In Between Yes and No

In between the answers YES and NO we can find the place of NOT YET – but only if we are wise enough to look.   If you are like me, you typically think of YES and NO as absolute.  It either is or it’s not…there’s not a lot of wiggle room. But what if there were more wiggle room, more possibilities? What if, in between being told “yes” and “no” there is a place of preparation and self-management?  That’s the value of NOT YET.

Here’s how my eyes were opened to that lesson. I was working toward an important professional certification and thought I was prepared. Imagine my response when I was told I had failed an important part of the exam. I was blindsided! My first response was to run headlong into NO. NO – I wasn’t going to get the coveted prize. Theimages-2 realization took the wind out of my sails. I was angry, embarrassed and determined to believe the worst of the credentialing system. After all, it told me I was a failure. You see, I was taking up residency in the land of NO.

In the midst of my angst, I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who believed in me. They brought me into the energy of NOT YET. In fact, husband Paul had to come in and get me – yank me out of the energy of failure – out of NO – to bring me up and out to NOT YET.

When I made the move into NOT YET, it became clear that seeing the possibility of a positive outcome in the end doesn’t mean the path will be easy. In fact, the opposite is often more true. Getting from NO to YES takes courage, hard work and a willingness to accept how we are seen by others – not just how we see ourselves. When I mustered the courage to live in NOT YET, I discovered a sense of urgency and determination. It was a place of hard work and hope.

What’s the lesson here? I think it’s two-fold. The personal lesson is to look for NOT YET when I hear NO. We have to be wise enough to understand that some NOs are absolute – people die, positions are filled with someone else, seasons end. But if I look, I might find the NOT YET. Sometimes it is clearly in front of me; sometimes it’s on another playing field. The point is to look. Once possibility of NOT YET is discovered, it’s important to remember that the journey will probably be challenging. The land of NOT YET is aspirational – and it’s not for wimps.

The second lesson is a leadership lesson. When someone around you – or someone you are responsible for – gets a NO, help them find their NOT YET. You can help them see what is beyond, what is possible when they’ve just gotten a NO. When I was blind to possibilities, others gave me the gift of vision.

We are called on to deliver NO’s as leaders (coaches, parents, teachers). The lesson is to remember NOT YET. When we practice looking for the path to YES, we teach others to, as well.

YES is not always automatic. Sometimes it can take a lot of NO’s to get to YES. Looking for the NOT YET offers hope and the whole world of possibilities!

(*Enormous gratitude goes to friend, Dottie Cook, who expanded on these ideas during an inspirational sermon)

Sportsmanship vs Gamesmanship

kid cheating golfAs we enter into this time of end-of-year, end-of-season pressures, it’s critical to remember – there is a difference between Gamesmanship and Sportsmanship.

Gamesmanship is where the rules are bent – if you’re not caught,  it can feel like you are not actually breaking the rules.

Sportsmanship is doing this right thing because it’s the right thing…knowing the game will be won on the merits of the players.

One of the biggest differences between the two is what we choose to model to those who look up to us.  Is it all right to bend the rules to win if we plan to explain it (or ignore it) later?  Or is important to always model honesty and integrity?  Always.

It’s a tough question in sports and in business.   It’s the difference between being like John Wooden and Bill Belichick.  Or if you are in business, between being IBM or being Enron.

I guess a key question remains:  who do you want to be in this world?

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.

Meet…Point…Dance

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.

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*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. 

No Room for Negaholics

My friend, Brian Cain, used a word in a recent blog I hadn’t before.  He talked about Negaholics –  those people you can count on to see what’s wrong or what won’t work.  What a great word and great images it conjures up!   We all know those people. It’s the ones who default to the “glass half empty” view of life.  The “it’s never good enough” crowd. It’s the people who believe that everything is a problem to be fixed. Negaholics.Good and bad Bot

Now that they have been identified, let’s talk about the energy we get from them.  Here’s a clue – negative emotions are more powerful than positive ones.  It’s the inbred human need to survive.  We are hardwired to be on the lookout for threats.  So it’s important to recognize the impact of a Negaholic.  If I’m negative, what energy does that invite from you?

Positive psychology teaches us that a good organization is infused with positive interactions.  To be a good, productive team, the ratio of positive to negative interactions is about 5 to 1 (5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one).  By the way, positive interactions are easy – especially when they become default behavior. For example, if someone walks in the room and the leader looks up and smiles, that’s a positive interaction. Now, if the person walks in the room and the leader doesn’t even look up, that counts as a negative. Yep, that simple.  So being positive is easy – it’s about being intentional and human.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting.  If a good climate has 5 to 1 positive to negative, it’s important to know that great organizations have a positive ratio of 8 to 1. That means more celebration and less correction.  (BTW.  Don’t read anything that is not here – I didn’t say NO corrections.  I said “less” correction).  The message here is to have more positive interactions than negative ones – at a ration of 8 to 1 for a high performance team.   It takes awareness and intention, but the payoff is real.

The bottom line:  the leader holds the key to a team’s greatness.  There isn’t room for Negaholics

The Art of the Question

If you want your students to understand and learn from their mistakes, ask the type of question that encourages learning.  The words you choose can make all the difference.  Here are some good ones to know –question-mark-460869_640

The word “what” opens up the conversation for curiosity and discovery, as in “What’s the value?”  Or  “What are your options?”  It invites a person to discover answers on his own.

“How” asks by what means will something get done?  There is not a lot of discovery in “how” – it’s about fixing, solving or doing.  A good rule of thumb is to ask “what”, allow time for discovery and then ask “how.”

“Why” is a cautionary word.  It looks to the past (“Why did you try that?” or “Why did that happen?”) and gathers historical data.  It’s cautionary because it gathers facts but in an accusatory way.  “Why” has that effect in more than one language!  The other caution is that the question “why” seems to be very popular.  It will pay you to be aware of how often you use it!

One other group of questioning words to be aware of would be the “closed questions” words like “did, do, does, would, should and could.”  You can almost here the negative energy when you read the list.  These words only offer two choices – yes or no.  No discovery.  No creativity.

You are in the business of asking questions.  It’s important to recognize that with the single word, you can tailor a helpful question of personal discovery or a judgmental question full of blame.  Your player gets to move forward or get stuck in the past – that’s the choice. It’s the art of the question

Where do you begin?  First, listen to the questions you ask.  Then ask with intention. How you ask a question is as important the content.  Give it a shot.

Questions are NOT Created Equal

closed-open-sign

I teach coaches to ask great questions of their student athletes.  It allows the players to grow into world-class athletes and mature adults.  The first lesson is that not all questions are created equal.   The meaning of questions can be found in 3 places: in the words, the intent of the question, and tone.  Imagine with me – your athlete (or employee) comes off the field, court, or out of a meeting having just made a mistake.  There is a big difference between, “Did you see what you just did?” And “what did you notice?”

It’s not much of a stretch to hear disappointment – maybe anger – in the first question. Depending on the coach’s tone, it could feel pretty threatening.  Now, on top of dealing with his mistake, the player now feels attacked by the coach – the person who is supposed to be on his side.  It creates what is called in emotional intelligence, an “amygdala hijack.”  That’s when a question is perceived as an attack and the body is triggered in to a full ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response.

When that happens, the logic part of the brain gives way to the brain’s emotional control center.  Thinking is impaired. What that means is that at the very time you want a kid to listen to you and remember what they’ve been taught, they are paralyzed by stress.  My guess is the “did you see what you just did?” question is intended to help and in fact, quite often has the opposite affect.

Let’s replace the stress-inducing question with a different one – “What did you notice?” If you read it out loud, you’ll feel its simplicity and power.  It is open-ended, short enough that there aren’t any embedded assumptions, and it’s curious. Asking, “what do you notice” is like standing shoulder to shoulder with your athlete to look at their performance and help them discover what there is to learn.  No amygdala hijack, no accusations, just the opportunity for them to uncover what was going on so you can get on with the job of teaching and developing them.