Beaucoup voudraient aujourd’hui que les managers deviennent des managers-coaches. Une telle évolution est même préconisée par certains comme nécessaire pour libérer une organisation. Je ne partage pas cet avis, et je pense même qu’il s’agit d’une confusion préjudiciable à la réussite d’une démarche de libération.
For many of you, the name of Coach John Wooden will sound familiar. For others, like me, it was a very recent discovery I made thanks to my friend Isaac Getz. Wooden UCLA basketball team coach has one of the most remarkable trackrecord of the history of sport. Yes, of sport. Not just basketball. Just have a look : 10 March Madness national championship in 12 years, 7 national championships in a row, an 88-game winning streak, a 38-game winning streak in national championship tounament play. But such an unequaled (palmares) is not the fruit of chance. It has been built day after day by an industrious and learning mind connected with the heart.
When most leaders would define leadership as the capacity to bring a team – or a company, or a city – to victory, Coach Wooden has found something greater than winning. And he calls it success. Now, many of us may think that success is just another name for winning. Not for Wooden. Everything starts with his novel definition of success :
Success is peace of mind which is a direct result
of self-satisfaction in knowing that you made the effort
to become the best you are capable of becoming.
Three observations :
- Though he was evolving in a highly competitive environement, Wooden does not mention others in his definition. This means that the measurment standard for performance is not an external but an inner one. Peace of mind and self satisfaction both come from inside. Effort is not a ranking. And the best you are capable of becoming does not necessarily mean becoming #1.
- Wooden’s definition is open : making the effort is a process, and a never-ending one. When external competition is no more the final judge of what your are, then what is left is the ongoing process of improvement. There is no surprise in seeing Wooden put “Industriousness” as one cornerstone of his Leadership pyramid. People who worked with him recall that his training sessions were extremely well prepared and with high intensity.
- If you shorten the definition to the extreme, you can possibly say that “Success is peace of mind”. This is what Wooden has taught again and again to young athletes – full of desires to win, to make a great career, to have their names in the Hall of fame, to earn a lot of money, etc… Was “peace of mind” something appealing to them ? Well, in the context of long and tough competitions like US University basketball championships, peace of mind is a key condition to win. “Winning becomes a by-product of how well prepared you are mentally, physically” says Mike Warren a former player of UCLA Varsity, quoting what Wooden would say to his team. I would say that this is a key mental preparation for winning : being able to be sufficiently detached from the end result so that you focus not on the result itself but on giving your best. Peacefully.
Discovering Wooden’s life and philosophy (mainly through the book The Essential Wooden) has opened my eyes on my limits as a team coach. It helped me particularly in pointing out the big mistake I have made when I coached a team of young entrepreneurs at Team Academy, here in France. I was so much focussed on the results that the team should have produced, that I disregarded the effort that the teamsters were doing to become the best that they could be. When results were not there, even if they made the effort, they could see disappointment in my eyes. instead of building confidence in their capacity to give their best, this has created many times discouragement and drop of self-confidence, instead of enthusiasm and willingness to improve.
Becoming a better team coach is a lifetime effort. Reading about Wooden’s style and principles has empowered me. I strongly recommend you to study his work… and try to practice it !
In January, I have been given the opportunity to work three top teams of 10.000+ people companies. Though in very different businesses (telecom, agrobusiness and services), I could sense similarities in the way that the members of these teams behave and interact. I want to share here three insights.
Six months ago, I read a remarkable book about Mandela’s leadership : Mandela’s Way, written by Richard Stengel. The thing that most impressed me in Madiba’s life is the fact that, when he was in jail, he learned Afrikaans, the language of his enemies, the Apartheid rulers. When asked why he did that, his answer was : “When you speak Afrikaans, you know, you go straight to their hearts” (p. 135)
This is really amazing. The purpose was not primarily to gain an advantage on his enemies – for instance, in negociation – but to open the possibility of a dialogue where the heart is involved. This means :
- that he believed in such a possibility, which implies that he had done the journey to see the heart hidden behind the enemy
- that he knew that nothing would be possible without hearts meeting.
For us, whoever are our enemies, there is a true calling : are we ready to learn our opponents’ language ? are we willing to speak to their hearts ? and, may be more difficult, do we dare to listen to their hearts ?
As a leader, one of the biggest errors you can make is to believe that you can be self-sufficient. In a world where it seems that the highest virtue is to be independant, this can appear as a paradox. Nevertheless, if a great leader is often someone with a strong personal vision, she or he is also a master in relating to others.
A leader is a high-quality relationships gardener
Why would people follow you ? This is the key question that needs to be answered by any leader. So, if you do not have a high-quality relationship with your followers, how can you lead ? Great leadership author Jagdish Parikh reminds us that we have to manage our relationships with “detached involvement“. This means that we always incur the risk of being too attached to people (or to objects, to events, and of course to ourselves). At the same time, no leadership is possible if it is felt as distant or superior.
You may be an exceptional achiever, a great visionary or the most respected expert in your field, it makes no difference : to get results, you will need to rely on the motivation and performance of many others – especially in the highly complex environment we are living in today. In his recent book, Humble Inquiry, The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, MIT Profesor Edgar Schein is making a neat and… humble point about the tendancy we have to believe that a leader is the one who has answers. One common characteristic of large-scale failures (such as the disaster of Space Shuttle Discovery) is the absence of a climate for subordinates to surface big issues as they show up. Creating such a climate is one of the roles of the leader, which implies a very deep consciousness of his dependency on others for the success of any endeavour. Asking authentic questions that surface his own ignorance is a key habit to develop such a climate, since it indicates clearly that there is no problem in NOT having all the answers.
A leader takes the risk of the other
One of the biggest problems of our times is the fragmentation of people in society or in organizations. It is often very strange to hear some executives complain about the silos or the lack of collaboration that exist in their companies, when all the systems they have put in place (from budgeting to compensation) are mainly constructed on individual (or fragmented) contributions. It is as if the large bureaucratic organization was trying through its processes to reunify separate and independant units.
The origins of this tendancy come from very far, and probably from the economic theory linked to the Enlightment views that promoted the advent of the individual, emancipated from holistic societies. I think that our challenge is to develop again a shared commitment (of employees, of citizens,…) towards what belongs to us – and not to me, or to any individual. Italian economist Luigino Bruni wrote a beautiful book, The Wound and the Blessing, around the proposal that we can only meet that challenge through the acceptance of the Other – as a potential blessing, but also as a potential wound. This means that we must not dream of a society that has eliminated all the frictions inherent to the fact of living together (the wounds). An authentic leader risks to be wounded by the world around her, by the people she meets. This is the fundamental condition for receiving the blessings that people can bring to the cause or the enterprise she his fighting for.
- Do the persons who follow you feel that you are with them even if you are not totally melted with them ?
- Do you practice often the gentle art of asking instead of just telling ?
- Are you willing to let others bless you or are you just preventing yourself from the wounds that you can get from them ?
Look at this video, it is just great !
It comes from Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Video. (this is my first “advertising” post…)
Last week, I had a look at this video against gas fracking near New York City made by Yoko Ono, her son Sean Lennon and others. I could not help thinking about a recent documentary I saw about the last years of John Lennon, from the moment he settled in NYC. The tone of Ono and Lennon’s video and that of some memorable protest songs in the 70’s are so close… Are the times really changing, or is it just – 40 years later – the same state of things… ?
All right. This is not the kind of books you want to read in the subway or in a café. It is academic, and probably made for academics (its price also is for academics…). But I think its main ideas are useful for any leader who wants to build a XXIst Century organization.
I. Nonaka and his co-authors describe in this book the seven key components of the knowledge-based firm. These elements operate together and allow the creation of knowledge in a dynamic interaction of the firm with its environment. The components of Nonaka’s framework are the following :
Recently, I came across this speech of Peter Bakker, the President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The former CEO of TNT, now leading this organization with more than 200 corporate members, pledges for a revolution of capitalism, in order to adress the most pressing challenges of our world : poverty, hunger, climate change… What would be the conditions for such a revolution to happen ? You can check out WBCSD vision to see what this organization stands for. As far as I can reflect on that topic, I can see at least three necessary conditions : acknoledge people not only as customers or employees, make big changes in governance and metrics, lead the inside revolution.