Sunday, November 27, 2011

Simple Truths

We receive regular updates from Mac Anderson’s company Simple Truths. The reference to 212 degrees is that at 211 degrees water is very hot; add 1 degree and you get boiling water and steam can power a locomotive. We felt this excerpt was a powerful follow up to our discussion last week about taper time. The connection is in the very last sentence, which drives home the concept of trust.

An excerpt from
212° Leadership
by Mac Anderson

Leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not.

What example did you set today? When you lead by example, you engage your people to follow your vision...not by words, but by action. While you are measuring your employees' performance, they are measuring how well you follow through on both your words and your deeds.

Think leading by example is only for top management? Think again. Whatever your position in your organization, the way you do your job...and the attitude with which you do it...determines the impact that you have.

I recently read a story by Mark Brown in the Chicago Sun-Times that really drives this point home. Mark wrote about a Chicago-area mailman, Mike Martinez, who passed away at the age of 50, but left a lasting impression by the example he set:

"Mike was a heckuva nice guy who knew everyone on his route by name and always greeted them with a smile, a wave and some friendly chitchat.

"He was the kind of mailman who would warn them if they'd forgotten to move their cars on street-sweeping day, search the post office on his weekend day off for their missing package or stop by their homes after work for a beer or a barbecue."

The article goes on to describe other people that Mike touched as he delivered the mail, including Tom Lutz, who had suffered a stroke. Mike would call Tom and ask him to help deliver the mail to his neighbors as part of his rehab.

"He would encourage me to try a little harder each day, as my bad leg would get better little by little," said Tom.

"Martinez was such an unforgettable character, in fact, that some of those customers built a memorial garden in his honor.

"I've never seen anything quite like 'Mike's Corner,' certainly not for a mailman. The garden consists of an exquisitely landscaped corner parkway plot with a small stone monument topped by an old-fashioned flag mailbox and a plaque designed to look like a letter. The letter to Mike T. Martinez Jr. carries a return address of 'Rest in Peace 1959-2010.'

"You don't need to have a big-shot job to leave your mark in this world. All it takes is a warm smile, an upbeat attitude and a kind heart."

There's no doubt about it. Mike left some big shoes to fill along his route...but that challenge to achieve the same connection with those he served is part of his legacy.

"'It really makes you step up your game,' said mail carrier Tamme Price as she worked his old route."

That's the power of a living example. It can make those around you "step up their game,"...sometimes long after you are gone.

Jeff Gitomer, author of the Little Book of Leadership said it best, "Your people are a direct reflection of you. They watch you. They follow you. They measure you. They listen to you. If you want them to be dedicated to you, you have to be dedicated to them."

Through your words, actions and deeds, you set the foundation for building an environment of trust and respect.

Trust is the key to both managing people and building a high performance company. It is the foundation on which relationships are built. According to Tom Peters, "Technique and technology are important. But adding trust is the issue of the decade." Peters suggests that managers must take a "high-tech and high-trust" approach, putting the issue of trust at the top of the agenda and treating it like a "hard issue, not a soft issue." If employees feel you don't trust them to do their jobs correctly and well, they'll be reluctant to do much without your approval. On the other hand, when they feel trusted that you believe they'll do the right things well, they'll naturally want to do things to the best of their ability and be deserving of your trust.

In On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis outlines the four ingredients for leaders to generate and sustain trust:

1. Constancy. Whatever surprises leaders themselves may face, they don't create any for the group. Leaders stay the course.

2. Congruity. Leaders walk their talk. In true leaders, there is no gap between the theories they espouse and the life they practice.

3. Reliability. Leaders are there when it counts; they are ready to support their co-workers in the moments that matter.

4. Integrity. Leaders honor their commitments and promises.

While corporate scandals, terrorist threats, office politics, and broken relationships have created low trust on almost every front, I contend that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is not only vital to our personal and interpersonal well-being, it is the key leadership competency of the new global economy.

I am also convinced in every situation, nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Word About Taper

It is December very soon and this means we are taking our team to a championship meet to reap the rewards of the last three months of training. And of course they love to taper; you know, less work, less yardage, more fun, out early, visualization practice at the end of a shortened dry land session.

There is another aspect to this time of year and it revolves around the most important muscle in the athlete’s body: confidence.

Without confidence there is no glory, personal or otherwise. No matter the amount of work, the stroke technique, the new muscles, the faster workout times, without very real and believable confidence the races just will not be there.

Of course, coaches always know best when it comes to taper time; we reduce the total number of yards/meters swum and the ratio of work to cruising yards changes as well.

But if the athlete doesn’t believe then we are actually not right but indeed very wrong…and no coach worth her/his salt wants to be in that position. So, how to make sure we are right involves a ton of very close listening.

Just the other day one of our more highly visible athletes said “I trust you Don, but I am not sure that I am doing enough work.” Man that was very important to hear. We have all the graphs and charts with yardage and effort but it isn’t resonating with this swimmer.

Athletes at every level, rank beginner to top notch pro, are always “checking the oil” as Ken says. You know every few repeats they want you to look at their stroke, tell them if they look fast or quick or whatever…they are telling you they are getting nervous. So when they start checking their oil, we call them on it by saying, “Do you check the oil every time you get in your car?” Of course they don’t! But the car will not run without oil so why don’t you check it every time? The reason is that you trust it, and your engine warning light.

Same with our swimmers heading into December, getting on an airplane, travelling to a big meet, lots at risk here, so better check the oil…but not every day, several times a day! If they trust you AND it FEELS right then all is well…athletes and coaches need trust and the FEEL.

So what I am going to do with this particular athlete is have a frank conversation and listen very well. I believe the answer is to give this swimmer a slightly higher load of work, one that is more recognizable and familiar while still staying within acceptable boundaries of total yards and work to rest ratios.

Having said all of this, we can tell you for certain, that it is always better to be more confident than trained “properly”. We can also tell you that we will make whatever adjustment is necessary to make sure the athlete feels in the right groove when it counts the most.

It is, after all, about them; not us. Have a great week at the pool and we will do the same!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Difference Between Trials and Finals

We are at a final tune up meet this weekend in Concord, CA. It is a dress rehearsal if you will prior to our championship meet(s) in early and mid-December. This meet has lots of value to our swimmers since it marks the first competition since we have shifted our focus from base building to speed building. From now until we go to the big meets in December it is all about speed gathering. So at this meet we are checking to see where we are in the transition from “capacity to utilization” (to borrow from Bob Bowman – coach for Mr. Phelps).

This particular meet is very helpful because it has trials (prelims) and finals. If you are fast enough to be in the top 30 (it is a 10 lane pool with A, B, and C finals) in trials you get a second swim. It is of great value to have this second swim because rarely does everything go perfectly and so the swimmers get a chance to redo their swim and make necessary adjustments. (Wouldn’t it be nice to have a second chance on that last sales call that didn’t go perfectly; a chance to say things a little differently or perhaps to appear a little less eager?)

And this brings us to the point of goal setting and more importantly to goal resetting. Athletes and most high level performers in any walk of life have goals. Those goals set our level of expectation and give us something to strive for on a daily basis. They also keep our focus sharp when it comes time to deliver. Having said that, when an athlete reaches her goal then what? When the salesman closes the sale then what?

At this meet we have had numerous swims that exceeded expectations for this time of year. We can tell you that it has been a great opportunity for our swimmers to practice resetting their goals. If you do not yet possess this skill, what happens is that you flat line once you have reached your intended target. Then you miss out on the opportunity that gaining that night time swim affords.

Greg Troy is the coach of the US Men’s Team for 2012 London. At the recent ASCA Clinic he admonished all coaches who have swimmers planning on making the US Olympic Team to prepare for two meets. Many swimmers fall into the trap of wanting to make the Olympic Team and once they do they are so happy/relieved that their Olympic swims do not quite measure up.

Once a swimmer has a good race and “makes a final” as is happening here in Concord, we are encouraging/challenging them to reset their level of expectations. Doing so is a skill set unto itself…and a remarkable handy one to own. It is not for purchase anywhere; you simply need to decide you want it…and then go and earn it by practicing it.

And as Ken says, if all else fails, at least when you go out really fast in the finals, if the wheels come off then you will die a noble death. This is another reason he is the Head Coach of North Bay Aquatics!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Keep Your Ears Open

You know the old one about having two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Just the other morning at Masters we heard this one…a classic!

Maggie was leaving the pool a tad early…something about what we refer to as “employment issues”…Germana was still hanging in there gearing up for one last round of our main set. She was doing some of the usual stuff – you know, about how she might be a little tired… (We are smiling here as we recall the scene).

Then Maggie drops the quote of the day, week, month, year – you pick it – on Germana, “Are you getting over the fear of swimming fast?”

We then asked Maggie to clarify and she said, “We talk about not going out 95 percent because we fear the physical outcome. Is this common?”

Yes Maggie, Germana and everyone. It is one of the most common concerns any athlete faces. If you go out “hard” you probably will “die.” However, if you can figure out how to go out “fast” you then have a chance at doing something magical…reaching a new level of performance.

You have two months left in 2011. Perhaps discovering how to go out fast in a swim rather than hard is a worthwhile goal for the remainder of this year. Practice it in workouts; practice it in any meets you have; practice it in the season ending Tri; keep practicing the art of easy early speed and you will discover the magic and fun of super-fast times. (Coaching tip – save your legs for the second half…oh, and breathe)

It is a thrill worth pursuing. Have some fun!