Management is nothing more than motivating other people.
As I look out my window today, the sun is shinning and spring has finally reached what I like to refer to now as the new southern edge of the Arctic Circle, AKA Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was a long and, often times, brutal winter and the snow finally melted a little over a week ago. As spring is upon us, so is the heart of the lacrosse season. Lacrosse is the oldest game in North America and I have been fortunate to be involved over the course of my life as a player, coach, youth program director and parent of a son and daughter who love the game. The reason I share this is because in the more than 35 years I have been involved in the game I have played for a number of coaches who made a significant impact on my life. Since that time I have also been fortunate to work for and learn from a number of outstanding managers who have enabled me to have a very rewarding professional life and they too have made a significant impact on my life. As I think about the role coaches and managers played in my life and the lives of others, it becomes clear that they do many of the same things to lead their teams to success. Most of the people who read this will not know who these ordinary people are and that is important to contemplate because it is ordinary people like them who are responsible for managing 75% of the world’s work-force. Their task is not simple, however, their influence and impact on their teams and individuals can be great. At a time when many employees believe their manager is not effective and many managers admit to lacking the skills necessary to perform their duties1, I am reflecting on my past managers and realize how fortunate I was in that this was not the case and that good coaches and managers make a huge difference. A difference in the conditions they create, the esprit de corps of their teams and the goals they achieve. In their book, The Leadership Challenge (now in its 5th edition), what authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have found through their research is that it is through ordinary people that extraordinary results are achieved. The coaches I played for and managers I worked for were ordinary people who did just that by transforming values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards.2
So here is the list of coaches and managers whom I have seen make a difference in the organizations they were charged with leading and the people that were part of the teams they led. It began with my high school lacrosse coaches, Bill McKendry, Rogers Frasnei, Randy Marks and John Linehan, who taught my teammates and me the value of hard work, dedication, preparation and teamwork. While each of these men played a significant role in my life, it was John Linehan who had the greatest influence. He invested a tremendous amount of his personal time teaching me a set of skills that would ultimately help shape the direction of my life. After high school I attended Towson University (back then Towson State University), where it was my head coach, the legendary Carl Runk, and assistant coach Joe Ardolino, who – among his other duties – was my goalie goalie coach, who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. They both challenged me and my teammates in ways that brought out the best us during my time at Towson. Coach Runk modeled the way unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He is as honest as the day is long, always set a good example, always found an encouraging word, arrived early, stayed late and inspired our team to perform above the level we initially thought possible. He infused us with belief… in ourselves and in our team. These two men’s influence on my life and the lives of my teammates and scores of Towson University student athletes over the years has been immense.
As my lacrosse career was winding down, my life in business was getting started. Jack McGlasson, the founder of a medical device manufacturer’s rep company, took a risk and gave me a chance to break into medical device sales and tolerated my trials and tribulations as a young salesman. He was a great manager, coach and friend who taught me how to add value in my dealings with clients and how to provide outstanding customer service that helped us create a successful and profitable small business. Jack was patient as I learned the business, had some early successes and made mistakes along the way. On a few occasions, he held me accountable by having the tough conversations and used those moments to look at the mistakes as opportunities to learn and do better in the future. Through my experience with Jack, I learned about the risks involved in hiring someone who lacked industry experience and that when people try new things they will make mistakes and to use those opportunities for accountability and learning. Bill Ott, about whom I have previously written, was my next manager who coached me to award winning sales performances and entry into a management development program. Tim Callahan, who was at the same company, taught me the value of strategic planning and how to put together a solid plan that delivered results. From these managers, the knowledge and skill I learned enabled me to grow personally and professionally. At another company, I reported, either directly or indirectly to Bryan Finley, Bill Heiden, Jim Mackey and Tony Yost, who taught me to measure what matters, how to manage performance and how to be a better manager by becoming a more effective leader. The one common thread they have is that they invested in my development, connected me with a mentor and provided tremendous insight and guidance as I transitioned into sales management. From Ellen McCune, I learned many things related to management – how to plan and organize in a corporate headquarters environment, the value of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), how to contract and work with suppliers, and how to communicate with impact when introducing large-scale change initiatives. She also taught me how to develop a strategic roadmap, evaluate a sales force and create alignment in a large organization. Like my other managers, she had the challenging conversation when it was warranted and, while it did not feel good to be on the receiving end at the time, the perspective of time has allowed me to learn and grow from her feedback. Mike Laffin was not only my manager, he was also a mentor and friend who provided coaching that helped me to develop strategies and approaches to take into consideration different perspectives when managing large-scale programs and initiatives. Agnes Semington invested a lot of time getting to know me and to discover what motivated me. She was a very trusting manager who empowered me to build relationships in a matrixed global organization, take risks, experiment and develop a long-term strategy. With Agnes as my manager, it was very smart that she encouraged me to make strategic decisions, take risks and experiment because I felt empowered and that trust motivated the team I led and me to do all we could to support a global organization.
Here’s what these good coaches and managers did to create the right conditions for their people and teams to flourish.
They believed in their people, individually and collectively.
When people are uncertain about their ability to perform in a role, or lack confidence, a coach or manager can make all the difference in the world. Words of encouragement with phrases like, “I believe you can do this. It is why we selected you for this task,” make a difference by inspiring and motivating a person to give 110%. Sometimes, these simple phrases are all a person needs to hear for them to believe in themselves. If you are a manager, I encourage you to reflect on your recent interactions with the people on your team. Are your words during these conversations inspiring and motivating, or are they making people uncertain about their ability to meet your expectations? How do you use mistakes and failure? How often do you use these as teachable moments and opportunities to learn and do better the next time? What approaches are you taking to connect decisions to actions, actions to results and results to implications so that decision-making skills are strengthened?
They encouraged people to stretch and take risks.
Through their own experiences of trial and error, they recognize the importance of risk-taking to a person’s growth and development. What I find remarkable, as a I reflect on the people listed above, is they were a person’s biggest cheerleader when things went well and, importantly, they were there to provide support and encouragement if the task did not go as planned. It was their willingness to allow people to experiment and make mistakes that created the conditions that led to world-class performance and innovation.
They put people in situations where their talents shined.
We all have our strengths, and it is a manager’s duty to put people in situations where their talents shine because it drives engagement and energizes people. The people above did this by spending meaningful amounts of time getting to know their people, what inspired and motivated them and then putting them in situations that played to strengths and managed around weaknesses3.
They held others and themselves accountable.
These people all had high standards, expected a lot from themselves and a lot from their people. They understood that people have the ability to rise to high expectations. By setting clear expectations of what was expected and how things should be done, coaches and managers create cultures of high performance and help teams exceed expectations. Clarity on expectations prevents confusion and helps establish a culture of performance and accountability.
They created a culture that was focused on the team.
These coaches and managers spent time on team building and emphasized the necessity for teamwork in all endeavors. In environments where teamwork has been espoused the group was ALWAYS more effective and successful. Groups where teamwork is not emphasized, in my experience, waste a lot of time, are dysfunctional and rarely live up to expectations.
They made time for their people.
The relationships they had with their people were meaningful and real. They got to know their people by being available and present (meaning both physically and mentally in the moment) to learn as much as they could about them, their goals and what motivated them in life and in their roles. They took the time to understand how they worked and helped identify opportunities or approaches that may have been overlooked. They listened, brainstormed, provided feedback and appropriate guidance that was empowering.
Their values were modeled not always stated.
Their actions were very consistent with their stated values. All were honest and had a tremendous amount of integrity. If communication was important to them, and for everyone on the list it was, they chose their words carefully and their style of communication fit the situation. During a 1:1 they would ask questions and listen. In team meetings they would allow for small talk before jumping into the meeting so people could connect, however, once the meeting began they would clearly articulate the purpose for the meeting, provide an agenda and paint a picture of a broad outcome from the time together. When speaking to large audiences, they were always prepared and modeled the way for others to follow. If commitment was a value, then it was modeled by demonstrating persistence in the face of obstacles and rolling up their sleeves when it was necessary. This was inspirational, motivated the team and helped create a stronger culture within the group. Some time after I graduated from Towson, I attended Coach Runk’s induction into the Towson University Athletic Hall of Fame. He is a great public speaker and during his acceptance speech, he had the audience hanging on his every word and laughing at his never-ending stream of jokes and funny commentary. Towards the very end of his speech he said, and I will always remember this, “This morning when I prayed, I thanked my Lord and Savior for the life he has blessed me with.” I remember looking at my former teammates with whom I was seated, smiled and said, “I knew it. I always felt like faith was important to him.” The entire time I played for him, he never said that faith was a value. He didn’t have to – his life is a testimony to his faith.
They started with a vision of what the future could look like.
It’s been said that the greatest leaders have the longest time span horizon. Great managers and coaches take the time to 1) initially provide a vision and 2) work with their teams to ensure the vision is current, relevant and stays fresh. Some excellent information and approaches are spelled out in The Leadership Challenge on inspiring shared vision and I highly recommend you add this book as a reference resource for your management and leadership library.
They stayed connected even after the task and working together ended.
While staying in touch with all of these coaches and managers has not been possible, I have been able to stay in touch with many of those identified above. I have also attempted to stay in touch with those whom I had the pleasure of working with side-by-side. All of those conversations and interactions have been very valuable to me and have made me glad that strong relationships were developed that have lasted even though time, life and distance have separated us. The most poignant example I can provide of one such conversation is a call I had with Coach Runk in 2012. I called him out of the blue, and he stopped what he was attending to and we spoke for some time about life, my career and our families. As our call ended, he said something I hadn’t anticipated and that was, “Tom, I love you. Take care.” I said, “Coach, I love you too. Always have… because you helped me believe in myself and it changed my life.” You see, at that moment, the time and distance separation didn’t matter and it is just another example of the value of developing deep and meaningful relationships with the people a coach or manager has the privilege to lead. It is relationships like these that managers can develop that make people want to work for you, struggle for you, stay late when necessary and to be part of your team.
This story has been about the extraordinary results achieved by ordinary people who wear the hats of ‘coach’ and ‘manager’ and I hope my personal example as someone ‘on the other end of the management equation’ inspires you to want to make the same kind of impact on your people and your organization that these coaches and managers had on the teams they led and me personally. To each and every one of them I say thank you for helping me in my journey and for helping the teams I was a part of have fun and to make a difference in our organizations.
1 Association for Talent Development (ATD) research on employee perception of
manager effectiveness and managers’ perception of the training they received. Q4
2 Kouzes, James & Posner, Barry. The Leadership Challenge – How to Make
Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. 5th Edition, ©2012. The Leadership
Challenge®, A Wiley Brand.
3 Buckingham, Marcus & Clifton, PhD., Donald. Now, Discover Your Strengths. The
revolutionary program that shows you how to develop your unique talents and
strengths – and those of the people you manage. Based on a Gallup study of over
two million people. ©2001 by the Gallup Organization. The Free Press.
Tom Manos is the founder of Peak Performance Insights, a management consulting and performance improvement firm that works with business leaders who are committed to transforming their organizations so that they become better places to work and more capable of fulfilling their missions. Tom is a facilitator for The Leadership Challenge Workshop, which helps people and organizations to learn The 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership, the 10 Commitments that support the 5 practices and the 30 behaviors that help leaders to improve their personal and leadership effectiveness. He is a graduate of Towson University (Towson, MD); one of America’s top public universities (U.S. News & World Report), where he played NCAA D-I Men’s Lacrosse for a nationally ranked program that was the winner of three East Coast Conference titles. Tom was a walk-on and was recognized as Most Improved and Most Outstanding. He became a team captain his senior year and received the Joseph Ferrante Memorial Scholarship for Inspiration. After Towson, he played for the Baltimore Thunder in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League for 6 years. He has been actively involved in youth lacrosse and the Boy Scouts of America in his hometown for a number of years.