The Thinker’s 50 is the leading independent authority in management ideas. In this video interview, Whit Mitchell’s presents his “Big Idea” and asks us to try to understand the impact and intent of executive behavior on employee morale. What questions do executives need to ask in order to build trust with their team?
Many industry leaders have considered publishing a book at one time or another, but are often plagued with questions about the process: Is now the right time? Will publishing a book be worthwhile? With whom should I work? How do I get started?
Today Maryanna Young, Co-Founder and CEO of Aloha Publishing, gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Whit’s Working in Sync book, along with the inside scoop on all your book publishing questions: She’ll let you in on who should publish a book, the biggest benefits of putting your book out to the world, what the process looks like, the most pervasive misconceptions that new authors have, and more.
A Discussion with Maryanna Young, CEO of Aloha Publishing
Q: First, let’s take a bit of a “behind the scenes” look at the creation of the Working in Sync book. What were the steps that went into its creation? What was the most fun part of the process? The most challenging?
Maryanna: What most people don’t realize about putting together a book is that it actually takes hundreds of hours when you are taking the process from the idea stage to a professionally published book. Whit first came up with the idea to put this book together when he was at the 25th reunion of the Dartmouth class of ’86 crew and thought, “How amazing would it be to chronicle the lives of guys that were on the same crew team in the same year?” But just like when you’re doing a painting, it didn’t start off absolutely perfect – it’s not like you have this perfect, clear idea and you never deviate from that. It took us a little over a year – about 14 months – to put this project all together.
When I started hearing the stories of each of the teammates from the class of ‘86 that are featured in this book, I was pretty excited. I thought, “Wow, these guys really have great careers and great businesses.” What I didn’t realize, and what I think was the most fun, was that these guys were also amazing interviewees and amazing individuals. We didn’t have any trouble with scheduling or with them giving us time – in fact, we ended up doing second and third rounds of interviews because there was just so much great stuff to get out of these guys. Each of the oarsmen had about 2,500 words in this book, and we had about 42 pages of transcripts that we took from the body of the interviews, mostly over the phone. The way it worked was we had the editor, myself, the author, and the person being interviewed on the phone – so there were four people on the phone at all times, which was crazy!
I learned more in my professional career on this book than in any other book that I’ve ever done – not just in terms of really practical things that these individuals were doing in their lives and businesses in order to have a great professional career, but also in terms of actually having a lifestyle that they love. You hear a lot of people these days saying, “I’m only going to do this until I can retire,” but we found that most of these guys have a lifestyle that they actually managed to put together and really enjoy, which is so rare in the business world.
So that’s what was fun: The life lessons these guys were able to articulate that they had learned over the years. They were really willing to give back and to speak out about the mistakes they’d made and what lessons they were learning. There wasn’t arrogance – there was a lot of humility in the guys from the class of ’86.
Q: So let’s talk about publishing. What are the benefits of publishing books for leaders and executives, and how does one know when he or she is ready to publish a book or when publishing would be a wise action to help move him or her forward?
Maryanna: One of the biggest benefits of publishing a book is that it creates a lot of credibility for the author, and then people take his or her other work more seriously. Most of the time if you are a professional speaker or consultant, whoever has a book gets hired first. The author is the authority.
That said, I think everybody who’s an industry leader (i.e., has unique thoughts in his specific industry) should publish a book at a certain point. Most industry leaders are publishing content already anyways – keep in mind that publishing these days is not just print books: It’s e-books, it’s digital products, blogs and all those things. The benefit of the book, though, is it creates more of a short and long-term legacy because it’s something that people can relate to and something that they can feel.
I think you know you’re ready to publish a book when you have some unique thoughts and when you’re able to partner up with somebody who can bring about those ideas in a compelling way that’s not already out there.
What makes us different at Aloha Publishing is we’re not just a publisher looking for the greatest writers, but we’re looking for people with great ideas that we can establish into books and into good material. Our role is to bring the best ideas out of people. At Aloha we look for people who have unique business models that are going to change things going forward – not necessarily what has been out there in the past, but what is unique. We deal primarily with business topics and some inspirational topics if they have substantial models.
Q: What does your process look like when you work with an author to publish a book?
Maryanna: We have a unique process that I’ve developed over the years for busy professionals. We start by helping them create an outline or a “book roadmap,” because if they were to just start writing, a lot of people wouldn’t cover the topic in its completeness and they would also overwrite, meaning that they’d spend way too much time writing stuff that they don’t need. So we try to create a book roadmap for them and help them make decisions while it’s still at the outline stage versus after they’ve already written lots and lots of words. The process is very focused. What we’re really passionate about is making sense of someone’s material who might otherwise be lost because they haven’t been able to put it all together in a very organized way until now.
Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions that authors have when they first come in or when they first think about writing a book?
Maryanna: Well, the biggest misconception is that they’ll write a good enough book to leave their day job. People often think that if you write a book and take it to a big publisher, they’ll give you a big advance and you’ll start getting big royalty checks and you’ll live happily ever after.
The challenge with that is that it’s very rarely done, even by top authors. There are really only a handful of people that are able to do that. There’s a bigger handful now with e-books – more people that are actually able write full time – but they’re not sitting back on one book; to make a living, most of them probably have 6-9 really good well-done titles.
And even the best selling business authors are all out there actually working in the business world rather than just writing full time. That is one thing that makes each of the individuals featured in the book so credible for all of us. People have to be active in whatever they are speaking about to be the most credible. There aren’t many motivational speakers that just speak full-time anymore. They might speak and consult, but they’re also involved in and actually using the business models or motivational strategies that they are talking about. The whole idea of a book is that it better enhance what you’re already doing. So that’s getting over that first misconception of “I’m going to quit my job.”
Another misconception is that you can just put out a book with great content and it will sell. But you really have to have a great cover, a great interior design and a great look, or it will damage your brand more than it will help your brand. After that, the author has to be actively involved in getting their message out in the hands of the intended readers.
There are also a lot of rights issues when it comes to how traditional publishing has been done, which is why indie or hybrid and partner publishing like we do has taken off – because the average royalty in traditional publishing is 15%, and the publishing company owns your work so you can’t repurpose it in other forms. That’s a big problem in the current world we live in, because you want to take your work and be able to repurpose it in as many places and in as many forms as you can – speeches, articles, audiobooks, e-books, or other visual forms, for example – but as I mentioned, you no longer own the work in certain publishing agreements. And so that’s one thing I feel very strongly about: Creating great work where the author keeps his or her rights and where it has the quality of a New York Times best seller.
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You’re educated and at the top of your game. You have the credentials. You’ve done the hard work and put in the time. You’ve proven your ability and determination and drive.
So why isn’t business through the roof? Why aren’t you receiving the promotions you deserve?
The missing piece just may be branding.
In a world over-saturated with talent, it’s more important than ever to differentiate yourself in a very intentional and authentic way, says branding expert Justin Foster. This holds true whether you’re a solo practitioner, an employee, or the founder of a company.
In today’s interview, Justin explains the difference between personal branding and self-promotion, tells us how branding applies in the corporate world, and exposes several elements you may be overlooking in your personal brand.
Justin provides corporate and personal brand consulting through Price Associates and is the co-founder and CMO of Klowd.com – the creators of SlideKlowd, a cloud-based presentation platform. His first book, Oatmeal V. Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World, was published in 2011.
Justin has been Whit’s brand coach since early 2012 and has played an instrumental role in helping Whit grow his consulting practice.
A Discussion with Justin Foster, Branding Strategist
Justin: First of all, everyone has a brand, whether we like it or not. Since we all have a brand, why not work to create an intentional brand?
The whole purpose of branding is to differentiate. That’s why you need to differentiate your personal brand – because we all have competition. It doesn’t matter if your competition is for a promotion in the corporate world, or you’re younger and are trying to get into a particular college, or you’re a startup and trying to raise money. And of course, the more competitive your environment, the more necessary it is to differentiate yourself. If you’re the only one that sells water in the desert then maybe you don’t need to differentiate your brand, but in most cases, the higher the intensity of the competition, the greater the necessity to brand.
The third piece is that you are the only brand you have 100% control over. You can control every aspect of your personal brand.
Q: How does personal branding apply within the corporate world?
In the business or corporate world, your brand is manifested in influence. You may not have a fancy title or formal authority, but you can gain influence if you have an effective personal brand. A lot of people grind away trying to get into a titled position or a position of authority without realizing that effective personal branding is an important piece in getting you to a position of influence. Certainly title and authority play a role, but you can reach that stage and have no one respect you. On the other hand, you can have no title and no authority, but have respect, and then you’ll stand out in the marketplace.
You’re always going to have competition and branding is like a vacuum: Somebody’s going to have to fill it. What often happens when you’re not intentional about your brand is that you get dis-positioned and the loudest person wins. We’ve all been in corporate situations where a person known as “butt-kisser” was the one who got the promotion. People get angry about that, but if you didn’t proactively do anything to brand yourself, then that’s what will happen. Thus, the necessity for differentiation.
The specific tactics you use in the corporate world may also be different than those you’d use as a solo business owner. If you’re a solo business owner, then your branding strategy might be manifested in web content or speaking engagements. On the other hand, if you’re a corporate person who is trying to grow influence and grow your brand instead of growing a company, then your personal branding tactics would involve contributing in volunteer programs, providing workshops/trainings where you position yourself as a thought leader, or getting an article published. The tactics will vary, but they’re all based on the strategy of actually being willing to be different and be awesome.
Q: What are some common myths about personal branding?
Justin: The biggest misconception is that personal branding is self-promotion. The difference between self-promotion and effective personal branding is simply this: Self-promotion is trying to create the perception of your awesomeness even though you’re not awesome. Personal branding is taking what makes you uniquely awesome and amplifying it in a way that resonates with people and that moves people. I refer to it as “amplified authenticity.” What you don’t want is to be inauthentically amplified – then you’re just the loud guy that everybody knows but no one likes.
The second misconception is that personal branding is only for celebrities. You can certainly learn a lot about personal branding – good and bad! – from celebrities, but we all have a personal brand to develop.
The third myth is that you can create a personal brand through some sort of a tactic. For example, ”creating” a brand on social media. It’s no different than in a business brand: You don’t create a brand. You put into place the ingredients that create a brand: offering, message, presence, etc.
The fourth myth is that branding is only for extroverts. I’ve heard quiet people say: “My actions speak for themselves.” or “My resume speaks for itself” or” My Ph.D speaks for itself,” No, it doesn’t! All those things are ingredients of a personal brand, but they don’t constitute one on their own. They get turned off by over-promoting, loud people – mistaking loudness for personal branding. Even if you are introverted, you still need to put it all together in a way that differentiates you and amplifies your awesomeness.
Q: What are some things that are often overlooked in a personal brand?
Justin: First, your own attitude and your spirit are an essential piece of your personal brand. If you don’t believe that you’re awesome in an authentic, grounded way, then you have no foundation for branding yourself.
The second thing that’s overlooked is personal style. This is most common with people who are highly skilled in their field and believe it doesn’t really matter what they wear. I always challenge them with this: if we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, then why do books have covers? This comes back to being intentional. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be yourself, but it just means that you have to think about what you put on and look your best.
The third thing that’s often overlooked is fitness level. Being a little more fit and being a more in-control, more disciplined version of yourself is always manifested in your brand by being a happy, more confident person.
The fourth is that kindness is often overlooked. Kindness is almost always the ultimate differentiator, and that goes to the heart of influence: serving others.
Lastly, the fifth is the role of technology. Every innovative person I know who has a great personal brand is an adopter of technology. If you roll into a meeting and you’re all dressed up and you’ve been hitting the gym and you feel confident in yourself, but then you pull out your 2002 flip phone and your old laptop with Internet Explorer 6 on it, it’s a leading indicator that something’s off!
Q: I can really feel your passion for the topic of branding as we speak, and I’m curious – where does this passion come from? Why are you so passionate about branding?
Justin: My passion for personal branding is ultimately about matching talent with passion and packaging it in a way that helps amplify your authentic awesomeness. Because if you’re awesome – and we’re all awesome at something – then the world deserves to get the very best version of you as a brand.
Sam Philips, the man who discovered Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and the founder of Sun Records, said, “If you’re not doing something different, you’re not doing anything at all.” So why would you cover your “bacon” in “oatmeal”?
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Ready to step up your own personal brand? Learn more about working with Justin on his website.
If you talk to executives or CEOs who haven’t yet worked with a coach, you’re likely to hear the same pervasive myths repeated again and again:
“Coaches are remedial. They’re brought in to help fix poor performance or to address a problem.”
“Executive coaching is too ‘soft’ to produce measurable increases in performance.”
“It’s my people who need fixing, not me.”
“Executive coaching places an overarching focus on fixing peoples’ weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths.”
Talk with someone who has worked with an effective, high-powered coach, however, and you’ll find that none of these statements are entirely true.
Today’s article features valuable insight on executive coaching from Ron Price, who is an internationally recognized business advisor, speaker, and author, and the President and CEO of Price Associates, a leadership performance consulting firm.
A Discussion With Ron Price, Founder and CEO of Price Associates
Q: To start off, can you tell us a little bit about your background and your transition from leading a large company to running Price Associates consulting practice?
Ron: Sure. I had a great, really wonderful experience in a leadership position from 1989 to 2000 in a company called AIM International. During that time, we grew from about 30 employees to over 200 and opened business in a total of eight countries. It was a time of great growth, a lot of learning, and lots of opportunities to work in different cultures and with diverse groups of people. One of the things that was important to me while I was in that company was to get some good counseling and some good coaching myself. I saw the value in having an outside coach who had the ability to help me process my thinking. So as part of my profession, I hired several coaches while I was running the company. Unfortunately, I had a mixed experience with coaches. Most of the coaches I ended up hiring had a fixed program they wanted to run people on, or they had a bias of what they thought their clients should be focusing on. The biggest gap I saw was that most of these coaches didn’t take the time to really get to know you and find out what you really wanted and the different reasons you wanted to have a coach. They were all skilled people and I learned something from each of them, but there was not enough focus on empathy and understanding— they tended to assume a lot.
After leaving the business and thinking about starting Price Associates, one of the services I thought would be really valuable to owners and business leaders was executive coaching that was built on seeking first to understand and to really get to know the client, and then building a program around what his or her unique needs are. That was really the passion that got us started with Price Associates. It’s grown because of the number of wonderful coaches I’ve met— like Whit— who share common interest and common values. It’s also grown because of the other kinds of services that we provide beyond coaching.
Q: Some people view executive coaching as “soft” and have the idea that it won’t produce measurable, tangible results. What are your thoughts on this?
Ron: One of the things that we recognize is that leaders inside an organization don’t get judged based on their efforts; they get judged based on the results that they create and on their performance. So we focus on helping our clients not just demonstrate strong efforts, but demonstrate performance. At Price Associates we call ourselves a leadership performance firm, which means that we execute our entire strategy based upon tangible, measurable performance goals for each client. We have the responsibility of evaluating all of the factors internally and externally and putting together a strategy to create results. We use a lot of different tools and methodologies for doing that. We go through a process with new clients where we help them design what performance means to them. What does superior performance look like to them and what are the results they’d be achieving? We turn it into a more systematic or scientific approach with clear metrics. A lot of the time when people think about coaching, they may think of the results as intangible— a lot of self reflection, introversion, a lot of “ahas,” etc. Although we recognize the value of soft skills, as a part of our coaching we try to lead clients back to a tangible, measurable result so that at the end of our coaching they can say that they truly do perform at a higher level.
Q: I recently read an article in Business Week which mentioned that almost all top athletes have coaches, but that nearly two-thirds of CEOs don’t. I’d be interested to hear your opinion on why some executives can be resistant to hiring a coach?
Ron: First off, another study indicated that even though two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive executive coaching, almost 100% said that they’d like to. So the question is, if they’d like to get coaching but aren’t, why is that the case? I think there are number of reasons that can happen. Sometimes I think they have a misunderstanding of what they can get from a coach— they think of executive coaching as merely an activity to fix somebody who has a problem or something that has fallen apart. Certainly there are those kind of situations, but today, there’s much more emphasis on executive coaching that’s built around developing a person’s potential. It’s about helping him perform in a similar way that we approach coaching with athletes: a coach is helping an already high-performing athlete to perform at the highest possible level.
I also think sometimes that CEOs want the executive coach for their people. They’re frustrated with their senior leaders or with the lack of cohesiveness or cooperation among their leaders. They will often think, “I need an executive coach to fix these people.” But it’s always easier to see what needs to be fixed in others than it is to see what needs to be fixed in yourself.
I think one of the biggest things that CEOs miss out on when they don’t use executive coaching is the development of deeper levels of self-awareness. Whit is fond of saying that the number one cause of failure in an executive career is the lack of self-awareness. This one of the great benefits of a good coaching relationship— the coach is going to help the executive to become much more aware of both his (or her) intent and impact.
Leaders hire a coach because a coach is an outside person: he is not part of the organizational structure and he has a special relationship with the executive in private. He can have conversations with an executive or a CEO that cannot be handled by anybody else. I think a lot of executives don’t have that kind of an experience and they don’t have that kind of knowledge, so they think of coaches as “fixing” people rather than helping take them to their highest level. I think those are the main reasons why many CEOs don’t get coaches.
Q: Thank you, Ron. Lastly, to end our conversation, I’m curious to know what new trends you are seeing in developing leaders?
Ron: That’s a great question and I have a number of responses to it. The first is that I see a lot more focus on guiding the formation of leaders for performance rather than just generic leadership development. There’s the ability to be a lot more focused on specific skills that will help a leader advance— more and more customization, if you will, in developing programs for leaders.
Another trend I’m seeing, which is a huge improvement over the past ten years or so, are the kind of assessments, or instruments, that are available to help people develop their self-awareness exponentially and to gain a much, much deeper understanding of what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, and then to be able to leverage that knowledge for greater performance and leadership effectiveness.
A third trend focuses on how important it is to organize and develop around a leader’s strengths and neutralize his or her weaknesses. Still in America today, more training money is spent on trying to fix people than on trying to develop their strengths. What we see is there’s more and more of a move to recognizing that uniqueness and developing according to the strength and the talent that a leader already has instead of trying to put something in there that’s not there. If somebody is a quick decision maker and another person is a deliberate decision maker, instead of trying to change them and say that the fast decision maker has to slow down and the slow decision maker needs to speed up, we’re saying that, no, their tendency is what it is. If somebody is a deliberate decision maker, how can we make him the most precise, the most analytical, the most comprehensive deliberate decision maker? How do we help people to leverage those tendencies, because we need all kinds of decision makers? Instead of trying to change people, how do we help them become the very most accomplished according to their natural style? So that’s another one of the transitions— is organizing leadership development around strengths rather than trying to change people so much.
The fourth trend is a problem with succession. A lot of organizations, not just in the United States but around the world, are having a difficult time finding the next generation of leaders. This is because of the demographics— we have fewer people in the workplace as Baby Boomers retire— and this is also because of some of the generational tendencies that exist: What the millennials value and want to get out of work compared to what the executives are thinking that they need and want to get out of work are very different. There’s a tremendous war for getting the best talent and holding on to it, and it’s only going to intensify in the next ten years. Companies really need to think about how they can build loyalty with their top performers if they’re going to hold on to them, because there are a lot of companies and organizations that would be quick to offer them a better deal or better package, so to speak.
The last trend in leadership that we see is the awareness of how important personal accountability is to leadership effectiveness. This kind of personal accountability touches not only on character, but also on the leader’s commitment to continually learn and to continually develop his or her expertise— she recognizes that she has to get better and better every day and can’t just rest on her laurels because of an advanced degree or because of some past job somewhere else. The constant learning and growing is an important part of the accountability. All our research points to personal accountability as being one of the most important skills or competencies that companies or organizations are looking for in their top leaders.
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Want to learn more about working with an executive coach? Contact Whit Mitchell, a Price & Associates affiliated coach and team dynamics expert, today.
In the hot summer of 1973, the Arab oil embargo created gas lines around the block, and the heat was barely tolerable. A laid back 18-year old with a mop of blond hair was taking a year off from school, and responded to a help wanted ad at Eastern Mountain Sports in Boston. He was shown to a tiny, stuffy, windowless office in the back of a chaotic shipping area, also known as The World Headquarters of the People’s Mail Order Business – or PMO.
To reach the only free chair, which was shoehorned next to the manager’s desk and only half blocked what remained of the “aisle,” he had to wind around tables, file cabinets, a desk, a secretary, two clerks, and a sleeping golden retriever. Every surface was covered with piles of orders rustling gently from the reciprocating fan as it swept back and forth in a fruitless attempt to relieve the humid summer heat. A copy of Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” rested next to a dead plant on the corner of the manager’s desk – not because anyone was a communist, but simply to tweak the somewhat humorless owner of the company who thought there was something suspicious about a group that worked hard and seemed to have a lot of fun doing it. The walls were covered with schedules, a clock, shelves with old phone books, scrawled notes with big arrows pointing at nothing, and one large framed black and white photograph hung at eye-level next to the manager. The photo was a close-up action shot of a collegiate eight oared crew taking the 2nd stroke of a race – strong men, muscles straining, oars bending, stern, focused expressions. It was a great rowing picture of a great crew.
The young man stuck out his hand and said, “My name’s Whit Mitchell,” and pointing to the picture, added, “I used to do that – I rowed in high school.”
The secretary, sitting with her back to the manager and the young man, announced with conviction: “You’re hired!”
“She’s right,” said the manager. “You’re hired. That’s Manon, and my name’s Bill Pickard. Welcome to Eastern Mountain Sports. When can you start?”
Forty years later, the two men remain fast friends.
Bill, who had rowed on championship crews at Kent School, Dartmouth, Vesper & Union Boat Clubs, and on several US National Teams, later went on to be the first women’s rowing coach at Dartmouth while earning an MBA at Tuck with Whit as an assistant coach. As coach, he cultivated excellence within a team of women who would go on to become rowing coaches, national team & Olympic athletes, sea captains, diplomats, firemen, doctors, lawyers, vice-presidents of Development, C-level business executives, mothers of successful children, and— as fate would have it— one who would become his wife.
Along the way, he learned many lessons that would contribute to his success in business, in relationships, and in life.
Today Bill heads up his own company, Pickard & Murphy, a Seattle based senior level management consulting firm dedicated to making significant improvements in its client’s strategic or operational business position. He has worked with clients including Boeing, Microsoft, IBM, and more.
A Discussion with Bill Pickard, President of Pickard & Murphy, Inc.
Q: What lessons can athletes draw on to help them achieve success in business?
Bill: All sports to some degree, (but rowing in particular), teach athletes the value of sustained hard work, deferred gratification, high expectations, and the benefits of teamwork. To make a great sword you take the best steel you can find, put it in a fire and get it really hot. Then you beat it flat with a hammer, fold it over, and beat it some more. Then you dunk it in an ice bath, and then you keep repeating the process until you have a strong, flexible, razor sharp blade. Rowing coaches are sword makers and crews are swords that love being shaped. The fire and the ice and the pounding build the physical and mental strength needed to develop the confidence necessary to prevail. That process teaches both the sword maker and the swords to do more than they thought they could do. In business and in life, you get out of it in proportion to what you put in.
A rowing coach’s job is to teach their athletes to “Pull As Hard As You Can.“ Not 95% or save some for the end— as hard as YOU can. When a coach tells a high school student to pull harder, that athlete gets tired and thinks he (or she) really is pulling as hard as they can. But as the athlete matures and keeps training, he realizes that he is capable of much greater levels of sustained effort. What used to pass for intense effort is greatly surpassed. As physical strength, aerobic capacity, and technique improve, the mind strengthens as well. Former limits are left in the dust. Every year, self-imposed barriers are peeled away like the layers of an onion. Hard work and improvement beget confidence, and it is confidence that allows a crew to come from behind and triumph.
The harder you push, the more you learn that you can do even more.
Much of what it takes to be a successful athlete is about breaking mental barriers, and the same goes for business. So much of business is about having the confidence to “go for it”, whether you know everything about a topic or not. You may not have done a specific task before, but you’ve successfully done things similar to it. Taking that knowledge, generalizing it, and working hard while simultaneously being confident enough to know that you’re going to succeed— that is what it’s all about. Having good teammates helps too!
Most of the time the magic works. Some times it doesn’t. But as an athlete, you also learn that life doesn’t end when you lose a race. If you’re going to take a risk, sometimes you’re going to fail— but you’re also going to win.
In business, like in rowing, to succeed you have to work really hard and sustain that level of effort. Always pulling as hard as you can in practice enables you to pull as hard as you can in a race. You know you can sustain it for 2,000 Meters in a race because you have done it dozens of times during all those miles on the river.
Success takes time and breeds more success.
The process is circular. It takes sustained, hard work to build the confidence necessary to continue to work ever harder so that you can improve continuously and ultimately achieve the team’s goals.
Q: What has being a rowing coach taught you about leadership, and how do these lessons apply to leaders within a business or organization?
Bill: Coaching and leadership are all about teaching, developing teams and working through other people. The coach isn’t the one out there rowing— coaches are the ones preparing a team to row and win the race.
Business leaders have to be able to do the same thing. Leaders must effectively transfer knowledge to their teams, delegate both responsibility and authority, and keep them focused so they can do their best. When a team wins, a good leader gives the credit to the team because the team did it; if the team loses, a leader needs to stand up and accept responsibility for the loss and turn the negative energy from the loss into positive energy, preparing the team to win the next race.
Much like a coach, a business leader has to keep a team focused on what they need to do to win and keep improving. In New Hampshire it is cold and the season starts later than in warmer locations. A coach in Hanover cannot let a crew get down if they lose early season races. By setting realistic goals and cranking up the pressure to perform as the season progresses, the coach can keep a team focused on getting better. Metaphorically and actually, wins that are hard to come by in March and April, come more easily in May and June. In business, even with the best of teams, there are often setbacks early in the life of a new program. The business leader sets expectations, pushes for improvement, teaches, encourages, focuses, and eventually success comes. People are individuals and they are unique— good coaches are great communicators and find ways to communicate with people in the ways that work best for them. Good business leaders do the same.
Q: What important lessons or key principles have you learned while coaching that translate into being an effective leader?
Bill: Whether you are coaching 7 year-olds or elite athletes or teams of programmers or engineers my philosophy is that regardless of the activity, people must feel safe and they must be having fun.
They have to feel safe in the sense that when they’re trying things that are really hard, they have to know that they might fail and might not “win.”
If they don’t win, they must come back, keep working, change a couple of things and try again. When they ‘get it,’ as the coach you need to tell them: “That’s it— you’ve got it!” Reward progress and you’ll get more.
In business and on teams, if people think they’re going to get fired or disciplined or sidetracked if they fail or achieve less than expected, then they will avoid taking risks. No one wants to be the person who gets blamed for a failure. Everyone wants to hear about his or her successes, no matter how small.
Create a culture that rewards success and risk-taking but doesn’t punish failure.
When senior management sets that kind of culture, they’ll encourage more risk-taking and ultimately more success, whereas if they have a culture that punishes failure, or never rewards or acknowledges success then they won’t have people taking risks or going the extra mile.
“Ya gotta wanna do it!” Regardless of whether they are athletes or engineers, if a team isn’t having fun, they are not going to want to do all the required hard work. Obviously not all aspects of anything are ‘fun’. Great stuff is hard! Five 2K erg pieces in one workout or working for days without sleep on a proposal aren’t ‘fun,’ but in the end the totality of the experience must be rewarding. Members of a team need to enjoy the experience enough to keep coming back every day and putting in the miles that lead to success. People who are not having fun tune out, get cynical and negative, and drag everyone else down or simply leave.
If you work together as a team, you’ll get more out of people. As a coach if you set very clear and high expectations, your team will rise to meet them. If you don’t, they won’t. Business is the same. Without a clear understanding of what is expected, the team will flounder. If everyone ‘gets it’ then everyone can do their own jobs, and help the others do theirs.
If you want to be effective and win, you must set a goal and say, “this is the goal.” You may have a clear idea of exactly how to get there, or you might need the team to figure out the plan, and then execute it together.
Your team may look at the goal and say, “I could never do that,” but if you are doing your job, by the end of the season, they’ll get there, and they’ll know that THEY did it.
Give your team the tools they need to succeed, point them the right direction, and then get out of the way. They’ll do well.
Q: I understand that you used to send little inspirational messages to your athletes– any final words?
“A diamond is a lump of coal that stuck with it.”
“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he blames someone else.” – Steve Prefontaine
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)
Great coaches and great leaders build…“heroic hearts, … strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” (Ulysses – Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1842)
“…Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir the blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency…” Attributed to Daniel H. Burnham, 1910
“Doing your best is more important than being the best.” - Cathy Rigby, US Gymnast
“All sunshine makes a desert.”
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