Be the MJ of Your Life

In a coaching session the other day, I told my client, “Well, consider you’re not a very good listener.” She tensed up a bit, and I could see that she wanted to argue (which, by the way, if you’re coaching someone, you should be having lots of moments like these; you’re clients aren’t paying you to tell you that everything they do is perfect, even though they would probably love to hear that everything they’re doing is perfect).

What I said next gave her a little more room to breathe, but was also very demonstrative of my point. “Now, you got a little tense there, like it was an insult to who you know yourself to be or – at least – want people to see you as. But it proves my point perfectly. Notice I didn’t say you aren’t a good listener. I just told you to consider that you’re not a good listener. There’s a big difference between me telling you that are or are not a certain way, and me telling you to consider something. But if you look, I expect you heard me tell you that you aren’t a good listener.” She confirmed my expectation, and then we went to work on developing her listening skills, and in the short space of our work, she showed some real growth. It was growth that she wouldn’t have made if she had been unwilling to consider that she had lots of room for growth. She was very coachable.

And that’s what growth and development is all about – the being open to the idea that, against whoever I am committed to being, whether it be as a listener, a leader, a manager – or even a parent, spouse, or neighbor – there’s a gap between where I am now and where I want to be, and it might be worth listening to some outside counsel about where that growth might take place.

That’s how the best athletes in the world approach their game. Michael Jordan never stopped growing. As a Chicagoan, one of the things I started to really look forward to as his career progressed was the beginning of each season, when we would get to see what new dimension of his game he had added. When he came in the league, he was an exciting scorer. But he listened to the criticism and then he added lock-down defense. And then he took on making his teammates better. Then he added a jumpshot. Then he extended his range. Then a post-game. And his teams started winning champions and, well before his career ended, we weren’t simply talking about an exciting scorer; we were talking about the GREATEST ATHLETE OF ALL TIME. And he never rested at being at the top of his game. Though he might have been at the top of the game as far as anyone not at his level could see, he was always striving for the next level.

My challenge to you is to be the Michael Jordan of your life. Someone made you the CEO? Great. How can you take being the CEO to the next level? You’re a manager? Wonderful. Where’s the gap? Where can you develop a greater capacity to empower others? There is always room for growth.

I’ll leave you with four steps for targeted growth and development.

  1. Listen to others.Going back to MJ, he picked something to work on every off-season, but he made that selection based on what his critics were saying.Defense.Jump-shooting.Involving teammates. Those were all criticisms that came from the media and his coaches. Ask people where you could use some development. Sometimes you’ll be surprised to find that areas where you think you’re strong are some of your largest areas for growth. When you find one of those, don’t get defensive. Accept the feedback and get to work.
  2. Set some metrics for progress.In sports it’s easy because everyone else does it for you and people have developed some really sophisticated statistical measures to do so.Sadly (?) life doesn’t come with people to track your every move and report the outcomes.But the measures are there if you start attending to them.Wondering how you’re managing your company’s culture?Start counting sick days people use.When they start decreasing, your culture is probably improving.Wondering what kind of communicator you are?Count how many times you have to have the same conversation, or how often the people who report to you make the same mistakes.The better you get at communicating, the more changes you should see in the behavior of the people around you.
  3. Change your behavior.If your goal is to change the culture of your team, and you always run the meetings, try turning over facilitation to one of team.If you avoid talking about things that might cause argument, try putting them at the top of the agenda.If your habit is to only meet with subordinates when there’s a pressing issue, schedule regular meetings.Sadly, there isn’t a simple “here’s what you need to do to improve,” that fits everyone.Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.Looking at what you are already doing in an area that needs growth and trying something different is the place to begin.And don’t be surprised when it feels a little uncomfortable.It should.Doing something new is always a little awkward.If you don’t believe it should be that way, try brushing your teeth with your off-hand for a week.You’ll be shocked by two things.First, it will be really hard.Second, you’ll get better at it quickly.
  4. Finally, track your progress, give it some time, and celebrate the small wins.Like learning to brush with a different hand, it’s not going to be easy and you’re not going to see immediate results.But by tracking your progress (whether it be data you can graph or just keeping some daily notes), you’ll look back in a bit and see the changes.And when you do see a change, give yourself a pat on the back.Tell someone who is a generous listener and will also get excited by your progress.