Leaders talk about ideas

There are two kinds of leaders out there. Isn’t that always the case? What I’m talking about is the leaders who have the best ideas and can help get you out of a jam when you need them, and the leaders who don’t have to because they’ve already equipped their teams.

Great leaders make their minds known to others so that their teams don’t have to make guesses and assumptions.

John Wooden’s PreGame Speech

Bill Walton once shared the pre-game speech that John Wooden would give the team before they’d go out on the floor. If you don’t know who Bill Walton is, before he was a sportscaster, he was a professional basketball player. And before that, he played college basketball, winning the College Player of the Year award three times in a row.

He played at UCLA under John Wooden – maybe the best college basketball coach ever. Wooden won 10 NCAA national championships within a 12 year period – seven of them in a row. It’s never been done again.

So we’re talking about two incredible folks. That’s the setting for this pre-game speech. And you’re probably thinking it’s going to be amazing. After all, I had high expectations. I heard Bill share this, and you can find clips like it online.

“I’ve done my job. Now it’s your turn. Don’t look over here during the game, because there’s nothing I can do to help you.” 

What he’s saying is that game time is the wrong time for idea articulation and dissemination. More importantly, his job was to train them at other points like in practice to make sure they learned the lessons they’d need during the game.

Leaders Think Out Loud

Maybe you’ve heard the old Henry Thomas Buckle line, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Wooden had a great mind. Many folks do. And the best ones have the same thing in common: they think out loud.

I once worked at a company in a leadership capacity where they wanted to put all our values on a business card that you’d give to each employee so they could carry it around with them in their pockets. This was in the nineties when values were going up as posters on walls everywhere.

As one of the younger leaders in the room I didn’t have the heart to ask why we needed to print these values. Wouldn’t they already be known by our teams?

Companies like the Ritz Carlton have daily huddles to cover their values and make sure to connect them to the front line staff.

Great leaders think out loud

Sadly, I have to report that the business cards were indeed made, and people never carried them around with them. When values aren’t a part of the day-to-day operations, when people don’t know them as a natural part of their regular work, a business card won’t help.

What’s the mindset of a Leader?

While we’d all love every member of our team to know what we’re thinking and how we’d approach any situation, the reality is that we can’t touch brains and do a mind meld. There’s virtually no way for anyone to know how a leader is thinking unless they share it out loud.

Using data from Gap International surveys, they created this brilliant infographic.

Leaders Mindset

But here’s the important question to ask:

How in the world would anyone working for a leader know that? Or learn that?

It’s only when someone is verbally articulating what’s going on in their heads that others learn.

And it’s not just the verbalization that’s critical. It’s what they’re thinking about.

Leaders talk about ideas

A supervisor can talk about policies. They may talk about processes. They may even give some feedback – though normally only when it’s positive. But leaders talk about ideas. They get past the normal business communication and give people ways to see things.

What kinds of things might a leader share with their team?

  • The reasons behind the policies and processes
  • How to know when to ignore a policy or process
  • The values that drive the day-to-day decisions
  • A perspective on the future of the business (or team)
  • An opinionated take on their target customer
  • Feedback on “off-brand” activity

These are the ideas that shape a team and help them perform.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar was another great UCLA basketball player – recruited by every program in the country. But you can imagine his surprise when he walked into the gym on the first day and was asked to sit down so that Wooden could teach the team how to put on socks and tie up the laces.

It wasn’t just a lesson on “how” to do it. But on the “why” behind it – the ideas that blisters may not hurt you too bad but eventually they could slow you down, or that a loose lace might cause you to use a time-out.

Of course the results speak for themselves and suggest to you and me that we should strive to be leaders who not only verbalize what’s in our heads for our teams, but also who focus on the ideas behind the day to day efforts.

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