As a leader, you should always be concerned about two things: mirrors and windows. Mirrors are about focusing on personal responsibility. That part of leadership is important, and is honestly often discussed.
But windows are equally important because they allow you to see the impact your actions have on the people around you. Windows are about focusing on relationships.
When I was coaching high school boys’ basketball, I had a kid on my team named Jason. Jason was a pretty good player – but he was always late when we had Saturday morning basketball practices. Because I was a good coach with rules, Jason stayed after and ran every Saturday in November.
Then again in December, when we were out of school and practiced over winter break, he was late to our first practice. So he ran.
I was getting tired of it, so I finally asked him, in a very angry tone, “Dude, what is your problem? Why aren’t you getting here on time? You could be a starter.”
I had assumed he was irresponsible. I assumed he was oversleeping. I had assumed the negative in absence of information.
Then one of his teammates came over to me after practice and asked: “Coach – do you not know about Jason’s situation?”
“Jason lives with his grandma, and she won’t let him ride with anybody else. But she doesn’t bring him until his brother has been taken care of. His brother is paraplegic.”
Wow! I had made assumptions and punished instead of asking questions to understand and resolve a problem.
The more aware you are of your teammates and their highlights and their hardships, the better you can work with them. Because the truth is that our personal and professional lives are always impacting each other, and…
“To neglect knowing about one is to sacrifice success in the other.”
One of the best days I had as coach of that team was later in the season, when Jason’s family was moving from one rental house to another. His grandmother wasn’t able to do much lifting, so our coaches and our players and their parents all showed up one Sunday.
We moved every piece of furniture and we carried boxes and we spent time together eating and laughing like we never would have on the court. They became a closer team off the court by investing in each other.
Looking out windows invites you to cross a line. You know the line I’m talking about. It’s the line between personal and professional lives that we often make the mistake of believing should never be crossed. It’s the one that tells you not to ask about Jason’s situation at home. But winning teammates know how important it is to cross the line.
Early in my career as a coach, I drew up a lot of plays and focused on strategy and saw every player in my locker room as a uniform. It was only when I started to understand and appreciate the people inside the uniforms that I really became a good coach. That’s how you establish trust and loyalty.
Every professional is first a person, with a life outside your locker room or office. Invest in their lives and they will invest in your office. You don’t have to help them move or cater their wedding. But you do need to know and care about what’s going on in their life.
Building relationships is one of the 5 essential steps for transforming any group into a great team. It is a process I share in my newest book, Rapid Teamwork, which is a parable for team leaders. If you want a high-performing team, you have to look out windows to see and become more aware of others.
There is a secret that will help you to learn more about your teammates and coworkers. Pens ready? Here’s the secret: “Ask questions.”
Be courageous enough to cross the line by asking questions:
- Will you tell me about your family?
- How are your parents doing?
- What is happening with your daughter’s volleyball team?
When you ask a question and sincerely want a quality answer, you transform yourself from being superficial to being concerned. Winning teammates don’t give or accept speeding fines.
You know what speeding fines are? “Oh, I’m fine. He’s fine. We’re fine. Everything’s fine.” Fines are efficient but efficient is never effective when it comes to building stronger and deeper relationships.
I hope you will pick up a copy of my book, Rapid Teamwork, and share its lessons with the other leaders in your life to help them build effective teams more quickly.
I hope you will remember to look out your windows and take the time to ask questions of people in your organization to increase your awareness of their dreams, and difficulties.
Strengthening relationships is the first step in strengthening your team and improving the collaborative conversations that will contribute to your success.