This past weekend, I was inadvertently thrust into a leadership role…
We knew there wasn’t a coach, yet.
It was my oldest son’s first basketball practice of the season. Him and a bunch of 2nd graders, in what the local YMCA calls the “micro” league. Mostly fun, minimal competition, a great way to pick up the basic skills of the game, before potentially moving on to more competitive play.
Now, I’ll say that I’ve never really been big on basketball. It just wasn’t my sport. I enjoyed shooting hoops in the neighbor’s driveway, but my interest pretty much stopped there.
Even signing my son up — last winter and again this year — felt foreign to me. We let him pick, and that’s great. He needs to discover his own interests. But I always thought of myself as more of a hockey dad than a basketball dad.
I was kind of dreading the first practice. Because, again, we knew there wasn’t a coach.
But I was still holding out hope that a coach would miraculously materialize, and it would be all solved by the time we hit the court.
So we get there, and…
Nobody has stepped up to lead…
Now, at this point, there are two other parents standing at the edge of the court. But I guess I have that “air” because the guy from the YMCA walks up to me, and says, “So, your team doesn’t have a coach.” Maybe he’d already talked to the others before I got there.
I look around with an “… And it’s not me, either!” smirk on my face.
Then, reality sets in. There are 5 kids out on that court, and you can’t rely on a pack of 2nd graders to coach themselves.
Now, let’s be clear here. I played about eight years of competitive hockey. I could keep a hockey team busy with drills for hours. But I never, never played competitive basketball.
I don’t even know half the rules!
Still, I decided that I would take on the role of grownup int he room. That I would take responsibility.
Though I didn’t officially take on the title of “coach” — explaining that there were scheduled games where it would simply be impossible — I hopped into the role for the first practice.
Like I said, I don’t know basketball well. So I winged it. I started making up drills, looping in the other parents for ideas.
We worked it out. It was a good practice. We got through about 30 minutes, and then scrimmaged — which the kids were exceedingly happy to do.
In all, it turned into a successful practice — and a successful first experience as “coach” for me. (My son now gets a big grin when he calls me that.)
Now, I’m not sure what happens for the rest of the season. How much I’ll continue to play coach, and how much other parents will step in.
But as I was reflecting on the experience, I realized there are a TON of parallels in life and business…
The vast majority of people are looking for someone else to lead…
I frequently see people in entrepreneurial circles disparaging people who are happy working for others. I think that’s wrong for a couple reasons.
First off, entrepreneurs need people who are happy to be employees. If you don’t have them, you don’t have a team!
Second, not everyone has the skills or motivation to lead. There are some people who are great leaders, and some who are great followers. I think playing to where you’re most comfortable right now is okay.
But that can quickly lead to a situation like where I found myself this weekend. I was clearly in a crowd of grown ups who weren’t comfortable filling in the leadership role.
Frankly, I wasn’t that comfortable doing it in this context. But I recognized that someone had to do it, and I’ve learned that stepping into uncomfortable situations is the best way to grow.
With the parents’ eyes on me, looking just as expectant as the kids’, I accepted that somebody better step up and it might as well be me.
Simply being willing to accept responsibility — even when you’re extremely under-prepared — can catapult you to the top…
I noticed, by the time that the practice was done, that all the kids consistently listened to me, and so did the grown-ups. In fact, that was happening from pretty much the moment I stepped into that leadership role.
If people are looking for a leader, and someone assumes that responsibility, they are automatically granted the authority consistent with being a leader.
We have a collection of scripts in our head for how we treat people within certain roles.
We have scripts for teachers, and for law enforcement, and bosses. We have scripts for parents, and children, and friends.
When someone steps into one of these roles, our first natural instinct is to rely on those scripts for how to interact with that person.
Because I took on the role of head coach, the kids and parents alike instantly started treating me as the boss, in the context of the team. (Although I’d be happy to relinquish this to anyone willing, I have a feeling as I write this that now that I’ve filled the role, everyone else will be happy to let that become the new norm.)
I also felt a shift in myself. As soon as I said “yes,” to doing it, I started to play the role of coach.
“If I’m going to coach, I better come up with some drills…”
“If I’m going to coach, I better speak authoritatively to let everyone know what to do…”
“If I’m going to coach, I better take final responsibility for making and implementing decisions…”
And so on. It wasn’t easy at first, but I picked it up pretty quickly.
Which leads me to…
If you’re willing and motivated, you can almost always figure it out as you go…
Like I said, I never played competitive basketball. So I never had a basketball practice. It’s just not something I did.
And while my son played last year, I didn’t pay a ton of attention, because I never aspired to coach (at least not this sport).
But as soon as I took on that role, I realized that I had to figure it out, or else the team would be left directionless and demotivated.
So I started making decisions. I gave directions. I came up with drills. I watched how the kids did, and adjusted on the fly. When I was feeling unsure, I asked other parents for ideas and help. I made sure their input was treated with respect and as valued.
Starting at zero and with great reluctance, I quickly got momentum and figured out at least enough that the kids had a good practice.
In short, I figured it out because I had to!
Applying this to business and your career…
In case the parallels aren’t clear enough, here are some thoughts…
I started in marketing with almost zero credentials. I’d been a mediocre telemarketer, and had a degree in psychology. Both of those are relevant in hindsight, but are not clearly so on a resume submitted with a marketing application.
What I did have though was my “yes” and willingness to take responsibility for my success. I stepped up in situations where others wanted someone to fill the role, and I continued to step up and take on greater responsibility whenever opportunity called for it.
Nearly every single time, this required stepping out of my comfort zone. My decision to take on a new challenge was almost always followed with a, “what have I just gotten myself into?”
Once the immediate fear of the new and challenging started to wane, I got to work. I was willing and motivated to succeed, and so I figured out how.
I made a ton of mistakes along the way. But I always picked myself up and kept moving forward.
The result: I keep inching closer to the top of my field, and in the last two weeks I made as much in royalties as I made in a year before discovering marketing — for work I’d mostly done two months’ prior.
But that only happened because of my habit of stepping up and taking responsibility for creating the outcome I want, especially when it’s most uncomfortable…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,