- be a better person
- make more money
- live longer
- look sexier
- smell better
It’s a difficult challenge because today, especially this time of year, self improvement sells. That’s just fine and dandy.
Yet there’s little out there about improving other people. Which is a drag for coaches because that is exactly what we do. We are human-improvement-specialist.
But not improving US. Improving THEM.
Our Bread And Butter
In my recent coaching survey, over 90% of coaches responded that the #1 reason Why They Coach is to improve others. So this “improving others” is an important thing, right? Yet, how do we go about getting others to get better?
That’s a real challenge for coaches, and I hate to say it, one that many of us are thrown into with little preparation.
Someone on the outside might mutter, “What’s the big deal, it’s just teaching.” Okay, teaching is hard stuff. But improving people is more than just teaching.
Teaching is passing of information from one to another, helping someone understand a subject.
Improving people is bigger in scope. It’s entirely bigger. It’s the difference between a friendly game of HORSE and playing a 40 minute game of 5-on-5 hoop, in front of a big crowd.
With lots of obstacles thrown in the way.
I recently had to focus on these obstacles for an article I’m writing. Here are a few of the thoughts I scribbled down.
Obstacle #1) Leadership style is the game changer
There’s a theory that highly structured leadership styles are better for low competence people. In fact, there are hundreds of theories about leadership and the impact on the people being lead. It’s good to know some of those theories.
But here’s the thing, different situations require different methods of development. And it may take multiple methods to help people improve. I’ve found that as the people I coach improve, I have to keep changing my leadership style to stay effective.
Obstacle #2) Dwindling Passion
Improving people will suck the energy/humor/life right out of you. Having a passion for it will sustain you. Without passion you won’t get far.
For example, ask a high school teacher how her day was, and you can see in her eyes her batteries are drained. I do that every day with two of my assistant coaches who are high school teachers.
But underneath their “OH MY GOSH” looks there is a look of passion for teaching. It keeps them going back the next day. That’s what it takes to improve people.
Obstacle #3) What do they want?
This person/these people you are trying to improve — do they want to improve? Do they stand in front of you because they want to get better? You know that for certain, right?
Don’t be fooled.
I’ve made the mistake before that the people at my practice wanted to improve. To get good at the topic of the day, the sport, become better people.
I’ve been wrong.
Sometimes athletes are there because there was nothing else to do, because their buddies were there. Because it was supposed to be cool to be on the team. Once the hard work started, reality set in. They didn’t want any part of it.
It will help everyone it THEY and YOU know what they want at the onset.
Obstacle #4) Distraction
You’re smart. You definitely know what you’re talking about. That makes it so frustrating when the person you’re trying to improve won’t listen.
Sorry, but it’s probably your fault.
Everyone is distracted. The fellow on the sidewalk next to me smashed into a pole because he was distracted, reading his texts. All around us — distractions.
If YOU want people to listen to YOUR brilliance, YOU have to grab and then keep their attention. It’s difficult, and it’s on you to make it work.
This might help.
Obstacle #5) They know more than you
The person, your improvee, sometimes knows more than you. There’s two versions of this.
The first version goes like this: he-thinks-he-knows-more-than-you-but-doesn’t.
That’s a tough nut to crack, because you have to persuade him to accept your wisdom/advice/coaching while not alienating him. Yelling won’t help. Diplomacy might. The passive-aggressive thing wastes everyone’s time. Heart to heart talk might do the trick. If not, time to move on for both of you.
The second version, the he-thinks-he-knows-more-than-you-and-actually-does is the tougher nut. It does happen, there are some smart cookies out there.
I start each of my courses by telling the students that they know way more than I do about many things. (For instance, I know nothing of what its like growing up as a kid in New Jersey.)
I then propose that it is possible/probably that I know more about the course topic than they do, but if there are areas that they are wise about, let’s discuss it, so we both can learn. That simple opening of the door helps set the tone for mutual, and respectful, learning.
Obstacle #6) Unwise honesty
An honest assessment of a person, then an honest communication of that assessment is rare and refreshing. It’s tough, especially today, to do that. You’re older than these kids you’re coaching.
How do you tell Bobby that he’s not very good? That it will take lots of work to get better? That his dream (probably more his parent’s dream) of getting a college scholarship for football probably won’t be a reality? How do you say that? Are you supposed to say that?
What if you’re wrong and little Bobby is a late bloomer. Then he becomes Boomer Bobby, star running back in the NFL. And he always tells the story of you, the coach, who told him he sucked.
Here’s the thing, you don’t know the future … what will be. Honesty is good but wise honesty is better.
Obstacle #7) Ignoring the small stuff
You work within your area helping Jane-the-soccer-player improve. She has come to you to become a better soccer player. Super. Will what she learns from you help her in the classroom? on the stage? with her friends? It could.
There’s research that shows positive participation in sports has a spillover impact on the other parts of an athlete’s life. The key word there is “positive.”
A negative participation also spills over. So as you develop the athlete’s skills with little strokes realize you are also impacting the big painting of his/her life. Little strokes, big painting.
Improvement doesn’t have to come in big chunks to be impactful. Small, teeny increments can often yield big results. Take, for example, Dave Brailsford, Performance Director of the British cycling team. Small 1% improvements helped his team do something it had never done before — win the Tour de France. Read how he did it, and also how his team won 70% of the Olympic gold medals available.
Sometimes thinking small is the way to think.
Obstacle #8) Lack of a story/vision
Followers demand two things from leaders (and you’re a leader, Coach). They want honesty (see D) and they want a vision. They crave a story.
Get a vision and weave it into a story. Post it on the wall, use it at your meetings, on your website. Get it out there.
One resource I’m using to help me do just that is Whoever Tells The Best Story, by Annette Simmons.
Obstacle #9) Troubles with the plan
Improvement is rarely organic — meaning it rarely “just happens.” It takes commitment, hard work, sweat, blood … and all that stuff. But the spark for improvement to actually happen is a plan.
The trick is not getting too attached to the plan — being ready to ditch it if needed. As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Obstacle #10) Use a team model /be wary of the team model
Groups are a great way to help people improve. Teams — a group with a mission — is a better way.
My next book, Build Your Team, is about creating a team of your dreams. The reason why? To get you and your athletes where they want to go. Teams can help individuals improve and develop … sometimes. The opposite can certainly happen.
Obstacle #11) No imagination
Here’s a trick that works (sometimes/most of times/not always). Have the person play the role of already being improved.
I’ve done this — bet you have too. What kid hasn’t counted down 3-2-1 and squeezed off the last shot just before the imaginary buzzer sounds. (You’ve done that, admit it.) That’s role playing.
The bigger the role, becoming CEO, starting QB, etc, the more value role playing could have.
Obstacle #12) Feedback
Give feedback. But not just critical feedback — all sorts. Positive, encouraging, thoughtful, funny.
Feedback is what fuels the improvement. Bill Gates said, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
Those are a few of my improving-others obstacles thoughts and scribbles. This is important stuff, because improving others is who were are, what we do, how we are judged. I hope to flesh this out more.
Care to share some of your thoughts on this? Just blast me an email. Love to hear your thoughts.