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.


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. 

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.

Trying to motivate through shame is just a form of corporate bullying.

The leadership myth is debunked:  people are NOT motivated through being shamed. This is the continuing series of the “rules of leadership have changed.”  images

I worked in an organization once where the VP I worked for had what he called, “the wall of shame.” Every time someone made a notable mistake, he would post the person’s picture on the wall with the description of the transgression. I should pause and tell you that this man had a wicked sense of humor – emphasis on wicked. He was a great businessman and took pride in treating people as though they owed him.  And what did he motivate through his behavior:  honesty?  full disclosure? unified effort toward common goal?  Hardly.

Another leader I worked with was the polar opposite.  When there was a loss (or a win), she conducted a “learn review.”   The review focused on what worked, what didn’t work so well, how did people perform, how did we respond to market changes?  It was not an atmosphere of blame or fault-finding. Her team grew in proficiency with every opportunity.  People who didn’t improve were helped to find positions that better complimented their skills and preferences.  Her wall was filled with acknowledgements and accolades and she led the team that everyone wanted to be on.

So the rule of “blame and shame” is no more.  High performance teams don’t look for fault, they look for effort; having the right person in the right job and ways to be nimble and remove obstacles.  A leader who shames and bullies may enjoy short-term gains, but the long-term outlook is bleak.

Leaders who help their teams grow through wins and losses build hope, loyalty and success for the organization.

The myth is debunked: they CAN see you in the balcony

First in a series of the “rules of leadership have changed.”Balcony with child looking in

For anyone who has ever attended a church where there is a balcony, you know the myth. Usually it’s teenagers who believe it most strongly – but it can be anyone. What’s the myth? When I’m up here, people can’t see me.

I sat in a church service last night – the sanctuary was full of preachers. It’s the annual Brite Divinity School Ministers week. I was in the balcony because Paul was recording. Down the row from me was a group of young people. Recently minted ministers, I suppose. They believed in the myth. They thought they were invisible. At least they acted as though they were invisible. Unfortunate. Their coats hung on the balcony rail, there was chatting and a more than usual tendency to get up and walk around.  They failed to notice how often they drew attention to themselves…because they were ‘invisible.’

And I began to ponder – what are those times when I think I’M invisible? It certainly isn’t when I’m blogging, or tweeting or posting on Facebook. Visibility, in this age of over–information, is ubiquitous. As leaders, consultants, coaches, teachers, parents and all those other things we are – we are visible.

The rules have changed for leaders. Marshall Goldsmith got it right when he titled his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” He was talking mostly about behaviors – moving from being an individual contributor to being a leader, manager or executive. I would take it a step further and say that statement applies our perception of what a leader should be.  And that’s because the world we are leading in has changed so radically.

So the first rule of leadership that has changed is the rule of visibility. The best approach is to believe, “I can ALWAYS be seen.” We will spend more time on the changing rules of leadership and how to be effective in this new world. Come along for the ride, it should be fun. In fact, feel free to join the conversation – guaranteed it will change!

Changing the world is easier than you think!

I was out driving a few days ago and passed a house where the front yard was FULL of ceramic duck statues…30 or more. The duck army was in straight rows on the ground. They were all sizes and colors. My first thought was “what an ugly thing to do in the front yard.” My second thought was “I bet someone makes those things in the garage and is trying to sell them. Tacky!” Notice how easy it was for me to create a story based on what I was seeing. Ducks

Just for the record, my next thought was, “I’d never have anything like that in front of my house!” I drove on feeling rather superior.

Later that day, I drove back on that street and noticed an older woman with two small children. The children were now putting the ducks in circles. HMMMM. What a shift in perspective I had. The stories I had made up of tasteless inferiority were giving way to a grandmother-figure helping two little ones create a world of make believe. My judgment gave way to the delight of watching giggling toddlers redesigning their world.

So, why the story about ducks? It’s really a story about how the choices we make define how we experience the world. Notice how I easily created a story based on partial information. I was simply driving along, observing and jumping to conclusions. I easily judged the character and motivations of people simply by what I saw.  Now imagine what changes when I make the same drive being curious rather than judgmental. In this scenario I drive by a very interesting house and smile at the sight of the duck army. No judgment, no conclusions. And I go about the rest of my day being curious and open to whatever might show up.

Let’s apply the story of the ducks to leadership. As a leader, I get to choose how I see my world. I can question people’s motives (judging) or I can be curious about why they make their choices. So instead of jumping to conclusions, I wait to see the outcome or better yet, ask what was involved in the decision. My perspective becomes the difference between seeing people as inferior and the possibilities that open up when people are seen as unique and creative. It seems like such a subtle point and yet, how I see people defines how I show up in the world. Remember the ducks – absolutely nothing changed in the story but how I was seeing it.

Here’s your choice – seeing a world of possibilities or seen a world of scarcity… Seeing people as “people” or seeing them as “objects.” Here is something you can try – spend today practicing possibilities. It’s as easy as “wondering” rather than “judging.” And think of the power!

And the truth is – by changing your perspective, you can change your world.

Intuition – or that little voice that says “Don’t step THERE”

I’ve been playing with Intuition.   You know that voice in your head that can say “Oh – try that” or “Don’t step THERE!” We all have the voice.  The question is, how often am I willing to first listen and second give credence to what it tells me?

Back in my corporate days, you wouldn’t have caught me dead paying attention to my intuition. I was so in my head!   Any new idea had to be validated through research, published (HBR was always a good source) and widely recognized as valid.   Are you aware of how limiting those head games make us?  I didn’t either – never even considered it. I was such a good corporate player.  Turns out I played pretty small.

Before I left my nearly-30 years at IBM.  I read Joseph Jaworsky’s and Peter Senge’s Synchronicity:  The Inner Path of Leadership.  It made me very squirmy.  What they said about slowing down, being aware of energy beyond themselver and the success and happiness they found when they let go was very foreign to me.

Not anymore – I’m no longer a ‘good corporate player.”  Nope,  I’m just not “good” in the sense of being too analytical nor am I corporate. However, I am still a dedicated player.   And I choose to play with intuition. What a cool place to play. Here are the challenges:  FIRST I have to discern the little voice. That’s a challenge because it can be just a “no, not that” twinge.  Then I have to pay attention.  I have to slow down –  a competency I’m working on – to even get the signal.  Finally, I have to believe that what I’ve just perceived is significant.  I don’t know about your little voice, but mine rarely offers more the tiniest view into what is coming.

Sometimes its clear that I will never know for  sure if it was my intuition and if it worked (like when the voice tells me to go a different road when I’m driving).  I do know I’ve had a time or two that the voice has said, “jump off here” that I didn’t and got stuck in traffic for a couple of hours – no kidding!   Well, I give intuition credit for knowing more than I do.  And its comforting to realize I’m not alone.  Not just that – that I’m not alone and the energy around me is actually on my side!!

So where is this taking us?  To a place of slowing down and having faith in something besides ourselves.  As leaders, we all know that slowing down helps us catch mistakes, separate the churn into definable streams and have enough energy to be up for the marathon of leadership.  It also gives us the opportunity to be aware of coincidence, intuition, or whatever you want to call it.  I find it amazing.  By the way, I still have to shush the corporate voice in my head.  She thinks its nonsense.  I believe she is wrong.