I’m clueless about softball, but my daughter has been playing since her hand barely fit in the glove. She’s now a junior in high school and we get to watch her summer league play two nights a week. As I spend my days imagining what healthy company culture looks like, I spend my nights in the bleachers watching what a healthy softball team looks like. The two are not very different at all.
Hannah’s freshman year, she had a coach who was very talented in coaching softball, but also very harsh, demeaning, angry and disrespectful of parents (had to throw that in). When someone made a mistake, they were publicly shamed. Hannah showed up and played her heart out, but often left in tears. They had a horrible season in terms of winning games, which was all that mattered to the coach.
Contrast that with the coach who took over after that coach was fired. She has a developmental mindset toward every player. Every mistake is a learning opportunity. She coaches them through every failure. The dugout is a happy place, where girls help each other (catchers need a lot of help with all that gear). They look forward to playing … and they happen to win more than ever. When someone is benched, they understand why and they’re open to instruction the next time they’re at bat.
This reminds me of Larry, my longtime friend and sales coach. Larry has been managing sales departments for many years. I told him about an experience in which my sales manager went from a real friendly guy to a real angry person when I made a mistake or three. I asked Larry if this was a sales technique? I loved his response. The angry sales director was responding like the old coach – measuring success by every win and motivated out of fear (or job security) to get the results he needed.
Larry never got angrywhen he had to let somebody go. When he had that hard conversation, he focused on the person’s strengths and coached him to move in that direction. Even when they had to part ways, Larry told me, a mature manager doesn’t have to get angry. He just needs to act like a good coach. In the end, everyone wins – even the losers.
Imagine an organization where every mistake is a learning opportunity. Imagine the wins a company can achieve when everyone spends their energy looking forward instead of licking wounds. Imagine a place where we bring each other forward and maybe even help each other carve a new path – or a life strategy for every team members. It’s possible.