I want to do this, and I am willing to give up that
A self portrait from a very uncertain time of life
“You cannot outperform your leadership”.
A basic yet overwhelming premise for those with whom leadership is vested.
Defining the ‘right’ way as it relates to the organisation and, with that, the rich and diverse mix of individual behaviours that form a collective mindset and belief system we call culture.
Yes, leaders need to be able to read the environment and focus on fundamentals such as vision, people and standards, but with the overarching view:
“How do I, as a leader, create the environment to unlock the best of this group, individually and collectively.”
The idea of ‘best’ will always require definition, but in broad terms, it will relate to some form of performance of the team or organisation in combination with the emotional well-being of the people.
Too often, this balance is weighted to the former at the cost of the latter. But I sense that there is a movement righting this balance.
Elite sport, in many ways, has shifted this.
Individuals and teams that have proven you can win, test what you’ve got, do so in the spirit of the contest, but not lose the joy that attracted you to the game in the first place.
It is finding a new way.
If it is undefined, it is unknown, therefore untapped.
Inevitably, it will come down to trade-offs. Where we spend our resources, where we don’t. When we opt-in, when we opt-out. Who we choose to be, who we choose not to be.
I want to do this, and I am willing to give up that.
Our response to behaviours considered outside of expectations often focuses on the individual rather than the person’s environment. It is much easier to point the finger at someone, demand they change, rather than look at the environment in which they are trying to fit.
We need to accept that environment is the majority influence on a person’s behaviour.
As leaders, when assessing the environment, we are turning the finger back on ourselves, but this is such a critical capability to develop, and it needs to be both courageous and intentional.
There are powerful forces at play for teams and individuals in elite sport, binary judgments based on outcome. There are very big and seemingly definitive scoreboards: winners and losers, heroes and villains, heaven and hell.
In this environment, if we allow it, there is little pleasure in winning.
It is winning to avoid loss.
The Golden State Warriors in the NBA, under the coaching of Steve Kerr, who played in the great era of the Chicago Bulls with the ultimate alpha athlete Michael Jordan, including their celebrated Last Dance, has institutionalised joy as one of four core values. The other three are mindfulness, compassion and competition.
Values are developed to align behaviours related to the organisation’s objectives, and winning games is clearly a key indicator of the success of a sporting team. Steve Kerr’s teams have won championships with only one of the values, competition, making broader reference to this objective.
This is not a universal view, but there are some very strong and respected voices pushing the conversation forward, the ‘new’ way, whilst the voices of those who hold onto the ‘old’ ways are having their influence diminished.
There is a ‘right’ way to win, and for that matter, a ‘right’ way to lose, such that your value as a person is not diminished.
A couple of years ago, I listened to a podcast, “The Howie Games”, where Mark Howard interviews then Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley. He talks with openness and vulnerability, such as his relationship with his father, including the letters his dad, a Vietnam Vet, wrote when he was at boarding school in country Victoria, having grown up in the Northern Territory.
The conversation moves onto a period a few years later when every AFL club is chasing Nathan, the young tyro footballer, then playing for Port Adelaide in the SANFL. Buckley is asked about a ‘brown paper bag’, an old-time recruiting technique when a player is handed cash, literally in a brown paper bag, in this case, $10,000 in a cafe in Adelaide, as an incentive to sign with a club.
They reflected on how times have changed and what massive news such a move would be today had it been found out.
Nathan then reflects, “I sometimes think, at times you can get caught between eras, between the old way and the new way”.
He then pauses.
“No, we are always between the old way and the new way.”
“Turning pro is free, but is not easy. You have to change your mind”
David Astbury retires
I have been privileged and moved by the retirement speeches of many great players over many years.
I have seen none better than David Astbury’s moment.
It is a wonderful example of the new way. It is fifteen minutes of humility, courage and compassion.
Some takeouts from David:
“Externally my career will be validated by three premierships and over 150 games, but not for me. I’ve hit far more hardship, and milestones, far less acclaimed that I’ll reflect on, and I’ll be more proud of, which is enormous for me.”
“It really is a dream to be completely content with what my career consists of and be really proud of that.”
The respect he shows:
- The people he grew up with, in Tatyoon in country Victoria (population 130)
- To those who invested in him – the coaches, the administrators, the medical team, and the leaders of the club
- Those who taught him about life – the women in his life, his psychologist, meditation coach, and his indigenous teammates (the brothers)
- His family
- Of course, his teammates.
“This group has delivered hope, purpose, connection and joy to our people – the Richmond people. It is really special, and I am proud of that.”
…and a timeless song lyric:
I remember walking past my sister Jennie’s bedroom, and I could hear her playing the album Hunky Dory.
I became a Bowie fan. So many levels and layers.
It has been something the both of us have been able to share since.
Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for
And my time was runnin’ wild
A million dead-end streets and
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
How the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test
Turn and face the strange
CEO & Founder
There are no guarantees. No ultimate formula.read more
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