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Employees lie

Photo by  Kristina Flour  on  Unsplash

Employees lie.

How does that statement strike you? Do you respond with, “Yeah, of course!” Do you want to argue that “people are mostly good and wish to be honest?” Do you find yourself wanting to fall back on platitudes like, “Everyone tells white lies?” Do you believe that your context—a family business, church, for-benefit organization—makes your employees different?

As a leader trying to understand employee behavior, the most important question to pay attention to may not be, “Do employee’s lie?” But “Who is it that employee’s lie to?”.

Context

I grew up an a small midwestern town where you knew everyone in town—at least by reputation, even if you didn’t know them personally. If you didn’t know exactly “who they were” all it took to find out was a quick query and you’d soon find out. . A person’s reputation was regarded as paramount in that small town context. In that context, everyone saw others through the lens of “who they are;” meaning, of course, how their reputation had them labelled. From a sociological point of view, this it could be argued, was both helpful and harmful at the same time. But the good and bad of that societal epoch we will not debate here, I simply mention this context to paint for the reader the idea of the community in which I was raised.

Within that microcosm, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family with parents who had integrity. Their private persona was no different than their public one, that as, they were who they appeared to be. The persona the public saw was actually who they were in private.

As a child in my home there was no confusing duplicity by my parents, no behavioral “skeletons” in the home closet, no hidden addictions or unexplainable emotional, cognitive or behavioral anomalies. I was blessed to grew up around people whose behavior, thinking, and emotions were predictable and reliable. Thus, my parents modeled a trust-worthy lifestyle (For example, see my post on the Greatest Act of Leadership) and I grew up trusting people and assuming that others were much the same. In short, I learned to trust too much.

Public school, particularly the washboards (waterboarding?) of “middle school” began to make me aware of the myopathy of this view, that people could be trusted. Fellow students, I noticed, were not always honest, self-critical, or displayed integrity. Amplifying my surprise, I learned that, many times, their parents did little to model better patterns than their children. Still, most of the people I “hung around with” had good models for parents and didn’t display “really bad” behavior. The others, were easily labelled, relegated to the “proper” recitative category, and dismissed. So, some residue of trust remained.

While life continued to educate me in terms of human behavior, It wasn’t until later—probably when I was working on my master’s degree—that I really had to come to grips with the variability in the true “nature” of humanity, good and bad. Or if you don’t like the terms “good” and “bad” perhaps you prefer, “useful” and “dysfunctional.” A step in the process of understanding the full variability of people’s behavior was discovered it in a Tennessee penitentiary.

Interviews with Inmates

As a student, we had to go interview people in many different contexts. One of them was in prison. Our professor gave us a list of questions to ask, in each context, during the interviews. The first question we were required to the prisoners was, “Why are you here?” So, I made the drive through the razor wire, past the towers, and into the interview room, and dutifully asked the question.

“They got the wrong person,” one said. “The judge had it in for my family,” said another. “I got set up,” a third told me. “No one else got sent to prison,” a fourth told me. The pattern was unmistakeable. It clearly wasn’t their own fault that they were in prison!

At first, I felt confused by their answers. “Could this be true?” I asked myself after the first few interviews. Could all these people be in prison for the reasons they state they are in prison? Had I, somehow, drawn a sample that was somehow skewed and not representative of the population in the prison—a population obviously deemed responsible by the judicial system? (Later I found that this pattern occurred across all grad student interviewers, which bolstered my conclusion that this might be descriptive on the population.)

Next, I decided they were lying to me. The excuses and blaming was stretching all bounds of credibility. “It can’t be true that all these inmates are here due to the action of others alone,” I began to think. While some explanations were more plausible than others, most had the characteristics of a thin veneer masking a much more complex surface—and one that certainly held some personable responsibility. “Yep, that’s it, I concluded. They’re lying.”

But . . . .

As I observed their behavior, I also noticed that there were few “tell tale” signs of lying. The eye-contact was steady. Their manner compelling. No flickers of guilt. A ready answer for any possible contest to their preferred story. I began to edit my summary judgement. It wasn’t only that these inmates were lying. They weren’t “simply” lying to me, no, I concluded they were in fact lying to themselves—and believing the lie.

I was not surprised later to find research that said that criminals, compared to other populations in the community, tend to have high levels of self-esteem. They think of themselves as good people—better than most. This belief persists, even when society has deemed that they have done something worth of incarceration.

People labelled “Employees”

Inmates are people of course. So are ones labelled as employees.

This phenomenon, of lying to oneself, is not limited to inmates. Although “criminal minds” may take the “cat-bird’s seat” in the pervasiveness of this self-deceptive trait—it still demonstrably exists in smaller quantities in many others. Some teenagers for example, will blame everyone, except themselves, for the consequences of their decisions and actions. These “oppositional” teens may, or may not, be headed into criminal behavior but the thinking is reminiscent of the mind-set of the inmates and maddeningly resistant to parental “reasoning.”

But it is not limited even to populations we might define as “oppositional.” More normative populations exhibit it but in different ways. What about a individual with low self-worth? Or one with a super-inflated ego? Well, a close examination reveals that they too lie to themselves! Only the outcome is different. The first, blieving that they have little value, are unlikeable, doomed to failure, they act on those beliefs and co-create that self-fulfilled outcome. Giving up on tasks, assuming others know more or could do it better, self-sacrificing to the point of martyrdom. These employees may avoid engaging at work due to their own self-doubt, and thus are not providing their very best to their teams or organizations. While the second, keep the focus on themselves and create an erosive effect on their team.

Here we are not talking about common reasons communication fails (we’ve written about that elsewhere) or problems with the “creating a positive employee culture” but ways that individual employee’s beliefs constrain their ability to become high achievers within a team.

Leadership and Employee Lies

So, what’s to be done? Well, if you are a leader, trying to evaluate your team, ask yourself, “How is this particular employee lying?” and “What does this lie do for them?” Then ask, “How does this lie prevent them from being their very best?” Then begin to find a way to help the employee confront their own lies about themselves and to begin to again, grow and learn.

(Be careful here. Understanding human motivation and behavior is quiet complex. Still, every leader has the need to evaluate employees. The question is, will they do it well or poorly? Evaluations can be a subtle way to blame and shift the focus away from the leader. Thus, our final comments, below, on item 10 in our list of ways employees lie to themselves! If this still doesn’t make sense, check out our post on leadership and facts.)

[Jimmy Carter lacked] . . . the passion to convert himself from a good man into an effective one, to learn how to do the job. Carter often seemed more concerned with taking the correct position than with learning how to turn that position into results. He seethed with frustration when plans were rejected, but felt no compulsion to do better next time.
— James Fallows, The Passionless Presidency, The Atlantic, May, 1979

Okay, here we go . . . Ten lies employees tell themselves . . .

  1. I am well-aware of my own strengths and weaknesses. Few people develop good self-awareness without considerable “work” and an outside viewpoint. Coaching, mentoring, training. Self-awareness should be a continual process. (Have an employee who is not real self-aware? Here are some extra tips for dealing with a Maverick.)

  2. I am not a good/capable/smart/effective employee. Some employees fears stop them from continuing to grow. They hide, avoid, or give up rather than to strive, learn, and grow.

  3. If I fail, I am a bad employee. Some fall trap to a perfectionistic mind-set. Do things right and you will succeed. Fail and you will be a failure. The truth is we all strive to not fail but our failures or mistakes can be some of our best means to improving.

  4. Being open or sharing feelings makes me look weak. While no one respects someone who “over-emotes” and makes work a personal counseling session, that doesn’t mean being cold, distant, and aloof is better.

  5. I am a very valuable employee—more valuable than most. While “confidence” can be a good thing—event if it may be a beneficial myth—if it borders on arrogance or narcism it can be destructive to a team. If it is an unrecognized bid for control then it works to undermine leadership if not addressed.

  6. Playing it safe, avoiding conflict, and taking no personal risks makes me a good employee. Some employees “hide.” By playing the “yes person” and appearing to be a team player they are protecting themselves and not providing their full input into the team.

  7. I am good with people. I am a good listener. Any conflict is due to other’s poor behavior. It is remarkable how some employees, despite conflict or problems consistently “swirling” around them, can maintain the belief that they have good or even superior skills with people. But they do.

  8. I am not good with people. Despite the fact that I have a following. The opposite of the item mentioned above, some employees struggle to see that they have good people skills and may even be an informal leader within their team.

  9. People will “get over it” if I lose me temper or am reactive. Employees whose behavior is unpredictable, impulsive, or reactive often believe it is a virtue. Comments like, “It least everyone knows where I stand” or “I don’t play games” cover up the fact that others accomplish these same outcomes without the behavior that is damaging to the team.

  10. A final lie you should examine—once you’ve finished assessing your employees . . . is this, “What lies am I telling myself?” This may be the most important analysis of all. After all, “I’m the boss, this doesn’t apply to me!” may be the biggest self-deceit of all.

    (P.S. Here is a personal story you might like on teams and trust: My Coach is the Coach of the Year! Trust and Team building.)




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Hydrant Repairs . . . and leadership values

Here is the refurbished hydrant! Ready to water the orchard, blueberries, and garden areas. Pre-repair picture below.

Here is the refurbished hydrant! Ready to water the orchard, blueberries, and garden areas. Pre-repair picture below.

Repairing, not replacing, Yard Hydrants

Repair or Replace? On my “to do” list this summer is fixing a couple of frost-free hydrants. To get technical, one is a Woodford Y34 that is starting to leak and the other a Woodford W34 that tends to freeze in the winter (see below). These two hydrants were put in roughly 15 years ago and only now are we having some minor issues. Interestingly, they are not our oldest hydrants. We have three that were already installed when we bought our property, 18 years ago, and which are at least 5 years older. But, the two hydrants with issues that I am repairing are the most used hydrants on the property and perhaps it is this fact that has led to the issues.

Notice, I said “repairing” and not “replacing.” Why? Why am I attempting to repair and not just replace them? Well, not because of aptitude or confidence, in my ability to fix mechanical things, that’s certain. I have never install— or fixed—a hydrant before and, if you are a regular reader of my blog you’ll know, I am not particularly mechanically inclined. But . . . I am cheap . . . and I don’t like the feeling of paying 3-4 times more than it’s worth to have someone else do the work if I think it is possible that I can accomplish it with a little—hopefully not irrational—faith and a willingness to take on small risks.

So, this kind of “new mechanical test of my adequacy” is, admittedly, threatening to my psyche. Fraught with danger . . . I struggle how to approach these tasks and minimize the nagging anxiety of failure hanging over my head. Do I order lots of extra parts to make sure I have the right ones? Resign myself to making multiple trips back and forth to the store? Try and figure out exactly what I need and order only the parts I think I need? Each of these options are laced with potential for feeling like I have failed. Extra parts? Waste of money. Multiple trips? Berating myself for not being smart enough to analyze the needed parts correctly. Exact order? What if I don’t have the right parts and have to delay the repair. Each feels like a failure, looming, like the foreboding outline of a turkey vulture, just waiting for death.

Yes, I know this is part of my irrational expectations for myself—is it too much to ask to just succeed, each, and every time . . . without too much trouble? An irrational product of a brain conditioning over time to fear even minor set backs. My healthier “mind” knows that even people who have good mechanical aptitude may have these issues and even do these same things . . . they just don’t appear to define it as proof of their ineptitude the way my brain does.

But this post is not about repairing my irrational thoughts and beliefs, but about how repairs reveal a leader’s values. (BTW, If you have the same unrelenting standards for yourself, like I do, you might want to do yourself a favor and read what I learned watching a choir make mistakes).



Here is the Woodford parts bag for the repair.

Here is the Woodford parts bag for the repair.

Choices Revealing Values

Lucky for me, that You Tube exists today! You Tube is often my source, or security blanket, for mechanical courage. So, one of my confidence boosting activities, is to watch videos, often times several, of repairs that I am attempting. Seeing the repairs made on the videos makes if much more possible for me to step over the threshold of fear and get started on my own challenges.

But repairing the hydrants reveals something about me and my values . . . here are some of them and, as it relates to leadership, I want to focus on the last one—wanting something that is common.

  1. Yes, I’m cheap. I don’t like “wasting money” that doesn’t have to be spent. So, I am inclined to repair things if possible unless there is a clear advantage to replacement. I know not every one shares this value. Some want “new.” Fine, but I”ll take value, old or new, over “shiny” and “trendy.” Personal preference or value.

  2. I prefer good quality over “new” and often trust that older items have escaped some of the present cheapening of manufacturing that does not make new parts, especially on the cheap end, better than old ones.

  3. I like learning and becoming more mechanically competent . . . even if I’m afraid of “failing.”

  4. I derive a strong sense of success seeing the results of overcoming my fears and items in good working order.

  5. I want a popular quality name brand. I don’t want something that is unique, hard to find, an outlier. This is not true in other areas of my life. I like something different, unique, unusual. But not when it comes to hydrants. I want easy to find parts, An item that won’t be hard to repair or replace. There will be on-line advice on how to operate, fix, or replace. (Seven different You Tube videos so I can find one with the right tools, procedures, etc. that make it “doable”) These are the things I value. So, I have Woodford hydrants—one of the oldest and leading manufacturers of hydrants.. (If I was installing hydrants in a place like Mata Mata, New Zealand, better known as Hobbiton, I wouldn’t want Woodford. But then again, I’d probably be hiring someone else to manufacture and install them!)




Imagine my Woodford hydrant here? It would definitely look modern, out-of-place, and would spoil the magic.

Imagine my Woodford hydrant here? It would definitely look modern, out-of-place, and would spoil the magic.

Values and Leading

Recently, someone was telling a business owner about how we help repair human systems in organizations. He struggled to explain to her how we use intensive interviews, focus groups, executive reports, action plans, on-going consulting and coaching . . . to help leaders, teams and employees. Her response? “Why don’t they just fire them?” He retorted, “Sometimes you have an employee so valuable that you want to give them a chance to succeed.”

Now, any of us who have managed large groups of employees know that, regrettably, there are many times where firing someone is the solution that is needed. For me that demarcation line of an employee being “workable” or “not workable” is tied to things like integrity, safety, and honesty. An extreme example will make the point; for most leaders, in most situations, an employee who threatened other employees would be a cause for termination. Stealing, falsification, absences without leave . . . there are plenty of examples. But, most situations, involving people are not this clear.

So, I don’t want to be too hard on this owner. I don’t know what he was thinking . . . maybe it was about a situation most would consider a fire-able offense . . . or what situations he has encountered where repairs were made or were successful.. But I would propose that there are times, many times, when replacement is just not the best option. Let’s consider these from a view point of general principles.

  1. You know that the overall product is good and of high quality. It just needs some upkeep or repair and it will work well for many more years. The cost, in this case, of replacement often exceeds the repair. In business terms, terminating an employee, advertising and recruiting, hiring, on-boarding . . . there are a lot of potential costs to turnover that must be accounted for in the decision. In human terms, what impact does firing someone have on the culture, the motivation, and production of the other employees. For every action there are reactions—positive and negative—that should be considered. There also may be the value of being fair, forgiving, loyal, or other values that make a leader want to factor in past years of good performance.

  2. Replacing sometimes leaves you with an inferior product. Sometimes you just can’t get a good quality replacement or the cost to get the same quality “part” is too high. What do you lose when the experienced employee leaves? What if you can’t get a quality replacement? I recall the impact on an organization who fired a Child Psychiatrist in a rural setting. It was very difficult to find someone to relocate under the circumstances. The organization would up paying for a locum tenens Psychiatrist out of Boston for an extensive period—I’m sure that did not help the bottom line. Similarly, I run a 1948 Ford 8N tractor to do a lot of my shredding/mowing partly because the cost to replace it would be very high.

  3. Replacing a part when the new part undermines the entire system. There is an ancient phrase, “You can’t put a new patch on an old wineskin.” At times a new part is “too much” for the old system. Often organizations bring in a new leader because of problems but if nothing has been done to deal with the underlying issues, these new leaders often either fail to make significant process or are “run off” Then the organization or team is often labelled as “toxic” and failure becomes an expected “explanatory fiction” of the “way it is” making transformative change extremely unlikely.

  4. Replacing a part when it’s role is more than just it’s functional value. I mentioned the Ford 8N tractor earlier. The truth is, it is more than just a tool. It is my father-in-law’s tractor, passed down to his daughter, and an item around which many family memories have been made and core family values have been reinforced. That farm-born independence, hard-working, care for your equipment, cherished memories of past accomplishments . . . Maybe, someday, this tractor will pass out of our family’s ownership, but I don’t see it happening for the next generation or two for sure.

As a leader, conveying a belief that 1. your employees at their core possess good qualities, 2. that replacing them will not automatically lead to a better product, 3. that the system will react tot the seismic shift as an employee leaves, and 4. that employees and their relationships within the organization are not just a transactional exchange of function and remuneration can go along way to creating a valued culture where high performance can be built. It is not the “be all or end all” but it’s a good start.

Repair or replace? What ever you as a leader decide it will express your values and may define how you are perceived as a leader. Keeping a defective hydrant is frustrating, and discouraging to those interacting with it, and it may lead to more damage of the system. It needs to be replaced. But sometimes, really understanding the problem, taking it apart, and replacing the deteriorated bushing, refreshing the old hardened rubber with new, and a little paint gives you something more valuable, and less costly, that buying new.

Here’s my close up before the repair . . . so I can remember how the handle linkage goes together!

Here’s my close up before the repair . . . so I can remember how the handle linkage goes together!

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5 Reasons Communication Fails

Photo by  Cayla1  on  Unsplash

Photo by Cayla1 on Unsplash

I sat at my kitchen table. where I was eating breakfast, staring, dumbfounded, at the woman, whom I did not know, who had just burst into the house. She saw me, and demanded, “What are you doing here?” “I live here, it’s my house.” I stammered, vexed at her demanding tone, and surprised by her brashness. Afterwards, as she stomped out, I knew she had “heard my words,” but really wasn’t listening and certainly didn’t get the point.

What is the problem?

  • Parents know that if they can get their kids to listen they can provide valuable guidance.

  • Teacher’s know that if students listen they will learn, grow, and be inspired.

  • Doctor’s know that if patient’s listen their health can be improved.

It’s obvious, the problem, often, is getting people to listen. Isn’t it? So, based on this belief, parents spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get kids to hear what they say; teachers continually train, and plan, and work to help kids learn; and Doctor’s worry about compliance with their recommendations and helping patients heed their advice. Yes, getting others to listen is a problem . . . but often it it’s not the right focus and certainly it’s not just for kids, students, and patients!

Yes, getting others to listen is a problem, but . . . and here is a big but . . . it’s the good listeners (parents, teachers, and doctor’s) who have the most influence on those they are trying to “get to listen.”

Too often, Communication is handicapped, not by the intentions or efforts of the listener—as if patient's want to have bad health, students want to remain ignorant, or kids want to make bad life choices—but because of a basic human error of “attribution.” In other words, the “expert”—parent, teacher, doctor—assumes that they are independent from the problem, and therefore, the problem must be the other person. Those doggone “others” are, it is assumed, just not properly motivated—they are willful, distracted, resistant. But, in reality, the experts tell us that people are always motivated . . . by something . . . it may be to avoid conflict, feel less stress, get attention, have less work and more fun . . . or something else that impedes their performance. Yet, even when people say they trying to listen and understand, rarely, are they “simply” motivated to really listen.

Listening, often shows up in lists as a critical skill for those trying to influence others but rarely is it a skill that’s value is demonstrated by tenacious practice or active training of this particular skill. But, then again, remember, most of us think we possess this skill and the speaker may not be anymore aware of their lack of motivated listening than the person they are trying to help. The truth is, communication is harder than people think it is and they are often unaware that the real problem is their own poor listening and communication skills.

An Example

As I said, in my three decades of working with people, I find that secretly, most people—no, not all, but most—believe that they are at least adequate or even good listeners and thus have few communication problems. But the reality just does not bear this out. Give someone a random sequence of data, say numbers to keep it simple, and ask them to repeat them . . . “59387274” . . . most people will struggle. It’s not a memory thing. It’s attention, emotion, and a lack of skill. Give them a “grocery list” of 18 items, with one repeated 3 times, and 60% and 75%, respectively, will remember the first and last item; 80% will remember the item repeated three times; almost no one gets the whole list correct; and, interestingly, a full 20% will include a common grocery item (like bread) that wasn’t on the list at all!

Now ask these same listeners to listen to and remember (track) complex information . . . in an emotionally charged environment . . . and their performance will drop even more precipitously. Oh, they’ll may the major point(s). But they’ll miss significant information related to the context of the conversations and the more subtle details that make the difference between “hearing” and “understanding.” Without that high level of understanding, their strategies to get others to listen and influence them are more likely to fail.

By contrast, if you run into an exceptional listener, you may not overtly label that expertise, but you will know it . . . because you leave conversations feeling really heard and understood. You may even find yourself starting to soften toward their views when expressed. Not a common experience.

So, why don’t we listen better? Why does communication often break down? Here are five common reasons.

5 Reasons Communications Fail

1. We don’t value listening. To be honest, few people are there to really listen they are to tell. "Waiting your turn to speak." Listening is work. Telling is, often, easy and many times fun. Listening requires effort and may cause us to reconsider our position. Listening can lead to genuine conflict, recognizing we have differences with the speaker where telling may gloss over those divisions. However, telling often leads to conflict over “surface issues” instead of real divisions. Listening promotes griping and dissatisfaction.

2. We are impatient or assume listening is a simple process. “I heard you,” we often state, at the very moment the other person is not feeling heard. We don’t recognize the miscommunication when constructs are not defined and assumptions about the meaning of words (think “hose”) are made.

3. Our minds are already made up and our attitudes stink. “I don’t need to listen. I already know what they are going to say.” Ever hear that one? How condescending that must feel to people whose future thoughts and verbalizations are redacted to simple characters as if they cannot have independent or unique thoughts or change their opinions. Nonverbals often signal true intent—and it is often not a “posture of wanting to hear.”

4. We just don’t get it. The people with the highest need for improvement—the poorest communicators—often are the least aware that they need new skills. Often they have a general lack of emotional intelligence. For example, one morning I was sitting at my kitchen table eating breakfast. A woman, whom I did not know, burst into the house, saw me, and demanded, “What are you doing here?” (I must pause to say we lived in a very small community, so knocking and entering among friends is not uncommon.) “I live here, it’s my house.” I replied, vexed at her demanding tone. “Where are Jim and Elna?” she demanded. “We bought the house from them, six months ago, and they moved across town.” I stated, feeling a rising irritation over her brazen attitude. “Why did they do that?” She quiried. “I guess you’d have to ask them.” I pointed out. “Humpf” she snorted, turned, and walked out. There was no apparent embarrassment at having burst into my home or interrupting my breakfast. No awareness that cross-examining me about my presence in my own home may have been “over the top.” No apology for her mistake. Nothing. Just verbal demands and then, a swift exit. I found out later that I had just “met” a woman who was infamous in our town for her poor social behavior. Not surprised. It’s the same principle as “you only need fences with bad neighbors who, likely, don’t think you need fences” in other words, good neighbors respect your property for the others, you need fences.

5. There is no focus on skill building. If I “played around” every day on my piano would I become a skilled piano player? No, I would not. Maybe someone with a true musical “gift” could learn this way but an average person would gain some skill . . . but never become a master. Because people “dabble” everyday with communication many come to believe they have expertise. Repetitive misunderstandings, conflict, communication failures of various types does nothing to challenge this fallacy. To master a critical skill, be must engage in intentional and focused practice not just “play around.” Few—outside those whose training, education, or interest in communication—have undertaken this challenge.

Organizational Learning

One of the most fun activities we do as consultants—and what our client’s have identified as the highest impact exercises we do with teams—is to have the workteams attempt to complete a task or game that relies almost entirely on communication. One example is having the team deactivate a live “bomb” where a team member is the only one who can see and manipulate the bomb while other team members can only access the manual that explains how defuse the armament. The only way to succeed constantly at this task is to communicate well. The team quickly becomes aware of the difficulty of communication and how their conditioned behaviors—even if well intentioned—can cause the team to fail. With each round, we tease out the assumptions, defenses, and behaviors that impede the team’s performance—including team members who are not actively participating in the solutions.

This process of game-playing, typically creates a “low-threat” environment, The perception that “it’s just a game,” can lower apprehensions about engaging as a team (in front of peers and often with the bosses in the room) and this then sets the team up to talk about their real strengths and also the growth areas they need to focus on as a team. Peers often identify strengths in other team members. Individuals, themselves also self-identify their own strengths and often even publicly state their own need for growth in a particular area.

The critical factor here though is not “raising awareness” or even “teaching” it is having the teams experience and practice the skills. Afterwards, they will need continued repetitions of practicing the skills to make this a habit leading to reliable and sustainable success . . . but it is incredibly fun to be there as it begins and to promote this skill development as they begin to experience deeper listening and better communication.

Enjoy this? Let us know it helps us target content to what you want. If you liked this you might want to check out our post on the proper relationship of mistakes and learning.

P.S. — Do we use “P.S.” anymore? Two things. One, if you have questions about how to help your team feel free to contact us. Two, if you are a professional “people person” and want to learn about using games in training, we occasionally do free trainings on our process. Let us know if you are interested.

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I'm a fanatic . . . about culture . . . but it better be real!

Yep, I could be  that guy!  I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by  Martin Reisch  on  Unsplash

Yep, I could be that guy! I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by Martin Reisch on Unsplash

I admit it. I’m a fanatic. No not a ranting, in your face, zealot. I’m from the midwest after all. Our zeal is a little more tempered. Stoic. Nice. That reminds me, our state once thought the best tourism tag line for our state was to promote this . . . “Nebraska, nice.” Ugh. Doubt it helped much. Anyway, back to me, the fanatic. I bear all the hallmarks of being a “true believer,” I have the gear, I study carefully everything about my passion, I’m drawn to others who share a similar love for the object of my obsession, I’ve done it all . . . except the tattoo. But then again, I’m from a different generation and, again, midwestern.

So, what is it that I am fanatical about? Well . . ., before I tell you and some of you sign off—concluding that your passion is not mine, and thus irrelevant—let me say, this post is not about the object of my fan-dom (fan-dumb?) but about the power of culture You see, the entity upon which my interest is focus is, right now, not worthy of such devotion. Ouch. It hurts to even admit that, I’m such a homer when it comes to college football.

The truth is the truth however and it is undeniable that my beloved team—the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, or “the Huskers” for short—has been awful. Last year? 4-8. The year before? 4-8. Dismal. Yet, this team has a top 15 recruiting class this year. They have been projected to finish in the top 20 by a number of prognosticians. Enthusiasm is high among the fans. Hope is abundant. What gives? Well a change in leadership but perhaps even more importantly the establishment of a new culture.

You can feel it. In the way the players talk, in the way they play, in their belief in the team and coaches and their willingness to voluntarily commit their discretionary effort to the team’s goals. Just watch their body language. A few years ago, under a different coaching regime . . . we won’t name names, I saw players on the side lines with their heads down, looking away or even pushing past . . . and thus avoiding . . . coaches who were trying to talk to them. It was not surprising when, over time, they began to look like they weren’t united in trying to win and the results began to mirror that disconnect. My observations were confirmed when a friend, and former division I quarterback, made the same observation, “You can tell they don’t want to play for this coach,” he said, “Just look at how they act when they come off the field.” Finally, someone close to the program also stated it. “They lost faith in the coach.”

So what has given this new culture its legs? Not success . . . not yet. Unless it’s the reputation of past success which these leaders have or the progress being made. But, success in the present? No. The team started out 0-6. The first time in the history of the program. Amazingly, the team continued to fight. They appeared to improve over the course of the season. They fought no matter what the circumstances and even looked better when they lost. It was clear that they “had each other’s back” and the team was, in fact, a Team. Having played both for teams that were not united or had a successful culture as well as teams that were very high functioning (including a national coach of the year) here are a few observations (from an outsider’s view) of what has made this work.

  1. The leaders have a deep understanding of—and deep connection with —the broader context of the program and how to utilize the context to promote success. The Coach grew up in Nebraska. Population 1,325. The “Walk On Program” here at Nebraska—the recruiting of local kids—is at least as important as the getting the “blue-chippers”—highly ranked recruits— in the context of Nebraska football. He gets this. He praises the fans and the culture as being “like no other” and highlights its strengths—joking about how “blue-chippers” think they’ll see a football stadium in the “middle of a corn field.” Early cohorts talked about valuing the walk on program but in practice . . . they didn’t get it.

  2. The leaders demonstrate a commitment to one thing—success. I hear statements like, “We are going to be good.” or “ We’ll see if he can contribute.” Even doubts, “Some may not be with the program” It’s clear that the goal is the focus and they believe reaching for that goal will help everyone who buys in. You could call it the “while no one is an ‘expendable crewman’ . . . some are more expendable than others.” But the message is clear. This is about being successful as a team. You can “get on board” or not but it is the single clear focus of the program.

  3. Hard work is the route to success. How do you go from 4-8 two years in a row to the 13th ranked recruiting class? Hard work. Weight training. Husker Power. Strength Coach Zach Duvall. The coaches have not shied away from saying that players were not where they needed to be. In fact after the final game to our Iowa neighbors, the coach said it hurt to see that they were bigger and stronger than we were. How’s that for honest clarity? Yes, the coaches are careful to allow that there are many paths to success (that other coaches may have tried) and that previous coaches may have had a different focus and emphasis, but it’s clear that the team did not meet their criteria for strength, speed, and commitment. It’s also clear that anyone wanting to be a part will dedicate themselves to these attributes.

  4. Finally, over everything else, the emphasis is on people. The clear message—and one that resonates as not just being "coach-speak”—is that this is about the players. Helping them become better men. Developing their potential. Becoming a close-knit group and having fun together. Yes, fun. In fused in everything is this belief that hard work, dedication, team chemistry, and success is fun and worth the effort. The mission is not just winning on the field it’s being successful as a person.

In Coach Frost’s own words . . .

As I was writing this blog, an Omaha World Herald article by Sam McKewon came out where Coach Frost talked about the importance of culture. Here’s part of what Frost was quoted as saying . . . “Culture eats scheme for breakfast . . . I can put the guys in the best scheme, the best offensive plays, the best defensive plays we can come up with. But at the end of the day, if we don’t have . . . people holding each other accountable, and we don’t have our team making smart decisions and grinding and working hard, [i.e.; the right culture] I’m not sure the best scheme in the world matters.”

Frost boils it down to two factors, 1. players making decisions in the best interests of their teammates, and 2. a desire to excel and no fear of failure.

Will this, ultimately, lead to the success the coaches want? If we’re talking wins . . . it’s unknown. In fact, due to the variables at play in such an endeavor it could be argued that their is no way to determine what causal factors lead to success on the field. Fair enough. But if you just look at the players behavior, other on and off the field, you can already see a clear and vital difference. It’s clear that this focus on culture has brought a new energy, a willingness to commit voluntary effort to succeeding, and cleared aways a number of hurdles that were detrimental to success. A strong culture, at the very least, increases the likelihood that success is possible—in athletics and in business.

P.S. I was told by someone who worked with transportation for recent Husker teams would leave the bus “trashed” when they got done with a trip. Not anymore. The Coaches, from the first, made players clean up after themselves and appreciate the service they were being given. Coaches talk about representing the state, university, and each other. The message is clear—even in this minor detail, “We will treat people, including ourselves, with respect.” Sometimes it starts that small to build a great culture.

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The Slippery Slope of Facts . . . as we are Conditioned to Know Them . . .

Beware of the facts! Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Beware of the facts! Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Slippery Slope

Circa 1975. I was starting high school (Yes, I’m that old!), and with a particular interest in all things science, I looked forward to delving further into physical science, chemistry, and biology. I was intrigued by the things I had already learned about the world and how science could help us understand the world. Little did I know that the facts I learned then . . . would change! To wit:

  • The electron “is the smallest particle in the universe.”

  • We are facing a new ice age.

  • We only have 50 years left of fossil fuel.

  • We will be unable to feed the world population by the year 2000.

Today, science tells us . . .

  • Quarks are smaller than electrons.

  • We need to be worried about global warming . . . no, . . . wait, . . . climate change.

  • We still are going to run out of fossil fuel . . . and besides it is destroying the Ozone.

  • Water is going to become a major crisis for the world.

I’m not here to dispute or challenge the scientific dogma, old or new, or the merits of each of these theories, I just note it to say, “the facts have changed!” Some would argue, correctly I believe, that this change is exactly what science is supposed to do! Change as new knowledge and better models are discovered. I agree. But others would see a more sinister pushing of agendas that might have other motives. Perhaps this too is true.

In either case, it illustrates that far too often theories are confounded with proven facts. My teachers, in 1975, made this error. Presumably they had been taught that scientific theories and data are only consistent with projections and are not, in and of themselves, facts . . . but that is not how it was presented. It was presented as a scientific certainty. It proved not to be true and it is still happening today.

Blame it on lazy thinking, poor educational systems, a lack of higher education . . . what ever you will, but again I am not hear to debate those theories but to talk about the slippery slope of facts as it relates to business.

Businesses, Organizations and Facts

One of the greatest challenges to helping businesses and organizations change is what “they already know.” Einstein encased the problem of “knowing” succinctly in his oft quoted adage, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” When working with leaders one of the tell-tale signs of whether an “outside consultant” can help is if they are willing to have what is known challenged and if they are actively looking for new ways to approach the problems. If not, they are doomed to repeat the cycle that produced and sustain the problem.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? The problem is, most leaders think they are open to questioning the facts as they know them—and I think they honestly believe they are. However, too often, years of conditioned responses makes them resistant to change.

The Power of Conditioning

To illustrate the power of the conditioning, I will at times, after meeting with them for some period of time, raise my hand and extend it toward the leader. Instinctively, they will raise their hand to meet mine. Then I ask them why they did that . . . “well, you wanted to shake hands,” they reply. “Did I? Did you?” I set this up after we have talked a while specifically because a handshake is not expected at that time. We didn’t just meet and it’s not time for the social practice of shaking hands, but the leader didn’t consider if some other response would be better—other than a passing thought of confusion— or if the gesture could be something other than an expectation of a hand shake; they are just responding to years and years of conditioning.

Leader’s lead in ways they have been conditioned to lead. Do the facts lead them to exert control? To lead by being inclusive? To work for warm relations and a collegial approach to team building. Why? Too often, they really can’t explain their approach because, like the handshake, it is an unconscious and conditioned response.

But it works! Until it doesn’t.

I’m not really being critical of leaders. We all operate on conditioned responses. it’s what makes the world operate smoothly. My mind is not cluttered up with analyzing each and every “handshake” to determine what to do. I don’t have to think when the brake lights come on ahead of me, my foot automatically moves to the brake pedal.

Leaders are elevated to their positions because their conditioned responses are affective. An impulse to shake hands when one is extended to you is a social “grace” that eases the awkward meeting of two people. But, ever know someone who keeps wanting to shake hands? I did.

One school I attended had a student I’ll call Gary. Gary had a habit of shaking your hand, then repeatedly reaching out again, through the conversation, to shake your hand again. Alternately, he would simply continue to grasp your hand and not let go. Talk about awkward. What do you do? Many people, myself included, tried passive ways to try and extricate our hand, or avoid the multiple handshakes. Some, I have no doubt, avoided Gary. I’ll admit, I at times, wanted to as well. Those additional handshakes when unwarranted, creates an awkward barrier to further relationship building.

I personally was stuck by the “facts” as I knew them. One, people interacting with Gary had certainly “indicated” — with their behavior and words — that this handshaking behavior was unusual and an unwanted behavior. I had personally witnessed another student respond with “Let go of my hand! What’s wrong with you?” Two, Gary probably did not need anyone else making him feel like he was a “problem” and “unliked” and that “knowledge” had not stopped the behavior. Three, I wanted to be a good person and treat people, even if their behavior made me feel uncomfortable, in a respectful way. Accommodating Gary’s strange behavior did no harm and actually was helpful. Right? The facts, as I viewed them, led me to be passively engaged with Gary and ignore what was really happening . . . that Gary’s behavior made me, and many other’s uncomfortable, and to “be kind” — pretending I was not uncomfortable and not talking directly to Gary about these facts with kindness and the real respect he was due.

The solution came in the form of an older, and wiser, man — a school professor. A man whose interaction with Gary I got to witness. After shaking the professor’s hand, Gary, predictably, extended his hand, again, to the professor. “Why do you want to shake my hand again?” the professor asked. His voice was quiet. His tone warm and sympathetic. I had no doubt that if Gary had suddenly come up with an honest and insightful answer—”I’ve never felt like people like me and shaking hands make me feel accepted” or “I’m sorry I have a compulsion and it sometimes gets the best of me” — the professor would have been willing to shake his hand a second time. Unfortunately, Gary looked uncomfortable. He stammered out an answer or excuse, and shuffled away.

Afterward, I notice that Gary’s handwringing exercise diminished. Had he considered what the professor had asked? Had he learned something about himself and the conditioned responses he had learned? I don’t know. I do know the problem was largely resolved.

The professor, in my view, was the one person I witnessed who had the courage to be both kind and honest. He was not thinking about how Gary would view him or how it might affect how others would view him as a professor. He did what was in Gary’s best interest, period.

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P.S. Ironically — isn’t life funny? — the day before I finished this post, I had another “handshaking” incident. a young man I know and admire, but who suffers from a significantly anxious temperament, was bidding me goodbye. In that process, over 5-10 minutes, he extended his hand at least three times. Caught off guard, I shook it each time. Now, the challenge is, “Do I talk to him about it?” Chances are the answer will be, “Yes!”

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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 surprised, 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 their 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—and disadvantaging his team.

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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