Archive for October, 2011

“Tiger Teams” Win Consistently

October 30, 2011

Any “recipe” for high-performance requires a conscious adaptation to context. Coaching in team sports offer wonderful metaphors that transfer to the challenges found with improving performance across the private, government and charitable sectors. Sometimes great examples come from unexpected sources…

Consider Battle Creek’s tiny St Philips Central Catholic High School. Their school mascot is the tiger. It has about 150 kids – in the entire school. It’s small but it’s strong. The coach and students deliver a Class D volleyball state championship team year after year. In fact, five years running. Their example – if you look closely – offers some terrific lessons from the volleyball court that could be useful for managing and leading more effectively.

The Tiger recipe has four big pieces.

1. Team First. Nothing comes before the team. While some “star players” pass through – it’s the whole that gets the most attention. It’s the vital force of cooperative, coordinated play that scores points. While each athlete has a function in their relative position – the entire team, on the court and the bench, wins or loses. To underscore team – two critical, interactive areas are emphasized: practice and culture.

Practice ensures players master the basics. Practice also develops skills and intentional, strategic routines. It ensures interdependence, commitment and encourages trust. Practice takes lots of time. Through practice synchronicity emerges naturally. Culture gets built piece by piece through special traditions. Vital details like an encouraging quote before games, shared meals, common hair ribbons and planned celebrations for a service ace or point-winning block contribute to norms. Discipline is consistent. Late to practice and other mishaps have the same penalty regardless of a player’s proficiency on the court. Negative attitudes and other issues are addressed promptly.

2. Build The Bench. Many students spend loads of time watching, practicing with and cheering on their teammates. In any given season – nearly half a team warms the bench. The team carries extra players to be sure it has deep strength in each position. The coach has an intentional development plan. She isn’t lining up just this year’s win but the next several. All players earn a spot on the court through practice effort and, ultimately, performance. A bench means there’s always a “plan B” if someone moves, gets an attitude or is injured.

3. Test Against The Best. The St. Phil coach seeks a tough game schedule during the regular season. She enters her team in tournaments with far larger, taller, stronger teams from Class A, B and C schools. Some have thousands of students with significant athletic programs.  The Tigers are expected to play well and win often. They intentionally sharpen their game against very tough competition. While consistently smaller in size – the quality of the team play, their nimble synergy and sheer will translates to frequent upset wins. At long odds, the integrated and cohesive whole out-plays other teams.

4. Relentless Positive Focus (RPF). All along the journey of pre-season, the game schedule and into play-offs there is a “relentless positive focus.” When a playing error occurs – teammates are quick to pat a bottom, slap a hand and encourage attention to the next move. There is joyful energy and intensity about the “work” and there’s a shared commitment to the results. The coach’s attitude challenges and encourages the players. She asks for a big appetite. A RPF aims the players at the one reason they play: to win. It translates to a stellar win-loss record of serial state championships.

However, a RPF and the rest of the recipe have many other critical outcomes for these young women. They provide valuable lessons in commitment, equity, interdependence, focus and accountability. These principles are also ones “coaches” in every organization can encourage for consistent wins.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Let Thoroughbreds Run

October 16, 2011

 

People capable of “doing their own thinking” are critical to high-performing organizations. Inviting, understanding and encouraging them is a vital function in leading change. The staff  you select and the conditions they work in are factors you can influence.

The Capecchi Story

As a toddler, Mario Capecchi recalls his mother taken from their home in the Italian Alps and sent to a concentration camp. He was nearly four years old. His mother, a poet and antifascist who would not marry Mario’s abusive father, had expected troubles. She had made advance plans with a family nearby who took in Mario. However, before age five, Mario was on his own. For years he survived as a street urchin. Most of one year he was hospitalized – likely with typhoid. At nine, miraculously, his mother found him. One might guess this would shape a resilient character.

Determined to study molecular biology, Capecchi went to Harvard to learn from James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA. After some time, however, he decided that Harvard was not hospitable. The work environment limited him. Eventually, he landed at the University of Utah where a new department was being created.

In 1980, he was a grantee applicant with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – a government entity that provides resources for science research. Capecchi identified three projects. Two were likely prospects, the third was a huge leap. He wanted to show it was possible to alter a specific gene in a mouse’s DNA. The difficulty of this work was of enormous – like finding and changing a single sentence in eighty large encyclopedias. It was a daunting and improbable search and replace task.

The NIH responded to Capecchi’s third plan as far fetched; but offered resources for the solid, incremental proposals. Ignoring their guidance, Capecchi took the money and put it in his risky gene-targeting research. He gambled his staff, lab, reputation and career. In 2007, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on mouse genes.  When the NIH renewed his grants the expert panel indicated: “We are glad you didn’t follow our advice.”

Control Can Oppress

Experienced and secure leaders build great teams comprised of individuals that feel capable about the expectation and authority to carry substantial responsibilities. Skilled staff appreciate the chance to test themselves and others in delivering results. However, common complaints by talented people often include a supervisor, colleague or boss with a focus on control. The selfish need for control creates problems in trust, feedback, collaboration and other vital features of healthy culture and savvy processes.

What lessons does Capecchi’s story offer?

Sometimes, managing and leading simply translates to enabling bright people with audacious ideas. Expecting both brilliant and stubborn in talent is too high a bar. Don’t block. Encourage and inspire new thinking. Let your thoroughbreds run.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Mistakes Smart People Make

October 2, 2011

Twyla Tharp

“The best failures are the private ones…” writes Twyla Tharp, renowned choreographer, in Creative Habit.

Our work places and our communities, however, are public social spaces. While learners don’t seek failure it can be an enormous source of new knowledge. A willingness to fail is certainly an essential element of learning.

Three Common Blunders

The human brain (and ego) is a remarkable asset, but it can be an obstacle to success. Sociologists, psychotherapists and anthropologists offer some vital insights to manager-leaders about the brain and behavior. There are three common mistakes smart people make:

Denial – a refusal to acknowledge an error.

Loss Chasing – the inability to “make peace” with an error which causes more damage in a pattern of additional mis-steps.

Hedonic Edits – revisions that either convince ourselves errors don’t matter or reinterpret errors as success.

We’re all guilty of these mistakes – sometimes. Great leaders have found intentional ways to minimize or even eliminate these common human blunders. Denial is avoided more often when we can separate errors from our self-worth. Loss-chasing is reduced if there’s self-awareness and adaptation. Hedonic edits occur less frequently if we  face the mirror with   clear recall and brutal candor. Humility is an antidote for all these quirks.

Get & Give

Regrettably, our capacity to revise our internal personal stories often becomes part of a public profile. Humans are social and so we massage, arrange and position material to manage image – for ourselves and others. While ruthless review, reflection and action towards self improvement is constructive, it may not be enough. Our inner critic can mislead or fail us.

For these reasons, honest advice has huge value.  Actively seek feedback from trusted resources. Tharp’s advice is “Challenge a status quo of your own making…All you need is people with good judgment in other parts of their lives who care about you and will give you honest opinion without strings.” In turn, after asking permission, offer caring, thoughtful feedback to help others develop.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is  an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com


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