• News post

    Leader as Coach

    1 March 2017

    When I was in the eighth grade, my father encouraged me to go out for basketball. While I admittedly had zero natural athletic ability, I was willing to give the sport a try. I’m so glad that I did.

    In addition to having fun and learning the love of physical fitness and team spirit, some of my most important leadership lessons originated from this competitive team sport. The principles of coaching in athletics are closely correlated with leadership in the workplace.

    As with any corporate team, an athletic team must adhere to the coach’s discipline associated with mastery of basic skills. Athletic teams adopt the coach’s game plan by executing brilliant plays necessary to win the game. Teams in the workplace follow the leader’s game plan by accomplishing goals and strategies required to realize organizational mission and vision.

    Victories for coaches are typically measured by the win-loss column. For corporate leaders, the victories are measured by profitability, value and stakeholder engagement. In reality, coaches and leaders understand that victories transcend numerical measures of success. Victory to a  leader as coach is also measured by teaching important life lessons such as learning from mistakes so that continuous improvement is pursued for self and for team; accepting disappointment with grace; winning with humility; learning to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable as we accept stretch assignments that we’ve never before attempted; learning that the team accomplishes more together than could ever be achieved by one extraordinary performer; and, learning the importance of teaching those who follow us the same leadership lessons that we learned from those who came before us.

    Great coaches like great leaders provide constructive feedback when things don’t go according to plan. They also provide ample praise when excellent results are achieved. I shall never forget the day that as a ninth grader, I heard Coach Kea say, “Smith, that jump shot looks pretty good.” Those simple words of encouragement were all that I needed to set me on fire to work harder and to achieve more. The same is true in the corporate setting as employees are starving to hear the words “Well done. Thank you.” from those to whom they report. It is regrettable that some leaders believe that praise is soft. Recognition is not soft at all. It’s absolutely strategic.

    Outstanding coaches and leaders “own” the game plan and the ultimate outcome. There is simply no room for the blame game in greatness. Revered coaches and leaders don’t offer excuses about poor officiating, competitive interventions or extenuating circumstances. The team always gets the credit when things go well. The coach and leader should always accept responsibility when things don’t go according to plan. Period. End of story.

    As you think about your own leadership responsibilities, please know that the lessons you teach your team today are the same lessons your team members will pass along to those who follow them. I hope you pay it forward when they say, “Put me in, Coach!”

    Originally published on March 1, 2017 in Smart Business.

  • News post

    Slow Down or Speed Up. What’s a Leader to do?

    3 January 2017

    In an era in which profit margins can be thin and shareholder expectations are high, C Suite executives are challenged to achieve greater results within shorter spans of time and with fewer resources. The bar is set high to do more with less.

    Achieving more with less requires adept change management skills as leaders seek to meet and exceed expectations. Run faster. Push harder. Achieve more. Do it now.

    A few weeks ago I was chatting with a colleague who expressed frustration that her new boss was making changes without seeking staff input. Her co-workers were uniting, not to accept the advocated change, but rather to forge a common bond of opposition to the boss’s agenda. Not good.

    This story reminded me of a time when as a leader, I painfully learned the importance of slowing down before you can speed up.

    I had been named to a senior leadership role within a multibillion dollar organization and was recruited to implement strategies for aggressive growth. With fresh eyes, I could see changes that were required to accomplish the desired advances. This was textbook. Complete the project plans. Done. Define implementation plans. Check.  Execute the plans. In process. Deliver. Oops! Not so fast.

    Everything was going according to plan with one minor exception. The tenured employees were perfectly content with the way things were. They weren’t interested in having some newbie, regardless of title, telling them that the way they were was not good enough. So what happened? They stalled, and so also did the plan.

    It was suggested that I needed to slow down and get to know the staff. Slow down? You’ve got to be kidding. As a Type A, the thought of slowing down did not sound like a viable option. It was at this juncture that I learned one of the most important leadership lessons of my professional life. To be successful, I had to slow down purposefully and build relationships of trust before I could speed up and lead necessary change in short order.

    What else did I learn from this experience that is applicable to today’s leaders? I learned the importance of asking for feedback from staff. I made it my standard operating procedure to pose three powerful questions to direct reports as well as to front line staff.

    1. If we could change just one thing to make life better for our customers, what should we change?
    2. If we could change just one thing to make your work life better, what should we change?
    3. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

    Slowing down to speed up sounds counterintuitive. Yet taking just a little time to seek feedback from your staff makes them feel valued and can foster the “Can Do Spirit” that is required to accelerate performance within today’s high-pressure leadership environment.

    Slow down to speed up? Make it happen today and accomplish more with less faster than ever.

    Originally published on January 3, 2017 by Smart Business.