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.

Let’s talk about leadership

Let’s begin the conversation about leadership.  It’s all around us: good and bad, effective and ineffective, generous and greedy.  This blog is meant to be a conversation.  Our stance is that great leadership yields great results.  Take a look at Gary Patterson (football coach TCU Horned Frogs, a small private college in the US).  Patterson created an environment where excellence flourished .  EXCELLENCE flourished.  He demands a great deal – including going to class and graduating.  His team had the greatest successes of any college team in the US in 2010, capped with winning the Rose Bowl Championship, Jan 1, 2011.  (OK, if you are from Auburn, you can take me to task – but remember, TCU was the Cinderella team.  Auburn has 25,000 students, TCU as 9,000…you see where this is going…) Any way, this is about Gary and the Frogs.  There will be more about them later.

for the Cinderella team – a glass slipper

How about Alan Mulally?  He led Ford Motor Company through the recession (without a bailout) and to a position of leadership in the automobile industry in the US and globally.

He got a step on changes that needed to be made and has positioned Ford to be a powerhouse in the world.  And he did it all with an eye on sustainability.

We’ll talk about what’s great, who’s great and what makes them great.  Join us in the conversation!