point guard and a great shooter certainly did not help the team and we lost the game.  Those whose ego strength, to continue the use the Freudian term, isn't sufficiently strong will not be able to laugh at themselves, apologize, admit mistakes, or put the team first.  They may be very talent and accomplished but, in some fashion or another, they will always be a one man show.

Leaders, Employees and Ego

When consulting with organizations you inevitably will run into people whose ego is a barrier to them being the best leader they can be. Whether as an employee or a boss, their fragile self-worth will manifest itself in defensiveness, rejection of valid criticism, and a stubborn refusal to examine mistakes and learn from them.  Often, these are very bright and accomplished people who has skillfully found ways to mitigate some of the negative effects--perhaps they are superficially charming, or hard working, or they maintain and aloof distance--but, like Rex, everyone knows of the ego-weakness and how it effects their work and the organization as a whole.

Attempts to point out the weakness results, again like Rex in the story, in them proving (at least to themselves) that the have a strong ego and the problem is not them but is the problem of the person pointing out the impact of their behavior.  

You can spot this trait often when a person "flip-flops" on responsibility when they can no long dismiss it. So, if problems are pointed out by another colleague or employee this person may simply dismiss it, or aggressively refute it. But if the problems amplify to the point the behavior is threatening the organization and they are forced to face their behaviors . . . the "Ego-challenged" person will admit a problem, superficially take responsibility for it, perhaps even apologize (if necessary) and verbally agree to a need to change.

But watched closely, and over time, they will reverse course . . . reverting back to their baseline, ego-protecting view, that "the problem isn't me."  When this happens, you can be sure that you are dealing with someone who, to reach their full potential, has a need for significant work on the ability to take constructive criticism, be self-critical, and learn to grow.  In Patrick Lencioni's words They suffer a lack of humility . . . thinking, albeit somewhat subconsciously, more about themselves that the good of the organization. In those moments it is, once again, all about them.

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Employee engagement? The problem isn't employees the problem is . . . there's no plan.

 Photo by  Conor Luddy  on  Unsplash

Photo by Conor Luddy on Unsplash

Employees get a lot of blame for their lack of engagement. Leadership initiatives to improve engagement often focus on techniques and programs to increase organizational engagement . . . by focusing on what to do to, or with, the employees. For the leaders themselves, the focus is on how to create the right environment or push the right "levers." Few leaders really know what they should focus on in their own leadership style. Below, we will give you 3 attributes to "set your sites on" to increase the likelihood to modeling engagement as a leader and increasing the odds that employees will follow your example.

Engagement

If you read leadership material, a lot of the "talk" around employee engagement is about how to get the employees to be engaged. That is, how to get them to voluntarily be connected to the organization and be willing to use their discretionary effort to reach it's goals.

Many authors note that this engagement is more than a list of actions or behaviors, it is a relationship as well, but they then, despite noting the reciprocal nature of engagement, focus on the employees . . . and ignore the leadership side of the equation. This leaves the impression often that engagement is something leaders get employees to do. Transformative leaders focus on becoming . . . and helping others become . . . aligned with the values of engagement.

So, here are a few, brief, thoughts to help focus on leadership's role in developing an engaged workforce.

Another term for engagement is "betrothal" which is defined as a "formal agreement to get married." (Seen in this light--leaders and employers are in a marriage-like relationship--is it surprising that there are so many challenges. Note that this engagement includes, a decision to enter an agreement or contract and, that contract is aimed at creating a more permanent relationship between two parties.

Leaders who want to have engaged employees need to model engagement behaviors themselves. This doesn't mean "preaching" about engagement or creating incentive to engagement behavior. Carrots and sticks only work in the short-term and ultimately disencentivze employees.

Remember, it's about a relationship . . . and no one prefers to be in a manipulative, coercive, or unsupportive relationship. Yes, unhealthy relationships exist and even persevere . . . as long as there is no better option. When another option becomes possible the relationship ends. 

While leaders often acknowledge both sides to this engagement relationship, i.e" "we want the best for our employees"; very few have thought through what it takes for a leader to engage with their employees on a deep level.  

But leaders don't have time to a deep in-depth study of what it takes to become an engagement exercise. So let's boil it down to it's roots. What does it take to model healthy engaged behaviors?  Here's what I think it takes . . . 3 primary attributes of an engaged leader . . . plus 2 for good measure!

1. Being Present

We hear a lot about "dead-beat Dads" or Mother's who "abandon" their children. We understand that to have a healthy relationship you must be present. Employees know when a leader is only "putting in the time" and not really "there for them."

2. absence can present itself  in terms of a burned-out leader, an overly committed leader, traumatic events, or other factors. A leader who is not physically, emotionally, or behaviorally present will not have an engaged workforce--or if they do, it will be inspire of the leader and due to informal leadership within the work team itself.

2. A Non-Anxious Presence

Once of the biggest killers of engagement comes through leaders that cannot operate as a "non-anxious presence." They react. They drive. They create an uncertain, anxious, fearful, environment where some employees feel threatened and cannot predict what the leader will do. Thus they engage in a lot of unhealthy coping strategies . . . lying, avoiding, playing-it-safe.  

3. High-level Communication

People think they communicate well. They don't. If you are trained and experienced in communication you know this. Within just two or three sentences, a trained expert can't identify elements that will make communication difficult, if not all-together, misleading. At it's worst it is corrosive or volitile. We do team training on communication utilizing a simple "disarm the bomb" electronic program. The teams are always terrible in the beginning. How can it be difficult to describe the color of wires or the buttons to push and in what sequence? Well, it is difficult. Imagine what happens to communication when their are emotions real consequences on people's lives in the mix.

Yet, like it or not, people are judged through the patterns of communication they employ.  This includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. It is impacted by the tendencies and trends over time but can be undone by one or more single events during high stress moments (see non-anxious presence above).

4. A Desire to Improve . . . that is stronger than a desire to protect one's since or "self!"

One of the biggest problems in working with executives or their teams is that they give "lip service" to wanting to improve but act like they are protecting their fragile egos. To date, I have never had a senior executive admit to me that they are afraid to get honest feedback, fear the challenges of changing to help their team's success, or say they are satisfied with their level of competence. I have had them resist taking negative feedback, being defensive, blaming others, or avoiding. After all, they are human, despite being accomplished and successful. This is a "blind spot" they need to get over. They need a hunger to improve that will keep them engaged when it is tough.

5. Commitment

In some form, every accomplishment is done for a reason. But reasons are not all alike in their ability to sustain effort. A reason that has deep meaning to the leader can sustains them through the difficult times . . . and keep them from "leaping ships" when experiencing quick success. The leader needs a deep commitment to something to risk engaging fully in the success of his organization. Without it employees will likely not engage deeply either. So, ask yourself this, "Why should I, as a leader, want to be present, non-anxious, and communicative?  Why strive to continue to improve?  Without good answers to these questions, your commitment, and your employees, is likely to wane with time.

All the best!

 

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Leaders . . . Trust and Control

 Photo by  Jenn Evelyn-Ann  on  Unsplash

Leaders . . . Trust and Control

Leaders, like other employees, want to feel trusted. Too often, leaders see relationships, both between employees and between employees and the leaders, in a dichotomy of trust vs mistrust. This duality, masks that a certain amount of mistrust is healthy and the viewpoint promotes behavior--when faced with the fact or fear of losing trust--that often turns a workable breach-of-trust into a struggle for control. Who will be blamed for the loss of trust? What will be the fall out? Will it be swept under the rug?

Nan S. Russell, in a 2011 Psychology Today article about trust in the workplace, wrote that the opposite of trust isn't mistrust . . . it's control. She's right. Or, partly right. When trust fails, many leaders, as Russell notes, fall back on control. These leaders don't see grabbing control in these situations as, what they often are, self-defeating behaviors. They focus on their good intentions . . . of protecting the workplace, correcting wrong viewpoints, or introducing reason into emotional interactions. It never seems to occur to these leaders that if employees have lost trust, they may no longer accept good intensions as the defacto position of the leader. 

But here's where I might differ from Russell's assessment. Not all leaders, I'm not sure Russell is assuming this, grab for control. Some leaders, in my experience, don't step in with control; instead, they will "flee the field"--hiding in their office, avoiding issues and/or the people . . . in one case, an executive began scheduling himself "out of the office" daily for meetings, but the board eventually found out that he was leaving to "go to the boats" and gamble. Perhaps this in control in the sense that the leader is choosing to avoid, but it certainly does not feel like control to the employees. It's more like avoidance, or abandonment.

When leaders lose trust, they need to admit their mistakes, face the consequences of their actions, and lead their employees to a new plane of transparency, openness, and daily effort to make right what was wrong. Anything less is emotional or cognitive cowardice and not leadership.

 

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Failing the team . . . 0 for 6 . . . and learning about yourself.

 Photo by  Max Winkler  on  Unsplash

Photo by Max Winkler on Unsplash

Failing the team . . . going zero for six! How I lost the game with our rivals . . . and learned valuable lessons about myself.

It was my Junior year. I wasn't, as yet, a starter on my high school's varsity basketball team, but I was the "sixth man," and expected to start playing "some minutes" during games. But I had not experienced anything like this . . . getting put into the game at a critical moment . . . with the game on the line . . . and it wasn't expected . . . not when all the starters were available and ready to play.

We were playing the "River Rats"--at least that's what we called our hated rivals--they called themselves the Bluejays. We were in their gym, "enemy territory," and the atmosphere between the two teams, and their fans, was electric. From the time we entered the gym for warm ups, we heard a lot of derisive comments and taunts from the home crowd. Our fans, having commuted the 30 miles in opposition, responded in-kind. Incidentally, our rivals insisted on calling us the "Ducks" while our mascot was properly called the "Dukes." I guess fair's fair. 

The game was a very close one through the first three-and-a-half quarters. The lead transferring, back and forth between the teams, while the player's effort, in line with the "energy" in the gym, was intense on both ends of the court. I sat, on the bench, absorbed in the action. I had been in the game but only briefly--to give one of the starters a "breather." 

The game was now coming to the critical final minutes. The score was still tight, our team was only a basket behind, but our starters, playing the entire game, seemed to be experiencing some "sag" in their intensity and, in our final time out,  the feeling that this game could easily "slip away" hung in the air.

"Miller, check in!" the coach barked. Caught off guard, but more than ready to join the "battle," I tore off my warmup and went toward the scorer's table as the horn sounded, and play resumed. The official at the scorer's table checked me in, and I sat on the bench at the scorer's table waiting for a "dead ball" when I would be buzzed into the game. Finally, the moment came, the scoreboard operator activated the buzzer,  the official on the floor waved me in, and I headed toward the court . . . then I heard coach calling, stopping me, and he waved me over . . . I changed direction and went to the coach . . . "It's your job to win this thing!" he said. "Now, go in there and do it!" he urged.

"Yikes!" I thought, "He's counting on me to win this game!" 

I moved out onto the floor and took up my position. At the time, we were on defense. "Easy enough," I thought.  Just "dog" my assigned player and make sure he can't get the ball. Play resumed, and the point guard, attempted to set up their offense by coming my way, dribbled toward my position--attack the new guy, fresh off the bench. I "fronted" the forward, my assignment, and preventing the pass to start their offense, the guard reversed the play to the other side of the court . . . leading to an attempted basket away from my side of the court. Job well done. The team boxed out the other players, took the rebound, and took over the ball. Down the court we went toward our basket.

Our offense was designed to have a forward (I was one of two) start the "rotation" by taking the defensive player toward the basket, then popping out, to the wing, to take the first pass on the left or right side of the court. I dutifully took my player toward the baseline, popped out, and received the pass.  As the point guard cut to his left, setting up a screen for the other forward coming toward me at the free throw line, I faked a pass to the middle. The defender bit, hard, on the fake, and I drove, wide open, toward the basket.

As I reached the basket, and leapt to complete the lay-up, the center defender crashed down hard and smashed into me--raking my arm and sending me under the backboard toward the end-line. The referee blew the whistle and the blatant foul was assessed. I had missed the lay up but I was awarded a "one-and-one." Meaning, for those not familiar with basketball, that if you make the first free throw, you would get a second attempt.  Convert both and it is no different than making the initial lay up. I went to the free throw line. My coach's words still ringing in my head. I had missed the easy shot. But getting fouled was a nice consolation. I was good at free throws.  I missed. The attempted shot, powered by too much adrenaline, hit the back of the rim and bounced away. No second free throw and no points. I was 0 for 2.

The next time down the floor was almost a repeat of the earlier play. I popped, received the pass, only this time the defender was not so ready to "over-play" the pass to the forward coming across the lane, and did not bite hard on my fake. I began to drive anyway, quickly gave a head-fake, as if to pull up and shoot. He went for it. Off his feet, I easily continued my drive to the basket and my second lay up. This time the center was helped by the off-side forward. They converged and I felt my arms, once again, raked by hands trying to stop the "easy basket." Again, the whistle blew, and again, a one-and-one was awarded,  as I had once again missed the lay up. I was now 0 for 3. 

Cognizant of the last free throw, I attempted to give this shot a little more touch. The ball arched gracefully toward the basket, hit the front of the rim, hesitated, then dropped, outside the basket. It was short, and I was 0 for 4. The other team rebounded the ball and headed the other way.  Surprisingly, they were no better at capitalizing on our lack of execution, and soon we were back on offense, the game still within reach.

One more time, I dutifully popped out, and once more I received the ball. The defender, aware by this time, I think,  that he was not quick enough to tightly guard a highly motivated "I'm-going-to-win-this-game" fanatic, crouched a couple of steps away and eyed me warily. I faked the drive, then a pass to the middle, and drove with the ball, once again, toward the basket. The defender anticipated this, however, and moved quickly to try and get an angle where I would not have another opportunity at a lay up. Seeing him drop back toward the hoop, I stopped--the player was out of position and it opened up the opportunity for an easy 10-foot jump shot. I barely got it off. The player, in desperation, grabbed at me, causing the shot to go wild, and the referee's whistle to blow. This meant I was now 0 for 5 but giving me, what I thought was, an intentional foul and 2 free throws.

Inexplicably, the referee told me that it was going to be, yet again, a one-and-one. Surprised, and wondering if the player had tripped when he grabbed me, if the referee had just got it wrong, or this was some home court advantage--I took the ball, bounced it three times, relaxed, bent my knees, and shot the ball. I missed . . . again. I was 0 for 6 and far from winning the game I was a significant part of why we lost that game in the final minutes.

I'll spare you the agony of the failure, the critical self-review, as well as other people's attempts to heal my wounded ego. But I will share how this utter, degrading, humiliating failure made me a better player . . . a better leader . . . and perhaps a better person.

I should say, I didn't learn all this that night. The walk to the locker room, the comments by other players, coaches, parents etc, the looooong bus ride home. It was not a night of inspiration or insight. It was a grueling ordeal to be endured. But returning to practice with my team, preparing for the games to follow, competing and once again being trusted to be on the floor during games, even when the outcome was uncertain, I began to learn from that failure.

Through this failure, I learned:

1. Confidence. Really? Yep! It took time but eventually, I realized that what had happened was not entirely a failure.  Before I had failed to perform, my Coach saw me as someone capable of playing both when the game was on the line and with the ability to take over and win a game. As we used to say, he recognized "He has game," meaning ability. My teammates were "sagging" and at least I had "good looks" at the basket. My shots were not necessarily forced or bad decisions. They were not executed successfully however. The following year, my senior season, the Coach implemented two plays for critical moments like the end of a game. Given my earlier failure, the two plays (see below) were counter intuitive, Never-the-less, Coach demonstrated, once again, his confidence in me as a player. 

2. Effort. Varsity players, even starters, could not stop me if I was determined. Only I could stop me. I frankly was surprised at how easy it was to get all 3 of my "open" shots on the basket. The defender simply could not prevent me from getting open. There was a problem however. When I went in for those first two layups and was pummeled by those senior players, I believed that I would not make those shots. After all, I was fouled! No one could be expected to make those baskets. I needed to learn some tenacity and how to complete a shot when I was fouled. I began to take pride in "going up hard" and making those baskets even if the defender "mugged me," making contact with my body, arm, or shooting hand, and seemingly making the lay up impossible.  My playing time increased along with my effort and soon I was playing "significant minutes" regularly and converting those lay ups . . . and the bones free throws if the foul was called.

3. Success is controlling myself. I didn't want to fail like that ever again!  I realized that my mistake was playing "out of control." I was trying to win the game. Me alone. Was my teammate open cutting across the lane? I don't know. I was planning my move to the basket. When the center crashed down on me, where was our center? Perhaps standing, open and unguarded, only a few feet from the basket? Probably. But I was going to make that lay up! I was going to win the game for the team, the coach, and--of course--myself. I played to win and my lack of playing with self-control hurt the team's chances.

4. Expectations are a two-edged sword. Trying too hard can be as bad as not trying . . . but I will never be okay with low expectations. It's a trap. How do I have "lower expectations" and still succeed?  The trick is, making sure the expectations you have are yours and they are reasonable. You control the effort you exert . . . but not the outcomes. Had I made all of my shots in that game would we have won?  Maybe. But I wasn't the only one playing that game. Taking on the projected expectations of others, or putting unrealistic expectations on yourself--the outcomes you hope for--is a recipe for failure.

5. Stay within Yourself. Don't listen to outside pressure.  I took Coach's words too seriously. I should have ignored them.  Afterwards, I realized that I accepted the premise, that it really was my job, and mine alone, to win that game. After all . . . that is the stuff of dreams isn't it? Hadn't I spent countless hours in my driveway, practicing for this exact scenario--taking the "winning shot"--and now I was asked to perform and I was ready to live the glory of winning the game. But the stress of accepting Coach's premise,  and my own expectations, failed me. I should have said to myself, "Right Coach, it's my job to win this game. Not the starters who played 90-95% of this game.  Not the team's job. It's mine." (Hear sarcastic tone of voice) Then, I could have ignored what he had said and just "played ball." I probably would have been more successful.

It was a painful experience but one that taught me a lot about myself and stood me in "good stead" for the future.  The next year, my Senior season, Coach had two standing plays for when the game was on the line. Called by our school colors, Blue and Gold, the plays were essentially the same play--mirror images of one another--one to the right side of the court and the other to the left. Both called for the team to get the ball to me, then the players would clear the floor--to one side or the other, and I would go, one-on-one against my defender. It was a role I learned to cherish.

 

Epilogue: Social scientists have noted that "finding positive attributes in bad experiences--even ones that are painful" is one indicator of resilience in children. I think the same is true of adults and of leaders. Too often, leaders faced with a failure spend their time trying hard to spin the failure into "non-events," finding someone to blame, defensively explaining their motives and avoiding responsibility or simply trying to hide from the repercussions of the experience altogether; rather than facing it, publicly, head on, and learning from it.

Failure is most often a complex situation. Rarely, is it as simple as "someone failed." It's a core belief in our work with leaders that failure often is an opportunity for a leader to learn and to grow  As Mohammad Ali put it, "You don't lose if you get knocked down, you lose if you stay down" and "Real success comes when we rise after we fall."

 

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Mistakes . . . Vulnerability . . . and Developing a Good Product

 Photo by  David Beale  on  Unsplash

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

Attending Practice . . . and Seeing something new!

I was confused. I sat watching a choir practice at my kid's college. As they practiced, I noticed a student raise his hand, the conductor nodded, then he put his hand down . . . in the middle of a song, what? . . . then another raised her hand, and quickly dropped it, then three students in quick succession did the same. This pattern of hands raising and lowering continued, as if I was watching human hands leaping around like popcorn being roasted, throughout the song--a continual violent punctuation of the air as the directer continued, apparently seeing, but mostly ignoring, this phenomenon--to direct the musical piece to its close.

I waited. Ready for the conductor to address this strange phenomenon.  "What is this . . . a prank?" I would hear him say. Or,  "You guys need to focus!  . . . If you have a question, quit raising your hands until the song is complete!" . . . It didn't come.

Now, I was even more confused. It's not like the entire experience was new to me. I have had a fairly extensive background in choir rehearsals.  I grew up on that same college campus and had seen practices--with more than one conductor--many times. I was in choir myself, both in High School and College. But never had I seen this behavior, or anything remotely like it.

They started practicing on a new piece--a fast-paced spiritual--and once again the "pop, pop, popity-pop" of hands began.

Slowly, I realized the connection. Students raised their hands every time they made a mistake!

Like an athlete watching "film" of their performance, here was a live-action critique of how well the chorus was performing this piece.  I watched and, despite my limitations in musical ability, I began to anticipate when and where the next hand or hands would rise.

I asked my son about it after practice. "Oh, he said, that's a way for Dr. R. to know that we are aware of a mistake . . . and so that he can see when particular parts are giving someone troubles, without having to stop the practice every time to correct something."  Voila! Nailed it. I'm not a trained observer for nothing!

Now, I began to reflect . . . This choir was good, no doubt about it.  They receive glowing reports, awards, financial backing, and acclaim and had for several years. I began to wonder about how the climate of "signaling errors" came to be accepted, comfortable, and the norm."  A few things came to mind about the practice as I observed it . . . 

First, mistakes were expected. There was no false sense that someone was doing it right all the time. When you make a mistake, you raise your hand. Not "if" but "when."

Second, identifying mistakes was seen as a process to creating a good product. If you know that you made it mistake then you can fix it. If you don't know, or try to pretend you didn't, you are less likely to fix it.

Third, it made individual members aware of their mistakes and focused on what they needed to improve. Undoubtably, no one wants to keep making the same mistakes, so acknowledging them in this public fashion leads to accountability to improve.

Fourth, it allowed the leader to have a good read on how well, or poorly, the team was performing at each stage.  The conductor was not having to take his focus away from his tasks to try and discover who wasn't getting the music correctly. They kept him informed through signaling the errors.

It was nearing the end of practice. I had become quite used to the hand raising and felt some what comfortable with the "what and why" of this new and odd technique. Then, the conductor made a mistake. He turned two pages, instead of one, and pointed his baton toward a section of the choir, there was a moment of hesitation, but the choir corrected and carried on. The conductor, noting something was wrong, quickly flipped back two pages, then forward one. He was back on track now . . . and he raised his hand. The choir laughed.

Mistakes and Business

When I myself, or when I and another consultant, work on a project, I always save time at the end of each step to do a "post mortem." I want to assess what went well, what was just okay, and what could be improved. These reflections and discussions are invaluable to continuing to grow and increase our value to customers.

I encourage leaders to do the same. Those that can honestly do this critical self-analysis, noting the successes and admitting the mistakes, are much more likely to see growth and improvement in their work teams.

But, it starts with the leader.  Employees will ask themselves, "Is it safe?" and "What does the leader really care about--quality or their ego?" before they themselves will risk being vulnerable.

If you want others to join in making the quality of something great, if you want them to be transparent about their mistakes and improve, if you want them to figuratively raise their hands then you have to lift up yours.

Yes, you can get good quality at times through control, coercion, fear and other factors but only leadership, transparent and honest leadership, will harness the good will, loyalty, and extra effort to truly develop a high functioning team and a top-quality product.

Finally . . .

If you want to be a great employee, increase the probability of advancement, and be a part of a high functioning team. The you also need to display these leadership traits. Yes, you need to assess whether it is safe to do so, but in the end, protecting oneself only leads to a mediocre team and merely delays the inevitable. Poor outcomes and failure.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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Betrayed! The ultimate test of emotional intelligence . . . and character.

 Photo by  Xavier Sotomayor  on  Unsplash

 

It's easier to forgive an enemy than it is to forgive a friend." ~William Blake

 

Everyone feels betrayed . . . eventually.

Yeas ago I saw an article that said 90 percent of men engaged in a particular habit. What caught my eye was the subtitle, which said, "10 percent lie." When it comes to the topic of betrayal in business I am tempted to re-assert the same adage, to wit: 

Ninety percent of people will feel betrayed at work. Ten percent lie. ~Bryan Miller

 

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The type of organization makes betrayal more, or less, of a risk

Where you work may determine if this sense of betrayal is easily managed or not.

For example,  if you work in a big conglomerate or corporate entity, a public or private sector workplace, or the military, you may be able to set it aside philosophically with a rationalization such as "it's only work" or "there is always one jerk" and alter your actions to minimize the impact  on your work-life.

But what if you work in a very small company? Or you work in a small professional practice, non-profit, or family business?  In these cases . . . it's not so easy. (see our posts on Preserving the Family Business or 9 Common Lies Family Business Owners Tell  Themselves.)

Experts have noted that their are certain types of organizations that are prone to present as more "emotional" than the typical corporation--these organizations often have the advantage of sharing stronger bonds (more like Blake's "friends" in the quote above) and are thus at a greater risk of a sense of betrayal. In fact, it is these close bonds--and the implied trust inherent in it--that makes the betrayal an especially dangerous threat.

 

When people feel betrayed, leaders need to step up!

Ever hear the statement that the employees know "where the bodies are buried?" Think about that statement for a moment . . . and about the literalness of that statement. The employees know "who has died (killed?) and that their final resting places are known." Maybe the burial plot is in marketing, or the warehouse, or the "other office."

It's too easy for leaders to ignore times when employees feel betrayed. Sometimes they blame the "victim" --"they take things too personally!" At other times, the threat is dismissed, "You don't have to like the people you work with." But feelings of betrayal will often erupt in conflict at critical moments or eat away like cancer on your organizational body.  Production will drop, employees won't be willing to contribute any more than necessary, negative behaviors increase.

Like it or not, a leader needs to "get into the problem" and help the effected parties come to a resolution. They need to "get over" their own issues with trust . . . and lead. But this often creates a threat to the leader . . . so, often, the leader can revert to "taking control" or they kick this task "down the road" . . . avoiding, for the moment, dealing with the threat of a diagnosable "organizational disease" or perhaps the need for surgery--possibly even amputation..

 

When you are betrayed, your Response reveals your character.

Yep, I get it. You're hurt. Your angry. What has been done is unjust . . . to you. It's patently unfair. It could have easily been avoided if only the other person would have just taken the easiest, and most normal, of actions. The one you would have taken. The one any good and decent person would have taken.

Maybe, it's even true, maybe someone acted, intentionally, in a way that violated a trust with, or allegiance to, you. Or perhaps a fair-minded person would have concluded it was a misunderstanding, poor communication, or the circumstances that was the causal factor. Never-the-less . . . it still feels like a betrayal.

When you are the one betrayed--whether real or perceived--how you respond says more about you than the event itself . . . or the other person.

Yes, there are true betrayals . . . the acts of people who truly have a cancer of the soul . . . but let's face it most of the betrayals that impact people can be, are typically are, seen differently by the two people involved. That is, the common "sense of being betrayed" is different from a empirical fact of being betrayed." Unfortunately, seeing this as something other than a genuine betrayal takes a certain amount of detachment--a detachment that is particularly difficult to find when one is hurt, confused, sad, or angry. Yet, it is the time when it is most needed.

So, don't tell me how rational you are being. How logical. How professional. The truth is, you feel betrayed. No amount of "pollyanna-ishness", sublimation, or denial . . . will eliminate this fact. Often those that are the most "detached, unaffected, or stoic" . . . are the best at hiding this truth from others, and sometimes themselves--but they too feel a deep sense of hurt, anger or resentment. So, the question is, "What are you going to do about it?"

When I was barely in my 30s, I faced this question--"What are you going to do?"--in a very personal and dramatic way. My younger brother, Kirk, was killed in a car-bike accident. Despite it being "no one's fault" the sense of betrayal--on many levels--was real. I won't burden you with the details, but I bring it up to say that when faced with this kind of pain, resentment, anger, etc. you need to make a choice to respond to it and move beyond it. 

Here are few suggestions:

1. Don't over-cook it. We all, at times of betrayal, focus on trying to avoid pain (see "Move through it" below) or wallow in the injustice of it. (My common adage about pain is, "When do you want to quit suffering? Yesterday.")  Of course, it is natural to rerun the events that lead to the sense of betrayal. Our minds are trying to understand and incorporate what happened. But there comes a time when we will make a choice (including the choice to not choose) and often it is too tempting to continue to re-live the sense of injustice. Don't do it. Sometimes, it's driven by the person's sense of guilt or shame in a form of unconscious self-punishment.

2. Move through it.  Yes, you can try to avoid it or go around it but the shortest path, and often the only choice that leads to a good long-term outcome, is to go through the experience of betrayal. What does this mean? It means acknowledging the sense, and the impact, of being betrayed. It means taking the time to sort through the repercussions of the even and finding perspective about the event and deciding how to act based on what actually happened. It means applying emotional intelligence to the other person, yourself, and the situation. This isn't easy. It takes courage and a willingness to feel vulnerable or "at risk" for a while.

3. Create a plan of recovery. Part of acknowledging the sense of betrayal and deciding how to act is to make a plan for how you will recover; It's not anyone else's job and, really, no one else can do it. Now, a plan doesn't necessarily mean "a plan." That is, some will actually draw up, make a list, or schedule activities to help themselves recover. They are the "list-makers" and it works for them--"Good on ya." For the rest of us, creating a plan for recovery means allowing yourselves the time and actions to recover. Adopt some boundaries with others to protect yourself. Do activities that have the possibility of "feeding you" rather than demanding more of you. Lower your standards . . . for a while. Take care of yourself and let yourself recover . . . just like you would if you had major surgery.

4. Get outside. No not "outdoors" (although maybe that helps too!) Get outside yourself. Focus on someone or something else. When you have been betrayed the focus narrows. For a while all the energy is focused on "how could they do this to me?" News flash: You are not the first, nor will you be the last, person betrayed. This initial focus, as we said earlier, is quite normal. But don't get stuck there. Often people begin to recover by focusing on something else; a person or cause where they can focus that energy in a positive way. This begins to remind us that it's "not all about me" and gives us motivation to keep going. To move on you need perspective this can help with that but often it takes time and choice to make this effort.

5. Find support from the right people. It's nice to have indignant friends that "have your back" and will be appropriately miffed at the betrayal. There role is to "make the right sounds" by affirming that you were betrayed, that the other person treated you unjustly, and you have the right to feel what you feel. But, as reassuring as this is . . . It's more important to have well-balanced people who will both support you and, when the time is right, refuse to "jump on the band wagon"--taking sides in an on-going dispute (being "loyal" or an "apologist" for the other party), and carefully helping you to move away from being stuck in your betrayal. It's great if you have that person in your circle of family or friends. If you don't, you may need to use a professional coach, consultant, or counselor.

 

 

 

Bryan Miller is the President of Human Systems Consulting; HSC helps leaders sleep at night and enjoy work again by improving the human-side of organizations. Bryan is the author of Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business and other helpful resources.  Questions or comments? Contact Bryan here.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

 

 

 

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My Coach, and teammate respond . . . after 38 years!

My Coach and Teammate Respond . . . after 38 years!

 An archaeological dig found . . .  these yearbooks from the "glory years."

An archaeological dig found . . .  these yearbooks from the "glory years."

 

I wrote a blog post prompted by my College Basketball Coach being named the Coach of the Year in 2017. The post was mostly about and experience that taught me a lot about what makes good and bad teams.

Well, as it turns out . . .  if you "shoot your mouth off" things happen. Even 38 yeas later.  And, if you are foolish enough to spout off publicly . . . I find it is a good thing to have good memory and a strong grasp of details. "I find" I say, not because I have a good memory and a mind for details . . . no!  I simply can imagine that it would be a good thing. As it is, the are a few additions and a record to correct. Yes, literally, a record.

I hesitated before writing the first blog, for this very reason, because my memory is often mostly about what I experienced and what it "felt like" not necessarily "the cold, hard facts."  So, of course, I did not remember some of the details--mostly after the events I related--and got one data point wrong in the earlier post (it was the record of the senior team. It has been corrected). I know this because I remembered . . . right after my old teammate, let's call him Sam, told me mind you, that the bad team won 5 games not just 3 and that they did beat the 3rd ranked team in the state--which illustrated their potential."

But, this a follow up to share more of the story and tell you about the Coach and Sam.

What I didn't say in the first post is that Coach was tough.  He told it the way he saw it. He was decisive and direct. i remember being in the locker room as a freshman and I was messing around with some equipment, Coach looked up from where he was sitting in his office, stood up, and started coming out where we were. Well, "My Momma didn't raise no dummies!" I knew he was coming to tell me to stop.  So, I stopped . . . and moved away. Not good enough for Coach. He continued coming. He walked up, barked "Miller, come here!." I came. He went on,"If you wouldn't have walked away and acted like you weren't messing with the equipment, I would have just told you to stop. Now, you can come and see me after school."

After school, I spent time doing "Burpies" in his office. It was a good lesson--be authentic. But since I was just convinced that I was penalized for being intuitive (smart) and being able to accurately predict what he was about to do, I really didn't learn the wisdom or that lesson until many years later.

Despite these kind of interactions, Coach's toughness was balanced. Coach also happened to be my Driver's Ed teacher. I took the class during the summer and I have fond memories of driving . . . to go golfing, fishing, and, one time, getting out of the boat to retrieve a treasured lure . . . for which I was rewarded by having my supper bought for me by the Coach. He was tough but fair.

But I digress. this is supposed to be a follow up and about Coach and Sam.

So, my Coach responded. I won't share what he told me but I will say that although I didn't know, or remember, all the details, his story reinforced what I already knew. I also heard from one of my former teammates . . .

So, Sam, an old teammate contacted me after reading the post about Coach. He told me about a moment when Coach influenced his life. He told me he had heard a sermon recently at his church and it prompted him to act--he was, at that very time, writing a letter to Coach to thank him for the influence he had on his life!  This teammate, one of the "good guys" of the older cohort, also missed on on the last two years of Coach in his high school career. But, he told me about an incident that change his view of things . . . He told me that one day he was hanging his head. Coach, asked him "What's wrong?" Sam said, "Coach, I keep messing up and you keep yelling at me." The Coach thought a moment, then said, "Do you see me yelling at "player x" or player y?" Citing two of the players low down on the list of talent on the team. "No." replied the player. "That's because you have potential," he said, "they don't."

Coach did see potential in my teammate. One day, my Dad was waiting for me after a scrimmage between our High School  team and the College team where Neal now was the head coach..  "You see anybody out there you are interested in?" my father queried.  I figured my Dad was "fishing" to find out if Coach had an interest in recruiting me.  "Yep. said Coach," fully aware, I am sure, of what my Dad was driving at, "Sammy," he replied.

 

 

 

HSC is a consulting firm focusing on organizational behavior. HSC publishes materials to help organizational leaders succeed. Check out our products (at Gumroad) or subscribe to our emails and get a free eBook like Engaging Your Team.

 

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Are leaders born or made?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

I remember the summer I came home from camp and my brother was standing in the kitchen, alternately bouncing then "palming" a basketball with each hand. I knew my days of being the "top dog" on the basketball court were numbered . . . he had hit his growth spurt that would make him my "superior" in height and value as a player. Still, it is almost less of a shock to find out that your younger sibling will out grow you than it is to find out that they have acquired wisdom that you don't possess. Such is the case as I work with Keith after his long military career. As we sit down with owners and managers, Keith's practical, operational, and personal focus helps us advise our clients to create effective and well-functioning teams. 

So, I invite you to hear my "little brother" talk about Leadership . . . then get the accumulated wisdom or 21 years of leadership.

As a retired Major in the Air Force, Keith spend 21 years leading professional men and women to accomplish critical tasks as part of his career. But Keith is not your "typical" command-and-control type. Keith's success has come from his genuine heart for people and this concern shows in his leadership style.. So, take a moment to watch our short video and listen to him reflect on whether leaders are born or made. Then check out below his leadership manual Lessons Learned Around the World. You will not regret it.

Are leaders born . . . or are they made?  Major (Ret.) USAF Aubrey Keith Miller talks about what contributes to people becoming leaders in a new video.  http://hsc-university.teachable.com/courses/leaders-born-or-made

Keith also has developed a manual for leaders called Lessons Learned Around the World: People-Centered Leadership that we have used to train managers on how to become person-centered, emotionally intelligent leader. For the cost of a cup of coffee, Keith shares the knowledge of his 21 years of leadership across the globe--challenging leaders to engage in a person-centered style that will make them more effective and minimize the challenging of managing people.

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Special Eary-Bird Opportunity: The first three people to get Lessons Learned Around the World may enter the code word "learn" and take off an extra $2, bringing the price down to only $2.99.

HSC also offers free resources to subscribers like Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people and Family Legacy: Protecting family in the family business. 

 

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Family Business Infographic

Family Business Infographic

Are you a family business owner or family member? Maybe just curious about family firms? Or maybe you work with these complex systems . . . check out our infographic on family firms!

Family Legacy Ebook

Feel free to also get a copy of our eBook: Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business. You can purchase it at Gumroad or get it free when you subscribe to our email list. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time and your email will never be shared.

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Prairie Family Business Association Social

We are members of the Prairie Family Business Association (PFBA) and we are helping to host a Members and Potential Members Social in Omaha on September 7th, 2017 from 4-6 pm. So come check out all that the PFBA offers, meet some other FB owners, and enjoy some refreshments. 

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If you have read the infographic (above) or other information on family businesses you will know why we as a family firm promote and encourage others in the Midwest to check out the PFBA.

You can also check out the PFBA article about . . . Us!

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Have a great week and I hope to meet some of you on September 7th!

Bryan

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My Coach, National Awards, Spoiled Brats . . . and remembering a great team

 

Well, Coach Neal, my college Basketball coach, was named the WBCA NAIA Coach of the Year!  And I'm bitter about it. Why? Because, I only got to play for him for one year . . . in college, where I was a woefully undersized forward at 6'1", and mostly sat on the bench. He was supposed to be my coach for three years in High School, where I was a starter, and where he was the coach until he got "railroaded" by a bunch of . . . well, I won't label them . . . other than to say "immature kids"  . . . and the complicit adults . . . before my sophomore year. Without going into the details, the end result was that the board of education, I think taking the politically safe course, suspended him for a year, to appease the disgruntled and the local college, recognizing a good deal,  promptly offered him their open position. The only redeeming factor, as far as I was concerned, was that this let me play a lot of "noon ball" with him--and even tryout some prospects--but it wasn't quite the same as working one-on-one with this talented leader. 

But this post isn't really about my Coach--or my bitterness. It's to set the stage for what I am about to tell you.  A life lesson that has stuck with me throughout my career as a leader. It's the story about what makes a good team.

You see, after the kids (and their enabling cadre of adults) got rid of Coach, I played with two distinct groups of players. One, a very talented group of athletes that was a terrible team, followed by an average group of athletes that, as a team, excelled. What was the difference?  I'll tell you . . . in  a minute. But first, let me jump forward to the end . . . .

I still can feel the shock. It was my senior year. We had just finished the district final. We had been beaten. Badly. Our "arch-enemies," and the best team in the state, which they proved in the state tournament, had just beaten us for the third time, ending our high school career and launching them, in our place it felt like, to the state tournament. Why in "our place," given they were admittedly the best team in our Class?  Simply, because,we never expected to be beaten. Ever. Why would we feel so confident having been beaten twice before? Because each time we had lost only by a few points and each time we had a starter injured who did not play. Now we were back to full-strength, and at full strength we just didn't lose. But, we just had lost . . . it was inconceivable.  

But, let's go back now to the moment when Coach was suspended . . . .

Playing on a team where the players have just successfully "booted the coach" is interesting to say the least. Once Coach Neal was suspended, my ninth grade coach--a nice man but not a charismatic leader--was promoted. This good man struggled, I think, going into a situation where the "inmates" were really in charge. Oh, he tried to take charge and lead but underlying everything was the feeling that the players could call "mommy and daddy" at any moment and the coach would have to answer for the player's complaints. Not an inviable position to be in as a coach! The result of this, as far as the team's performance, was devastating. The players were good. The team was bad.

A say the players were "good" because they had a lot of potential. Compared to the team that would follow, they had advantages in height, speed, and most of all, in talent. (For example, the average height? Over 6'3" the latter team? Barely 6'0") They were fiercely loyal to each other--but only to each other--and they made sure the other players knew they were to "stay in their place." (There were, to be fair, a couple exceptions to this rule but only one played, so it had minimal effect)  Over the next two years, whenever my play elevated to the point that it threatened their status . . .they "messaged me" with their displeasure.  In a scrimmage, I received a hard elbow to the sternum which laid me out (I didn't know until that moment that you could bruise your sternum!),  I had a player take a swing at me in practice (I dodged it), and had two random fans ask me after one game, "why wouldn't they throw you the ball in the second half?"

I found myself adapting to survive.  So, when my coach rushed across the court after the player took a swing at me and asked, "Did he just try to punch you?" I deferred . . .  "I dunno coach, you'd have to ask him." When fans asked about not getting the ball in the second half, I said "I don't know," --when I had a pretty good idea.

The season, as a reflection of these dynamics, was a disaster. The team only won 5 games. One, proving their elevated talent level, was over the third-ranked team in the state. With enough talent to challenge for a conference title and a trip to the state tournament, it was a complete and utter failure.  Meanwhile, the next team, the "Junior Varsity," was having more success. What would happen when they became the Varsity? Shorter, less talented, less experienced--the prospects were not promising.

So, after the 5-win season,  the ninth-grade-coach-turned-varsity-coach was out, and a new coach was brought in. The coaching change, in my opinion, had little effect. The new coach, certainly came in under a better political climate, but his leadership was not such that it inspired any exponential improvement or motivation. As a change it was simply a replacement, not an upgrade. Besides, the JV had no trouble playing for either coach. 

But, something was different.

Athletes would say this next team was "coachable." With less talent, this team was far inferior "on paper" than the older team. Yet, this team played beyond its potential. This team beat every team they faced except three--two of the three went to state and one being the best team in the class that year. This was the team that played in the district final and were defeated, as told above, by the number one team presenting them from going to the state tournament. 

Two teams. Two different talent levels. Two different outcomes. One grossly underperforming. One excelling.

The difference was  . . . trust.

There was no trust on the older team. Everyone played for themselves. The awareness that the players had ousted the coach, made the coach be timid--who could blame him in a situation that was potentially dangerous. (After stepping down as the coach, he went back to teaching and, I think, coaching the 9th grade team). Underclassmen knew that the older players were more interested in their own status than having a great team. The older players just wanted the starting role and played to their egos, not as a team. One game, a player's shoe came untied, as the other team moved the ball down the court, he ran behind, signaling to the coach that his shoe was untied. The coach shrugged, knowing, I think, that the referees would not allow a time out when the other team was on a "fast break" and about to score an "easy bucket." Not good enough for this player, and frustrated by not being attended to, he violently kicked his shoe off-. . . sending it flying high over the bench where we sat and on to the track behind us. Then, he became "unhinged"  . . . fouling indiscriminately in his anger. Coach let him go. It is the first, and only time, I have seen a player foul out in the first four minutes of a game.

Meanwhile, the JV team didn't care about status. They wanted to win.  They played with whomever the coaches deemed would make them the best team--even when it meant that the center position, occupied by one of their buddies was replaced by an underclassman. No one was concerned about who was "the star" on any given night and, consequentially, different players excelled throughout the season.

Maybe, we learned from the chaos and failure of the older team, we certainly witnessed it and experienced its effects. But I don't think that was it. If it was, we never once talked about it.  This latter group, I believe, just had the idea that being successful was more important. Because we shared that goal, because our behavior aligned with that objective, there was trust.

When the season was over. It was time for the post-season awards.  Some players shared with me their expectation that I would be voted "All Conference.." The facts supported this assumption. I was the high scorer on the second-place team in the district. I appreciated the fact that my fellow players would acknowledge that I should be considered. When the list came out, however, I was not on it. One of my teammates, who was in attendance  said our new coach made a mistake in putting up three candidates for the award which resulted in our votes getting split. Perhaps they were split due to who performed best against each specific coaches team? I don't know. Oh I won't tell you that I wasn't disappointed not to get the award. But, with the hindsight of many years, it really was the most fitting ending to it all. This really was the success of a great team . . . not of a great player.

 

My coach and teammate respond! A follow up post.

 

Get our eBook: Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.  No cost. No obligation.  

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From "Doc" to "Mabe the Babe." 51 years in leadership . . . consistency . . . and change!

 Okay, here's my "sausage fingers" and fist. Imagine two extra knuckles and you'll have the size of my Dad's hands.

Okay, here's my "sausage fingers" and fist. Imagine two extra knuckles and you'll have the size of my Dad's hands.

Trigger warning!  The last time I wrote about my Dad's leadership it "messed up" one of the kids for the morning.  Well, MJM, you've been duly warned!

I've shared in this blog before how my Dad demonstrated the greatest act of leadership I have ever witnessed. He was a "leader personality" (his Meyers Briggs Type was ESTJ) and I've had many people--mostly from the hard sciences side of academia--tell me how consistent and fair he was as an administrator. His consistency left a strong family legacy. Working in one place for 51 years leaves a lot of "data" to evaluate one's leadership.

As I remember  it, it was Bruce, and employee at the college, who told me that my Dad had gotten recruited to run the graduate program at Auburn University--and turning it down. "Dad, is that true?" I asked. "Well, yes," he told me. He had taught some summer courses there evidently and attracted, perhaps, by his pedigree at Peabody (Vanderbilt) and the Ph.D., had asked him to stay on. "But I wanted to work in Christian education," he concluded. "Thanks, Dad!" I said sarcastically, "If you'd have taken that job, I could have had a nice car!" I rejoined. I don't think it bothered him one bit--"buying a nice car for his son" was not high on his list of values and I think he was quite happy with me working to buy my own, which I did, spending the tidy sum of $250..

I think it was Bruce, in the same conversation, who told me that this was also why everyone called my Dad "Doc." "At that time, he was the only one on campus with a Ph.D." he told me. As a kid, I remember the respect--and sometimes maybe a little fear--people in the community had for "Doc." He was an imposing figure at 6'3" in height, "north of 200 lbs." --and those hands! Being a farm boy in the 30s, my Dad regularly cut wood by hand, used mules to haul the logs out of the woods, and make some money. He told me it took 9 cords of wood to buy his class ring. Ugh.

Incidentally, the "Doc" label was picked up by our local dentist whose pity comment I was to hear repeatedly from my Dad once I completed my Ph.D. My Dad, would introduce himself, the thumb saying betwixt us, say, "Between him and me, we're a paradox." But we shared more that our academic accolades.  People comment on my "big square and thick hands"--my family calls me "sausage fingers"--and my hands are large, but . . . my Dad's fist, when matched to mine, extended beyond my hand by two knuckles! Truly massive.

Yes, Doc, with his position, his quick ability to reason, and his physical presence--his ram-rod straight posture was acquired during his college years when we would "rotate back" his shoulders as he walked across campus--all these attributes, demanded respect. In this, Doc was a model of steadfastness and consistency. After he died, we found a list of his goals for the college that he wrote when he first started. At his memorial, the President of the college read the list and commented on how his consistent vision, carried out over 51 years, had "made" the college.

But as family, I experienced far more than those who simply worked for my Dad. All of what made him "Doc" was equally true at home. He was consistent, value-driven, quick in his ability to assess and make decisions.  But that consistency did not mean there was no change in his leadership.

In fact, as part of the "second family." my Mom and Dad had two girls then waited more than a decade to have three boys, my experience was quite different than my older sister's experience. Already, even as I passed through my teenage years into independence, I was witnessing the transition from "Doc" to "Mabe the Babe."

It was a student, who caught me off guard with it, "So, you're the son of 'Mabe the Babe?;" he asked. College students can be so wonderfully, and maddeningly, unaware of their cheeky informality with faculty relations can't they?  "Mabe the Babe?" I reacted, "When did that happen?" I wondered. My son, a student at the school at the time, confirmed it, "Yep, that's what they call him"  What? no more "Doc?" As I became used to the new moniker it became all too clear--students looked upon my Dad as more of a kindly old grandfather figure than the authoritarian, VP of Academics, respected-yet-a-little-scary "Doc" of former years.

Students from the early years of his career tell me stories about how my Doc's toughness (unplugging the electric guitar at 2 am after a complaint to the police) and authenticity (he told me privately that "I was right" even though I knew it was not the college's position) had influenced them.  The younger students talked glowingly about what he and Mom had done for them--about his kindness and gentle spirit. You see, in his latter, post-administration, years the students knew nothing of Doc. They only knew my father as the aging professor and they gave him this new nickname, derived from his unusual first name, Mabrey . . . and from experiencing the kinder-gentler but still respected senior citizen he had become.

It was in a faculty meeting that my Dad once again showed his mettle. The school was facing some financial challenges. Cash flow was an issue. The President was asking for ideas from the faculty and staff on how to make cuts that could help. My Dad rose to the challenge, "Well," he said, "I've been here the longest, I should be the first to go." and with that, at age 85, a long 51-year vision ended with a final act of leadership. In that moment, "Doc" and" Mabe the Babe" were one and the same--actually, they always were.

 

P.S.--I'm seriously thinking about the lessons to be learned from the transition from "Doc" to "the Babe."  I pitched writing a book about the leadership lessons that could be learned--from both good and bad experiences--to my younger brother.  I can imagine gathering stories about "Doc" from my sisters, maybe from former students, faculty and staff, adding pictures, and chronicling the transition over the years.  Will it get written? I have no idea. But I do wish more people could have experienced the strength of Doc and the authentic kind-heartedness of Mabe. He, along with my mother, a picture of a "guileless encourager" formed a great laboratory to see what worked and didn't work in serving a small organization for decades.

My brother, a 21-year veteran of the Air Force has written a leadership manual that encompasses a lot of the people centered style that my Dad tried to follow. It's called Lessons Learned Around the World, and details how Keith learned to implement leadership skills with crews operating the airborne radar and coordinating with the ground forces and/or civilian authorities. If you are interested in developing a people-centered leadership style, I highly recommend the manual.

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