It’s grand final week here in Australia. This is when two of the most high profile sports, Australian Rules Football and Rugby League, have their final games to decide who becomes the champions this year. It’s the equivalent of the Superbowl in America or the Champions League Football Final in Europe.
My local rugby league team, the Melbourne Storm have made their grand final. Seeing them all over the newspapers and TV this week reminded me of a story I heard a few months ago when I was listening to local sports radio station.
The CEO of the club, Ron Gauci, and the Football Manager, Frank Ponissi were being interviewed, and one of the questions they were asked was about the ‘culture’ they had created within the team, and how much this contributed to the team’s success. Now, we have all heard this type of questions answered many, many times with a response like; “Culture is really important for this team’s success. We work hard to create that culture. It’s one of the reasons for our success“. An answer that tells you exactly nothing about what they do to create the culture or what that culture looks like in reality.
What was great in this interview, and the reason why I remember it now, is Frank Ponissi didn’t do that, he instead told this story:
The week before the Melbourne Storm had played the Manly Sea Eagles, one of the fiercest rivals, on the Monday night. The game, which they won 26-22 was a very bruising affair, and had taken its toll on the players.
By the time the team bus got back to their Hotel it was close to 1 a.m. and everyone was shattered. As the players trudged off the bus, two of the players, Australian half-back, Cooper Cronk (top) and New Zealand back-rower, Sika Manu (below) were down on their hands and knees, crawling from the back of the bus to the front picking up any drinks bottles or rubbish left behind.
Now both of these players had got an absolute hammering in this game, and were both carrying knocks and bruises. Cronk especially was feeling it as this game was just after the State of Origin series, which he was heavily involved in.
When they finally got to the front of the bus they handed the rubbish to the bus driver and apologised as they thought they might have missed some up the back of the bus.
“That’s an example of the culture we have worked hard to create here at the Melbourne Storm” he concluded.
I had the pleasure of meeting Anne Weatherston, the CIO of ANZ bank, today. She spoke at a business lunch about their new strategy and some of the important decisions her leadership group is making to support the bank’s focus on Asia.
To get the support of the business Anne felt that her technology group needed to build its credibility. To do this she recruited top technical experts for leadership roles with the mantra that “technology should be lead by technologists.”
Of course credibility is built in a number of ways. Most importantly we assess credibility by what someone does and the decisions they make. People are astute leader-watchers and assess character and expertise through what people do. Recruiting experts is a good strategy.
There are many times, however, when you can’t see the things people do and this is where storytelling comes into the picture. Anne’s technological leaders also need to share their experiences so others can judge those things people don’t get to see first hand and in the process build their credibility.
Anne said to me that IT people have a tendency to be factual and prefer to share their analysis and opinion before they will tell a story. IT folk are not alone. Most business people in my experience are similar. We just need to help them understand that storytelling is a skill we all have and they just need help to change a habit to convey some facts, analysis and opinions as experience.
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I started to read Daniel Coyle’s latest book: The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for improving your skills on the commute to work this morning, and it’s fascinating.
I really enjoyed Coyle’s previous book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. The book was all about answering the question; “how do people get great at something?“.
For the book, Coyle looked at the latest research, spent a lot of time talking to the ‘father of expertise’ K. Anders Ericsson, but also visited what he called ‘talent hotbeds’. These are places where great talent has been produced out of proportion to their size and perceived stature; for example, a Russian tennis club, a music school in Dallas, a soccer field in Brazil, and many others.
It is a fascinating read and brings out, yet again, the importance of deliberate practice, a concept you may have seen us mention on many occasions in this blog. From cab drivers in London doing the knowledge, to Benjamin Frankiln improving the way he wrote, to the Jamacian bob sleigh team, immortalised in the film ‘Cool Runnings’. They all used elements of deliberate practice in building skill and improving performance.
A key element of deliberate practice is the presence of some kind of coach, teacher or mentor to help provide guidance and give feedback on performance. We all know the value of a great coach, but what is the right kind of person to help us really achieve something great?
From Coyle’s research he says you should seek out someone who:
- Doesn’t remind you of a courteous waiter - you don’t want someone that smiles a lot and says things like; “Don’t worry, no problem, we will take care of that later“.
- Scares you a little – look for someone who watches you closely and is honest, sometimes unnervingly so
- Gives short, clear directions - most great teachers/coaches/mentors do not give long winded speeches. Instead, they give short, clear directions of what they want.
- Loves teaching fundamentals – they start from a focus on the basics, the foundations, the fundamentals and build from there. And they will always go back to these to ensure they are being done, and done right.
- Is older (all other things being equal) – teaching is like any other talent: it takes time to grow. Great teachers are first and foremost learners, who improve their skills with each passing year