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?

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.

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.

OMG!! When did I lose that…when did I change?

That was a question uncovered by my client a couple of days ago.  “I used to see those people as people and now I see them as objects. OMG – when did I lose that…when did I change?  What happened to me that suddenly getting the job done was more important than the people doing the job?”    Take a moment to pause here and realize how big a revelation this could be for a leader.

It was a pivotal moment – a light bulb moment – a when-did-results-begin-to-define-me? moment.  It was important because it became really clear what we will be working on.

But let’s roll the clock back.  What he discovered was that some time in the past, the results of the team’s work had become more important than the team.  Achievement trumped people (their growth, development and well-being) and failure was no longer an option.  The tone of his leadership changed because IT was more important than THEY were.  THEY became no more than a means to an end…”if you can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can!”    

Here the story of how it all began to fall apart.  The team came close to perfection – they delivered far more than was expected.  But in their moment of triumph, the leader reminded them it wasn’t quite good enough because it wasn’t perfect.  It’s like going to the Olympics and winning the Silver – since when has Silver been shabby?

So there they were – delivering excellent results and hearing about their shortcomings and not their accomplishments.  That’s what happens when winning becomes the only objective.  (For those of you who would quote,  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” –  that is a simple truism that will defeat you in the end.  Life’s games are way more complex than that!!  In fact, read on – that’s exactly what this is about)

Back to our story.  There was little celebration of milestones accomplished.  Oh, milestones were noted, but praise came with the caveat that what they had delivered was never quite good enough.  Some of the team decided that the message they received was not really different whether they failed or succeeded: if they failed they would be berated and if they succeeded, their success was applauded while any weaknesses were noted.    So people began to leave .  They defected to other teams and to other companies.  The people could feel that they were seen as objects – less valued.  They wanted more for themselves.   Over time, our leader had changed his focus – from developing great people to delivering great results.  He took his eye off the leader’s ball – the leader’s objective.  Leading is about delivering results through people.

“When did I lose that? – the ability to see my people as people?”   It was a great moment.

What’s the lesson?  Before change can begin, honest self-examination is critical.  Change requires an awareness that something is not right and an intention to make a change.  The “ah-ha” was the beginning for my client.  And now our work begins.