I have the great privilege of working with many individual athletes and sports teams. Last week, I spent time with one such team and their coaching staff. The head coach is a remarkable former athlete whose success was, in large part, because of his work ethic, grit, and tenacity. He is, without doubt, an overachiever. He is as passionate about coaching the sport as he was playing it. However, he has had some issues transferring his vast knowledge and experience to his players. He becomes frustrated when his players don’t perform, and seemingly, don’t try to perform as hard as he did.
One of the reason I love working with athletes is that the parallels between athletic performance and workplace performance/leadership are so eerily similar. How many of us lead individuals at work who don’t perform the way we do, don’t work as hard as we did, and we can’t seem to figure out a way to help them.
The approach that this coach and many business leaders take is very often a cognitive one. When an athlete on the team misses a shot, the coach often tries to say, “forget about it, focus on the next one.” This thought pattern, though cognitively and intuitively highly accurate, is not necessarily the best approach. The learning moment is perfect—the experience is fresh. But how ready is the athlete to hear that?
The key question to ask before any coaching or to effectively capture a learning moment is, “What is the emotional temperature of the person or the moment?” If the temperature is too emotionally high (imagine having an argument with a loved one), then anything rational or logical is likely to fall on deaf ears no matter how accurate it is. The right approach is to “emotionally dilute or diffuse” the athlete or the situation so they can recover emotionally and perform at their best. This part of leadership and coaching is truly the least appreciated dimension and incredibly relevant, especially in high-stress times.
So this week, as a coach or leader, take the emotional temperature prior to giving feedback so that you can effectively help your team convert learning moments into “aha” moments.