You handle things. You work with people.
This point represents a key distinction that Coach John Wooden thought was important to be an effective leader. The leader who simply “handles” people makes them feel manipulated and will never truly get their best effort in the long run.
In his book with Steve Jamison, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court,Coach Wooden discussed ideas he had about bringing out the best in people.
People want to believe you are sincerely interested in them as persons, not just for what they can do for you. You can’t fake it. If you don’t mean it, they know it, just as you’d know if someone were pretending to be interested in you.
Most people try to live up to expectations. It always comes back to courtesy, politeness and consideration.
Basketball practice at UCLA with Coach Wooden began at 3 p.m. The players knew Coach would always be sitting courtside at 2:30 p.m. in the event they wanted to come early and discuss anything regarding their personal, academic or basketball situation. This was in addition, of course, to being available in his office.
In his book Practical Modern Basketball, there is a section called Working With Your Players. In it, Coach lists 10 key points, five of them are as follows:
- Be completely impartial and show no favoritism, but remember that no two players are alike and that each must be treated according to his own individual personality.
- Be easily approached by the players and sincerely interested in all of their personal problems, successes and failures.
- Earn the respect and confidence of the players.
- Respect and study the individuality of each person.
- Teach loyalty, honesty and respect for the rights of others in the sense of responsibility.
These behaviors by a leader represent working with people, not handling them.
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell refers to a study that documented that the most annoying type of communication occurs when it is condescending.
Actions by a leader that are manipulative or condescending will weaken the team. Actions that are not manipulative or condescending will strengthen the team.
These three simple, consistent behaviors by a leader may help the team improve:
- Say, “Good morning” and “How are you today?” with a sincere heart to all team members without giving them an operational instruction.
- Always be mindful of your tone of voice and apologize when it’s inappropriate. Make your best effort to never talk down to people.
- Do your best to never interrupt a team member when they are speaking and actively listen with an open mind.
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