What’s Next?

The greatest leaders often ask the most useful questions. One single question that all transformative leaders are asking themselves, is simply, “what’s next?” Because the best leaders understand that the calling of leadership is never a 9-5 affair, they are relentless in finding ways to tweak their culture, their program, and their team for the better.

Leadership is not a job that you leave at the office. Great leaders do not hold office hours. because their door is always open. Transformative leaders are the men and women who approach leadership as a calling not an occupation. They are constantly tweaking, brainstorming, discussing, and discovering the nuances that will help take their team to an elite level of performance.

Asking, “what’s next?” is the internal dialogue that great leaders have with themselves, hundreds (if not thousands) of times every day. Many coaches will preach, a “next play” mentality to their players. They will harp on the benefits of forgetting the successes of failures of the past in order to focus on the present moment. Leaders must always practice what they preach. They must lead by example when it comes to a “next play” mentality by constantly asking themselves “what’s next?”.


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How “Process Praise” Makes You More Resilient

 

Psychologist Angela Duckworth and her research team did a series of experiments in which they observed and measured how different types of praise had a positive or negative effect on a child’s motivation and resilience in tackling difficult challenges. What they found was that the children who received “process praise” (i.e. praising the things within the child’s control: hard work, perseverance, diligence, strategies, focus, etc) were more likely to develop a resilient approach towards difficult challenges later in life.

In one study they evaluated the type of praise mothers gave their young children. Duckworth then followed those children’s progress and checked in with them five years later. They found that the type of praise children were given as toddlers had a huge impact on their attitude towards facing challenges later on in life. The children who received process praise when they were young were more motivated learners and ended up doing better in math and reading compared to their peers who were praised for their talent or innate abilities.

As coaches and teachers, the principle of process praise is powerful as we try to help our team’s develop a toughness that will enable them to deal with the inevitable challenges of life. When we make it clear to our teams that a commitment to the process is the only key to success, we are giving them the tools to be successful both on the court and in life. By praising the process we are implicitly preaching the gospel of hard work, diligence, and focus as the antidote to the challenges that we all face.

Begin today to help your team develop the mental toughness it needs to push through the ups and downs both on the basketball court and in life. Praise the process and watch your team attack the challenges in front of them with tenacity!

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Engineering Hope

Leaders have the unique job of trying to inspire people work to create a preferred future that is different than the one they currently live. A preferred future a vision of “what could be” is the emotional firepower that puts the “why” behind every “what”. Good leaders know how to paint a profound picture of hope in the minds of their teams so they are spurred onto greater acts of love, service and creativity.

Inspiration is a fickle thing. We have all experienced the emotional high that comes after a team retreat, the casting of a new vision, or the discussion of new strategic objectives. We are pumped and ready to go after stuff like this because the vision is fresh in our minds and our objectives are clear. 

The problem comes when the circumstances of life cause us to inevitably lose our fervor. Life has a way of clouding our vision and throwing roadblocks in our path that cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture.

This is exactly the point where a good leader needs to step in. A good leader understands that one of the most powerful weapons they have to keep their team from getting discouraged is the use of “memory”.

Leveraging Memory

A leader’s job is to use the past to inspire the present. Good leaders will leverage their past successes to help their team overcome current challenges. Remembering past acts of courage, resilience, and toughness will give their team an emotional boost to power through whatever roadblock they find in their way. 

Memory is powerful because it reminds us who we are and gives us the strength to become who we were created to be. It reminds us that difficult circumstances won’t last and it gives us the strength to strive towards a vision of “what could be.”

Leaders need to use memory as a powerful weapon to combat the challenges that can cloud your team’s vision and discourage them from working towards their mission. Every leader believes they are tasked with leading their team to greater things, to a preferred future where they will impact lives and work towards a better future. But they can’t get there without using the memories and successes of the past to connect them to their work in the present.

Moving Forward

Whenever our emotional compasses start to go haywire, we need to remember where we’ve come from so we can figure out how to start moving forward. It is the leader’s job to recall and remind the people that follow them the victories they’ve had in the past so they can confidently march towards where they want to go in the future. Remembering where we’ve been is crucial to knowing where we want want to go. 

Allow the victories of yesterday to become the fuel for where you’ll go tomorrow. 

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You can Inspire People to Change: Here’s How

 
In last two weeks, I’ve written about two of the foundational building blocks of transformational leadership: The Habit of Continuous Growth and Leading on Mission
 
A natural outgrowth of these two leadership principles is the subject for our third post. In this week’s post, I want to talk about a dynamic tool that can take your leadership to the next level. 
 
Once you gain a deeper understanding of this concept, you will never look at world the same way again. When you harness this concept’s incredible power, it will change the way you coach, teach, and relate to your players at a fundamental level.
 
Before we get to that, let me deepen our understanding of transformational leadership by adding some critical information to our last two posts.
 

 

The Roots of Transformational Leadership

 
Are you rooted in what is most important?
Let’s take a quick look back at the roots of transformational leadership.
 
Our first, post dealt with the key ingredient of becoming a transformational leader. We know that transformational leadership is only possible when the leader fully commits themselves to the daily process of growth.
 
But we should be careful to distinguish the purpose of this growth; this is not growth simply for the sake of personal improvement.
 
In America, the personal growth movement has dominated our concept of personal development. Our public consciousness has been shaped by the belief that helping ourselves become “better people” is the quickest way to a happy and fulfilling life.
 
The cultural phenomenon of new year’s resolutions has painted us a sanitized picture of life, in which “my happiness” is both the subject and the objective of the tapestry of our lives. I believe we were created for more. Our lives were designed to paint a robust picture of life where other people are the subject of our painting. We exist to inspire change in the world around us. At its core, personal development should be other centered.
 
 
This faulty belief system assumes that my happiness is a function of becoming “the best version of myself” so that I become a happier person.
 
Transformational leadership takes that idea and flips it on its head.
 
Because only when a Leader understands that growth is not a self-help exercise, but a responsibility do we see change start to happen. The best leaders become saturated with the reality that:
 
Our Growth is for Others

 


 
 
Our second post, explored the difference between transformational and transactional leadership.
 
I boiled the difference between these two types of leaders to a simple principle:
 
Mission drives Transformation.
 
When purpose (or mission) is the unifying and driving force for your team, transformation becomes possible.
 
Leading through mission is the engine that drives your team to achieve their dreams. Humans are wired to rally around a common purpose and cause, which is what makes leading through mission/purpose so effective. It speaks to the core of our nature while transforming your team in a number of other practical ways.
 
Now onto this week’s topic:
 
 All effective Leaders are deeply rooted in the right things.
 
When a leaders has deep roots, they can extend the branches of their own influence over a greater area. The deeper the roots,  the greater the influence. 
 
Influence is everything within leadership. Why?
 
Because influence gives you the ability to inspire people to change.
 
 
Inspiring change is the holy grail of all great leadership!
 
Moving someone from a place where they don’t want to be to a place they couldn’t reach on their own is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is the buried treasure, a four leaf clover, the holy grail of leadership!
 
All great leaders are constantly searching for recipe that will bring about change. But change is really, really, difficult to bring about. It is hard to get people to get out of their comfort zone and into a better place. But the good news is that change is contagious:
When we see someone else change we become inspired.
 
Marketers understand this better than anyone! The majority of TV programming is based around this simple concept – from housing and weight loss shows, to talent competitions and cooking shows, transformation is addictive. 
 
We love to watch people change. We love to watch people change for the better and for the worse. It doesn’t really matter which direction their lives turn, as long as the characters end up someplace different than where they started.
 
Good leaders facilitate change, but great leaders inspire change. The fulcrum on which all transformational leadership rests, is the ability to push the people around them to new levels of influence.
 
A leader takes someone to a place they could never go themselves. 
 
The concept of changing behavior is multifaceted and complex, but there is one concept that disproportionally controls a large portion of that behavior. This powerful concept, is one of the most influential ideas in behavioral psychology, with wide-reaching implications and the potential for inspiring huge change in your life. 
  
Are you ready to find out what it is?
Great. Let’s dive in.
 
 

Understanding Habits

 
In his widely popular book, Charles Duhigg breaks down one of the most fundamental aspects of human behavior: our habits.
 
Duhigg cites several sources that estimate about 40 percent of our daily actions are the result of our unconscious habits. Every habit follows a predictable three part sequence: the cue, the routine, and the reward
 
Every habit is initiated by a cue, which can be almost anything. A time of day, a person, a smell, an emotion, an object, etc. The cue is like a starting whistle for a track and field athlete. Once your brain here’s the whistle, your mind automically starts to initiate the habit. And once the habit is set in motion, it is nearly impossible to stop.
 
When the cue initializes the habit, the next step in the process is the routine – this is what we most commonly associate with the idea of habit. Routines can be good or bad, productive or destructive, but the routine represents the actual performing of the action (at this stage our brain goes on autopilot, I’ll explain more about this concept in a second). 
 
Finally, there is the reward. Like the cue, a reward can take many different shapes and sizes – it could be a feeling, a food, an emotion, an object, etc. The reward gives us a sense of accomplishment and begins to develop a neurological craving which engrains the habit.
 
Predictably, every single one of our habits follows this routine. Our brain organizes our actions into these predictable patterns called ‘habits’ for three specific reasons.
 
 
1. So we Don’t Need to Relearn Tasks
 
It would be extremely frustrating if we had to relearn simple skills. Imagine if you went on vacation for three weeks and had to relearn how to drive when you returned back home. Habits encode these behaviors in our brains so we don’t have to relearn basic tasks.
 
 
2. To Save Effort
 
Our brains are constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency and cut out clutter. Habits are a great way to do that.
 
When scientists look at the brain activity of mice that have been conditioned to perform a habit, they notice a spike in brain activity during the “cue” and reward” phase, but during the actual “routine” part of the habit loop brain activity drops off dramatically.
 
It’s like our brain goes on autopilot. When the activity in our brain drops during the “routine” phase, this is our brains attempt to maximize efficiency so that we have a greater amount of working memory to focus on more immediate tasks. 
 
 
3. To Increase Capacity
 
The notion of “chunking” has become a predominant theory for many psychologists in understanding how our brains organize large amounts of information. Chunking is our brain’s attempt to organize large amounts of information into “chunks” of related material that we can make sense of.
 
As we look for patterns to emerge from the vast amounts of seemingly unrelated pieces of information that our brain receives every day, our ability to group this data is what allows up to increase our memories capacity.
 
Chunking is a popular technique with world class “memory athletes’ who use chunking to memorize sequences of hundreds or even thousands of random names or numbers for competition. Chunking helps their brain group these swaths of unrelated data into a coherent pattern. Think of chunking as a brain’s sophisticated filling system. For a fascinating look into how chunking helps us store more information check this out.
 

Now that we have a basic understanding of how habits work, the question becomes:

how does this understanding lead to transformational change in the people we lead?


Inspiring Change Through Habits

Habits are incredibly powerful, but habits don’t inspire change on their own. Habits are an important ingredient in the recipe of change, but they need to be used in a specific environment to be most effective.

When you bake a cake, flour is an crucial ingredient, but you can’t bake a cake with flour alone. You need to mix the ingredients so that they compliment each other. Habits operate in the same way.

Here are the ingredients you need to leverage the power of habits to inspire change in your life and for your team.

 

Don’t Create, Replace

In his book, Duhigg talks about the “golden rule” of habit change which is:

If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.

Because our brain uses habits to maximize our efficiency, once a habit is created, it can not be destroyed (this is why you don’t have to relearn how to ride a bike every Spring after the snow thaws). Since habits can’t be destroyed, the easiest way to change our habits is to keep the same cue and reward but insert a more beneficial routine.

Why go through the difficulty of creating a new habit when you can easily replace an old one?

Our brains were designed to maximize our productivity, go ahead and use it.

 

Belief

Researchers have found that simply identifying the habit loop (Cue-Routine-Reward) is not enough to inspire lasting change in someone’s life. Understanding the subsequent parts of a habit can help you change a harmful behavior, but researches have found that the times when people are most vulnerable to returning to their old habits is during a time of stress or disappointment in their life.

Why do people who are on a path to escaping their harmful addiction revert to their old ways during a time of difficulty?

 

The answer is simple: they don’t believe they can change.

Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous help people overcome addictive behavior by bulking up people’s belief. 7 steps of their 12 steps process mention a belief in God or some kind of higher power. There are countless addicts who have joined AA without any kind of prior belief in God (and even ardent atheists), but who came away from their experience in the program as changed people.

What researchers have found is that AA’s emphasis on a higher power gives people the framework on which to construct a belief that, change is possible.

When temptation arrives to revert to old habits, belief is the steady hand on the steering wheel that keeps us driving on the straight and narrow. Belief gives us the power to believe that our future can and will be different.

 

Community

If Belief is the flour in our recipe, then Community is the sugar. You can’t have one without the other. To change our habits we first need to believe that we can change, but this belief is most effective within the context of a group. 

In a group context, our belief grows from an intellectual hope in the future, to a walking, breathing, talking example that change is possible.

Our belief puts on skin.

The function of belief is to give us hope during times of hopelessness. And the inspiration for change is most powerful when we can talk and touch it in the form of our teammates, coworkers, or friends.

 

Strengthen with Stories

Once we have identified the habit loop, start telling yourself the right kind of stories. Find the people within your community who have changed for the better and highlight their accomplishments. Track your own progress and share your successes with people in your life.

Start constructing a narrative for yourself (or your team) that praises the accomplishments of what you set out to accomplish. Giving yourself/your team concrete examples of positive change will keep your belief tank filled with fuel. If you find yourself running out of gas, stop for a minute and refill your tank with stories of change and transformation. You’ll be glad you did.


 

Growth Exercise

Team Application

Let me first start by saying that this post had two purposes: first to give you a better understanding of habits, and second to better equip you to inspire change within your life and in the life of your team.

As I’ve written about in the past, the greatest gift a leader can give their team is a daily commitment to the habit of continuous growth. Changing your personal habits is one of the most effective ways you can become, “a leader worth following“.

I hope that you use your understanding of habits to ignite change in your personal life – and although we could all think of a dozen habits we’d like to change I would challenge you to get into the habit of reading every single day, there is nothing more transformational for a leader.

In addition to your personal habits, one of the easiest ways to build a culture of excellence on a basketball team is to encourage the leaders of your team build virtuous habits that set a precedent of excellence.

 

Let me illustrate with a quick personal story:

When I first arrived at the College of William and Mary as a freshman in 2008, the culture of our basketball program wasn’t great. The senior leaders on our team were not hard workers or great leaders. They set an example of apathy and selfishness in their actions on and off the court. They rarely put in extra work outside of the mandated practice time and we didn’t have a culture that valued continuous growth.

Over the next few 4 years, I saw that culture start to change. In terms of wins and losses, my college career could have been considered a failure (we only had 1 winning season in 4 years, and we only won 6 games my senior year).

But one of the things I’m most proud of is the legacy my class was able to leave in how we started to develop a culture that valued extra work and continuous improvement. Today, our program is more successful than it has ever been and there is an incredible culture of work and commitment to growth.

Undoubtedly there are countless factors that have contributed to their success, but I am proud that our class was able to contribute to that success in a small way.

 

Exercise for Your Team

  • Identify Your Leaders
  • Get them to buy into specific habits (think about the cue-routine-reward habit loop) that will trickle down to the rest of the team – an example could be a specific routine before practice starts.
  • Integrate these Habits into the fabric of your team
  • Identify and Praise the change you see in players (ex. if your habit is getting extra shots up, then showcase how people have improved their shooting percentages)

 

 

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The LifeBlood of Leadership

 

The world needs transformational leaders.

 

But guess what the world doesn’t need anymore of?

 

Transactional leaders.

 

See the difference between a transactional leader and a transformational leader is striking. Here are few of the of the things that characterize transactional leadership:

 

• Transactional leadership emphasizes achieving results at all costs.

 

Transactional leadership is less about long term growth and more about instant gratification.

 

A transactional leader uses manipulation to leverage those around them to advance their personal gains.

 

In the business world, transactional leadership could be ignoring moral and ethical standards in favor of boosting profits (think the recent Volkswagen Emissions Scandal). 

 

In athletics, this could be the coach that is committed to winning at all costs. Cheating, verbal abuse, and intimidation become normalized in the name of getting “results”

 

Transactional leadership is short sighted, because the focus is solely on producing measurable results in the form of profits, wins, or success (often at the expense of the people involved).

 

Transformational leadership is different.

 

A transformational leader takes the longview.

 

They hold the belief that success in the short run might be possible as a result of using manipulation and coercion to drive results; but sustained excellence is only possible by playing the long-game.

 

If I had to boil down what distinguishes these two types of leaders to one simple difference it would be this:

 

Transformational leaders lead through mission and purpose, while transactional leaders lead through coercion.

 

Put a different way, the more committed a leader is to their core purpose the more transformational they will be in their leadership.

 

And transformational leadership changes lives.

 

The Utility of Leading through Mission

Ok, so you might be thinking…

 

‘I understand the difference between transformational leadership and transactional leadership, but isn’t this just a matter of preference? What if I can get results through manipulation and coercion? Isn’t that the point of leadership anyways, to produce results?’

 

here’s the reality:

 

The only way to achieve sustained excellence over the longterm is by leading through mission.

 

Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples:

 

In Jim Collins book, Built to Last (a great read if you’re interested) he takes a look at some of the most respected and successful companies in the USA. What he found was that the companies that consistently outperformed their competitors and remained at the pinnacle of their industries were the companies that were driven by a specific purpose.

 

To quote Collins,

 

“Organizations driven by purpose and values outperformed the market 15:1 and comparison companies 6:1”  

 

Industry leaders like Southwest Airlines, Procter and Gamble, IBM, BMW, and many more were identified as companies that were driven by purpose rather than profit. They emphasized mission rather than results. 

 

And you know what happened?

 

They outpaced their competitors in nearly every measurable metric and consistently gave higher returns to their stockholders. In the long run, these companies actually ended up with higher profits when compared to other companies that primarily focused on making money. 

 

This is the great irony about transformational leadership.

 

When leaders focus on their mission and purpose, they transform teams, organizations, and businesses; and the measurable results tend to follow.

 

But 

 

When leaders focus on what results they achieve (i.e. profits, wins, points) they can often resort to manipulation, dishonesty, and transactional behaviors: and ultimately are less successful over the long term.

 

 

Why is this case?

I believe that we are designed to function in a specific way (there is also a lot of science to back this up, if you want to read more about how our brains are wired to relate to purpose driven movements, check out Simon Sinek’s book), 

 

In short, we are most attracted to leaders, companies, and teams that operate from a deep sense of purpose and mission. And it is those types of leaders, companies, and teams that ultimately are the most successful. 

 

But practically speaking why are they the most successful? 

 

Here are 7 reasons why purpose driven leadership is successful over the long haul:

 

 

1. Increases Clarity

One of my favorite authors on leadership Andy Stanley has always said that:

 

“The clearest message always wins”

 

This is a simple, yet incredibly powerful characteristic of leaders that lead on mission. Mission and purpose provide clarity, and clarity always speaks the loudest and communicates the clearest.

 

The clearer and more specific you are with your team, the more quickly you can rally your players around a central concept or idea.

 

It’s hard to internalize complicated concepts, but anyone can get behind a simple statement of purpose.

 

 

2. Builds Trust

People that share common values trust each other more implicitly than those who only share a goal of producing a “result”.

 

When employees or team members are fighting together for a common purpose that they all believe in they start to trust each other. The greatest “team building” activity that any leader can accomplish, must center around the stated common purpose of that team.

 

 

3. Direction through Storms

Inevitably, a time will come when your team will need to navigate through some difficulties.  Here’s a great question to think about:

 

As the leader, what will you lean on to help you navigate through the storms?

If you can return to a central purpose, you will be able to get through the tough times because you know what your foundation is built upon.

 

 

4. Cuts out the Crap

The most dangerous thing to any leader is distraction. 

 

Distraction gets you off mission.

 

Distraction makes you race down rabbit trails.

 

Distraction makes you lose focus and dilutes your effectiveness.

 

Don’t get distracted. Cut out the crap and focus on your mission. You and your team will be glad you did.

 

 

5. Gives you Flexibility

Simon Sinek said in his book, Why:

 

“Operating from ‘why’ gives you the flexibility and freedom to change the what and how.”

 

Leading through mission gives you great flexibility in how you execute your statement of purpose.

 

In his book, Sinek goes on to give the example of the railroad companies that built the first transcontinental railroad in the 1860’s. Many of them went out of business as cars and other means of transportation were developed. Why did this happen? Because their mission was too narrow. There stated purpose probably centered around simply, “building railroads”.

 

But what if their mission was, “to move people”. If their mission was to move people, then they could have changed the what and how while still staying true to their mission.

 

 

6. Increases Productivity

Consider this quote from Steven Covey:

 

“Most people say their main fault is a lack of discipline. On deeper thought, I believe that is not the case. The basic problem is that their priorities have not become deeply planted in their hearts and minds”

 

All of us are in a constant struggle against ourselves. We are always fighting against our impulses to take the path of the least resistance.

 

We crave the easy way out! The bad news is that the easy way out, is always the least productive.

 

As Covey adeptly pointed out, our problem is not from a lack of willpower or discipline. We all desire to lead with excellence and produce at a high level, but discipline for disciplines sake is never enough.

 

BUT

 

When the roots of our discipline are deeply connected to our purpose, our productivity will skyrocket. Productivity grows out of discipline and discipline is grounded in our purpose.

 

 

7. Ignites Momentum and Drives Movements

Mission ignites momentum and drives movements. Movements inspire people to join in a cause that is greater than a single person or organization. They envision a future that ‘ought to be’ and exist to turn that vision into a reality. 

 

Teams that are organized around a common system of values and vision are able to create dynamic communities that are committed to a greater cause. These communities (or Tribes) are the vehicles for transformational change.  

 

Growth Exercise

Transformational Behaviors

 

Mission is the lifeblood of transformational leadership and becoming a transformational leader doesn’t happen on accident. Great leaders work hard to keep first things first and keep everything else secondary.

 

When a leader leverages their purpose to maximize their effectiveness they change from simply being transactional to becoming transformational.

 

And transformational leaders should identify the specific behaviors that help push their team to new levels of performance. 

 

Here are two questions to help you think through what the transformational behaviors might look like for your team. 

 

1. How are you reinforcing the values of your mission?

Leading through mission requires that the values of your mission be constantly and habitually reinforced.  

 

Example

Your basketball team might have a mission to be, 

 

“the toughest team in the country”

 

If that is the stated mission, what are some creative ways that you are reinforcing the value of toughness. Do you recognize it at practice? In the film room? To you make a point of recognizing players when they make tough plays? Do you have any kind of visual reminders in the locker room?

 

2. How are you personally living out the mission?

For example, say your team’s purpose is 

 

to inspire others through selflessness, encouragement, and care for each other

As the leader, what are the ways that you are actively living out this purpose statement? What are the ways that you are inspiring your team through encouragement? Selflessness? Care for your players?

 

 

More from Arete Hoops

I am passionate about giving the world transformational leaders by inspiring and developing coaches, athletes, and influencers.

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