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.

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.