Leadership Musings: Because Thoughts Have Consequences

 by Dr. Cory Dobbs, The Academy for Sport Leadership

Location Matters
Several years ago I was field testing a leadership development program with the San Francisco Giants Rookie League team headquartered in Arizona.  During spring training I read an article in the local newspaper highlighting the movement of Jeff Kent’s locker.  The article explained that Kent moved his locker to be mixed in with the rookies and inexperienced players.

Kent, a seasoned veteran and all-star player at the time, was acting in the role of team leader.  Hall of Fame baseball player Maury Will said “You’re not going to get followers just because you say you’re the leader.  The followers come because they have respect for you, and they have respect for him.”

I once heard leadership expert Warren Bennis tell of his experience in the dorms while attending MIT.  Seems Bennis observed that the floor leaders in the dorms tend to be those in rooms closest to the common shower or bathrooms.  Bennis suggested that the students in these rooms tended to interact with other members more often because of their room location.  These students were most likely to leave the door open as an invitation to conversation.

Competence or Excellence?  It’s a Matter of Deliberate Choice
In Gita Mehta’s novel, A River Sutra, the daughter of a master musician tells of her experience learning from her father:

My first music lesson extended several months.  In all that time I was not permitted to touch an instrument. . . . Instead my father made me sit next to him in the evenings as the birds were alighting on the trees.  “Listen,” he said in a voice so hushed it was as if he was praying.  “Listen to the birds singing.  Do you hear the half-notes and microtones pouring from their throats? . . . Hear?  How that song ended on a single note when the bird settled into the tree?  The greatest ragas must end like that, leaving just one note’s vibration in the air. . . .

Still an entire year passed before my father finally allowed me to take the veena across my knees. . . .  Morning after morning, month after month he made me play the [scales] over and over again, one hand moving up and down the frets, the other plucking at the veena’s strings, until my fingers bled. . . .

I had been under my father’s instruction for five years by now.  At last my father felt I was capable of commencing the performance of a raga. . . . 

The father understood that excellence is a deliberate choice and guided the daughter along a path that nurtured her understanding and appreciation for the process.  Shouldn’t we do the same?  Or is doing just enough, enough?

Scrimmage: A deliberate practice
Deliberate: Intentional.  Do you provide a space where your players can practice leadership?  That would be deliberate, if you do.

To Say It is Not to Do It
“Step up!” said the coach.  “Sure thing coach.  But whadda ya want me to do?”

Taking the Long View
We live in a society that has become increasingly short-sighted.  Today, a lack of vision permeates the life of most Americans and seemingly all young people (and perhaps it always has).  Pot shot?  Not really.  Ask your student-athletes to tell you how much time they’ve spent thinking about their lives ten or twenty years from the present.

We talk all the time about changing the lives of our student-athletes.  Yet rarely do we examine how effective we are in instilling life lessons.  Sure, some players return a couple of years later to thank us for teaching them a thing or two.  Simply put, in certain respects we hardly ever see the long-term effects we have on our student-athletes.

I’ve run into many ex-athletes in the corporate world.  In far too many cases I’m not able to tell the difference between them and the non-athlete at the next desk.

It’s Simple, Really, If You’re Serious
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain is serious about empowering each employee to make a difference.  Everyone in the organization—bellhops, valet, and maids—can spend up to $2000 to fix a guest’s problem on the spot.  No approval necessary.  Now that’s serious commitment to excellence.

When was the last time you gave valuable resources (such as practice time!) to your student-athletes to solve a problem on the spot?

Why a “real world” example?  Aren’t we supposed to be preparing students for the real world?

The Bystander Effect
In 1964 Kitty Genovese was attacked in the middle of the street near her building in New York and again in her building.  The attack was witnessed by many, though no one tried to stop the attack.  She yelled for help.  Yet no one called the police.

Such acts of apathy have been coined by social scientists the “Bystander Effect.”  When people in a crowd look and see that everyone is doing nothing, then doing nothing becomes the norm.

When witnesses in the building were questioned by police after the incident about why they remained silent and did not take action, one man spoke for all the witnesses.  According to a New York Times article at the time, he answered, “I didn’t want to be involved.”  And neither did the others who witnessed this crime.

Okay, so a player on your team violates a team rule and you don’t know about the incident.  However, team member’s do.  And they don’t tell you nor do they confront the teammate.  The norm has quickly become doing nothing.  The players are creating an apathetic culture of going along to get along.

The Honor Code
Norms are important.  Not because they generally sit at the end of the bar drinking beer, but because they shape behaviors.  The purpose of an honor code is to foster commitment to the ideals of an institution or team and to shape interpersonal interactions.

A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do. –West Point

Can you imagine, and it takes imagination on this one, what life would be like if every member of your team lived this code.

Small Nudges Can Lead to Big Changes
Change the context and change the attitudes and actions.  According to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, authors of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, people “can be greatly influenced by small changes in the context.”

The idea of “nudge” is that there is “no such thing as a ‘neutral’ design.”  Thaler and Sunstein elaborate on how “choice architects” organize (and thus influence) the context in which people make decisions.  Context does influence behavior.

A little push in the “right” direction can have a huge systemic impact.  Isn’t that what the invisible hand of an honor code does—nudge people to do the right thing.

Practice nudgery.

Your Move
Imagine yourself in a chess game where after every half-dozen moves, the arrangement of the pieces stays the same but the capabilities of each piece changes.  Isn’t this what happens with your team?  Random thought?  Not really.  The point is…

To find out more about and order Sport Leadership Books authored by Dr. Dobbs including Coaching for Leadership, click this link: The Academy for Sport Leadership Books

About the Author

Dr. Cory Dobbs is an accomplished researcher of human experience–a relentless investigator always exploring “how things work.” He is the founder and president of The Academy for Sport Leadership and A Leader in Every Locker and has written extensively on leadership development of student-athletes.

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