Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
I love sports. The competition, the environment, the team concept. The many life lessons that come from playing a game is something I have always enjoyed.
I specifically love the game of basketball. This love was fostered by my parents throughout our family as they taught us to enjoy both the simplicity and the complexity as well as the power and the grace. They shared with us their passion and love of the game and their competitiveness.
I became a student of the game early, spending time watching games and having my dad share his thoughts and perspectives. We would watch college and NBA games live and sometimes record them so we could review plays later. In those days it was Beta tapes and then VCRs! We didn’t have DVR and live playback like today.
Later, it would be my own games where we would hook up the camera to the TV when we got home from the games, and we would stay up late rewatching the game. We would review to see where I was successful and where I could improve from a teacher's perspective focused on growth.
Where I currently live, we have a Division II school, Missouri S&T, from which I graduated and since I am a basketball fan, I try to attend as many of the games as I can. Being a smaller school, you can build relationships with the coaching staff and players. The smaller gym size enables you to have great seats, in an intimate environment where you can engage and be part of the experience.
My sons have been ball boys and attended their camps. The youth organization I lead has been fortunate to be able to attend games, perform at halftime, attend practices, and have the players attend their practices. I would always have my teams attend the games, where we would sit directly behind the bench and observe how the skills, they worked on in practice translated to game situations. A few days after my father passed away, I attended the game and the Coach at the time, Jim Glash, came around the bench, up into the stands to share his condolences with me - as did all the young men who were getting ready to play the game.
At a recent game I attended, the Missouri S&T Miners were blowing out their opponent midway through the second half. These situations can always be challenging for a head coach when you are clearly the superior team. Does Coach Walker sit back, let his kids play and just get the game over with? Or does he continue to coach and focus on his team's development? Coach Bill Walker chose the latter.
On back-to-back trips on the defensive end, one of his players, a young promising freshman, was blasted by a high ball screen at mid-court. After the first screen, Coach Walker hollered out “call out the ball screens!” When the same thing happened on the next trip, Coach Walker jumped to his feet and awaited the change of possession so he could call a timeout.
With 7:20 left in the second half, his team leading 79-35, Coach Walker called the timeout and didn’t wait for his team to come to the bench. He met them at mid-court, turned to his bench and instructed them to gather around. The players didn’t need to hear Coach Walker’s voice to comprehend the intensity with which he was addressing them as it was emitted from his very being.
Coach Walker clearly and directly articulated the importance of being a member of a team. He reinforced that it is unacceptable to let a teammate get screened in such a manner and how, when you are part of a team, you are always looking out for the welfare of your teammates. He challenged them to talk with each other on the court, help your teammate learn and point out when behaviors need to change. He drove home the expectations he had for them as players and as young men and how anything less than that was unacceptable.
What I appreciated most about observing this event was that while he started with frustration, it quickly moved to intensity and passion. This transition moved to completion as he finished with teaching and motivation. His devotion and caring about the young men showed that regardless of the score, he was there to make an IMPACT. The 3 Pillars of Impact that I have written about before, Courage to Challenge, Expect Excellence and Empower Others were on full display.
The players have all been playing the game of basketball for over 10 years and calling out screens is something they all knew was important. But coaching is always needed, whether you are inexperienced or a veteran. Coach Walker could have let it slide and talked about it during film study but knew that his role as a coach is bigger than X’s and O’s but about development of young men. Coaching and being willing to be coached is essential to a person’s development Beyond Today.
Recently, my son’s high school basketball team suffered a crushing defeat to a conference foe. Even though we understood that this team was a better team on paper, you still hold out hope that your team will compete and make a good showing. It started out bad and only got worse. From the experiences of my older sons, I prepared my youngest son for the physical defense that was going to be played on him. I informed him that he would not get any calls and that they would be grabbing and holding him. I told him it would be physical, and he is going to have to play through it and control his frustration. Well, it was exactly what we expected, and I found myself commenting as such as I live streamed the game.
After the game, I decided to rewatch the film to see if it was as bad as I thought. To see why their guard would get calls while my son did not seem to get the same calls. Well, I would like to apologize for most of my complaints. Our fouls were definitely fouls and I could see why their fouls were not called. Our kids were reaching with their hands, instead of being physical with their chest. It became clear that their defensive position was better than ours and became understandable why the referees didn’t blow their whistle. Being open to the possibility that I could be wrong, allowed me to view the game from a different perspective. To acknowledge the Mental Models that existed and caused bias in how I viewed the situation.
After this game, we were able to identify ways to address the physical style of play. To fight away the hands to keep them from getting to his body. We looked at both ways to create space for separation but to also invade their space to initiate contact to either force a foul to be called or to ensure a higher probability of getting a good shot.
When reviewing film, it can be easier to start with the mistakes or failure points of a game. The assumption is that something went wrong or is broken and needs to be fixed. Instead of jumping to a solution, you first need to seek understanding so that the correct process can be put in place to address the situation.
It’s possible when you review a turnover that appeared to be a bad pass turned out to be the failure of a teammate to cut hard and get to the spot they were supposed to be at according to their offense. In football, wide receivers have timing patterns that are based upon how many steps the quarterbacks take in their drop and then release. The failure of the WR to make it to the spot cleanly or runs the wrong route can result in what looks to be an awfully thrown ball. But when you dig deeper, it may be that the defender did a great job to slow the receiver at the line of scrimmage. Or maybe another receiver did not run the correct route and so did not occupy a defender allowing them to provide coverage.
It shows that what is obvious at first glance, may be something different entirely once you get the opportunity to investigate. Instead of blaming the quarterback or wide receiver, you focus on the blocking scheme or reinforcing the routes of the other receivers necessary to get the teammate open. The reaction at the moment, may be in stark contrast to the action that is needed later to improve.
When you watch film of the steals you can see what worked either as a defensive scheme or anticipation by an individual. But do you watch film to identify the moments that you were unable to get the steal? Were you out of position? Was your stance too high? Was your teammate too close to their person instead of being in a position to help? Sharing this information with your team can help the individual improve but also the teammates and as a coach, your approach to planning and recognizing opportunities to slow down the opposing team
Instead of watching film to see the shots you made, see if there is a pattern to the shots you missed. Are you going a certain direction? Is it when you catch and shoot versus off the dribble? Was your shot rushed or did you have time to set your feet?
Instead of seeing the rebounds you gathered in, what about the rebounds you didn’t get? Watching film quickly reveals the difference between getting rebounds and going to get rebounds.
Do the assists come from the offensive system and the plays or are they coming from the player and their ability to see the pass and then make the pass? Ball movement is a vital aspect of the game and film can quickly show whether players can quickly move the ball or need to think first and cause the ball to stick, slowing the offense.
As a young athlete, it’s important to grow your game. As parents, we can help them grow, but we can’t grow for them. Reviewing film and assessing their game MUST be what they want to do because they are seeking growth. Because they are setting goals for themselves. We can’t live our lives through them but we can be there to guide them and help them understand the power of growth. Reinforcing the value of growth is what will help them reach their potential, Beyond Today.
Looking Back to Go Forward
It’s common practice for professional and even amateur coaches to review game film to identify areas of improvement for their players in both their individual movements as well as nuances of how the players interact together when facing another team. The higher the ranks you rise, the greater importance is placed on film study to improve your own play but also to learn the tendencies of your opponent.
When young players begin to watch film, they focus on watching to see themselves. To see what went right and to share their success with others. As a coach, it is one of the more difficult challenges to keep them focused on where they need to improve instead of using that time having fun & reveling in their glory. As a coach, you need to balance the need to improve, with keeping them engaged and motivated. To provide feedback in such a way as it is desirable and not as a criticism and a way to weaken their confidence.
Just like any learning opportunity, the power is in the question and how the player responds. Players should reflect on the questions and improve their ability to assess the situation and identify pathways forward. Why did that move work? What else could have you done? Where were your teammates? What did you see?
When I was much younger, my dad and I would spend hours reviewing games to look for areas of improvement and to learn more about how the game should be played. I have since enjoyed doing the same thing with my own kids which I feel is one of the reasons they have been recognized for having high basketball IQs. They didn’t just play the game but studied the game in an attempt to understand the best way to play.
What is interesting is that the biases you have in real time, still translate to film study. It’s evident when you see the Twitter posts after a big game and a questionable call is being fanatically supported and challenged depending upon the fan’s allegiance. When you don’t have any skin in the game, it is comical when you see the instant replay and quickly realize the bias of the fans. But what about when you are the fan?
In work and life, we have a tendency to make snap judgements as well due to our preconceived opinions. Our surroundings and life experiences shape our perspectives. You see the results of silos showing up as people look for reasons something failed. Our sales team blames manufacturing for not making a quality product. The manufacturing team blames R&D for not designing a good product. Then R&D blames sales for not providing clear requirements. Every group jumps to their reasoning based upon their own biases.
Outside of sports, film study is a little rarer. Instead, you review control charts and quality records in manufacturing. Programmers review code and perform desktop simulations. Finance departments perform audits. Teams across all industries use a Lessons Learned approach to breakdown situations to gain an understanding of what went right and what went wrong. Basically, the KSS of Keep doing, Stop doing and Start doing.
Performing a lesson learned process can help shed light on the real problems that exist that are creating some of the symptoms that people are clinging to that support their biases. A systematic problem-solving method allows you to peel back the onion, to dig deeper and get to some of the fundamental challenges. Performing a simple 5 Why, that keeps asking more questions quickly causes the biases to fall away and add clarity to the team.
Years ago, we experienced an increased scrap rate in production. Our intuition focused on operator error and the need for training. The corrective actions taken did help but not to the degree that was expected. So, we formed a problem-solving team to Peel the Onion. Digging deeper we were able to narrow down the problem statement and get beyond the symptoms. We were able to look at both the individuals and the processes with a critical eye. Knowing that we were only looking for the problem so we could correct it moving forward, there was a renewed openness and willingness to look more closely. Finding improvement areas and putting in corrections not only allowed us to eliminate the scrap, but it also enabled us to improve yield on other existing and future products as we built the improvements into new processes and included them in our Design Failure Modes.
Whether you are using film study in sports or a quality audit in manufacturing, taking the time to review past actions - not for the sake of the actions - for the benefits you gain from that review is what will allow you to improve Beyond Today.
I was sitting at my writing desk, reviewing notes I have on various blog topics. I had taken somewhat of a hiatus from writing my blog and have not been feeling the passion to make any movement until this morning. I quickly got into a groove with two separate but related posts flowing freely from my pen to my journal.
Feeling excitement and a renewed sense of purpose, I felt the need to go after some more topics. But as I reviewed the most recent list, none of them were speaking to me. Then I looked up and was lost in my thoughts as I stared at the framed picture above my desk.
The framed picture is actually a completed puzzle that my daughter had given me for Christmas two years ago and upon completion, we took it to get framed. I had been recovering old slides that were my parents and using a scanner, converting them to jpeg files. My daughter found the graininess of the picture with the random black spots fascinating, especially this one.
This photo is from the mid-60’s and was taken in Canada as my parents traveled from their home in Alaska to visit relatives in Missouri and Indiana. My dad is standing in the middle of the desolate highway, majestic mountains with a brilliant blue sky on the horizon. Surprisingly, he is wearing jeans in the picture instead of his typical dress slacks. But I am positive he is wearing his brown wingtips! With his short sleeve shirt unbuttoned and flapping in the breeze, you can imagine his thoughts as he is hoping to do justice in capturing this picturesque view that is before him.
Unlike today, he could not look at his screen to check the quality of the picture before snapping another one. Back then, he would have to wait until the film roll was finished and sent out for processing via mail. No, it wasn’t uploaded to the internet, but was sent using “snail mail” that could take 3 weeks or even longer considering we were in Alaska. Overnight parcel service did not exist back then!
When I had first converted the slide to a picture, it took me a while to consider who was taking the picture of my dad taking the picture. Well, of course it was my mom. Always behind the scenes to my dad and his dynamic personality. I have yet to find the picture that my dad was taking that day, but I can’t imagine it being nearly as perfect as the one my mom captured that day.
The next question I asked myself as I noticed the wide-open door of their station wagon, was where are the kids? From looking at other pictures that were in this case of slides, we know that my older three siblings were on this trip with estimated ages of 5, 4 and 2, so surely, they were close by. Maybe they were safely sitting on the edge of the road, dutifully obeying the instructions of my parents to not move and keep their hands to themselves. But more than likely they were either chasing each other in the middle of the highway or frolicking in the back of the station wagon, unrestrained just like when they were riding down the highway with no posted speed limits!
As my eyes left the picture on the wall and turned towards the journal to begin writing this blog, I thought about how difficult it is to put value on these types of trips. Especially a trip down memory lane that was made possible by a gift from my daughter, of a picture taken at a time before I was born but is a memory of the spirit of my mom and dad and the love that they shared for their family. That memory is now a legacy for my family of a trip that will last long Beyond Today.
The Giving of Thanks
In my opinion, Thanksgiving is one of the most underrated holidays that we celebrate in the United States. It is a great time to gather with family and friends, but even though the title of the holiday is front and center, true thankfulness is often overlooked because of the large meals, football, and shopping deals. The Giving of Thanks has become more words than actions.
Last year, I wrote a post on being thankful and I closed with a challenge to not just post thanks on social media, but to reach out to those for whom you are thankful. Put your words into actions. How did that go? I started off strong by sending notes, texts, and emails. I tried to adjust my behavior. But it was short lived.
Leadership guru and author, Jon Gordon, has long recommended morning Thank-You or gratefulness walks. He has referenced psychological studies that have shown it is impossible to be thankful and stressed at the same time. In a prior post, I had written about the importance of filling your life with positive energy and being mindful of what you read. In What Goes in Must Come Out, I talked about how a change to my reading and listening habits, impacted my mindfulness and attitude which then had a negative impact on relationships.
I am Thankful for my Family
It always starts with family, my wife Jenny and our four incredible kids. My wife and I talked about how much happiness we feel when they are all together and interacting as teenagers and adults. Listening to their banter and laughter as they share stories. Such a different feeling than when you watched them play when they were young. Now we get a glimpse into who they are becoming as adults - which in itself is a reason for gratefulness.
I am Thankful for Brewer Science
My work life has long intermingled with my personal life. It’s where I met my wife. When you listen to the news and in my opinion, the madness that exists in the “Quite Quitting” fad, I feel grateful for the 29 years I have spent at this company that has challenged me to expand my skills and my mind to make sure that I can have an impact on the lives of others. My coworkers have heard me say that when you love what you do and you realize that the decisions you make can not only impact the lives of 500 families but of the community as well, then what you do matters and deserves respect. To you “Quiet Quitters”, I feel sorry that you haven’t felt the passion and the love for a working environment that I have. It is NOT a job. It also is NOT my life. But it has helped shape me and been a big part of my life, just like my family.
I am Thankful for Cherished Memories
The cherished memories I hold for those family and friends who are no longer with us. While I am tearing up as I am typing this, I must remind myself that it is not intended to be sad, but to be grateful for the time and memories that we shared. Being Thankful, that they meant enough that you are thankful for them and the impact that they had on us.
I am Thankful for the Power of Impact
The impact that I have been able to have on others and that others have had on me. The kids I have coached, the mentors that have helped me grow, the coaches who have taken time to share experiences and feedback. Last night I watched a former player coach a high school game. He has helped train my youngest son, having an impact on his development as a player, but also as a person. I have officiated weddings for family members and for kids I have coached. The impact of people who send texts of encouragement, thoughtfulness or appreciation that seem to appear exactly when they are needed. To have former players come back to referee at youth tournaments in which they used to participate or to show up to watch your son play a game. I have always stressed to people that you never know who you might impact, so be intentional with what you do and be aware.
Finally, I am Thankful for the feedback I get from those of you who take the time to read my posts. Some chose to respond on the site, others sent me a note and still others responded in person. I capture each one of those comments and use it to shape future posts, but also to shape who I am as a person. I am Thankful that I can learn from the feedback, the questions that my writing may have brought forth or how others interpreted what I had written. Knowing that there are moments that what I have to say has a positive impact on others, allows me to be Thankful Beyond Today.
It's Okay to Have Different Views
I was standing at the sink, peeling some hard-boiled eggs for my breakfast. My daughter, who doesn’t eat eggs, walks into the kitchen as she is preparing to leave for work. Without looking up from peeling my eggs, I quickly ask if she would like me to peel her one knowing her response. Before she can respond, I chuckle out loud and say, “It never gets old!” She glares at me in disgust and says, “actually, it does.”
As I finished peeling the eggs with a smirk on my face as I took pleasure in my cleverness, my wife walked by and simply asked, “Why?” That is a great question. Am I wrong? To me, it never gets old. But to my daughter, it was old the very first time I said it, years ago. So, who is right? Me or my daughter? So, the answer is simple and obvious, both of us are correct because we are answering on how it makes us feel. We are not arguing in facts, but in feelings.
Friends and I were discussing our favorite place to eat on The Hill in St. Louis. What is great about that area, is that there are so many tremendous Italian restaurants that provide a variety of menus and surroundings that everyone can have a favorite. But interesting enough, it’s easy for people to share their opinions and discount the perspective of another. Hey, both of you can be right that your restaurant is the best. Because it’s how the restaurant makes you feel. Maybe it’s nostalgic because of a prior memory or celebration, maybe it’s the service or the food. But it is your perspective and it’s okay that someone has a differing opinion. Are you willing to lose a friend over it? Probably not.
Me and my best friend from high school enjoy collecting & sharing bourbon, which has become a popular activity in the U.S. I am a member of several bourbon sites on social media, and it always amazes me how people take such a hard line on their view of bourbons. If they don’t like it, they will make sure everyone is aware that they don’t like it and if you are crazy enough to enjoy that particular bourbon, then you are somehow unintelligent, unsophisticated, and quite possibly a fascist sociopath. Wow, it reminds me of politics!
What I also appreciate is the levelheaded people that will respond when they try a new bourbon and share their perspective. Amazing how you begin to listen to what they say, and you look for people who have similar perceptions as you. The reason I do this is that if I find someone who enjoys the same bourbons I do, then I can assume that we have a similar palate and if they recommend something I have not had, then I can trust that there is a good chance I would enjoy it as well.
So, we can both be right and wrong at the same time. Because with feelings and perspectives, it rarely is absolute. In my last post I spoke about how we view workloads from our own perspective and rarely take the opportunity to view from that of others. If you don’t expand outside of your own tastes, you will rarely grow. You can’t expand the palate of life, if you stay with your own inner circle, your own view, your own sense of right and wrong.
In a society that has become increasingly divided with political discourse, we quickly forget that we are not typically arguing facts, but feelings and perspectives. While some things are obvious from my perspective, I hear people argue to the opposite which I know is not true, but the facts they use support their perspective and so they stick to their position even harder. I’m not writing this to focus on who is right and who is wrong, but to serve as a reminder that feelings are our own. Perspectives are our own. The sooner we move away from debating feelings and instead try to understand feelings, the sooner we can embrace differing perspectives to help us come together Beyond Today.
I'm So Busy, Why Aren't You?
How many times do you sit at your desk, stare at your growing list of emails and action items on your bullet journal and throw your hands up in the air in frustration? You wonder how in the world are you going to find time to get it all done. Then, how many times do you look around at other people and wonder what the heck they are doing? How do they find time to stand in the break room and chat about the Cardinals game or the latest episode of the Voice? Why are they not as busy as I am?
But is that really the case? Stephen M.R. Covey says we tend to “judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.” I feel that this quote perfectly sums up the paragraph above. The justifications we use to validate our own beliefs and actions have a tendency to bias our perspective and distort our reality.
You see it put into practice when you casually ask someone how their day is going and they proceed to talk about how busy they are and as they attempt to describe in detail the craziness that is their life, you can tell by their approach that even though they are speaking they are thinking that you cannot fathom how busy they actually are and they may even say that directly.
In my early days of managing Customer Service and Applications, I noticed a trend of team members coming to me and describing how busy they were. Inevitably, most everyone of them would proceed to identify someone else - possibly in the group but many times outside the group - as an example of someone who clearly wasn’t as busy. As if they can prove their position by pointing out the opposite in someone else. As a first-time manager, I was very empathetic to their plight and would provide sympathetic responses which essentially added fuel to their frustration.
Gradually, I started taking the same stance with my boss. Looking at my and my team’s workload, I caught myself complaining about how busy we were and then would talk about other groups who were clearly coasting.
I kept it up until my immediate boss, who became a close friend, called me out. He asked for details. What was specifically taking up so much time? Why am I spending time worrying about other groups? How much time and energy did I spend complaining? After initially getting a little defensive and offended that he couldn’t grasp my workload, I began to think about what he said, and the self-reflection really hit home.
That is exactly what I needed for a moment of clarity. My friend demonstrated the Courage to Challenge (1st Pillar of Impact) and helped me reassess my situation and I began looking for solutions instead of excuses. I spent time with my team members and worked through their issues as well. I described to them a situation that helped paint a picture of what we were experiencing.
I explained that I’m sitting at my desk, and I look at the piles of paper and stacks of file folders (we didn’t have knowledge management software back in the day!). From where I sit, obviously I am extremely busy. I am overloaded with work because, well, just look at my desk! I am looking at everyone else, from behind my desk that is piled high with work.
Meanwhile, someone else is sitting at their very own desk, with their very own stack of papers and work. They also are frustrated and wondering why nobody else is as busy as them. They don’t see my pile of work because they are sitting at their desk, behind their piles, looking from their perspective.
That was my first transformational experience in management that has since become a lifelong journey of growth and improvement. It was one of my first times in management that reflection and engagement of others led to changes in processes and behaviors.
It’s easy to focus on the piles in your life and stay stuck behind your desk and all the biases that are stored there. WE must recognize when the piles are just distractions and excuses that are keeping us from moving forward, from reaching our potential. We need to get out from behind our desk, or as the Outward Mindset describes, get out of our box, and view the work and values of others. This gets us away from the desk of the past and to a pathway that goes Beyond Today.
You have heard it many times that where people spend their time, money and energy is where you will find what they value. The key here is that it is what THEY value and not value from your perspective. Many times, people assume that because they feel an object or activity has value, it then must have value to others as well. You can have the most incredible peanut shell collection in the world but if someone else doesn’t place value on that collection, well, there isn’t a market for it.
In a working environment, people are assigned projects for which they are responsible. While it may not be where they would elect to spend their time, by the fact that it is where they spend their time, they then place value on their project. But for those who are not impacted by the project, they may not see the same value. If they can’t identify the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), they may de-value the project and decline to participate or acknowledge that it is a priority.
Frustration sets in when an initiative fails to get traction or after initial success, it loses momentum. In those cases, the value to your audience has declined in what it costs to participate.
Too often, people don’t recognize the decline or that there is a simple value proposition mismatch because they are so close to the situation. “It’s important to me, so why isn’t it important to you also?”
KNOW YOUR WHY
Take the time to understand the potential value of your project. What else does it bring to the table? Maybe it saves money or time. Maybe it allows another group to get easier access to information. Maybe there is a community or sustainability impact. Find a way to convert your why into terms that relate to them and can help motivate others to see value as well. You can't blame people for not buying into what you are selling. There are a lot of things vying for their time and resources. At work, Teams have their own project and their own priorities and having a greater understanding of the potential value of your project outside of your own world will help you engage others.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Taking the time to identify the priorities of others can quickly highlight areas of importance for them. It can shed light on how their performance will be measured and if your project doesn’t help them, it can be difficult for them to justify spending time supporting your project. What resource limitations and challenges are they facing? Are they people who are focused on doing their job or doing the job that needs to get done? Determining this can help you in understanding their own motivation.
FIND THE MOTIVATION
It’s not the sheer greatness of the project from your perspective that will unite people to support, participate and move a project forward. People are no longer sled dogs or a mule train that will blindly move forward. People, regardless of motivation, want to make an IMPACT, to be part of something successful. People can only be part of something when they know that they can have that impact, that they and others will be better for them having been part of the project.
When you can translate and align values between groups or people, you can help identify the common value or at least identify the potential value to them if they engage or support the project. Connecting the value and the impact that they can have on the project as well as the impact the project can have on them, is how you can maximize your projects value Beyond Today.
Managing Expectations in Action
In my last post, I distinguished the difference between managing expectations and leading people. The purpose was to highlight the critical nature of having expectations that are aligned and understood to help a leader guide and motivate their team to achieve success. I identified 4 reasons that a leader may struggle with the process of managing expectations and provided some examples. In this post, I want to share a personal experience with my youngest child that I believe speaks to the heart of this subject.
My youngest son is a dedicated basketball player. When he is shooting alone, he is focused and pushes himself in where he focuses and the types of drills he does. He chooses when he has had enough for the evening. He finishes every workout by making 10 free throws in a row. If he misses, he starts over. Ethan is probably close to a 90% free throw shooter so if he does miss, he is not happy. If he hits the rim, but it still goes in, he is equally not happy. It is easy to say, “why does that matter? A make is a make.” But even at the age of 14, Ethan understands that hitting the rim means he missed his target and if he varies off-target more the next time he hits the rim, it could bounce out. The more consistently he swishes the shot, the more control he has and the better accuracy. He is effectively managing expectations.
As his confidence grew from his workouts and playing, he chose to increase the difficulty in how he closes out his workouts. After hitting 10 free throws in a row, he then had to make 10 3-point baskets in a row before leaving the gym. This one caught me off guard because I know that even though there is no defense on you, it's much more difficult. But he surprised me and would easily finish his workouts without a miss and never more than three misses. Until one day, we spent 40 minutes trying to hit 10 in a row. He would get 8 or 9 in a row and then miss. He would go 4 for 5 multiple times in a row but he couldn’t string together 10 makes.
He was angry. He grew increasingly frustrated. I finally held on to the ball and he stared at me with fire in his eyes. I said “you may not have hit 10 in a row, but did you realize you hit 8 and 9 in a row multiple times? Do you realize that you never missed more than 2 in a row? You may not have hit 10 in a row, but you are shooting between 70-80% from 3-point range!” He fired back at me, “That is not my goal!” in a release of the frustration that had been building inside him. I firmly responded, “then you have the wrong goal.”
He quickly reflected that it isn’t about the number, it’s about the consistency. Getting hot and making 10 in a row while shooting 30% overall is a streak shooter. A streak shooter can both win and lose you games. Creating a rhythm and routine to reinforce accuracy and consistency is the key to success.
In this specific example, Ethan needed some assistance in managing his expectations. The goal he had set for himself was commendable and lofty, but when he stepped back and looked at the goal and compared that to his desired outcomes, he quickly realized that when he stopped looking at the goal as a standalone metric and instead, considered it in the context of his why and desired outcome, the misalignment was clear. He then needed assistance to “reset” the expectations he had and change his definition of success. Expectations need to be actively managed and understood so that an action plan can be created and executed to help them meet those expectations Beyond Today.
Manage Expectations, Lead People
You have probably heard the phrase “you should manage projects but lead people.” It reinforced that people want to be led and empowered without having to be managed as a resource to be “optimized” like they are a piece of production equipment.
I am a firm believer in this philosophy and have been blessed to grow up in a company that put more emphasis in developing the soft skills that focus on leading and relationships then on the hard skills of management execution. What has become apparent in my 29 years at this company is that it isn’t either / or as you must have both skills to reach your true potential.
Recently, I found that as I was engaging a variety of people across a broad spectrum on topics of leadership and challenges, a thread appeared that would always bring the conversation back to the principle of “manage projects, lead people.” If people were sharing challenges, it would typically come back to a leader stumbling in one or both of those areas and in contrast when people shared success stories, both of those had been achieved.
As I would engage in more questions and discussion, I changed the principle from “projects” to “expectations” as that really seemed to be at the heart of the matter. Whether it was about projects, strategic planning, sports teams, or family drama it always seemed to come back to a mismatch of expectations. It’s not that people necessarily lack a skill or don’t know what is needed for a project to be successful, but it is either unclear expectations or unstated expectations that seem to cause the conflicts or misalignment. People moving to the beat of their own drum were causing things to be out of rhythm.
If you can manage expectations effectively, then even if you struggle to lead people you can still make progress. If you don’t manage expectations but are an effective leader, then you might be able to lead people down a path even though they are not sure why they are traveling the path. But in either scenario, it’s going to take a lot more work to be successful.
From my experiences and discussions with others, I pulled together some common reasons why leaders fail to effectively manage expectations:
THEY DON’T KNOW
The manager may not have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. Just because a person is in a management role, doesn't mean they have all the answers. In an effort to avoid looking stupid, they set a goal or a metric on something that they do understand. But many times, we confuse the goal with the process.
The manager may be seeing things through their own lens and don’t grasp the bigger picture because they view things from their position. The expectations they describe fit into their own view of performance and definition of success, but it misses the mark on the direction the company is traveling.
Sometimes, they don’t want to rock the boat, or they don’t feel that the expectation will be well received by their team. It may be a lack of confidence or fear of political backlash. But either way, they find it easier and possibly safer to avoid it and instead choose to set lesser expectations.
DEFEND THE CASTLE
Many times, when people feel a push to change expectations, they move into a defensive posture and try to protect their position and deflect what they perceive as an attack on them. By changing expectations, they feel that what they have been doing is wrong and reflects poorly on them as a leader. They reinforce their silo instead of viewing this as an opportunity to pivot and move forward.
As a leader, you must be able to manage expectations of your team as well as their relationship outside of your immediate organization. Clear expectations that can be supported and executed will help your team feel engaged and empowered. Managing expectations in this way will help you lead people 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.
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