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.

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.

Playing Big – Failure is Always a Possibility

I was with a group of friends tonight talking about leadership.  One in our group is one of the bravest people I know.  He was the driving force behind the creation of a substance abuse recovery facility in the southwest.  The facility is fabulous.  After the dedication he learned that it will fall to someone else to run and administer his dream.

He should be insulted, destroyed, discouraged, disheartened.  Right?  Nope.  He realized that circumstances and others’ decisions will move him out and move someone else in.  He also knows that the work he did was what was needed and impeccable.  He is regrouping to begin his next good work.

So, let us pause a moment and reflect on what has occurred.  By the way, let’s look at how he is responding, not what occurred to determine it was fair.  My friend is called by a compelling purpose and is answering that call.  That’s why he invested his dreams and his best work into this project.   People and circumstances have  stepped into his path and told him his work there is complete.  (You have to believe me that the message was clear and final.)

That’s where his choice occurred.  He could let the circumstance dim his hope and create questions about his future.  Or he could stay focused on what compels him – what he believes he is here to do.

He is choosing to lean into his compelling purpose.  He acknowledges that the new center is ideal and will deliver a lot of good to people in need.  He also knows it is not his to run.  Rather than getting lost in the “what might have beens” He is choosing to check back in with his compelling purpose and look for  what is next for him.

Where is leadership in this?  It is in impeccability.  A great leader focuses on the bigger game – and understands he is one of the players – not the only one.  A great leader knows when to move aside and let others take the lead.  My friend is generous and gracious as responsibilities are handed off – making sure that those left have every advantage of his experience.  Finally, a great leader measures success by what is accomplished, not by the kudos or the titles.

My friend leaves his dream project knowing he has given his very best and delivered what was promised.  He has tapped back into his passion and beginning to dream again. Leadership doesn’t guarantee a future, it creates from nothing and from everything.