Beware the shiny objects in the tank

April 4, 2008 at 9:08 am | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment

Football coaches are never satisfied. By nature, most are a very curious lot who are always on the lookout for any tip, trick, or technique that will give them an advantage. If you look at successful teams over the years, it is hard to find a pattern. Some practice very long hours with full contact many days a week. Others keep it short and have multiple days off. Some coaches rant and rave and others hardly raise their voice above a whisper. Some teams are aggressive and risky and their offense, others are ultra conservative. Some playbooks are as thick as New York City phone books, and other coaches don’t even hand out a playbook at all. Yet they have all enjoyed success.

There is a danger in that variety, which I call the “shiny object in the fish tank” syndrome. A hungry fish is happily swimming along when suddenly a shiny object is thrown into the water. Bang! Instantly he darts to it forgetting everything else. Throw another object in the other side of the tank and, Bang! He’s darting again.

We can sometimes be like that fish. You read a book on a new management technique. You listen to a successful CEO give a motivational speech. You see an article on team building. You admire someone in your own company. These are all excellent things to do that can provide you with a tremendous pool of ideas, but they can be distracting when you become a hungry fish darting around from one to the other in search of — and here’s the key — replicating someone else’s path to success.

This is where things get tricky. I think it is a fantastic idea to read about, understand, and observe a very broad range of techniques and styles. But if you think that you are going to find the magic bullet technique that you can simply copy with equal success, you are probably going to become the fish. You are you. Life is dynamic. And people are messy. Take those three things combined and you have a very complicated equation when trying to find success in the business world. Thinking that you can replicate someone else’s success by copying their style isn’t practical and will only frustrate you.

So what do you do? I recommend following what the best leaders seem to all have in common. They know who they are. Take some time to really become self-aware. I don’t mean some zen-like, crystal-gazing trance. I mean take an interest in understanding who you really are. Personality tests can be a good place to start, and often listening to a close friend or family member can be even better. Make a list of your own strengths and weaknesses. Talk to those you trust about your list and ask for their honest feedback (family will usually never lie, and good friends won’t either). There will be surprises. Get a thick skin.

Once you do that, then make some decisions about your style. You gotta be you. If you are a quiet personality by nature, don’t force yourself into a leadership style that contradicts that. If you don’t believe in managing by metrics, don’t sell out to a system that requires it. If you aren’t comfortable being buddy-buddy with people, don’t fake it because a team building book said it would take you to the top. Be who you are, but really also UNDERSTAND who you are. Write a list of defining characteristics or principles that become your foundation to measure yourself against.

The final step is refinement as opposed to constant wholesale change. Once you have a firm grasp of your style, THEN you can smooth the rough edges. The best coaches I know are ALWAYS looking to other teams and colleagues for improvement. They observe something successful, evaluate it in light of their style and the capabilities of their team, and then decide whether it is useful to them. If so, they find a way to intelligently incorporate it (or aspects of it) into their system, which leads to refinement or enhancement. Ultimately this makes them better and better, but never forces them into something that is not “who they are” at their core.

When you have that kind of self-awareness and confidence in your own style, then you can read a book, or hear a speaker, or observe someone you admire, (all beneficial things) and make intelligent decisions about what to incorporate (or not) without darting in a completely different direction to the next shiny object that will probably only frustrate you.

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