Thank You!

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I enjoy coaching youth basketball and baseball.  Our basketball season ended suddenly (only the champs win their last game) last week.  I couldn’t shift gears fast enough at the end of the game to say what was most important.  I tried to encourage the kids, and that was important also.  But, this group of kids had worked and played particularly hard and they deserved to be told “thanks”.

I ended up sending an email later to the parents and the kids wrapping up the season and sharing the two words that kept going through my mind.  “Thank You!”  It may seem a little odd that I wanted to say thanks to all of them so badly (since I was the unpaid volunteer!) but lets face it.  We were all giving to each other in the relationships and the gift I was given was a lot of hard effort and commitment from players and parents.  What more could you ask for?  “Thank you” seems very appropriate.

How often though do we forget to really recognize those people who give so much to us?  In the moment at the end of the game it did not register with me.  It was only with a day of reflection that I realized how important it was to share my gratitude.   In business and life, it seems the chase is where the energy is spent.  When the end is accomplished, whether it is the end of a sports season, or the client who agrees to a contract, thank you is a very important part of our language.

Even more importantly, when we are successful do we recognize all the people that helped make for the success?  Not only do we need to thank the players and client, but also the parents and staff that made the experience a positive one for all involved.

In many service businesses there is a certain expectation as to the quality of service received, and people often do not feel it necessary to add a thank you for a good deed.   I know it should not work this way, but if you are one of these people, notice that the customers who show appreciation seem to get a little bit higher level of service.  This is easy to explain.  We all like to be around people who are kind and gracious…and level headed!

Do I think we should all walk around saying “thank you” just to make the world a nicer place?  Absolutely not.  “Thank you” is an expression of gratitude that needs to be sincere.  A “thank you” for the sake of thank you is not sincere, and should be meaningless.  I personally want to be able to recognize when thanks are due and immediately let the person know of my gratitude.

Even if it is just minutes after the final buzzer.

Moral Compass

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What can Penn State teach all of us that is relevant to our lives?  I think a very huge lesson.  We all share a knowledge of certain standards in society.  Certain standards trump others.  If you serve an institution, there is a group think that actions must be taken to protect that institution.  We have seen it many times with large corporations.  Now we are seeing it in a large academic community.  The moral compass was programmed to mix up south and north.  Working for a long time in a large institution may blur the lines between moral, legal and ethical.  Clearly, Penn State botched it on all three counts and certain administrators let their moral compass lead them to protect the institution first, and the children were overlooked.  Wrong…but happens frequently..just usually not involving children..thank God.

I suspect it is not easy to keep your moral compass synchronized in a large institution where many of your superiors have lost their moral direction.  It is easier to tell yourself you did your job reporting the wrong to your superiors.  At this point, if clearly people are being hurt, and you feel you have done what you need to do by letting the institution handle the matter, your compass has lost its synchronicity.

Our moral compass can easily be forgotten when it comes to moral and ethical direction and our employers.  Don’t stand by and assume you have done all you need to do.  Check your moral compass today and remember we have a higher calling than just protecting our institutions.  It appears that Penn State lost its way a long time ago.  I doubt if anyone had thought beyond protecting the institution that this scenario would have escalated and so many people harmed.

A moral compass.  Make sure yours is synchronized and guiding you in all you do.

Creative Leadership

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When I first saw this video of the antics of the Clemson and Davidson college men’s baseball teams, during a rain delay, like most I was entertained.  Then I shared it with my son and started to see it in a different light.

Who thought of these little skits?  Organized them?  Got all of the players in sync?  Convinced them that doing something like this in front of 10,000 people was acceptable?

The players who led this entertainment are leaders.  Actually, the skills they used are needed in organizations and government today.    We need people who can bring consensus while convincing us we are having fun.  The people who may want to go a different direction from the majority of the organization or nation, somehow need to be brought in with the team. Maybe most importantly, we need our leaders to be willing to make decisions and provide direction and accept responsibility for the outcome.   Whether the stage is 100, 10,000, or the world, creative leadership involves sticking your neck out to create consensus in support of a projected outcome.   Most of the time we seem to be frozen on the sticking our neck out part.  Nothing happens unless we are willing to try and start.

Not these players though.  In fact, you can imagine a certain naivete to their actions.   As if they expected success and knew the outcome would bring laughter.

I wonder if there is a video anywhere of these same players doing these stunts at another game and not grabbing the audience attention.  This scenario would be perfect if we knew they had previously failed, got up again and succeeded.

Are there leaders out there who are willing to solve problems with creative solutions?  Willing to stick their necks out with a certainty that the outcome will be right.   Even, if the decision leads to a failed outcome?  The worst outcome is the leader sits out the rain delay in the dugout.

They are still a leader, and a creative leader, for trying.


Why Showing Might Not Deserve A Trophy

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I coach youth sports for teams in my youngest son’s age group.   These are  7-8 year olds primarily in second grade.  This year I have noticed that the goal for several of these kids is a participation trophy.  In fact, winning games is almost not a goal in some leagues I have participated.  Everybody receives the same trophy for being on the team.  Yet, at this age these kids get it.  They know who won and who lost.  They love the trophy, but the kids on teams I have coached who earn a trophy, by winning something, they really seem to understand and appreciate the hardware!

What I am questioning about this process is generally considered incorrect.   The fear of hurting a kid’s self esteem has taken over the idea that they should be motivated to victory.  It levels the playing field…leaving less incentive for the less-talented to improve or the more-skilled to work harder.  After all, everybody will get a trophy no matter what happens.

At what age do the kids start to be motivated to work harder to get more playing time?  Most leagues at this age still require equal playing time for all kids.  It is hard for all parents (including me) to watch their children sit.  Yet I have also seen totally disinterested, unmotivated, kids whose parents have all but forced them to the practice and game, have rules that state their child will play equal time.  I understand the argument of why we level the playing field, but not sure too many people think about how it affects the kids who are working hard and are motivated and involved.  Or the lessons taught to all.  The lesson?  Show up and you get to play the same as everybody else.

What is the correct age for children to be forced to understand this difference?  From what I see the sooner the better.  I know that as they get older the concepts become more evident.  Yet, even in high schools there are groups that now include all who try out.

At the risk of sounding like the old timer, when I was a kid we clearly understood we had to work hard to make the team and to play.   The concern about self-esteem is possibly teaching kids a way of thought that is not relevant to the real world.  Unfortunately, I feel our society now feels that this balance among all of our members is the most desirable approach.  Is it any wonder?  A whole generation has now grown up with the idea of equalization.  Yet, the great things in America are the result of working hard and smarter.  The world of instant celebrity, fame, and money, is all part of the energy now that goes into finding ways to cut corners.   Lotteries and reality TV quickly come to mind as examples.

Did this all start with participation trophies?

You Can’t Please Everybody All The Time

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If you try you will be a very unhappy person.  I promise it. 

I coach various youth sports teams.  I am always tempted to try and keep the parents on my side by doing what they might want to see with their son.  Did you know parents sometimes can be a little over-bearing when it comes to kids sports?  I’m sure you do.  When I try and please a parent it always seems to backfire.  I finally grew a spine and now just listen to the voice in my head, or those of the other Coaches, and put players where they have the best chance at success.  I am much happier.  Not surprizingly, most of my teams grow as a unit through the season and often have been successful.

Having employees can also present challenges where you know certain decisions will affect some people more than others.  Maybe Susan does not want her office to be placed in a corner by the bathroom, but that is the section where bookkeeping fits best.  Susan is a long time employee..shouldn’t we take into account her feelings?  If you let it, this kind of dilema can tear you apart.

Two things to consider:

You are in a role to affect a decision because you have been successful in the past or somebody believes you can make good decisions.   So, separate from the personalities and decide to take ownership of the decisions that need to be made.  Do what is best for the entire group you represent. 

Don’t use up a lot of productive energy trying to find compromises and negotiating.  Wasted energy makes you appear to not be a decisive leader.  Most of us want to be liked.  Accept that most decisions you make will not please somebody.

Not pleasing somebody though means you are moving an organization forward.  Popularity contests ended in 6th grade.  Other than running for elective office, being the most liked does not secure your job or make you successful.  Showing your leadership skills by providing direction and guidance will make it clear where you stand.  And just might help you win the  race!