As a leader you are either doing one of two things: coaching up or watering down. Are you coaching your people up or watering them down? (watering down as in the information you share with them) The difference between coaching up and watering down is the difference between educating and enabling.
Back in my college coaching days, in 2000 I graduated 145 out of 200 points from my lacrosse team and the following 2001 season 8 of 10 of my starters were freshman. As a result I felt I needed to water down our system due to youth. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I shortchanged them and myself in the process. Fortunately they called me on it sooner rather than later; I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. Two of my freshman starters Brian and Chris approached me with the following feedback:
“We know it’s early in the pre-season but we can do more than you think.” I asked them to elaborate on that statement and was thrilled with the answer. “We were talking in the team room and decided that we think you could be pushing us more. As a matter of fact, we want you to push us more.” I told them I’d be pleased to coach them harder and at the same time they needed to push themselves harder too. As it turned out, this youth movement I had on my team had a greater thirst for knowledge and capacity for both information and work than my team of veterans the year before. (This team of primarily rookies missed the playoffs by just one game.)
Just as I did back in 2000, I now see executives I coach make the same mistake of watering down their game plan as a knee jerk reaction to their staff not “getting it” right away. It’s really the same with business teams as with athletic teams; there is a learning curve which takes place with any group of people working toward a common objective. If you lower the bar the first time your people hit a speed bump you’re shortchanging them, yourself and your collective results. Lowering the bar has become an epidemic in our society educational testing standards have been lowered in 2006 the US Army lowered its entry standards our country’s credit rating was downgraded this year and there was a lack of public outrage. Don’t lower your bar just because others have lowered theirs.
If you want a great reminder of why you set the bar high for yourselves, do what LSU football coach Les Miles does… put a visual in your work space. Coach Miles literally installed a bar over the threshold of the locker room doorway out to the stadium. The coaches and players all touch the bar every time they walk out to renew their commitment to excellence. To take it a step further they travel with a replica of the bar and place it by the locker room door on road games.
By watering down what you ask of them you’re lowering your expectations. Why not maintain expectations of excellence and help them rise to meet this bar you’ve set high for them. When you do this everybody wins you expand your capacity to lead and you are helping them expand their capacity to learn. If your reaction (like mine was back in 2001) is to quickly make things simple for them, later when the time comes for your people to need to understand how to execute a complex strategy you have essentially guaranteed that they won’t know how to respond. Why? Because you’ve trained them to be simple. Growing pains are necessary to get to the next level. Many people sometimes tend to forget growth is not supposed to be comfortable. If you’ve ever watched a “helicopter parent” around their kids you know what I mean!
As a leader, you’re going to experienced turnover on your staff and at any given time you too will have new team members who are young and lack experience. It comes with the territory. And while it’s almost a natural reaction in this situation to think you need to water the information down; learn from my mistake resist the urge. You are far better off coaching them up no matter how inexperienced they may be. It demonstrates trust and confidence. You trust they are able to do the job no matter what sort of start they may have gotten off to. Furthermore you are also showing them you are confident in their ability to learn and digest information. I am not saying simple is never the answer but what I am saying is the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) inherently tells your people A. you think they’re stupid and B. You have an overt lack of confidence in their ability to learn. When you do this you are not putting your people in the best situation to be successful.
Sometimes simple is the answer but simple to execute does not have to mean simplistic in theory. The best teachers, coaches, and leaders I have ever met all share one trait. They have the ability to take something complex and make it simple to understand in the eyes of the learner. This is not watering down, it’s coaching up. They Keep It Smart & Simple.
As 2013 approaches, please comment how you intend to raise the bar for yourself or your team.