Thoughts on Leadership: Leaders as Teachers

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels find me at home, starting Tuesday with a Berkshire Hathaway Energy meeting and my typical WIG calls. Today I attended an input meeting for the 2022 Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention in Louisville and presented Time Management to the team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS®.

It just so happens that the day you’ll read this post also marks the start of the 2021 NFL season, which will see the Dallas Cowboys play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The coincidence is a reminder that there’s a lot business can learn from sports. Immediately after a game, these NFL teams will assess how they played. They’ll look at their film. They’ll analyze what went right, what went wrong and how they can improve.

Sports teams have an advantage over businesses. The feedback teams receive is instantaneous; it’s seen right there on the scoreboard and splashed across news headlines following the game. Not only coaches and players, but also the sports media break down every aspect of a game in articles read by people across the world.

What if business had a similar structure? What if we had film of our presentations and analyzed them after they were delivered? What if every time we had a meeting or training session, we broke down what we said and how we could improve our dialogue?

It’s taking a cue from sports and something that leaders can implement right now. If leaders structured their workday like a team would, they’d have a roadmap for success. They’d create a way to have self-improvement and team improvement based on performance and “wins” or “losses.” This is how to build a definitive competitive advantage.

In “Any Given Sunday,” Al Pacino delivers a famous line: “You find out that life is a game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small … on this team, we fight for that inch … cause we know that’s going to make [the difference] between winning and losing.”

Business is often a game of inches. If we can find those tiny improvements, they’ll compound over time, and we’ll become stronger, more efficient and more productive as a team. John Wooden said, “Don’t look for big, quick improvements. Seek the small improvements one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens, and when it happens, it lasts.”

The other piece to this puzzle is motivating your team members to want to improve. In his book, “Drive” Daniel Pink names three factors that foster motivation:

  1. Purpose – When team members feel a sense of purpose in achieving their collective Wildly Important Goals (WIGs), they form an emotional connection that can be a more compelling motivator than money or status. Accountability comes into play and is closely tied into purpose because what is accountability if not shared purpose, incentivize people to commit to their team members and follow through, always?
  2. Autonomy – When team members feel like their success is a function of their hard work and determination, there is a hearty sense of autonomy that motivates them to achieve.
  3. Mastery – When team members feel empowered and educated about their roles, they are motivated to perform better because they’re more confident in their abilities and the likelihood that the goal they set will be accomplished.

Of the three motivators, I believe mastery is the one least focused on and perhaps, most important. When you have a team in possession of mastery, you can be nimble, you can be creative, you can be innovative, you can be champions of your business and win every time.

It is important to connect a strategy for motivation and mastery with structure and operating like a winning sports team would. Performance optimization happens when we can develop a tangible, measurable daily roadmap for continual improvement.

Success that’s sustainable is more moderate than some may think. It happens when a team is unrelenting and continually focused on improvement. The greatest leaders are teachers, too. They create a productive learning environment marked by accountability, mutual respect and continual improvement. In this environment, team members are constantly improving their skills. Excellence is not a destination but an evolution that happens over the course of their personal and professional lives.

So, what’s the message? Being your best is always good, but an unrelenting focus on becoming even better is the greatest gift you can give to your team. When you lead as a teacher, when you create a learning environment; you don’t focus on the past or present, you focus on the future and how you can improve it with new skills and new knowledge. As Buccaneers quarterback and the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady once said, “The true competitors are the ones who always plan to win.”

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