One of my coworkers likes to tell a story about John Wooden, the renowned head coach of UCLA’s basketball team from 1948 to 1975. Wooden managed to not only turn around a faltering basketball program but won ten NCAA championships in a twelve-year period. Players who worked under him have often been asked what the secret to his success as a coach was, and it’s surprisingly simple. He didn’t wait until after practice to give his players feedback. Instead, he spent the entire practice encouraging them to make minor tweaks, often by saying, “Do this, not that.”
For many people (myself included), giving coworkers “negative” feedback is incredibly difficult. It’s easier to just let things slide and avoid the conflict. The problem is, all those little things build up until one of two things happens. Either you finally lose your cool over something seemingly minor and unleash Niagara Falls on them, or you wait to provide feedback until performance review time and let their supervisor unleash Niagara Falls on them. Either way, you’ve damaged the relationship and done them the disservice of not being given the opportunity to correct their mistake or adjust their behavior.
So, how do we avoid these even worse outcomes? I think we can look to John Wooden’s coaching. Often a dichotomy is set up between biting your tongue and bluntly, tactlessly speaking your mind, both of which lead to conflict sooner or later, but Wooden provides an example of a middle way. We can mentally reframe our “negative feedback” as “a coaching opportunity”. We don’t have to make a big deal about it. We can just simply say, “Hey, next time, I would prefer if you did this instead of that.” You don’t have to talk about your coworker having done something wrong or having made a mistake that needs to be corrected. You would just prefer if they did it a little differently next time.
I’ve started trying this around the office, and I’ve discovered a funny thing. Most people are really receptive to these little tweaks! I even had one situation where the response was, “That’s a really good suggestion. I hadn’t thought of that.” So the next time you find yourself wondering what a coworker was possibly thinking, try a little coaching instead of stressing about delivering a heavy message. Do this, not that.
What’s the difference between being a manager and being a non-manager? Obviously, there are myriad answers to that question, but let’s just focus on one: your to-do list.
In entry-level jobs, handling a to-do list is relatively straightforward. Your manager gives you a set of tasks you’re responsible for completing.
Most of them are well-defined and have specific deadlines by which they need to be completed. You have to prioritize your time, and sometimes you have to work late to get everything done. However, it’s possible to get it all done, maybe not every day, but there are some Fridays when you can leave a little early because you really have finished everything you’re supposed to.
As you move into higher levels of responsibility (i.e. project or personnel management), that starts to change. There are fewer and fewer items on your to-do list that are defined tasks with specific deadlines. Instead, your to-do list starts to include things like:
♦ Brainstorm with Jacob about program marketing
♦ Research competing programs for ideas on how to improve
♦ Choose speakers to invite for lectures
Instead of being given tasks and deadlines, you’re increasingly responsible for deciding what needs to be done to move your projects forward and on what sort of timetable. However, this isn’t the biggest change in your to-do list. The biggest change is, since your program could always be improved just a little bit more and you could always experiment with that next great idea, your to-do list will never again be done. Never.
For driven, high-achievers who have succeeded in school and sports and clubs all at the same time, this is a hard truth to come to grips with. It requires a complete mindset change because working harder and getting less sleep doesn’t cut it anymore. Instead, you have to know what your goals are, decide which activities will advance those goals the most, and let a lot of other things stay at the bottom of your to-do list until you find the courage to cross them off, undone.
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