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.

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.


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!

Why Zero Tolerance Policies Lead To Bad Decisions

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Can you believe this story?  All because a school system created a zero-tolerance policy that allowed no room for any subjective reasoning. 

I remember my first exposure to zero-tolerance thinking.  We can argue about the merits but remember when IU Coach Bob Knight was placed on a zero-tolerance policy in 2000?  First time he had an issue (lets admit, there was no way he was not going to get caught up in some controversy-after all he is Bob Knight!) Indiana University had no choice but to dismiss him.  I suspect that ten years later, most people would consider this moment of lack of subjectivity to be the start of a long period of difficulties and loss of prestige for a basketball program and its reflection on the University.  There was no choice but to fire him when the zero-tolerance policy was created and then violated.

Now we have schools that create policies out of the fear activist parents will challenge and sue the school, its administration, and staff if they are forced to use subjective judgement in the management of thousands of children/teens.   Sure, the zero-tolerance approach provides consistency and a backbone to policy.  Yet, just like the long term effects of the zero tolerance policy that Indiana University used in 2000, many such policies when enforced (as they have to be) create damage far beyond the original intent.

We seem to have come to a point in time where every decision requires a manual and procedure. People in academia and business are no longer encouraged to utilize their own good judgement to make decisions based on all the circumstances.  In my opinion this way of thinking takes the zest of life and squashes it.  The ability to problem solve and be creative now requires a policy or procedure. 

I think history shows society’s greatest achievements came when the rule book was tossed aside and somebody was willing to look at a problem in a unique, curious, reasoned way.  Then they created a solution to match the problem.  If there was a policy, it was ignored. 

Are you willing to ignore policy and do what is right to make sure your career or life is not stamped with the label of following a policy and procedure that puts a 12 year old Boy Scout in jail for 2 days due to zero tolerance enforcement?  Are you the reasonable person who believes the world still needs subjective, creative, problem solving?  If not, what would it take for you to become the kind of leader we need today?