A LESSON IN LEADERSHIP FROM MY KIDS AND BASEBALL
When faced with the curve for the first time, my sons swung much too early for the slower speed and missed hitting the ball virtually every time. I remember vividly one of them looking at me with a look of frustration after a failed swing. With much concern he asked, “What do I do?” It was at that moment that a stark realization came to me. I had spent years telling them what to do, how to swing and how to excel in every phase of baseball that my limited abilities would allow. I realized that I had taught them to look to me for answers. That’s not all bad, I thought, but I had failed to teach them a logical thought process, one that forced them to develop decision-making and analytical skills so very necessary to being a mature, confident, and productive adult.
“…unless you mix a healthy skepticism with effective questions, they (salespeople) will be more effective at managing you than they are at closing business.“
At that point, I began to change my methodology. I didn’t begin to tell them about speed and trajectory and other factors that would help them correct this hitting style. Instead, I began to ask questions. The dialogue went something like this at the beginning:
- Me – “What happened?”
- Them – “I missed it (the ball)”
- Me – “Why do you think you missed it?”
- Them – “I don’t know”
- Me – “Think about it some more”
- Them – “The ball moved and I swung too early”
- Me – “What do you think you should do?”
The process was laborious at the beginning, but they made progress. They began to assess the problem themselves and, with some coaching, began to make corrections. Success brought exhilaration, which, in turn, brought more success. The proud father in me was thrilled at their elevated batting skills. But the joy of seeing their thinking and evaluation skills develop was even greater. I knew that those skills would have much deeper impact in life than hitting a curving baseball. Life’s curves would be easily vanquished foes with this newfound thinking skill.
The questioning process I learned through this experience is not the equal of brain surgery or rocket science, but ideas and actions that have meaningful and lasting impact rarely are. Impactful ideas, instead, must pass a simple screen that I call the “napkin test”. If something can’t be explained and diagramed on a napkin with a crayon, it is far too complex to be used by most people. The three simple questions that make up this simple yet profound questioning process are:
- “What is the situation?”
- “How did you make the assessment?”
- “What are you going to do about it?”