Post by
Joy Van Skiver, President
The POWERformance Group

“Next Time” Leadership — A Lesson from Football


The sports world has always been a great source of inspirational stories for business leaders. Here’s one from the December 2017 Army-Navy game that resonated with me because I’m a strong advocate of “next time” coaching:

The score was 14-13 with Army ahead and just a few seconds left when Bennett Moehring, a Navy junior, missed the field goal that would have given Navy the win. After the game, Moehring sat in the locker room weeping as teammates and coaches assured him that the defeat — Navy’s second straight loss to Army after a 14-year winning streak — was not his fault.

When Moehring talked with reporters, it’s interesting that he moved beyond the failure and said, “I’ll use this as motivation. I’ll hit it next time.”

Where does a 21-year-old get that “next time” attitude? Moehring gave some credit to a leadership course which taught him how to put a positive spin on bad news and motivate people who were struggling. He commented that his professor, a former Navy SEAL, would say, “It’s all about how you respond.”

It’s all about how you respond.

In business, when a team member doesn’t meet expectations, the best manager acknowledges the failure and uses it to move ahead. The skill behind the ability to respond that way is directly connected to a manager’s coaching language. Some managers just know what to say and how to say it.

The right words don’t come easily for most managers, however. They need to learn a new coaching language.

In-the-moment coaching is a perfect example where knowing how to initiate a performance conversation is crucial. You’ve got a couple of minutes while walking down the hallway, what are you going to say? This is the time to:

  • Encourage reflection with the right open-ended question.

  • Listen.

  • Offer specific direction.

In one-to-ones, managers often miss coaching opportunities when they focus more on what went wrong than what to do going forward.

Let’s say a team member has missed deadlines. Some managers might say:

You failed to meet our deadlines.

You must meet our deadlines.

While those comments address the issue, they’re not coaching comments. One is a judgment; the other is a demand.

Managers who’ve learned a new coaching language know how to:

  • Motivate instead of deflate.

  • Focus on next time.

  • Offer specific direction.

  • Explain how to accomplish something.

  • Connect benefits to behavior.

In my POWERformance and Power Coaching training sessions, I see the “aha” expressions on faces when managers learn how to use our Smart Start Toolkit™. Simple word prompts — we call them Smart Starts — help managers know what to say and how to say it. Here’s one example of a Smart Start:

Start with To and a benefit. Then, offer your direction.

In the same scenario about missing deadlines, the manager using a new coaching language would say:

To ensure that you meet our deadlines, maintain focus by preparing a daily to-do list.

Did you notice the benefit up front? Did you see the specific “how to”?

Far too often, performance conversations focus on the past. With a new coaching language, managers use what happened in the past in order to coach for the future, like this:

During project meetings when the team is struggling in an area where you have expertise, you tend to defer to the project leader to take or initiate action. While you may be hesitant to speak up, remember that you’re there to contribute to the team and have a responsibility to make sure the project stays on track. Next time, share your experience, provide advice, then let the project leader take it from there.

What’s the likely outcome of this kind of coaching? Team members understand exactly what to do to improve their performance and act on that understanding. They feel like their managers care about their success. This is the perfect recipe for keeping and developing good talent. It’s “next time” leadership.

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