Hard Not Harsh

I was privileged to watch a college basketball practice recently.  The team is close to the beginning of their season and their practice was ragged.  It happens.  The energy was uneven – swinging from under-energetic to desperately urgent. I watched as the coaching staff abandoned their original practice plan to focus on the team’s concentration, stamina, and heart.

These are the moments I get so glad to have the opportunity to witness.  This was a time the coaches had to be nimble to meet the players where they were – to get the most out of a practice that was going a little south, diagnose underlying problems, and address them with helpful learning.

It can be a tough assignment because the leaders are in the middle of their own preseason stresses.  They gave me a perfect opportunity to watch for self-awareness and self-control from the coaches.

*I would like to acknowledge Coach Raegan Pebley, Women’s Basketball Head Coach, TCU, Fort Worth. Thanks for letting me watch, even when it was a challenging time. You are the type of leader people want to follow!
*I would like to acknowledge Coach Raegan Pebley, Women’s Basketball Head Coach, TCU, Fort Worth. Thanks for letting me watch, even when it was a challenging time. You are the type of leader people want to follow!

The head coach was a rock star.  She seemed disappointed in what she saw, but she never belittled the players as she pushed them to work harder.  In fact, she explained to them the need for stamina and conditioning – reminded them of the challenges they would face when they began the combination of traveling, playing and going to classes.

She made the purpose of the challenging practice very clear.  And then she stayed.  Some of the players had more running than others at the very end – it’s the cost of not thoroughly completing some of the required exercises.  The coach stayed.

She was hard…the point was well made.  But she wasn’t harsh. She didn’t get angry, frustrated, or disgusted with the players.  When the last player finished the extra rounds, she too was congratulated and encouraged –  with the same sincerity given the others.

Here’s the lesson.  The head coach didn’t give into her own frustrations – frustrations are emotional traps that can make a leader defensive and cruel.  Frustration can lead a good person to fly off the handle, insult, and bully others.  This coach held the balance between the hard work that needed to be done and the humanity of her players.   She was hard, but not harsh.  It was elegant leadership.

Even When No One Is Watching

The mark of dedication and commitment is to do the hard stuff – even when no one is watching.

Through the line
Photo credit: Players engage in endurance running drills during a San Diego All-Stars Club basketball practice at Miramar College. Sandy Huffaker

I was watching basketball drills (and realized it’s the same as baseball and softball) – one of the drills was to run and run and run because that’s what’s required to build up stamina for a season. The drill is called running through the line.  The player is asked to run a series of sprints across the court or field.  The trick is to run THROUGH the line, not just TO the line.  It’s good exercise and is a measure of thoroughness, commitment…you get the idea.

It’s a place where many athletes cheat…just a little bit.   Wait – it’s not really cheating, is it? After all, who cares if I run through the line or just touch it or maybe just come close?  What does it matter?

It matters.  In fact, it’s a matter of integrity.  Consider athletes getting ready for their seasons, or customer service reps who are responsible for the satisfaction of the person on the other end of the phone. I think of all of those moments when a supervisor, a boss or a parent is not watching. Why is there an inclination to slack off just a little bit because no one will notice?

If it’s worth doing well, isn’t it always worth doing well simply because it’s worth doing?

Does quality in your organization – or in your life require supervision? Or is it a matter of self-management and pride?  Always remember to run through the line.


Have you noticed how young people are different?  As a boomer, it’s been explained to me that they are digital natives and I am a digital refugee.  Whatever it is, this generation of athletes, students and employees have grown up differently than us.  They are motivated differently, see teaming differently and have different expectations of leaders and organizations.

So what are the generations who came before them (that’s most of us) to do?  We still need to lead them and help them learn how to follow.  I’m here to help.

I want to introduce you to the leadership/coaching skill, Meet…Point…Dance*. It was first coined by Rick Tamlyn, my friend and mentor.  As an aside, Rick teaches meet…point…dance as a skill of a Bigger Game player. The Bigger Game is a powerful approach to life that Rick and his team teach. It’s a tool I use with my clients with great success.  For our use,  Meet…Point…Dance is shorthand to remind us to slow down and understand where the other person is before we jump into our story.  That means we have to drop our assumptions – like this class will be like last year’s incoming freshmen or like our second child will react like the first born! The only assumption we can safely make is that they are a different sort. When you start with Meet, you’ll likely notice the “slowing down” nature of it.  No charging headlong into a standard speech or practice plan. Instead, stop and look at the person in front of you and find out where they are – that’s the essence of Meet – understanding where the other person is.

Player Coach

Second, comes the Point.  That’s where you share your vision of the future and of them – what’s possible, what’s expected, and what is celebrated.  Then (here’s the secret to success), you Meet again.  Notice how your message is landing.  Notice their response.  Then you can Dance between where they are and where you want them to go.

When Meet…Point…Dance becomes a go-to skill for you, you will find you know the members of your team better.  You recognize the ones who are hungry to move forward, the ones who need more explanation, and those who are nervous.  You are able to lead them as individuals and they will be more willing to follow.  You will experience more success and fewer surprises.  Just remember to meet and meet and meet as part of your dance.  The Millennials are a willing bunch…especially when we see them as the unique people they are.


*Meet…Point…Dance is a skill of Bigger Game players.  The Bigger Game was created to inspire executives, leaders and individuals to get out of their comfort zones and invent the life they want.  Thanks to its creator, Rick Tamlyn (thebiggergame.com) for teaching us how to understand where other people were before we trying to get them to follow us. 

Random Acts of Kindness

I was on an airport bus this week and experienced an extraordinary person.  She wasn’t the driver (the one who is responsible for customer service) – she was just another rider. She exuded an engaging energy and seemed to have a sense of shared well-being.  Well-being she shared with the world.

When I got on the bus, there she was, along with a man who looked painfully confused.  Turns out he didn’t know his departure gate and was quite befuddled.  The driver wasn’t helping, so the RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) lady stepped in.  She asked Mr. Befuddled what he knew about his flight: time destination, flight number…anything.  In under a minute, she had his gate number.  He was noticeably relieved.  She smiled and fell backRAK 2
into her smart phone.  I smiled to myself thinking the kindness was circumstantial.  Kudos to her, but public displays of kindness aren’t always common.

When we got to the right stop for Mr. Befuddled, he almost missed it – but his guardian angel gently nudged him along.  Then she joined the driver in a conversation about the World Series.  I noticed that her attention had an impact on the driver.  I suspect he works in a paradoxically lonely world full of people.  On this ride, he threw out a line of human connection, which she caught and responded to.  (As I reflect on it, I realized I didn’t).

The impact on the driver was clear.  The exchange brightened his outlook and, I suspect, the rest of his day.  When we got to our mutual stop, she gathered her things, gave our driver a tip (he hadn’t carried her bag, he simply drove) and wished us all well with a magnetic, friendly energy.

Last week I wrote about Negaholics.  It was good to experience this woman who demonstrated how Random Acts of Kindness are on the other end of the human-encounter spectrum.   Our lesson is we get to choose how we meet the world.  There it was, live and in person on the bus.  At no cost to her, she was able to make the world a better place simply by moving through it.

So imagine Random Acts of Kindness as a way of being – something that is as simple a breathing.  Simple but it’s not always easy.  It requires being aware of how I am seeing and experiencing the world.

On the other hand, it sure invites a joyful outlook.  And the impact can be profound.