An Example Of What Makes Leaders Great

I love the game of basketball, as a fan, a player, and as a coach. I love being able to use the lessons that sports, more specifically basketball, has taught and apply them to other areas of life. Right now we’re able to witness some of the greatest coaches in action, and one of them is Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.

For those of you that follow the National Basketball Association (NBA), Coach Popovich is a household name. He is a great strategist as a coach, building a consistent, championship contending team year after year. But he’s also been responsible for creating the culture for the Spurs organization, and the culture plays an important role in the building of his championship teams.

The Spurs and Gregg Popovich are great examples of leadership and team building is so many ways, but for right now I’d like to highlight this one example of how he dealt with his star player asking to be traded.

I sort of liken this situation to a disgruntled or unhappy employee looking for a new job. And when they’re unhappy, half of the time it’s because of the boss or manager, not necessarily the job or company.

In my experience, when an employee isn’t happy, there aren’t many managers that are willing to have multiple conversations with that employee and then step back and think about how they (as a manager) can change so that they can get the most out of that employee. But that’s exactly what Coach Popovich did.

Coach sat down with his player numerous times, had an open and honest conversation with him and came to the conclusion that the reason why the player wasn’t happy was because of bad coaching. Imagine that. A legendary coach, well respected throughout the league and beyond, admitting that bad coaching is what led to the players unhappiness and decline in productivity. When is the last time you’ve seen that happen in any other profession? Probably never. Or if it did happen, it wasn’t public and it certainly wasn’t made known to the employee it affected.

If you want to be a great leader and your team be willing to follow you and your direction, invest in your team, and remove your ego.

If You Want Respect, Take Responsibility

Respect goes a long way and is a currency that must be earned because it cannot be taken. It can be earned quickly, or over time, as a result of an action or inaction, but it requires proof or a reason. When you’ve gained the respect of peers, competitors, or strangers, you’ve done something to earn it.

Some people think that by attaining a position of power, it should demand respect. But I disagree. Those in positions of power should work to earn respect just as much as everyone else.

Showing respect and earning respect are two different things. I can show respect to someone in authority but I don’t have to respect them. If you’re having trouble figuring out if the people that you surround yourself with or have been given to lead respect you or not, think about who would come to your aid when you’re in trouble, and who wouldn’t.

And before your blood starts to boil when you think about those that won’t back you, stop for a moment and take a step back and really understand why they wouldn’t. Sure, maybe some of them are jerks or they’re simply jealous of you for some reason, but even the fiercest of rivals have been known to have a healthy respect for each other.

Earning respect starts with taking responsibility and owning up to your actions as an individual, and if you’re a leader, manager, or coach of a team, owning up to those too. It means standing up and taking the good and the bad, not just enjoying the success and passing blame for failures to someone or something else.

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” ~ Carl Jung

Social Is As Social Does

I’ve had this belief that social media is the gateway to face to face interaction and relationships. And meeting people in person that I’ve met through social media has resulted in some great friendships. But those friendships never would have been possible if the conversation didn’t start on social.

We starting to live in a world where automation is becoming the norm. At work, school, and home, automation has been pitched as a way to become more efficient. Why do something tedious if a machine can do it for you?

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Automation has it’s place, but not in social media for me.

And to be honest, I’ve bought into automation for the most part. I have Alexa and some IoT devices at home automating some things for me and some of my bills are paid automatically. I also believe some marketing automation is good too, although it is embarrassing to receive an email from a company to pitch their product when I already have it. And when I first got started in social media, I bought into automation as well.

When I first joined Twitter, one of my goals was to get a lot of followers. As someone that was new to the platform, follower count was a big deal for me. And I also think that when I first joined Twitter (I did make an exit at one point and came back), the numbers actually meant something. This was before social scheduling apps and sites existed or became popular to use. You actually had to be online in order to share content, which meant that you had to be active.

I remember when social automation sites entered the scene too, and I will admit that I’ve tried and used them. There are some that will let you share blog post from a site right when it’s posted. There are some that will allow you to schedule your posts so that you can reach your audience at the most optimal time of day.

There are other kinds of social automation tools that help you grow your following by helping to identify people to follow based on your interests and expertise. Other tools just help you follow people automatically.

I’m not here to pass judgment on social automation. It is my personal preference to not use them, and if you do that’s your choice. But in my opinion, the area where automation cannot help you social is in conversation. Let me clarify, we can program bots to engage in conversation for us, but then it wouldn’t be genuine. And in my opinion, conversation is the the cornerstone for relationships on social media.

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If you really want to connect with your audience, have conversations.

Everything revolves around conversation on social. Even if your sole intention is to just get your content more visibility, however selfish that is, it starts with conversation. Conversation builds a relationship, and it’s that relationship that will prompt others to want to share your content (assuming that it’s useful) which will give it more visibility.

Social is as social does. Brands and individuals alike, what you put into it will determine what you get out of it. If you want to be a newsfeed, then expect newsfeed results. If you want to connect with others, understand your community and audience, start having a conversation.

Leadership Isn’t For Everyone

One of the best experiences that I’ve had and fondest memories is when I used to coach basketball. I did it for 10 years and I loved it. There were a lot of ups and downs, it took a lot of time and dedication, but I really enjoyed it. There’s something about creating a team and watching them grow and succeed that’s just enjoyable to experience and be a part of. But in order to endure the ups and downs and experience the joy of seeing your team succeed, you have to be in it for the team and not for yourself.

In sports, it’s really easy to be enamored with winning championships and trophies, after all you play the game to win. But what you don’t see are the countless hours of practice day after day that the players need to go through, and in addition to that the hours of planning that the coaching staff needs to work on to make it all happen.

Good coaches are right there with their players and the team is like a family. Good coaches understand the strength and weaknesses of each player and put the team as a whole in the best possible position to succeed. They understand that the team is only as good as its weakest player.

Coaches must always be learning and adjusting, finding new ways to teach things and accommodating new players and their skills and weaknesses. If a coach decides to “phone it in”, the players can tell and then the failed product shows up on the field or court. If coaches want player loyalty, they must show the players that they are undoubtedly dedicated to the team.

I’ve always found it easy to translate lessons from sports to the corporate world. I can tell when a leader or manager only cares more about themselves than the team. I can tell when someone wants to become a manager or leader only because they see the benefits of a higher salary or status within the company. And it doesn’t come as a surprise when people leave the team because of these managers and leaders.

It is unfortunate that the path for success in corporations seems to require becoming a manager. In my opinion, companies that can create success for employees without having to go through that path will do a better job retaining talent. After all, leadership isn’t for anyone.

And one day I’d love to get back into coaching. I really loved it.

You Don’t Know Someone Until You’ve Walked In Their Shoes

Who says all the cool random conversations have to happen in the office? A technician came to change my gas meter the other day to swap out the old one with a new smart meter which will allow the company to take a reading without having to come by my house. I thought that was pretty cool. When he rang the bell and I answered, he asked if I went to Penn State because I was wearing a hoodie that said it. I answered no, but that my brother had attended the university. As it turns out, the technician attended Penn State for 3 years and then went into the military, serving overseas as well as here in the States. And while he is no longer part of active duty, he is part of the National Guard.

His military service started a really interesting conversation about politics, war, civilian life, racism, and community influence. It was great to hear his about his experience in the military and how it was different for him as a minority. In fact, all of his responses and opinions on the topics we spoke about were fascinating to hear and I was very thankful that he shared them with me. And I did thank him for his service to our country.

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Before passing judgment, try walking in someone else’s shoes.

I was reminded of a valuable lesson after my conversation with him. And that is that you really don’t know and cannot understand what someone is experiencing unless you walk in their shoes. As human beings we have our own opinions on things and we don’t always agree with others. That doesn’t mean the other person is wrong, an idiot, uneducated, or stupid. It just means that they see the world in a different way than you do.

I recently watched a film called “Citizen Soldier”, and the story was about a group of soldiers in the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. I found it interesting because these were soldiers that had regular full time jobs, trained for 40 hours a month, and were sent into Afghanistan and into combat. After watching the film, I had my own reservations and questions, and this tech was able to clear them up for me.

It’s really easy to sit on a perch and pass down judgment on everything you see around you or what’s fed to you by the media on television or online. Social media has given everyone a megaphone to share their opinions in an open forum regardless of understanding situations. People just don’t listen anymore before they speak. And this leads to landslides of negativity that you see in your feeds every day. The “glom on” effect is just rampant.

It’s not wrong to have an opinion. It’s better if you have one. But before you choose to share your opinion about someone or any situation that you haven’t fully experienced, try speaking with someone that has.

Self-awareness And Success. It’s Important to Know Who You Are.

While I’m a big advocate of flexible work locations, one of the advantages of going into an office is the opportunity to have cool random conversations with people, and I love those. I recently had a conversation about self-awareness, which lead to the thought about how important it is for success.

What exactly does it mean to be self-aware? According to Psychology Today, self-awareness is defined as “the accurate appraisal and understanding of your abilities and preferences and their implications for your behavior and their impact on others.”

While the importance of being self-aware seems fairly obvious, it’s not something that the majority of the world has mastered. Jeff Kauflin writes that “95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% truly are,” and that “people who are more self-aware tend to perform better at work, get more promotions and lead more effectively.”

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Do you know who you really are?

If you’re self-aware, you know what you’re good at, what makes you happy, and basically what kind of person you are. Understanding this is key to putting yourself in the best possible way to succeed. Not only will you be better at evaluating opportunities that come your way, you will also be realistic about goal setting. Being more self-aware means that you’ll have a real and true understanding about how people view you.

There are a couple of ways that will help you become more self-aware. One is to go and experience new things. You don’t know that you don’t know, and you can’t say that you like or dislike something if you’ve never experienced it. My friend Jay Mandel recently said this in a blog post and it resonated with me, “The quest for mastery can help you define and refine your reason for being, your purpose”. I believe the journey of mastery plays a big part in achieving self-awareness.

Another way to become more self-aware is to make some really good friends. We all have friends that we consider to be good friends, but how many of them can give us criticism and get away with it? We all need an honest friend that can tell us what we don’t want to hear when it’s needed. If you’re someone that that doesn’t need this, then I would say you’re not very self-aware.

Obviously self-awareness is not the golden ticket to success, but it’s a good start. How self-aware are you?

A Good Corporate Culture Isn’t About Physical Things

It seems like every organization is challenged with creating a good corporate culture. But what I’ve found in my experience, is that the word “culture”, just like “agile”, is increasingly misunderstood. Organizations associate the word “culture” with “environment”, and that’s correct, but that’s about where the understanding stops.

The easiest change to make is in the physical environment, and that’s what organizations look to first. They add all of the things that make it look like working there would be a cool place to be. Ping pong and foosball tables, scooters, beanbag chairs, free coffee and snacks, colorful offices and open work spaces. But is that enough? I personally don’t think so.

If you want to know if your company has a good culture or not, ask the employees about why they like working there. Be wary if the answers point to all the physical changes, because those never last. But to be honest, I don’t think physical changes would make it into many answers to begin with. Being able to take a break to play a ping pong game or scoot around the office is nice, but those moments are temporary.

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The allure of playing ping pong during breaks goes away after a while.

A good corporate culture invests in what the employees find valuable. You would think that a good company would already have these values in place as an organization. Organizations should want to know what employees find valuable because they should invest in those that are willing to stick around. “Choosing someone within your team to develop into a future superstar has typically been a successful investment for everyone”, says Mandy Gilbert, Founder and Chief Executive, Creative Niche.

It’s easy to cop out and send out a loaded survey asking employees if they think the open spaces look cool and if they like the new standing desks they all have. Who would say no to that? But I think you have to dig deeper to find what really motivates employees and what drives their decision to leave or stay, work hard or phone it in.

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Career conversations, mentors that take interest, transparency and valued feedback are what employees crave from corporate culture.

I read a blog post recently by Matthew Biggins titled, “Collapse of the Corporate Office”, and it was a great read on how the workplace has changed. Embedded in the blog is a video created by Vox on how open offices have changed over the years, and not necessarily for the best. In all the years of iterations, we forgot what really makes open spaces work. My takeaway was this, instead of using gimmicks and short cuts, try actually creating an environment where people want to come to the office instead of being forced to. If you create an environment that employees actually want to be a part of, they’ll come and they’ll be engaged. And better yet, they’ll brag about why they like working for your company. My guess is that it won’t be because of the scooters.

Culture is not a one size fits all sort of thing, and companies that can find a way to be flexible in how they can create an environment that keeps employees motivated and productive will find success in retaining top talent. The answers go deeper than video games in a lounge. Need some suggestions? Try real career paths with equal opportunities for advancement, flexible working arrangements, real 360 degree evaluations, being transparent and open to feedback, and combine those with competitive salaries. I know I’d take those over my fancy, motorized standing desk. Let’s face it, a ping pong table is not going to keep your talented employees from seeking out other options, but a good corporate culture would.