Provision #273: Love the Bastards

Laser Provision


From this week’s title, you can bet we’re gleaning our next success tip from a “real coach.” This week we feature the words and musings of Red Auerbach, who coached the Boston Celtics to eight straight NBA championships (1959-66). How do you achieve such consistent and outstanding success? You love the bastards.

LifeTrek Provision


In 1999, master coach W. Timothy Gallwey spoke to the annual gathering of the International Coach Federation in Orlando, Florida. He gave one of the best speeches I ever heard on the art of coaching people to success and fulfillment in life and work.

At one point in the speech, he talked about the opportunity he had in the mid 1980s to participate in a panel discussion with three coaching legends on what athletic coaches could teach business leaders about motivating people and getting them to achieve their very best. In addition to Gallwey, the coaches on the panel were George Allen of the Washington Redskins, John Wooden of UCLA, and Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics.

Gallwey observed that these highly successful athletic coaches had apparently not thought much about how they did what they did. They just did it and they did it well. All they could come up with, as the interviewer pressed them repeatedly for wisdom, were anecdotes but no real principles for coaching people to the top. Finally, Auerbach, puffing on a cigar and getting increasingly frustrated, stopped the banter with the following remark, “How do I do it? Goddamn it, I’ll tell you how I do it. I love the bastards.”

At which point George Allen, an even meaner hombre than Red Auerbach, blinked in surprise and said to the interviewer, “Nothing we’ve said so far is important, until now.” Auerbach thought for a second and continued, “And I’ll tell you how I know that’s how I do it. Because five years later, after these guys are no longer on the team, they’re calling me up to tell me how things are going.”

That, Gallwey suggested in his speech, might be a good question for leaders to ask themselves if they want to make themselves, their companies, or their organizations more successful. How many people call you up, five years after they’ve left your operation, just to tell you how things are going?

If that sounds as though Auerbach wants you to make everyone you work with your friend, then you may be missing the point. In an interview with Billy Packer, Auerbach summarized the same recipe for success in very different words.

“The best advice I have,” Auerbach said,” is do some listening. Don’t be so domineering that you want to show and prove that you’re the boss every day. You’re a head coach, fine. Organize your staff. Do your job. But listen to people. Listen to people.”

“Don’t get to the point • and there are a lot of coaches that do this • where you absolutely have to prove that you’re in complete command at all times. And try not to hold grudges. If you get down on a player for anything specific that he’s done, call him in and talk to him. Lay it on the line. There’s no better way to do it than that. Just talk to him, but don’t hold grudges.”

“And don’t let the rules make you do something stupid. What you want is to have rules with no specific penalty laid out. That way you can apply punishments in a way that makes sense. I coached for 20 years and I only fined a guy once, five dollars. And I never collected it. I don’t believe in it. There are other ways, than to do that.”

“You’ve got get the players to owe you. Rather than antagonize them to show who’s boss, you have them owe you. You do them a favor without showing two sets of standards or anything like that. You do a favor for one. You do a favor for another. You do a favor and they owe you.”

“Also, you learn there are certain players you don’t yell at. Certain players, you don’t bawl out. Certain players, you know, you slap on the back • nice going. Some other players, not as much. But you study your players. You listen to people.”

Those are not the words of a buddy-buddy, everybody’s-my-friend kind of guy. Those are the words of a cigar-puffing coach who knows how to love. Listen to people. Don’t be a control freak. Don’t hold grudges. Use common sense. Do favors for people. Yell at the ones who need yelling at; compliment the ones who need compliments. Be an astute observer of your people in order to what they need and what motivates each one.

When I look at that advice in one sweep, I understand exactly why Auerbach put “love” and “bastard” into the same sentence. People are people. They can be ornery, obnoxious, and hard to figure out. But if you listen to them, really listen to them, and if you have enough sense to care for them in a way that respects their basic dignity as human beings and that touches a chord somewhere deep down inside them, then you will have a much better chance at getting things done and done well.

Think about your own opportunities to work with people. They may be in the home or in the classroom, in the office or on the playing field, in the board room or in the locker room, on a non-profit board or service club. Whatever the context, if you want to be more successful and fulfilled, you won’t go wrong if you heed Red Auerbach’s advice. Love the bastards. But watch out. Once you master the art, you may begin hearing from people in a whole new way.

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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