Sorry for being a bit slow on the blogs lately. My 10-day, 2800 mile, cross-country motorcycle ride kinda had me preoccupied. Then of course coaching football to 13 5-6 year old boys has also cut into my 80 hour work weeks. 🙂 As a matter of fact, if you EVER think you’re a great leader, volunteer to teach 13 kindergarten and first grade boys how to play flag football… Teaching a handful of these kids in a classroom certainly must have its challenges, however football has it’s own nuances that the classroom does not. For instance its a physical sport and everyone knows a boy’s favorite thing to do is wrestle, tackle, push, and tease so having them go from that to learning something new is never a smooth transition. Additionally, each kid is learning something different and all at the same time. One is learning to be a quarterback another to be a running back another a wide receiver another a center. It’s actually more like the team in a business than in a classroom. Most importantly – You just gotta get all of them running in the same direction.
So here is a quick summary of the lessons my 5 and 6 year old players have taught me about effective leadership already (all of which apply to adults):
- Everyone has preconceived notions. I have one player who has older brothers and has obviously watched football on TV. He’s really fast and so a running back would be perfect for him. However this is flag football so running straight up the middle, like they do on TV, isn’t generally the best way to avoid getting your flags pulled.
- Work with what they can do and what they like. I have another player who is particularly rambunctious. Always goofing off, tackling other players, not listening, throwing grass etc. So I gave him a single objective on defense. Pull the player with the ball’s flag. He’s one of the 2 smallest players on the team and yet he pulled more flags than almost everyone else combined. He absolutely loved it and obviously I encouraged him every time. He got so good at it that he once pulled the flag of the running back before the quarterback had time to hand him the ball. The referee wasn’t real sure what to do and I couldn’t help but laugh. So when I asked him what his favorite part about football was guess what he said? “Pulling flags!”
- Let them understand why its better for them to do something. The fearless player who runs up the middle does it because that’s what the pro’s do. So how do I get him to run around the other team to the outside instead? Well I can tell him to do so, or teach him why its in his best interest to do so. “OK running backs, what’s your goal?” “Score a touchdown!” “Great, so in which direction do we run?” “That way!” “Straight up the middle” “Yes!” “If you run up the middle do you think they’ll get your flags?” “Uh, yeah” “So since your so fast you think they could get your flags if you ran around them?” At this point you should have seen the excitement on his face. It was like the whole world was open to him and now he could score limitless touchdowns (those looks alone make coaching worth it).
- Give them structure. If you don’t have specific drills, specific breaks, specific plays, huddles, team meetings, key phrases (like “freeze!”), and some ground rules it’s chaos. Honestly my team is chaos. I’m still trying to figure out this structure thing. I like to think I’m better at it in business but now I’m not so sure… And that structure doubly applies to the dads who are helping out. They’re even more lost without specific instructions.
- Provide encouragement but don’t be too nice. As mentioned in #2 above you have to encourage, however if you don’t also discourage certain behaviors you have a riot on your hands. That’s my problem. I’m too nice (which makes me think I have the same problem in business). The kids need specific guidelines as to what’s acceptable (like your business needs Points of Culture) and when they’re out of line they need to have some sort of punishment (sitting next to coach and not participating is always a good one).
- Never assume everyone understands because you’re so great at explaining things. This results in kids running in the wrong direction. It has the same effect on your business, which is why procedures, position descriptions, scripts, incentive-based pay, Points of Culture and other VERY specific documents are necessary.
- Reward success. Kind, compassionate mothers everywhere are going to chastise me for this one, but if a child (or adult) drops the pass, fumbles the football, misses the tackle etc. you don’t give him a sticker. He’s not stupid. He knows he didn’t succeed so why would you confuse him by rewarding him? Now when he does well, you (as the highly respected coach) better be the first one to congratulate him!
- Do what you say you will. If you tell a team member you’re going to stop practice if they keep misbehaving, then stop practice. Threats without consequence carry no weight. Even a 5 year old figures that out real quick.
- Ignore the ignorable. My mom taught me this one. When a group of boys are sitting in the middle of a field they are going to throw grass on each other. It can’t be stopped. It’s an impossible force of nature that cannot be overcome. So ignore it. Often times there are things in our business that require the same selective ignorance… Not everything warrants our attention.
- You don’t know everything. Since I’m a nice guy, and not a brilliant coach, we took turns handing the ball off to different players to run. One by one each player got a chance. Another of the littlest guys I was a bit concerned about… I really wasn’t sure what he could contribute to the team and what I could encourage him to do. So when it was his turn to run he took off and ran for a touch down. His next rotation around he ran in for the extra point. In practice today we didn’t have any goal lines so he ran all the way down the field and back to me (the line of scrimmage) with no one catching him. I don’t think anyone has ever pulled his flag! Looks are deceiving. The shortest legs are not necessarily the slowest. Man am I glad I gave him a chance and, more importantly, so is he!
In First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Buckingham points out that you always do better by having people who are good at something keep getting better than having someone who is not so good improve. You build up his strengths and ignore his weaknesses. You don’t spend time trying to overcome his weaknesses. Granted, as small children they have a lot of growing and learning to do so what may be a weakness now could certainly become a strength later. However for adults, that’s almost NEVER the case. Adults love doing what they do best, will be proud of themselves when they do it, and will continually work to get better at it because of that pride. They’ll do even better with some encouragement and continual education from their leader.
Wait a sec – that sounds exactly like my 5-6 year olds. Let them play the position they love – some prefer running, others throwing, others catching, and others getting flags – encourage them when they do it well and they will make themselves better. And if you’re a decent coach and can help them learn what they need to do to become even better, then they’ll be immeasurably more excited with their new found knowledge. The team at your business works the same way. That’s why we have team meetings, regular reviews, benchmarks, reports on performance, commissions, bonuses, processes and procedures, scripts and a Team Leader (which I tell everyone is most synonymous with “coach”). My job as a coach (and team leader) is to help everyone do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
What’s your goal as a leader (coach) in your business?
To your success, Bryan
P.S. You know what’s most amazing? These kids taught me all of this in only 4 practices and 1 game so, so much for that MBA. 😀