Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
In my last post I shared a specific example of when my 17-year-old son had a frank and honest discussion with me about my shortcomings as a coach with his younger brother’s team. It probably wasn’t easy, but it was effective as it helped me realize the changes that I need to make so that I can have a positive impact on their future. Isn’t that why we choose to coach? To impact others.
This post isn’t to debate the ability of today’s youth to receive tough coaching or a mentality of coaches who are treating the game of basketball as if it is a life-or-death situation. This is to talk of the merit and necessity of having fierce conversations with the people you are coaching.
Coaching Your Players
Let’s be honest. Just like in work, school and relationships, a lot of people don’t want to be coached. They are looking for positive affirmation and reinforcement that what they are doing is right and that they are exceptional. You see this with many travel organizations and so-called trainers that focus on the show and not about the know. They don’t correct poor fundamentals or decision making and instead praise them because one shot finally goes down.
Those coaches ARE impacting the kids' future, but maybe not in the way you are hoping. Having tough conversations are essential to not only build trust but to lay the foundation for future success. I talk about this in my 3 Pillars of Impact series. If your players know you care and you have invested in their emotional bank account, then you can have those tough conversations.
All Shots are not Equal
The number of kids who truly understand the intricacies of the game seem to be shrinking by the day. Much of this is because most kids are not sitting down and watching games. They are either playing them - on the court or on their video game - or they are watching highlight clips. Kids fail to recognize the difference between a good shot, a tough shot, and a bad shot. As a coach, this must be explained to your player so that understand the expectations of them and their teammates.
A good shot is one that you practice and has a high probability of going in. A tough shot has a level of difficulty that lowers your shooting percentage, but depending upon the player and the situation, you may be fine with the tough shot. Or you may prefer that it gets passed around until a good shot can be taken. A bad shot is a shot taken by someone who has not practiced the shot and is forced up with a low probability of being made. A bad shot does not mean it was missed or can’t be made, but it typically is not the shot that you want taken. Also, the same shot for one player may be a good shot but for another it could be a tough shot or a bad shot.
I have watched players on teams who do not consistently shoot at a high 3pt percentage continue to fire shots up because they are open. Well, they are open for a reason! The worst part is when you watch a 30% 3pt shooter add difficulty to their shot by shooting a step-back shot. That is taking a bad shot instead of making the extra pass to find the right person in the right spot. Steve Kerr explained to Draymond Green that if you keep moving the ball, “The ball will always find the guy who's supposed to get the shot.”
Coach Kelvin Sampson of the University of Houston explained how it’s not rocket science to determine if a person is a good shooter or not. If the person is shooting 40% from three, then they are a good shooter. If they are shooting closer to 25% then they are not. During an interview he talks about how people lie to a kid, and they don’t hear the truth until they get to college. People will tell them 'You're a good shooter. Keep shooting.' No, you're not. Don't. When people complain and tell him that he’s hurting their confidence, he responds with a class line and hard truth, "I don't want to build a bad shooter's confidence up."
Coaching Your Parents
Sometimes, what can be more difficult than reigning in a player who is out of control, is helping parents come to grips with reality. Every year I have those tough conversations with my parents. I don’t tell them that their child can’t achieve things later in their sports career, because we all know that there are kids who mature early and dominate and then never grow. There are also the kids who play B Team their entire youth career and then go on to play college basketball. But the tough conversation is about their current challenges and weaknesses so that you can snap them back to reality, and then talk to them about their potential and what it will take to get them there.
I was approached by the grandfather of a player of mine who wanted to sponsor and organize a team that would travel to the AAU tournaments, and he wanted me to coach. I agreed and pulled together some kids from different ages and from the surrounding community. We put together a team that was a nice team for our area but was getting slaughtered in the St. Louis area. But it was a great experience and the younger kids on the team became the core group of a team that would go on to dominate later in their careers. The issue was that the grandson was not one of those players. You could tell he really didn’t want to be there or put in the work. He didn’t love the sport like the other kids. He was there strictly because of his grandpa.
The following year, the grandfather again approached me about doing the travel team. I loved this man and his passion for the game. I appreciated all he had done for us, and the easy thing would have been to keep going, allowing him to fund all our activities and ignore the fact that his grandson was falling further and further behind and was visibly becoming less and less interested in the game. Well, a tough conversation was inevitable. I was direct. I didn’t hold back any punches because this was a confident and determined man. But I was also empathetic and compassionate. I was open and honest. I explained to him where I felt his grandson was and what would be in his best interest. Years later, he ran into my wife at a store. He shared with her and others the story of that conversation and how much he appreciated it for both his grandson and for him. He talked about how it opened his eyes to their relationship and how he wasn’t seeing his grandson for who he was but instead what he wanted him to be.
One day, as I listened to a set of parents complain about their kid not getting his shot when the kids moved to Junior High school ball, I asked what they expected. This player had been doing individual workouts with a trainer I had introduced to the team and was definitely getting better but honestly, I don’t know that he really wanted to put in the work to get better. The parents were doing everything they could, but the kid, well, he was just doing what they wanted. I pulled them aside and asked them directly, “whose spot do you see him taking?” I addressed the strengths of the kids in front of him and how they match up with what is needed in high school. I then asked them about specific shortcomings of their son and did a compare and contrast versus the other players. Again, I asked them, “Based upon what we just discussed, despite being the parent, if you were the coach, why would you give him someone else’s spot?” I told them, he’s going to need to change his game and HE must work harder, not you guys.
Conversation to Impact
Ohio State basketball coach, Chris Holtmann, shared a story about his player, Malaki Branham, who is entering the 2022 NBA Draft. Coach Holtmann tweeted out a text he received from Malaki the morning after an early season loss. In his tweet the Coach said, “Gratitude, self-awareness, accountability and grit on full display here.”
“Good morning, Coach. Just wanted to say thank you for keeping your word through the recruitment, with playing through my mistakes. Thank you for trusting and believing in me by putting me in last night with 2 minutes left to go when you didn’t have to. I’ll be better for my team and you coaches.”
The young man I talked about above, whose parents wanted him to be successful more than he was willing to work, well, he improved so much he was able to dress and play varsity as a freshman. He was a 3-year starter and went on to play college basketball. After his high school graduation, his dad pulled me aside and thanked me for that tough conversation that happened years ago. He said that when he shared what I said with his son, it really hit home and his son understood that while he wanted to be successful, he had not committed to being successful. That moment he transformed his desire into effort and was able to achieve his dreams. That young man received the tough conversation with openness and accepted the intent of the message, understanding full well that it was delivered with love. That willingness to grow and be coached helped him to understand that the work he was doing was not for the present, but for his goals that were Beyond Today.
In my article on 5 Tips to Successfully Work Hybrid, I cover 5 areas that can help you adjust to the new hybrid working model.
But what about the time you are spending working at home? What started off as excitement and relief to experience uninterrupted time to get your job done can start to drag on and for many, the newness started to wear off.
As a former remote employee, I am familiar with the challenges of moving to the field and being alone as well as returning to the main campus. Of course, when I left the main campus and headed to Grapevine, Tx, I did not have the modern conveniences of a laptop, iPhone, video conference or sharing files on the internet. But I did have a fax machine, a pager, and a Zip drive to which I could read and write large files but had to ship the hard disks via Fed Ex. So yah, I’m familiar with hardships.
When I was first in the field working out of my apartment in 1996, it was a disaster. I struggled being alone in my apartment office and not engaging people. We didn't have video conferencing, iPhones or even cell phones back then. We did have pagers! But those were hard to build connections, as was the fax machine. Our Sales Manager noticed the change, not just with me but with other remote personnel as well. So, we made the decision to lease office space and get us out of the house and into a more public setting. The impact of putting us in an external environment was felt immediately by all of us in the field.
But in today’s world, with the power of technology at our fingertips we can stay connected using video conferencing from our computer or smart device. We can attend virtual conferences and training courses that include breakout sessions. Sharing files and the ability to collaborate on those files have enhanced people’s ability to connect while being remote. But what happens when the camera is turned off? When does the connectivity fail to keep you engaged?
Busy vs Productive
When asked “how is it working from home,” the typical response you hear is “I’m so much more productive” or “I get so much more done.” You never hear someone say, “I don’t do diddly squat when I’m at home.” I experienced the productivity that comes with uninterrupted work time, but is it really the case a year later?
In the last article about successfully working hybrid, I wrote about the time management matrix by Steven Covey. It’s a great way to assess what you are doing and where you are spending your time. For many people, as they moved to a Working From Home (WFH) model, they realize immediately that more time was now available for other things. So how much of your workday is now spent on “I now have the opportunity to…” items? Are these things must haves or nice to haves? We made a conscious decision to expand training activities and on-line courses for those people who were working at home. Training has always been an important part of our approach to employee development, but there was definitely an uptick. Are those additional, extra training courses, bringing enough value for the time spent on them?
During conversations with some new employees, they were surprised by the number of people who attended some of our informational meetings. He asked if they were that well attended when everyone was working from the facility (WFF). I realized that was probably not the case. So, it made me wonder if the WFH approach made it easier to attend or was it something to do to occupy their time? There is value in staying connected, learning, and using time to align with other groups. But as we come back to the Time Management Matrix, we must plot those meetings on the grid.
I have written heavily about the power of mentorships and relationships in guiding people. In my 3 Pillars of Impact as well as Trust in Vulnerability I share insight into previous challenges as well as opportunities to enhance relationships. But what happens when you are not there to build the relationships? When the cameras from your Teams meeting are turned off? How to read their expression and body language to tell what you said is impacting them - either positively or negatively?
How do you keep building and growing relationships virtually? How do you prevent Silos from creeping back into the organization? How to reinforce the relationships needed for a servant leadership environment? It is difficult to be “present” in someone's life if you are not present. It’s impossible to keep a finger on the pulse of the team if you are limited to emails and 30-minute camera-less meetings. The water cooler can be a distraction and a place for gossip, but it also can be a vehicle for learning about perspectives, fears, and doubts.
When I finally started making an appearance at the office after a year, a co-worker who was an essential employee and was WFF, stopped me in the hallway and we spoke for quite some time. While we had interacted at high school sporting events, we hadn’t really talked about work or in a more private setting. As we were wrapping up, he said, “Tom, you are right in that we have been extremely productive despite having such a small percent (of the workforce) here in the office. But while our productivity has increased, our job satisfaction has not. I need this.” As he pointed back and forth between us referring to the interaction with others. I completely understood.
Communicating the Same
Everyone has their preferred method to communicate. Some like to text, others send email, my wife has a friend that simply uses the phone to call! But what we need to keep in mind that our way of communicating may not be how others like to communicate. We can send off a stream of impersonal email or in my case, long, drawn out emails that mirror how I ramble in conversation! During one of my walk and talks (with a WFH employee that we do over the cell phone) she shared with me her various approaches depending upon the person.
While we each think we are being effective with our quantity or quality of communication, remember it is how it is received. Are you getting feedback from your coworkers? Are they communicating more, or less with you? When you are in the office, people can stop by and ask for clarity. Or you can see the confusion on their faces. So, the onus is on you as the person who is communicating to verify that the communication is received.
There are a lot of benefits to working from home as well as working from the facility. They each have their challenges as well. I feel that maintaining perspective and awareness of the pitfalls and the challenges can help you evaluate your productivity and impact. To make sure that you are continuing to bring value to your teammates but also that you can gain value as well. Employees knowing that they bring value and can see their impact are key to maintaining engagement whether in or out of the office Beyond Today.
“Holding players accountable is uncomfortable. But having players fail because you won’t coach, confront, or correct them, is unacceptable.” - Gary Curneen, Soccer Coach
As I was putting together an article for an upcoming post on Coaches having tough conversations, I found myself dwelling on a specific memory where I was coached up by a former player. As I was putting pen to paper, I could tell by the quantity of what I was writing that I needed to make it a separate post. So that is what I have done and will follow-up next week with the broader topic of tough coaching conversations.
Whether you are a professional coach or not, there are so many things to enjoy when you are able to coach a team. The teaching and learning. The relationships that are made. Seeing your impact unfold right in front of you. One of the biggest challenges that coaches, and people have in general are having Fierce Conversations with their team and parents. As I wrote about in 3 Key Principles to Being Coached, what is more challenging for most coaches is to be open to feedback and willing to address your shortcomings. In her book, Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott provides guidance on how to have those conversations and recommendations on how to avoid some of the pitfalls. Be sure to read this book when you get a chance.
This concept is drizzled throughout many of my posts as I like to share my struggles and how they helped shape me as a coach. I have been fortunate to have been the recipient of Fierce Conversations throughout my career where I have been approached by someone who was courageous and constructive and helped impact me. The example I am about to share is by far my favorite.
When my oldest son Zach was a high school varsity player, he and his teammates showed up at a practice for the 6th grade team that I was coaching that included my middle son, Trey. Growing up, Zach’s team was the dominant team in the area, and we typically played against older teams or made the trip to the cities to play against higher caliber travel teams. When they hit varsity, they enjoyed being considered as one of the top teams in the state and are considered the top team in the school's history.
Trey’s team was a good team, but not a great team. We were a top 3 team in the area but didn’t travel to the cities. There were a lot of similarities in the teams including a mix of size and speed, quality of shooters and committed coaches and parents. We also were fortunate to have a large turnout of players, so I always had two full teams to help keep kids interested in the game and to feed the high school program.
After observing practice, Zach turned to me and said, “I see what’s wrong with this team. It’s you.” I stood there dumbfounded and taken back by the directness of my oldest son. As I turned to make eye contact with him, I noticed his teammates were all nodding their heads in agreement. Zach continued, “Where’s the discipline? They are not running through the drills. They are missing lines during conditioning. They are not using their off hand. Why are you not expecting more from them? They have the talent, but you are not holding them accountable.”
He was right. I was so concerned about how I had treated Zach’s group when they were growing up that I had questioned whether I had pushed them too hard. Demanded too much from them. I had adjusted my style in an effort to reduce the pressure on them in an effort to keep them engaged.
I brought the coaches together and shared the observations of Zach and his teammates. While this group of coaches were not part of the coaching group with the older team, they knew the quality of the players and the way they played on the court, so respected their firsthand perspective of what worked and what was needed. We agreed with their assessment and implemented changes immediately.
It really transformed our next couple of years of coaching this group and their overall growth. When they entered school ball in 8th grade, they had immediate success. As they team moved to high school, my son was blessed to play in 4 District title games with the team winning 3 of them. Four of the kids from that 6th grade team closed out their career with a district title, accepting the challenge that was placed on them all those years ago and committed to growth and a willingness to be held to high expectations. As a coach, I see that day when a 16-year-old was willing to stand-up and call-out his Coach AND his dad and speak the truth as a turning point for the team, but more importantly, a turning point for me as a leader and a father. I will always cherish the memory for what it represented and what it changed me Beyond Today.
As we head into summer, most families are planning out their vacation schedules. But as a basketball family, we are sorting through our basketball schedule to see if there are any tournaments that we can piggyback some vacation days onto. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
In the month of June, we take a break from travel basketball and focus on playing what we call school ball, as the high school summer camp leads to shootouts where the high school coaches can coach their teams against other teams made up of kids from the same school. It’s a nice break from the $20 gate fees for the high-profile exposure tournaments where one-on-one and trying to embarrass your opponent to get a highlight on someone’s mix tape seems to be the norm.
Don’t get me wrong. We love travel basketball. While many people do it for the exposure, that is low on our list.
As much as we enjoy travel ball, there is something about coming back and seeing your son wearing the jersey for the school that he will attend. In smaller communities like ours, where we have only one high school, when you put that jersey on you are representing more than the school, but the entire town as well. Kids grow up dreaming about the day that they will wear the jersey just like their big brothers.
Our feeder program starts in 3rd grade for boys and girls that live in our town. We require that jerseys have either Rolla or Bulldogs on the front and that the colors coincide with our school colors. The varsity basketball coaches sit on our Board to make sure the programs are aligned and connected. I would have my older son’s varsity teams show up to my younger teams' practices to build the connection with the younger kids but also, it was a treat for those younger kids to have their idols show up and watch them play. These are not some kids that had a YouTube mixtape, these are kids that played at the school gym, that they watched play, that would high five them during warm-ups. These are kids that represent what the younger kids want to be when they grow up.
When my youngest son’s team entered Junior High, there were some high expectations for them as they had a reputation in the area for how they played. They spent a lot of time going to city tournaments playing youth travel teams so they could be pushed. They may not have won every tournament, but they always competed. They were blessed to go undefeated in 7th and 8th grades and the B team only lost 1 game.
There is something about competing alongside the kids that you walk the halls with. The same kids you play football, baseball, soccer, and track with. Kids who attended the same daycare and who have sat together at the high school games cheering on your teams. It’s the power of a school program that is so clearly different from travel ball.
My youngest child enters high school in the fall. He is now working the high school basketball camp as a “coach” for the younger ages. The same role his brothers played when he was attending the younger sessions. He will be playing alongside kids whose brothers played with his brothers. There is a rite of passage as well as a sense of belonging as you enter the summer school ball schedule.
In school ball, it’s not about the next tournament. It’s about coming together and representing those that came before you. Having the school’s name on your jersey and walking the halls in your travel suits. It’s taking the bus to and from games with the kids you have grown up with. In school ball, you are not just representing the name on the front of the jersey, but in a town like Rolla, you are representing the community as well.
The summer shootouts are an opportunity for the kids from different grades to grow and connect. To gain confidence and comfort with each other on and off the court. It is about building upon the established connection of the school and the community and to add in the personal relationships, recognition of each individual's talents and abilities, to harness them for the greater good of the program. To be part of a legacy that adds to what those before you have built and what those who will come after you will grow.
When I was promoted to the Executive Team where I work, the owner of the company requested that I find a mentor. Easily, two names jumped to the top of my list. One, I had known for some time, who had a dynamic personality and thrived as an entrepreneur and a leader. While he came across as a Type A personality type who was driven, he also was committed to his teams, empowering them for success and the growth of the individual. The other potential mentor, I had only recently met but he carried himself with grace and a calmness that seemed to make everyone at ease. He also had started and sold many businesses and was currently serving on our Executive Advisory Board.
As I considered both potential mentors, my initial inclination was to go with the person who I knew longer who also seemed to be a more natural fit. I knew we already had a connection based on our history as we had similar interests and personality. But, as I thought deeper, I realized that I don’t need more of me, I needed to expand and grow so that I could bring in additional perspectives as well as stretch myself to be more than a dynamic leader but also to become a servant leader. On that day in 2013, I could not imagine how much impact that decision of having Steve Moles as my mentor would make on my life.
Steve and I made an immediate connection and through our time together, built an extremely strong friendship. Steve said in the early days that a friendship is built on 3 things”Our relationship has thrived in such an environment. So much that I want to share with you the impact that was created in our last phone call.
Steve and I typically meet once a month via a phone call or possibly a Teams meeting. Prior to the pandemic, it was always in person, and we would typically add in a meal or possibly Steve would attend one of my kids’ activities. The mentorship moved beyond a work relationship, to simply a relationship. We both try to prepare for our meetings by reviewing past notes and topics as well as capturing those items that should be part of our upcoming discussion. I knew that the first thing I wanted to discuss was Steve and how he was doing.
After our last meeting, Jenny, my wife, had asked some questions about how Steve and his family were doing. I was embarrassed to admit that it didn’t come up as we focused heavily on my situation. I recognized that it was something I needed to make sure and fix so during some of our frequent exchanges via email and text I would inquire into how things were going personally. There were some nuances in his responses that made me realize that we needed to spend time discussing his situation in more detail.
A fruitful discussion followed as we caught up on all that life brings. Steve’s calmness, positivity and wisdom were on full display as he shared this perspective: “There is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just a longer tunnel than we thought.”
As we shared our personal challenges, the topic of our health rose to the forefront. Together, we discussed our situations and set goals, together, to aid in our program. Was this work related? Nope. But it is important to our overall health and well-being which directly relates to our ability to have an impact on others.
We then jumped to the topic of an upcoming video series that Brewer Science will be sharing in the Virtual Learning Lab, where I discuss the 3 Pillars of Impact. I shared my concern about whether we will know of the value or impact we gain from these videos - the same concerns I have when I post my writings. This led to the realization that this challenge exists in many areas, and we identified some steps to talk to move us towards a solution.
This brought up a previous discussion where Steve had shared that to have an Impact your engagement or writing needs to Captivate, Stimulate and Motivate. We talked about how to do that with the intended audience and whether we are targeting the right audience. Steve shared the thought that “we don’t know our capabilities until we go beyond them.” More powerful insight about our own self-assessment as well as understanding the potential of others.
We then moved on to the subject of responsibilities and leading an organization. A great discussion on Ownership vs Accountability led me to begin to draft a future article about how you must own your failures. More on this subject in the future. Steve also challenged me on where I am spending my time - am I in the Tactical world or the Strategic world? The reality is that they are not mutually exclusive, and they can coexist. Throughout a day, you will move back and forth between the worlds, but you must possess the skills to address both challenges. But where should I be spending my time?
At the conclusion of our call, I walked away with three action items. They were not assigned by Steve or verbalized by me during the meeting. But as I reviewed my notes, they jumped out of the page and spoke to me. These were things I needed to do to be a better leader. A better father. A better husband. A better person.
The power of the mentor goes beyond what he shares and what he gives. It is what he instills in you and helps you become. The servant leadership is on display so that you desire to be a better person together. While I try to show and speak my appreciation for the relationship with Steve, I never seem to do it justice. The impact of the time spent with Steve is something that I cannot measure today because the magnitude of the ripple effect from those he has served will be felt well Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.