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)

You Can Be Wrong – It Doesn’t Hurt

One of the great myths in coaching/leadership is that being wrong is a sign of weakness.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  The challenge is, in a world where competition is so powerful, it’s almost natural to see things strictly through the lenses of win or lose; strength or weakness.  If that were the only option, it would follow that if I’m wrong, I’m weak.  Pretty harsh, so let’s not buy into it yet.Sometimes being wrong is the only way we can learn

Let’s look at a story of how being wrong led to success.  Gary Patterson, head coach at TCU, used to have a deliberate approach to running an offense.  It worked well for years.  In fact, TCU made it to the Rose Bowl in 2011 and won.

That win paved the way a couple of years later for TCU to make the leap to the Big 12 to play with the big boys.  Coach P’s deliberate approach to offense that had worked so well in the past was a disaster in the new era. The team went 2-7 in their conference debut.  What had been right in the past became really wrong.

Let’s pause the story for a minute and consider – if I see life as a competition, what is my response to being wrong?  I’m likely to experience denial, rationalization and often disbelief (must be some mistake, I’ll just try again.)  I may begin to act as though my identity, my character is tied to being wrong.  It becomes personal.  Think of a time when someone told you – “you’re doing it wrong.”  Was your first response to be curious or was your response like mine – justify my actions, blame some outside influence and make excuses?  Getting hooked by “I can’t be the one who’s wrong!” is a gargantuan waste of time and energy.

GP didn’t get wrapped up in the right and wrongness.  He got curious, assessed the situation, hired new fast-paced-offense coaches and handed offensive responsibility over to them – a coaching act of faith.  TCU went 12 – 1 (8-1) the next year.

Let’s go back to the myth:  being wrong is a sign of weakness.  If I worry about how I am seen, that in itself becomes the problem.  I waste time focusing on looking good instead of addressing what is not working.  Tip of the hat to Gary Patterson.  He didn’t go there.

The lesson is to choose curiosity over defensiveness and judgment. Being wrong is not a failing – it’s a failure and our job is to recover.



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.


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 ( 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.


Another fallacy of leadership – or maybe it is corporate culture –or maybe some theory of A Good Campaignchange – is believing that if an organization just informs the workforce of a change several times, using all the entire communications arsenal (social media, email, internal website, etc.) that everyone will be convinced and the transformation will occur.

BTW, this isn’t arewrite of the last blog – about including people in understanding what the value of a change for them….this is the next chapter in what’s required for true transformation.  How you make change stick.

A story of change delayed:  It was IBM in 2001.  The company had embarked on a massive cultural change (one the eventually saved the company).  Everyone knew about it – it was on the website, every kick off meeting had a presentation on it and your find a video of the CEO touting how “new and different” was happening.  In the sales division, a group of us was given the charter of teaching first and second line sales managers how to coach sellers using an updated, company-wide sales method.  They had learned the method and now they were learning performance-coaching skills.  The audiences were curious and delighted with the possibilities of coaching sellers to develop, change and improve performance.

After the early adopters were through the class, we noticed the questions begin:  “When are you going to teach the executives?”  “What was the exec’s class like?”  Well you can guess that the execs had not undergone any training.  The expectation was if you change the sellers – all else would change.  You know the drill, “If we can just get THEM to change.  After all, I’m doing it right – I don’t need to change.  We’ll just change the process, tout it in every communique and it will happen!”  What we learned, what slowed the transformation was the fallacy in that belief.

The truth:  Corporate culture doesn’t change until leaders talk about the change (like a drum beat), ask different questions (because “success” looks different in a transformed culture) and measure differently.  If you want to be a new kind of organization, leadership must lead the change while they are leading the business.  It’s a little like changing out the tires on the bus as it rolls down the road.

A leader must model a new way of being, celebrate new behaviors and reward the new kinds of success.

So the myth of ALL IT TAKES IS A  GOOD MARKETING CAMPAIGN is debunked.  People have to see that the organization is serious about transformation or many will stand on the sidelines to see if they can wait it out…because, my friends, change is uncomfortable!  So that thing we call ‘irresistible leadership’ means the leader must be in 100% and willing to lead the charge.  It’s an act of faith in the future you want to create.


One of the greatest fallacies of leadership is believing that saying it out loud – or writing it down will make it so.  If we were leading programmable units it might be so.  But we know it just ain’t so – through experience.

Here is the story of a well-meaning group of safety experts in a manufacturing plant.  It was a classic dirty, hot, dangerous work place.  The safety guys came in as part of a new initiative to try to make the environment as safe as possible.  In their first safety walk-around…that’s what they do, they walk around and see if there are any easy first hits; those are the “duh – why haven’t we seen that?” kind of fixes that are easy to do, workers like and quickly make the workplace more comfortable and safe.

Those are the changes that safety teams use to convince plant floor workers that they aren’t just some sissy-boys from headquarters “coming down here to tell us what to do.”

As luck would have it, the team found their easy fix.   There were no safety mats anywhere in the plant.  Safety mats are those squishy mats that workers can stand on that allow them to be on their feet for an 8 hour shift without taking as much toll on backs, shins, feet and all.  That was going to be their golden ringer – bring the first change in that would be enormously popular and everyone would be happy the Safety Team was on the job.

When the mats arrived, they were placed around all the presses during first shift.  The Safety Guys talked to the first shift guys about the advantages the mats brought and had them try them out for comfort.  The workers on the line were pretty happy as the mats were laid and the Safety Team left for the day. images

The next morning, the mats were gone.  They were unceremoniously piled in a corner, out of the way.  As it turns out, the second shift came in, found the mats – with no explanation for why they were there.  No one had asked the second shift crowd if they wanted any mats.  From their perspective, it was just another way to be told what to do.  Someone had decided this should be good for them and just did it.  The workers weren’t impressed and kicked all the new mats aside without even trying them out.  Do their actions defy logic?  Perhaps.  But their behaviors are easily understood when we consider people’s hunger to be included.  As it turned out, the Safety Team came back to the plant, met with the second shift workers.  When asked, they approved, convinced it was a good idea and the mats went back down.

So the myth of THEY WILL DO IT ‘CAUSE WE SAY SO is debunked.  People want to be involved.  That means the leader must rely on being inclusive and communicative – we call it ‘irresistible leadership.’

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.