Change the Question
I had a player that I was struggling to get the most out of. As a coach, or leader, part of our goal is always to bring the very best out of each member of our team. It’s not always easy, we fail often, but this is always the charge.
This particular player was beginning to become frustrated with himself. And, I can’t say I was not closing in on frustration myself. I continually asked myself what was wrong with him, what his deal was! His performance was declining quickly. In part due to his play and in part due to his attitude regarding his play.
As the season wore on, it became clear that he may not come out of his funk at all. Our coaching staff racked our brains for the answer that would unlock this player’s potential. It could not be that significant of an issue - he was a good kid, played hard, and tried to do what we asked him to do.
We eventually cracked the code with an exercise we call “Show Me Love” in which each member or our team shares how they best receive love and appreciation. The answers vary much more than you might think, but the power of the exercise doesn’t lie in each individual’s response.
This exercise only comes to life when leaders and team members apply what they learned. In this player’s case, one of the ways to show him love was to tell him jokes. As odd as that sounds, knowing this was only beneficial if we acted on it.
So, we did.
Every day in practice one of our assistant coaches would write down a few short jokes to share with this player at various times during practice. The impact was incredible. The low energy kid, trudging through practice just to reach the end almost immediately turned into a laughing, smiling ball of joy that infected everyone around him.
Why Should We Care?
Following the season we went through our regular postseason reflection to examine what went well and what we need to do differently to improve for the future. Many things came up within our discussions including the drastic change in the player mentioned above.
In contemplating the situation, we came to the conclusion that it was our fault it took him so long to realize and perform at his potential. Now, that’s not revolutionary, of course. As the leaders, we should be assuming the responsibility for everything that happens on our team. It’s all our fault.
However, the fault didn’t lie in a lack of caring or action. Our mistake was more foundational than that. We were asking the wrong question at the start.
The initial response by a leader for an underperforming team member is usually, “what is wrong with him?” This line of thinking places responsibility solely on the subject of the question while releasing you from any duty in the matter. “What’s wrong with him?” is the wrong question.
We should be asking, “what happened to him?” and “how can I help him?”. These are questions that lead to fruitful answers and impactful actions.
By sharing in the problem we take the first step in any positive relationship: trust.
REAL TALK - Action Steps
This is most likely not your default mindset - to immediately become curious about why someone acts the way they do. Yet, it is undoubtedly the mindset that sets us up to be the best version of ourselves. Here are a few ideas to help you ask the right question.
The questions we ask are often more telling than the answers we get. Oftentimes our undisclosed purpose lies within the very questions we ask. Consider them carefully.
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I'm a teacher, coach, and parent seeking excellence while defining success on my own terms.