Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Can you lead the way to achievement?


Here is an article from a blog by Seth Godin. In it he refers to three different management styles that are commonly used to get people to achieve. You can read the article in its entirety but I also would like to interject some personal experience as well.

In Method 1 he refers to the old school sports coaching model. The days when yelling and screaming were seen as the effective ways to motive a person to succeed. A great point that Godin brings up with this model is, that perhaps while a player is on a team with a coach who applies a Bob Knight or Vince Lombardi-like model, he might achieve but only in the short term. When a player no longer is playing, there has been no foundation set for that player to achieve after the season is over. Players are more likely to be motivated by fear which allows them do learn "just enough" not to get yelled at. So much more learning and understanding is left on the table.

In Method 2, the idea is to create competition amongst the group. I don't have a huge problem with this but I can see where this is not always the best way. Where I have a problem with this model is when it becomes result based only. Learning is a process and sometimes competition incidentally rewards shortcuts, i.e. cheating.
 Like the article also says, if a manager has one promotion to give between six people, five people will lose. One might say this is survival of the fittest. But what if there is not much difference that separates the first place winner and the second place winner? Do we really need to label one as a winner and one as a loser. Don't get me wrong, I am not an "everybody gets a trophy" person. If competition is done correctly it will have short term and long term incentives. This not only allows a person to improve and move up, but it also establishes personal measuring sticks for each one to be evaluated over the course of time.

Method 3 would seem like the model we all would want to strive for as a leader. To facilitate achievement and then let each one work it out for themselves at their own pace. The teacher sets the expectation but then steps back while the student works towards achieving.

From my experiences with participating in sports and coaching, I have seen all three models. Sports in many ways mirrors life. The competition can be fierce and many times yesterdays success is forgotten today. Coaches sometimes see players as pieces to be used to inflate their hopeful "hall of fame" careers.

The best leaders (coaches, teachers, supervisors) I have had in my life found a balance between methods two and three. My best teachers followed method three perfectly. Guidelines were set as to when comprehension needed to be achieved. How you solved that problem was up to you. There was no absolute wrong answer as long as you could give an adequate response to how you came to your conclusions. During this process the teacher was readily available to provide any support and guidance.

The best coaches I ever had were few and far between. The good ones, my 7th grade basketball coach, and my high school varsity basketball coach, each got involved in the process of achieving. I remember one coach saying to us all the time "If you get involved with the process of winning, the results will take care of themselves".
 When competition was applied to any situation, it was designed in a way to see how well each one has grasped concepts.

The worst coaches I had, 9th grade JV basketball, 11th grade varsity basketball, college golf, applied methods one and two religiously and probably to this day have never heard of method three. Here are some sayings from these bad coaches
- "some of you won't get to play much this year because you have to pay your dues"
- "I'm not going to be positive with you guys until you give me something to be positive about"
- " You guys are awful. This is one of the worst teams I have ever coached" (his face was beet red and screaming)
While I was on those teams with those coaches, we never had winning record coincidentally. That made me a firm believer in method three. If we were going to lose each game, at least teach how to play. We might win a game or two more if we know why we suck, rather than just telling us we suck! One common trait of these teams: every player was utterly confused for the entire season as to what to do next. We were all on edge of hoping not to be the next one to make a mistake and get chewed out. Try learning when you are scared. Its hard to do.

Sports are sometimes a different animal than the classroom or office simply because the timeline for achievement is much shorter. But I think regardless, method one and method two teachers, coaches or employers need to look at a bigger picture. The teacher who berates the kid will grow up and possibly have kids who hate school because the parent shares their negative experience. The athlete who played sports no longer plays and loses an outlet for enjoyment as an adult. The employer who yells and pits employees against each other could lose his/her best employees out to a competitor.

Leading is not easy. Trying to get everyone to achieve is difficult. But if you can create an environment where people believe they are going to achieve, they will push themselves as far as they can go. This is what I want for myself as a teacher and a high school coach.

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