-Don't swing at ...-

“Don’t swing at …”

It was a beautiful spring day and I was in the dugout with an NCAA college softball team. I had worked with this team all year and I was excited to be on the bench to see them in action. On that day we were playing a doubleheader against the #10 team in the country.

The first inning was rough but otherwise, I thought we played well. We lost 2-0 but I saw some positives. We had good leadership on the field and in the dugout, we responded well to moments of adversity, and all the players were embracing their assigned roles for the day.

After the first game, the team jogged to the outfield to regroup. As I walked with the coaches one of them said, “Hey, will you talk to them? They’re tired of hearing from us.” The answer was an easy yes for me.

I stood in front of the team, each of them on one knee with the coaches standing behind them. I remember saying something like, “Hey team, I’m not even going to try and talk to you about softball because you guys know I was a soccer coach, but I’ll give you some insights on what I observed.” I went on to say how I thought we were in the game and though we made some errors I loved the way we responded in those moments. I mentioned that the opponent was a really a good team but we managed to get runners on base and we had our chances and then, then I went off script… I said, and I can’t make this up, I said this to an NCAA college softball team… brace yourself …“it’s not like we were swinging at airballs.” Yep. Wrong sport. Wrong terminology altogether. And in that moment the players fell over the laughing, the coaches couldn’t look at me, and I couldn’t compose myself either. What a moment!

I share that story because I so frequently hear from young leaders that they are afraid to say the wrong thing and as a result, they don’t say anything at all. Here’s the truth; there will be times when you will say the wrong thing – trust ME on that one! But here is why that particular moment worked out:

  1. They knew my intentions: Because I had been working with them for many months they understood that everything I did was to help them develop, so a mistake on my part was easily forgivable.
  2. They trusted me: In our previous encounters, I had pressed them on some difficult team issues. I asked hard questions but what I did with their answers built trust between a tight-knit team and me an outsider. I had authentically earned their trust. In a moment when I clearly said the wrong thing, that relationship didn’t fall apart because the trust was real.
  3. They saw me as human: In that moment they saw me laughing at the absurdity of the situation and they saw me as “one of them.” Too often people view leadership as being “above” their people but I strongly believe the most effective leaders see themselves as being “with” their people. In this situation, the team saw me as someone just like them, full of flaws and very human.

But the story doesn’t end here. You see we had another game to play and early in the game, our pitcher caught one of their batters swinging for the fences. This player swung hard and missed and then it happened … our entire dugout started chanting, “airball – airball” and that’s when I knew we were good. When teams can laugh together that’s a sign that trust has been built.

And to this day I remind their coaches on a regular basis of my deep and profound softball knowledge: “Don’t swing at airballs.” Words of wisdom right there …

If you want to lead stay true to your intentions, earn the trust of others, be human AND laugh together when you make a mistake. Leading is worth the risk of making a mistake.

This is good, again ...

“This is Good,” again…

Like most other speaking engagements I found myself standing before 30 high school student-athletes sharing my favorite story. I share this story with every group I work with. Honestly, I find it to be much more than a story; for me, it is a way of life.

The story is called “This Is Good” and the message is all about perspective. The reality is when bad, negative, or frustrating things happen we each have a choice in terms of how we want to respond. We don’t have to know how something difficult is going to be good, but the idea is to simply leave the door of possibility open that something good can come from something bad. In the face adversity can you say, “this is good?”

I shared the story and encouraged the student-athletes to have a “this is good” mindset. I also warned them that when they embrace this mindset life will present them with plenty of opportunities to think, believe, and respond by saying “this is good!”

The next morning I woke up at 5am to head to the airport for my 7am departing flight. As I grabbed my phone off the charger I realized there was an issue with my flight. It hadn’t been delayed, it had been canceled. Urgh. I quickly called the airline and they told me I had been re-booked on a 2pm flight. I hung up the phone just as my friend/host was asking if it was time to go to the airport? I replied, “go back to bed, my flight has been canceled.” I’m not sure who said it first but the words “this is good” were certainly spoken.

In that moment I had a choice to make; be angry or believe that in some way this could be good. I chose to embrace a “this is good” mindset. As a result, I got to sleep in – YES! And my friend/host and I had lunch with another person I really needed to meet. So yes, my canceled flight was in fact good.

And for the record, my 2pm flight was delayed until 7:45pm which meant I would miss my 5pm connecting flight so my friend/host drove me a couple hundred miles directly to the airport of my connecting flight and the entire way I kept thinking, “this is good.”

Try it, but believe me when I say, if you embrace a “this is good” mindset you will suddenly see so many times when you can put it into practice … but it’s worth it.

Trust me, this is really good …

MagicTrick

It’s not a magic trick … working with introverts

When I work with teams, educators, and corporate groups we always spend a significant amount of time processing what we experienced together. I hear it from people all the time, “how did you get her to talk?” …”he NEVER speaks up, how did you do that?” … “I can’t believe she was willing to share, I swear she hasn’t spoken in a year!”

Let me be clear, it’s not a magic trick! To get more people to speak up, you simply need to create space where they feel comfortable sharing. This can be a challenge when working with introverts who need time to process their thoughts internally. However, statistically, 50% of people are considered to be introverts, so when we create space for them to participate in the dialog everyone benefits.

Here are a few tools I utilize when working with groups:

  1. Research says that most people who were born and raised in the US are uncomfortable with silence after 3 seconds. If you aren’t sure that is true, the next time you are in front of a group just stop talking for 3 seconds and see what happens! As a result, our culture tends to fill the silence with more chatter since we fear the perceived awkwardness. As a result, the extroverts keep talking and the introverts struggle to get their thoughts together amid the noise and chatter. Individuals with a preference for introversion typically need 8-10 seconds to process their thoughts before they are able to share. When we give them that silence they can hear what is in their heads and share it with the group. Knowing this I usually do two things when I’m working with a group:
    1. Explain the process/purpose: I explain this concept to the group. In fact, I test the “3-second theory” by pausing for 3 seconds after I make that statement … 3… 2… 1… clue the laughter! By explaining to a group that I will wait for 8-10 seconds before I move on to the next question I remove the pressure that some people may feel to fill the silence. I explain that while some people may feel uncomfortable I, as the facilitator, am not uncomfortable and they don’t need to worry about how I am feeling. Instead, they can see this as a process which invites everyone’s voice into the space.
    2. Put the process into action: When I ask a question to the group I will typically ask it several times. The first time someone will often answer right away. The next time that may also be the case but when I ask it again and it isn’t answered right away I count to 10 in my head. It never fails, when I get to 10 someone raises their hand to share because they have had the time they needed to collect their thoughts. Explaining the process/purpose and putting it into action has been a valuable tool for me.
  2. When you want to debrief as a large group consider how you can allow people to process before a large group conversation. When I want a large group to share their thoughts on a closing question I will often explain to the group that they have three options for processing the question before we gather as a large group to share our thoughts:
    1. Option 1: Go to the back of the room in a group and talk about the closing question. Typically those with a preference for extraversion will be drawn to this very verbal and high energy process.
    2. Options 2: Find a partner and discuss the closing question together. Generally, those with a preference for introversion will be drawn to this process since it creates deep, meaningful connections.
    3. Option 3: Spend some time in quiet reflection writing your thoughts about the closing question. This process is often selected by those with a preference for introversion as it gives them the space they need to organize their thoughts.

Allowing people to first process a question in a way that is most natural for them prepares them to be able to contribute to the large group conversation. When we ask a people to share off the top of their heads we are catering to extroverts who are energized by the process of talking through things. If we want to hear the voice of introverts we need to understand they need time and silence to hear their inner voice.

I would encourage you to think about how you can apply these techniques. You may be surprised how much others have to share when you create the right environment for them.

If you are interested in learning more about introversion and extroversion I would be happy to talk with you about my work with Myers-Briggs. Understanding how you and those around best function can be life-changing! You can request more information here.

-So you want me to shoot more-

“So you want me to shoot more?”

Years ago, I recruited a very good soccer player to the college team I was working with. She was the “real deal” and I was so excited to have the opportunity to coach her! She made great decisions off the field, was an A student, a great teammate, managed her time well, and she was a talented soccer player – what a combination!

But the truth is I struggled to coach her during her freshman year. It wasn’t her work ethic or an attitude problem, it was a communication issue. It was like we were speaking two different languages. Here is what our conversations often sounded like when I was giving her feedback:

“We need you to get higher into the attack.” … “So you want me to shoot more?” …”No, but give yourself some freedom when we have possession.” …”So I don’t need to track back as much?” …”No, you still need to track back but you can move into that space more.”… “So you want me to …”

Ultimately, I would get frustrated and she would be on the field totally confused about what we needed from her. And let me be clear, this was a player I adored and I knew she was trying her very best, but we just couldn’t get on the same page.

When the seasoned ended I knew I had to make a change, I owed it to this student-athlete to figure out how to help her to be at her best. I made an appointment with the Director of our Academic Support Center and I explained the situation. I ask if there was any insight she could provide on how this student-athlete processes information because what I was doing CLEARLY wasn’t working.

The Director asked me if I was familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and I nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement! I had been a fan of this assessment for many years but I had never considered using it with a student-athlete.

I met with this player and I explained that I was frustrated with our communication. Like many student-athletes, she immediately thought she had done something wrong. I was quick to explain that was not the case. As a coach and an educator, I took full responsibility for not being able to teach her in a way that works for her. I strongly believe as coaches we need to adapt to the unique needs of our players and I had not done a good job of that with her.

She was open to taking the MBTI and the results were amazing! She and I were wired very differently and in the stressful moments of a game I was digging it to how I like to learn (assuming that everyone is just like me) and she needed the opposite. I was literally coaching/teaching her as backwards as I could – no wonder she was confused! But the MBTI gave me a very clear understanding of what she needed from me as her coach. As a result, we were able to come up with a plan and I adjusted how I gave her feedback to allow her to be at her best.

I am so grateful that we had an Academic Support Center, that I had a student-athlete who was willing to try something outside the box, and that together we figured how she best learns.

Years later I made the decision to become a certified practitioner of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I can now help others with this process. If you’d like to talk about how the MBTI can help you understand yourself and those around you please click here.

Oh, and her sophomore year, well, that was fun. She was a beast, but more important was the deeper connection we developed in the process. Our student-athletes deserve to have our best and sometimes that means we need to ask for help.

My experience says it is worth it.

change

Change is coming!

I am so excited to finally let you know that major changes are happening behind the scenes with The Circle of Influence Membership Site! We have listened to your feedback and I believe what we are unrolling will be exciting and useful for all of you!

Here is what you can expect:

  1. The price will be cut in half! Come on, who doesn’t like that?!
  2. The amount of material you will get each month will double! We will now post every Monday morning. The posts will be automated so you will know that first thing Monday morning you can access new material.
  3. The Circle of Influence will be designed around 26 ice breakers and team building worksheets. These will be posted as a jpg preview on the site, but there will be a PDF download provided for each worksheet.
  4. Additionally, on the first Monday of each month, we will provide a blog post on a specific team building topic.
  5. Since the material will cover 26 weeks you will be able to join at any point, stay for 26 weeks, and then you will have collected all the worksheets. We will recycle the material every six months so people really can join at any time.
  6. The material will be intentionally designed for coaches of athletic teams, teachers, and leaders.

I am so excited about the changes we are making and I am thrilled to be able to better serve those who desire to develop others. You can sign up here and you will see the changes starting Monday, Oct, 2nd.

Thanks for being a part of the Circle of Influence! Molly

BootCamp1 (2)

Teambuilding BootCamp 2017

Do you need new ice breakers?
Do you want fresh team building ideas?
Do you want to learn more about the value of debriefing team building activities?
Do you coach an athletic team, teach in the classroom, or lead a workgroup?

If so, Team Building BootCamp is for you! This is a FREE 5-day email based program. Team Building BootCamp will run from Sept. 18th – Sept. 22nd, 2017. Each day you will receive an email which will focus on the topic of the day. Some of the topics include how/why to use ice breakers, details on the Experiential Learning Cycle, as well as sample ice breakers and team building activities that you can put to use right away.

I hope you will take the time to help your team to be stronger by participating in Team Building BootCamp!

Registration will be open until Sept 17th.
Team Building BootCamp will not be offered again until the spring of 2018.

Sign up here! 

The Storm is coming

The storm is coming!!!

During the month of August, I worked with a large number of athletic teams, college student groups, and educators who were gearing up for the school year. Most of them brought me in to do team building. While the focus for each group was different most teams/groups at least touched on communication issues, conflict resolution, and teamwork.

I worked with one college group that had just moved into their dorm rooms that day. They literally just met each other. After our first session, one of the students said to me, “thank you so much for being here! We’ve never been this close as a group!” I fought the urge to say, “Um, yeah, well you just met 12 hours ago, so you haven’t had much time for drama!”

Team Development

We know that in the process of building a team/group you will go through several stages of development. The four standard stages are: forming, storming, norming, and performing. The clients I worked with this month were all in the forming stage which is a very happy place to be. Everyone is on their best behavior, the sky is the limit, and life couldn’t be better! But with each group, I warned them about what was coming – the storming stage!

Too many teams/groups fear the storming stage. While it can feel like a set back (“we were so happy and now we are not happy”) this is NOT a setback, it is actually a step forward towards a healthy and authentic team or group! Here are some ways to deal with the storm:

  1. Prepare and plan! During the forming stage, it is important to educate your team/group on the four stages of team development. There is a natural assumption that the forming stage will last forever. This is a false sense of reality, in fact, a team/group can NOT be successful if they stay in the forming stage because they aren’t an authentic team yet. By talking with your team/group about the different stages you can prepare them for what will come. It is also important during the forming stage that you develop the skills you will need to navigate the storming stage. I often remind teams/groups that the work we are doing now will be needed when the storm arrives. If you don’t prepare and have a plan you may have a team/group that gets stuck in the storming stage.
  2. Acknowledge where you are. Too many teams/groups fail to even acknowledge that they have entered the storming stage! When you acknowledge where you are you can put your plan and skills into action. Remember the storming stage IS a step forward and you should celebrate progress! By simply acknowledging that you have entered a new stage you are able to refocus your team/group on your plan for this stage of development. 
  3. Clarify roles. Teams/groups often get stuck in the storming stage because the lack of clarity leads to chaos and in the chaos a team/group loses their sense of connection. For the leader, it may seem obvious in regards to who needs to fill what role, but as shifting takes place a sense of direction may be lost which can lead to frustration.  It is critical in the storming stage that leaders clarify roles with great detail.
  4. Articulate the value of each role. While team/group members may be asked to serve in a role they would not have picked for themselves they are more likely to embrace their role if they understand the value in their given role. Look for moments to celebrate people who are making the team/group better within their given role. Make a point of articulating the value of every single role.
  5. Communicate that this isn’t a permanent role. It will be important that you help your people to develop additional skills so that in the future they have the potential to serve in more desired roles. For example, on a soccer team during the storming stage, a player may discover that she is the 3rd string goal keeper and she isn’t likely to get playing time this season. This may be a disappointment but it is manageable if she understands that this role isn’t permanent, it is simply where she ranks today.

While the storming stage isn’t easy we need to repurpose this stage of team/group development. Instead of seeing it as frustrating, disappointing, or as a set back consider celebrating this stage because you are one stage closer to become an authentic high performing team/group.

Ultimately, the storm will lead you to a better place.

If you’d like to talk about how I can help your team/group to be better equipped to move through the storm please reach out. Remember, the first step is to prepare!

Release the Brake

Release the Brake

I have a friend who wants to make a difference the world. He is smart, talented, thoughtful, and empathic. Each time we talk I am energized by his depth and his desire to use his influence in the world. His skill set, coupled with his love for humanity, provide him the avenue to be a true world changer.

But every time we talk we find ourselves going down a familiar path, one where he shares that he feels stuck, that he is tired, and he isn’t sure what to do next to put his ideas into action. This is a conversation we’ve been having for several years. The reality is, he doesn’t need to accomplish all of his dreams. The fruition of just one of his visions would make the world a much better place. However, I must say, if there is anyone who could accomplish many world changing plans it is him. I believe in him.

Sadly, I doubt he will make many of his dreams happen for one simple reason … he is living his life with the emergency brake on. We can’t drive very fast or very far with the emergency brake engaged. We also do a lot of damage to our vehicles when we try and drive a car in this state. Our bodies are no different than a car. We can’t move forward quickly, and the wear and tear on our soul is exhausting when we try to dream big with the emergency brake on.

So do yourself a favor today and just release the emergency brake. You don’t have to press the gas the pedal, you don’t even have to start your engine. Just release the brake, put your life in neutral, and coast for a while. You’ll be moving forward, your body will be free to recalculate, and your soul will thank you.

Release the brake, trust me, we all need you to be free to move forward and dream big.

Life is best lived in motion.

More Gentle Blog

“I had to tell her to be more gentle.”

I recently had the opportunity to work with some young elite level soccer players. My work with them focused primarily on how they communicated with each other and how effective communication skills build a stronger team. I believe there is power in what we say and how we choose to say it. I was fortunate to not only work with this team in a classroom setting but also to observe them in a game.

The day of their game happened to mark one year since my last day as a college soccer coach. After giving 20-years to the game I had made the decision to resign from coaching to focus my work on developing people. Since my resignation, I had not been to a single soccer game. It felt strange to unpack my coaching chair and sit on the sidelines again. The question I am most frequently asked is, “do you miss coaching?” I often say I miss the day to day connections with my players but no, I don’t miss coaching because I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. But I knew that sitting on the sidelines that day after being away from the game for exactly 365 days would either confirm or contradict how I had been answering that question.

During the first half, I enjoyed seeing how the player’s insights in the classroom were being applied on the field. It was also fun to see what soccer skills each player brought to the game. There was one player who caught my eye. She wore #2 and she was physically smaller than many of the other players, but she was really good on the ball. My guess is at some point in her young career she got tired of being knocked around and a good coach probably told her that if she could dance on the ball, she’d get knocked around less. Clearly, she listened.

When the whistle blew for halftime something very bizarre took place. The truth is, it was so strange that I had to follow up with an email to the coach to ask if this really did happen. Sadly, it did take place.

The girls came off the field, they grabbed their water bottles, and they began to chat with each other about how they could each do better in the second half. Then the Referee came over the sidelines. He knelt down in front of the coach, leaned in, and calmly said, “Coach, I need to let you know that #2 fouled the same player two times and so I had to tell her to be more gentle. I just wanted to let you know.”

As I said before, there is power in what we say and how we choose to say it. Here are some of the questions I wrestled with after contemplating his words:

1. When was the last time a boy was asked to be “more gentle” in an elite level soccer game? Seriously, when does that happen? Do Officials pull boys aside and ask them to be “more gentle?” My first coaching job was a U18 boys team and no Offical ever asked one of our boys to be “more gentle.” Our culture celebrates when boys go in hard on a tackle, play fearlessly in the air, or push themselves physically. We don’t ask boys to be “more gentle” and we shouldn’t ask this of girls either.

2. What does it really mean to ask a girl to be “more gentle?” Here are some synonyms for the word gentle; benign, mellow, quiet, soft, tame, domesticated, trained, bland, docile, soft-hearted, and sweet-tempered. As a former Head Coach at several NCAA schools, I can tell you those are not the words we used to describe our future student-athletes. To ask a girl to be more gentle in a contact sport is to ask her to be less than her full potential.

3. Why did the Official need to let the coach and player know that she needed to be “more gentle”? The truth is he didn’t need to share this because our society already makes this statement to girls and women. We hear this message on the radio, it’s plastered on our social media, and it is an undercurrent of pop culture. The world screams to girls and women that we need to embrace a role which is soft and tame. You don’t need to tell us, we hear it loud and clear.

As I sat on the sidelines that day I found myself reflecting on how I used my words to express my expectations for my players and I wrestled with the profound power of those words. If you’ve ever played for me, coached with me, coached against me, or found yourself within 200 yards of a field I was coaching on, I can guarantee you’ve heard me yell, “GOOD BATTLE!” This is a phrase I frequently used in training and in games. I wanted to let my players know that I celebrated their courage to battle on the field.

So do I miss coaching? Maybe some parts, but I have too much work to do in helping people to understand the significance of their own influence. That work includes teaching adults about the power of their own words and teaching young people that no one has the right to use their words to try and limit who someone can be.

I am certain this Official didn’t intend to use his words in a harmful way, but as many great scholars have shared, “words create worlds.” So what kind of world do you want to create?

There is power in telling a girl to be more gentle and there is power in consciously choosing your words to encourage a girl to be brave and strong. We need to be aware of the words we use and how we use them. And when words are used in a deconstructive way we need to speak truth to power.

So girls … step into your space, hold your head high, be proud of your bruises and scars, follow your chosen path, speak your truth, use your voice, be yourself – your full self – and hear us yell, “good battle!”

You’ve got this …

Yes and no

Great Leaders: Say yes & no

I arrived early that morning and ordered some sweet tea, I know, not really the breakfast of champions but I love their sweet tea. I grabbed a table in the back of the restaurant and got my laptop out knowing I had hours of work ahead of me.

For the next few hours I got a lot done, but as the clouds rolled in so did the parents with kids who wanted to play in the indoor play area. I happened to be seated directly across from the play area entrance.

A mom arrived with her young daughter, I would guess the child was about two-years-old. She was at the age where she believed she was independent but her vocabulary consisted primarily of “yes” and “no.” At one point her mom stuck her head into the play area and asked, “Kailee, do you want to get an ice cream cone?” Kailee came running towards the door and loudly shouted, “yes.”

When they came back to their table, which was next to mine, I noticed that Kailee had an adult size ice cream cone which required her to use both hands to hold on to it. Within seconds Kailee made her way to the play area door and tried to figure out how to open the door while holding her ice cream cone with both hands. Her mom asked her if she wanted to eat her ice cream cone and Kailee replied, “yes!” Her mom explained that if she wanted to eat her ice cream she couldn’t go in the play area. This caused a look of pure shock and horror from the young child! Her mom then changed the question and asked if she wanted to go in the play area and Kailee also replied, “yes!” And her mom explained that if she wanted to go into the play area she would have to hand over her ice cream cone. The idea that she could only do one of those things was turning this young girl’s world upside down!

I think a lot of leaders make the same mistake that this two-year-old made. As leaders, when we say yes to leadership we naturally say no to other things. When you say yes to being your team Captain you also say no to yelling at the referees. When you say yes to being a Division Leader at work you say no to ignoring the unethical decisions of a team member. When you say yes to serving as the Director of an organization you say no to public behaviors that would taint the reputation of that organization.

Great leaders understand that when we say yes to leadership we must say no to other things, but too many leaders want to yes to everything. They frequently behave like a two-year-old who wants to eat her ice cream cone and go into the play area. When leaders behave this way it’s their people who suffer because they are the ones who have to clean up the leader’s mess.

An immature leader takes her ice cream cone down the play area slide leaving a sticky mess behind her.
A great leader understands that leadership requires choices.

When you say yes to leadership make sure you have a clear understanding of what you are saying yes to and what you are saying no to. When you say yes to everything you create a mess and no matter how wonderful you may be, no one wants to clean up your mess.

Great leaders say yes & no.