It starts with you!
Change starts with you, but is doesn't start until you do.
IT STARTS WITH YOU!
Some time ago, as a young coach, the basketball team I was coaching had the worst season I had ever experienced. There was no other way to look at it other than a complete failure.
Everything about the team was wrong. Toward the end of the season the post mortems began and the excuses accumulated. Lack of talent, bad chemistry and poor work ethic were the highlights or rather low lights. I had become so frustrated that in my own mind I began blaming the players, the club and anyone else in range.
After the last game of the season I just sat in the change room for hours after the players left, physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. The question just kept repeating itself - How do I fix this? How do I fix this? How do I fix this?
The next week, still searching for answers, I phoned a friend and mentor to ask advice. I was looking for a long and involved discussion, perhaps hoping for sympathy. He just said, "It starts with you mate!" and hung up on me. From that point on I had nowhere to turn. He was not only right, it was ...the only answer.
It was the first time I began to understand that my development as a leader was almost entirely about me becoming a better person. Leadership is a very personal self-improvement journey.
YOU CANNOT EXTERNALISE THE CHANGE
So much of the material we read on leadership focuses on what we should do, rather what we should be. The simple truth is that any lasting change in behaviour or action has to be driven by a corresponding change in thinking and attitude. Essentially a deep personal change.
As an example, you will often see books and articles with titles like ‘The 10 Traits of a Selfless Leader.’ Now this is a very worthy and correct approach to Leadership and the behaviours listed are in most cases insightful and useful. But what internal change has to take place for a young leader to really be selfless.
Most of us naturally think about ourselves, our dreams, our challenges, our way of doing things more than how others might be fairing or what their view of the world might be. A young leader may indeed have attained their position with a certain degree of self-focused effort. Now we are asking them, to put aside personal recognition, promotion and ascendancy to focus instead on facilitating the success of everyone else.
Here’s another example. Most would agree that good leaders need to be good listeners, but listening is hard. Listening requires focus and concentrated physical and mental effort. You don’t make that kind of change without an underlying shift in your thinking. You don't get to be a good listener unless you fundamentally change as a person.
Leaders need to be strong. Let’s face it, they are the last line of accountability, the single point of responsibility. All the problems, challenges and big decisions come down to them. They need to show, confidence and stability, demonstrate control over difficult situations and lead through difficult times. Inherently that means having a pretty tough exterior an almost impenetrable body armour. I like to call it Shields Up!
Unfortunately, true personal change for leaders starts with Shields Down. In other words, a sense of vulnerability. An acceptance that you don’t have all the answers. That you can’t do it by yourself, you need the help of others. That you have weaknesses in the same way you have strengths and that you must confront yourself in a very open, honest and sometime brutal way.
That sense of vulnerability is the door to improvement. You don’t get to make significant personal change without opening the door and walking through it.
SHARING YOUR VULNERABILITY
I spent the off-season suffering through a sometimes painful, analysis of my own performance. Feedback from my staff, the players and the mentor that hung up on me.
In our first Team Meeting of the new season, I came clean, openly telling the team where I thought I had let them down, my areas of weaknesses and how I intended to improve. It didn’t come easy, I wasn’t sure how the team would respond.
To my surprise, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Some were surprised that I had trusted them enough to be open about my short comings. Rather than being perceived as weakness, my own vulnerability apparently was received as a show of personal strength.
I had a long, long way to go, but this was a turning point for me and a realization that it was about me changing, becoming a better person and hopefully a better leader. The team over the next few years became the best I ever had the pleasure of working with. There is no way that would have happened if I hadn’t changed first.
That’s was over 25 years ago. I am still on the journey.