People have a hard time celebrating life. It’s easier to be critical than complimentary. Mistakes and problems receive far too much attention. Ironically, it’s only when we forget about winning that we improve our chances of winning. Celebrate the journey, every step of the way, and the results will follow.
Have you noticed the dearth of encouragement and appreciation in our world today? Does it seem as though people are more demanding and rude? Are you concerned about the lack of civility and about how seldom we truly enjoy each other’s company? Consider two familiar scenarios:
* You take on a challenging project at work, putting in extra hours and really killing yourself in order to get everything done by the deadline. Unfortunately, something comes up which delays consideration of your work. No one acknowledges or even seems to care about the sacrifices you made to meet the original timetable. When it is finally dealt with, no one says thank you for the good work that’s been done. They just tell you to make some changes and send you back to work.
* You knock yourself out to do something special for your spouse or partner. You’re sure it’s something they will really enjoy. But instead of appreciating it fully and unconditionally, they make some comment about how one thing or another could have been different. The message of “Yes, but” turns into an argument which ruins the entire occasion. So much for that celebration of love! It’s back to business as usual.
Scenarios such as these abound in our world today. People have trouble feeling optimistic and expressing affirmation. Giving someone an unabashed, unconditional, and unqualified compliment for a job well done is the exception rather than the rule. I know people who can’t bring themselves to do this, no matter what. When it comes to their subordinates at work or family members at home, it’s their job to point out the shortcomings and failures. Isn’t that how people learn?
Unfortunately, such attitudes are self-fulfilling prophecies. Criticism, even when it’s meant to be constructive, always destroys some portion of a person’s self-esteem. Viewing any situation as half-empty, with a crack at the bottom, always interferes with our ability to carry on. To be successful, we have to find ways to recognize and celebrate our people and the journey we’re on together. Otherwise, we’re in for a difficult time of it, to be sure.
If anyone understood this critical dimension of success, it was Dean Smith, the legendary coach of Michael Jordan when he was at the University of North Carolina. When Smith stepped down as Carolina’s head coach on October 9, 1997, after 36 seasons, he had become the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history. What was his secret? It may be that he understood the true nature of success, which enabled him to enjoy and celebrate the process of playing the game more than any particular outcome.
“The reality of team competition,” Smith observes, “is that one team is always going to lose. You’re going to go out there and you’re going to lose. Now what do you define as failure? I worked hard to evaluate every possession on its own merit • did we get the shot we wanted? Did the other team get a shot we wanted them to take? We even kept score in scrimmages with that in mind. We gave points not for the baskets made, but for how well our players learned and played our game. We were trying to emphasize that it’s not the outcome, but it’s the process of each possession. Keep in mind that failure is not so terrible. I don’t think there’s been anyone who hasn’t learned from failure.”
It’s ironic that the winningest coach in college basketball history would remind us that failure is not so terrible. Every executive and manager, every parent and partner, every Board member and volunteer would do well to remember these words. Failure is not so terrible. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. Celebrate the learning and the playing, rather than the shots made and missed.
This has huge application to life and work. It frees us from an obsessive focus on the results. Somebody’s going to win and somebody’s going to lose. That much we know. The question is how well do we learn and play the game? The better we do that, the more times we’ll end up going away with a victory.
In order to learn and play the game well, we need to relax and enjoy ourselves along the way. Constructive criticism adds tension rather than enjoyment to the game. As such, constructive criticism usually does more harm than good. In order to learn from failure, we need feedback that doesn’t set us back. We need a clear affirmation of our abilities and our efforts. We need the confidence that comes from knowing we have a winning strategy and a winning coach who believes in our abilities.
I saw that dynamic play itself out at the Baltimore marathon. There were about 30 people in my pace group and they counted on me to not only set the pace but to free the mind. For many, this was their first marathon ever. They were understandably nervous and intimidated by the prospect of running 26.2 miles. My job was to make sure they were never wrong, as they put away one mile after another. Helpful hints, stupid jokes, and heartfelt enthusiasm made for a successful experience along the way, straight through to the end.
Take that into the week ahead. Find ways to celebrate rather than to criticize the people around you and the flow of life. Don’t focus on the shortcomings and failures. Focus on the learning and the playing. When you change your relationship to the process, the results will take care of themselves.
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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.
This week’s Provision on communication stimulated me greatly as I begin preparation for our Christmastime community-service at church. This year we already made early decisions and I will communicate with most of the leaders through e-mail. Everyone seems eager to do specific jobs and I believe it will go more smoothly than last year.
I have read a number of the archived Provision articles on your Web site, which I have on my PDA via AvantGo. They are very informative and empowering. I look forward to speaking with you about coaching.
I wanted to write a quick message to say that it was a pleasure running with you at the Baltimore Marathon. You were an inspiration to all of those who ran with you. I visited your Web site and found it very interesting. I have always been intrigued by the Life Coach idea. Good luck in your endeavors.
The service the volunteer pacers provide is one that people would pay for… it’s like having a personal coach at the event with you. It certainly felt that way with how you led our group. The volunteer pacers should all feel so great for taking the time out their own lives, their free time and their training schedules to help give novice runners like myself such an overwhelmingly positive experience. (Ed. Note: We do! Thanks.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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