Tag Archives: leadership

Great coaches

I’m always interested in working with great coaches and am lucky to have found a few along the way. How do I recognize them? How do you know if you’ve found one?

Great coaches know that most people can’t take in a long checklist of improvements. When someone gives me too much to think about, I spend all my time checking each move and I lose the flow of what I’m doing.

Great coaches focus on one area of performance at a time. They give you one or two things to think about or correct, and what they give you often has an impact far beyond the immediate.

I practiced karate for years and noticed time and again how a good instructor would get a student to make a small adjustment that made a big difference. They’d ask a student to adjust their hip position slightly and that would affect their foot position, their leg, shoulder, their arm – you’d see a person’s whole body change as a result of one small shift.

Look for people who give simple instructions that have great effect, and maybe you’ll have found a great coach. Think about the same approach for yourself – the world can always use more!

The Best Leadership – In Command and Out of Control

I really enjoyed re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” recently. He tells a lot of great stories about human beings’ ability to make quick decisions on limited information, but the phrase that stays in my mind comes out of one story about the military.

In the book, he relates a story about a war games exercise one of his subjects particpated in. Team A had lots and lots of sensors, advanced technology systems and defined processes for reaching decisions; Team B had standard information-gathering techniques and very little tech. The theory was that with lots of information and lots of processes to govern decision-making, Team A would naturally be the winner.

You can guess already that this didn’t happen, right? Once the games began, Team A received too much information, which they then spent too much time talking about. They weren’t set up to handle unexpected events or behaviours from the other side and as a consequence lost the game.

As an experienced battlefield commander, the leader of Team B knew that he didn’t WANT to know everything and that events often move too quickly for deep discussion. He wanted his people in the field to be able to address the situation in front of them effectively and tell him what he needed to know to forward the overall objective.

His expression for this was “in command and out of control,” which I thought was a great description of effective modern leadership.

It came to mind again during the recent floods in Calgary as we saw Mayor Naheed Nenshi do such a great job leading the city from disaster to recovery. He knew he didn’t need to know everything all of the time and he didn’t issue detailed instructions – he just said, “Help your neighbours,” which proved to be all people needed.

Are you in the same position? Can you give your team a broad directive like that and know they will perform effectively?

Going with your gut

Going with your first instinct is fine as long as it really is yours.

Awhile ago I went with some friends to Canada’s Wonderland. It was the first time I’d been back in years and while I can’t go on rides that go around in circles, I love rollercoasters. Wonderland has LOTS of rollercoasters and I’m pretty sure we hit all of them.

One in particular was pretty scary as there was no floor. You got into your seat, the safety bar came down and as you rolled out, the ground dropped away below you and you realized that you felt kind of naked. I was sitting next to my friend Ken and as we pulled to a stop at the end of the ride, my two friends in the row behind us said, “Let’s go again – we can just stay on!”

Ken said, “Yeah – ok! I’m going again!” but I was done. It was a good ride but once was enough for me. I waited for them at the exit and on their return Ken looked a little shaken up.

I asked him what was up and it turns out that after I got off the ride there was a short wait, then the safety bar came down, and then he realized that he didn’t want to go again. The attendant came by to perform the final check and Ken, slightly panicked, said, “I don’t want to go.” The attendant looked deep into his eyes and said, “It’s too late,” and the coaster pulled out again.

Ken admitted, “I got carried away by their enthusiasm – I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

“I feel kind of sick now.”

We laughed a lot but it made me think.

Going with your gut can be perfectly legitimate. Just make sure it’s your gut you’re going with, not somebody else’s.