Friday, March 20, 2009

Wrong way Sean - Leaders need to remember the littlest things


As we head into my favorite season (no, not Spring - the NCAA tournament), I’m reminded what happened to the youth basketball all-star team I coached last year at this time.

As the coach, the league provided me with ten of the best players and we had enough practices to be prepared. The gym was packed with parents, families and fans. Only the center court was used so the bleachers could be pulled out and the main scoreboard was lit up.

With seven (7) seconds remaining we were up by one point and were taking the ball out of bounds at the far end of the court. The other team called a time out to set up a full court press. We had practiced a press break play and we reviewed it with the kids. As with the teams we lead at work, once you send them back to the court, they are on their own to make snap decisions. Jake takes the ball out of bounds, Chad picks for Sean just as planned. THEN – Sean lays the ball up into the wrong basket and the game is over. After we consoled the kids and accepted the runner-up medals, I asked myself what I should have done.

It was a simple answer. In times of great stress and challenge, never leave the little things to chance. The leader is the sound of reason and calm. Walk the team through the total play and not just the element you believe will be the most difficult.

What would you have learned from this experience? Have you had a similar situation?

13 comments:

Thomas Parackal said...

"While it pays for leaders to remember the littlest things, I am wondering if that can come in the way of distributed ownership for common objectives across the team. Perhaps leaders need to remember the key nodal points and allow for play between these nodes. Thanks for sharing an interesting experience, John."

Alex Kersha said...

"John, Thanks for posting the topic. I'm fairly certain we've all had our bouts with this type of thing. Call it chance, bad luck or just being human. The only thing to take away from this is an age old bit of wisdom. It isn't how hard we fall but how high we bounce afterward that defines us. Cheers, Alex Kersha

Tom Rausch said...

"I actually did lay-up a basket for the opposing team as a kid. Luckily, it was not at the last minute and did not cause us to lose the game (at least as I remember). I do like your coaching advice to be the voice of reason and the essence of calm. It seems to be what Obama is trying to do as so many others are the voice of panic."

Samuel Torrez, PMP said...

"Firstly - I don't believe that every great leader is sound of reason and of calm mind during stressful situations. While I believe it's a great attribute, I don't think it's common for every great leader. However I feel strongly that it's a good trait to have. During times of stress (like the layoffs/economy right now), I feel a good leader should evaluate situations, make smart decisions, and not be too swayed by emotion or panic. I've always tried to instill these traits in people I work with, and value good leaders who react in this manner. But can it be taught to others? This is hard to say, as some people are just internally "wired' differently, and prone to differnet reactions. Interesting subject, thanks for posting! Regards, Sam Torrez,

Klint C. Kendrick, MBA SPHR said...

I sit on the boards of two non-profit organizations. One has a clear vision that we've just articulated in a statement. Though several of our board members dismissed this exercise as a bunch of "corporate mumbo-jumbo," it's amazing how having a mission against which we can all check our actions is powerful in ensuring that all of our activities are driving in the same direction.

With the team, I think the gap could have been filled with something as simple as pointing at the correct basket and noting "that way, boys!"

Klint C. Kendrick, MBA SPHR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Hawes said...

"John, Nice real world example. I finished coaching my son's basketball season recently and while I didn't have a "Sean" play, there were plenty of times when things did not go the way we had practiced or planned. I guess the leadership lesson that you are drawing is that you might have reinforced which goal your team was defending before the in bounds play. That way Sean would not have headed toward that goal with the ball. Is that right? Undoubtedly this would have been a good reminder. Well, in retrospect it seemed to have been necessary. You probably gave many such reminders during the game about other topics (e.g., keep your hands up, call out the picks, stay with you man) that maybe your team heard and maybe they didn't. My reaction, on the other hand, is to look at it another way. Since this wasn't a high stakes competition (think professional leagues) where players are being paid and a bad decision or bad performance has long term effects for many people, the number one leadership lesson is how the coach deals with (and helps the team deal with) unexpected disappointments. It is precisely at these times that a person such as Sean can be redeemed by a wise, mature leader that values Sean (and the other boys) more than the near term result. It is within the context of redemption that Sean will learn to respond powerfully to disappointments on the court and in life. Thought it will hurt for a while, he needs to see that his response to disappointment is more important than the event. His coach (or leader) can help him there, I think. I know that in business that there have been times where someone that reports to me makes mistakes. They can be personally and professionally embarrassing. It is all well and good to imagine that I might have warned them and thus prevented the occurrence from happening. And, for sure, I have tried to do this many times. However, it is unrealistic in my opinion to imagine that disappointments or embarrassing events can be prevented. That means that teaching others how to deal with them is more important than endlessly optimizing my warnings to people about each situation. Sports can be a great metaphor for life. Coaches teach skills and rules. Sometimes the ones about life are more significant and enduring than the ones about a single game. Especially for boys like Sean. My thoughts ... -- Tom

Rodney Dapilmoto said...

"John, I coached my daughter's CYO Basketball team for 7 years from the time she was 4 years old. So, at a young age, I can see players losing themselves in the moment and shooting the ball at the wrong basket. After reading your comments on your game, I could feel the demoralizing feeling that your players and yourself, as the coach, felt at that moment. All I can tell you, is that even Leaders can forget the simplest things like telling the team which basket we are shooting at. We all learn from experience..."

Heeren Pathak said...

"Suggest that this experience is less about leaving little things to chance and more about making sure everyone is on the same page. When under great stress and chaos, a leader needs to trust that his team will do the right thing. However, it is important to make sure the team all are on the same page regarding the goal and the general direction in achieving the goal."

Tom Hawes said...

"John, Here is a personal example to illustrate why the reaction can be more important than the preparation. I was 17 years old and we had just returned from living in Germany. Although my father had been teaching me to drive for years, I had never gotten my license (in Germany, the minimum age for a license was 18). So, when we got back to the States, I immediately took the test and received my license while visiting relatives in Georgia. We were moving to Wyoming and were driving our new car there. About half way through the trip, my father asked if I wanted to drive. Of course I did. I was prepared and (mostly) confident. I think that he was also. So, I started driving my father, mother and brother toward Cheyenne. I felt very trusted to be driving the family and I was eager to make no mistakes. It was not hard driving. The roads were straight and traffic was light. One day we stopped for a break at a gas station. When we finished, we all got back in the car and started again. To get back on the way, I had to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic to get back on the highway. It just so happened that traffic was heavier at the time. I kept looking to the left, to the right and back to the left. There were no openings and I was getting nervous and impatient. I felt that my passengers were getting tense and worried that I could handle the situation. Finally I thought that I saw an opening and darted across to the median. Well, I hadn't judged the speed of the 18 wheeler that was approaching (everyone else had their eyes on it). It was extremely close when I finally got to the median. My mother and brother erupted from the backseat. What was I thinking? We could have been killed!! Since I knew better to have taken the chance, I agreed with their assessment and was sure that I was in for it with my dad. I had forgotten all that he had ever taught me about being sure and safe when I was driving. And then, a marvelous thing happened. He turned around to my frightened passengers and told them to be quiet. He looked at me. I thought that my driving days were over. Probably he was going to yank me out of the driver seat. For sure a stern lecture recalling all that he had taught me was coming. Instead, he simply said, "Drive on." I will never forget this simple act. He redeemed me and gave me the confidence to move again. He protected me from what I deserved. I have given this same gift to others over time. At a time when they are at their lowest and question if anyone will ever trust them again, I pass on the words that my father gave to me - Drive on. For Sean it might be enough to say "Play on". -- Tom

Paul Kelley said...

"I will take an opposite approach on this one. In addition to sweating the small stuff that is important in both business and youth sports, the leader must ensure that the overall strategic purpose of the project at hand is understood by all. A leader can never fully mitigate all of the risk and accumulation of chance error through exhaustive planning. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Better that everyone understands the overall purpose and what their role is in helping to bring this about. Then, you can cover the details, which are certainly important to operationalizing the strategy. Sean executed perfectly, he just lost sight of the bigger picture. Our second baseman on the Little League team I coached once caught a ball in the air, tagged the guy coming off second, and threw the ball to the catcher to get an out at home. We never practiced this situation. How could we? But...he had the big picture and pulled-off a triple play. Give your team the big picture and watch the amazing things they accomplish becaue they understand your intent."

George Osorio said...

"I think in this case the operative words are "they are on their own to make snap decisions." I've also coached youth sports and the distinction, in my mind, between sports and business lies in the skills of the "players." In business, your employees' skills and abilities, when you send them out to "make a play," are not as determined through practice and test, as they are on the sports fields. Yes, you select your best "players" but, for the most part, those selected may not necessarily be the ones best prepared to deliver results, and, the "play" itself may not be something that has been practiced over and over as in sports. Using the sports analogy, I've seen many instances of "overcoached" athletes not being able to deliver because too many details were given out before a play. For example, I vividily recall an AYSO game I coached in which the teams were tied at the end of regulation play and we went into a shootout. I had a goalie who was short in stature and not very experienced. I noticed the coach on the opposite team whispering to his players what must have been specific instructions to kick the ball high over the goalie. The end result was that we won the game because the opposing players missed the goal high - going over the top, while our players made their goals. I agree with the notion of paying attention to details, and I agree that having every player see the "big picture" is important. However, to me, success in a team setting, whether in sports or in business, lies in the motivation of each player to achieve results ("win" in sports). Motivation, with its attendant confidence, is the most important "detail" on which all leaders should focus."

John Bishop said...

Thank you for the great contributions to the discussion. I have always found the hardest part of recognition it remembering to do it. Lots of the time it is obvious. Others times you have to think about it.

Two rules I use: 1) if balancing timeliness to in-person, timeliness wins. 2) Errpr on the side of inclusion rather than missing someone important.

John

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