I graduated from college in 1989 and got married in 1990. To me this does not seem like a long time ago But to many of you reading this it is a different world. I can tell you: the world has changed an awful lot in just 25 years. My word processor was a joke. Computers were HUGE. Online classes were a fantasy. Computer hackers and the internet were things that worked in movies like WAR-GAMES but not real life. And CELL PHONES? ha! A phone that fits in your pocket that almost anywhere in the world people can call you? Send you a TEXT MESSAGE? why would anyone want to write you a message when they could just call? Let’s not even get into smart phones and their capabilities.
The world we live in today is one I could not have imagined when I graduated. I am sitting at a table at my fairly remote lake house. Cell phone service is delightfully weak (it is good to disconnect) but I have fast wifi. I am typing on my Macbook Pro that (I have heard) is “smarter” than the computers that helped us land on the moon. 25 years from now where will things be? What now seems like science fiction will be boring and slow. To my younger readers- This will be up to you! You will have helped shape your generation’s world.
It doesn’t matter what country you live in. Because countries do not lead. People lead.
Everyday you must start your path toward leadership. What kind of leader will you be? How much impact on others will you have? What will be your mark on the world?
I have heard that at companies like Facebook, they have posters on the walls to remind them to THINK BIG — to challenge themselves to do more each and every day. There are important leadership lessons reflected in these posters . I try to emulate that in my gyms. To encourage each manager to not just lead but to encourage others to lead. To help the coaches realize that they are not just creating the masterpiece, they must first prepare the canvas. To be excited about what they do and get the gymnasts excited about what they do.
Here are some lessons I learned from Sheryl Sandberg the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook
Fortune favors the bold.
Facebook exists because Mark Zuckerberg believed that the world would be a better place if people could use technology to connect as individuals. He believed it so much that he dropped out of Harvard College to pursue that mission and he fought to hold onto it over the years. What Mark did was not lucky. It was bold.
It’s unusual to find your passion as early as Mark. It took me far longer to figure out what I wanted to do. I love coaching and I pretty much have been coaching my entire life. When I was sitting in a graduation robe, I could not have considered that I would actually be making a good living on coaching and owning a gym. Every coach I knew was just getting by. Their passion for the sport kept them alive. Every gym owner was struggling day in and day out. They loved the sport and they loved the kids but did not have enough business sense. Thinking that I could survive and raise a family as a coach then club owner was a dream (much like cell phones).
I taught school for a few years and coached every afternoon. Taking kids to JO Nationals. When the gymnasts were at a point where they were ready to make the jump into International Elite Level, I needed to stop teaching. It was the only way to make it work. I had learned the ropes about the gymnastics business, I had some great people help me know what to do next with these talented gymnast. It was then that I knew it was time to go out on my own and open up my own gym. In retrospect, this seems like a shrewd move. But in 1994, it was questionable at best. It was a struggle and a fight but I KNEW I COULD DO IT. 21 years later- I still love working in the gym and coaching. It was not my original plan, but I got there — eventually.
I hope if you find yourself on one path but longing for something else, you find a way to get there. And if that isn’t right, try again. Try until you find something that stirs your passion, a job that matters to you and matters to others. It’s a luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a clear path to happiness.
Feedback is a gift.
As a manager or club owner- sometimes it is hard to tell if you are doing a good job. I have always looked at feedback- EVEN NEGATIVE FEEDBACK as an opportunity to learn and grow. If people care enough about you and your organization, they will tell you when you fall short of their expectations. If they tell you- and you make corrections- THEY WILL TELL EVERYONE.
If you are a manager, getting feedback from your boss is one thing, but it’s every bit as important to get feedback from those who work for you. This is not an easy thing to do as employees are often eager to please those above them and don’t want to criticize or question their higher-ups.
One of my favorite examples of this comes from Wall Street. In 1990, Bob Rubin became the CEO of Goldman Sachs. At the end of his first week, he looked at Goldman’s books and noticed large investments in gold. He asked someone why. The answer? “That was you, sir.” “Me?” he replied. Apparently, the day before he had been walking around on the trading floor and he commented to someone that “gold looks interesting.” This got repeated as “Rubin likes gold” and someone spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make the new boss happy.
On a smaller scale, I have faced a similar challenge. I was watching a group of gymnasts vault in a “day before the meet workout”. I noticed that they were all leaning forward on the board. I had to put a band-aid on this so I told the coach to move the board back a little bit. The kids the next day vaulted well. Monday back in the gym- I noticed that vault was a disaster. Kids were eating it. I went to see why- Well the vault coach had moved everyones board back. Not realizing that I was just putting a band-aid on a problem that needed to be fixed on Monday.
At my next staff meeting I said “One, I wanted you to move the board back for that one group that one day. And two, next time you hear a bad idea — like not staying on the kids about proper technique– speak up. Even if you think it is what I have asked for, tell me I am wrong!”
A good leader recognizes that most employees won’t feel comfortable challenging authority, so it falls upon authority to solicit feedback. I learned from my vaulting mistake. I now ask my coaches “What could I do better?” And “What can the gym do to help you meet your goals” I always thank the person who has the guts to answer me honestly, often by praising them publicly. I firmly believe that you lead best when you walk side-by-side with your colleagues. When you don’t just talk but you also listen.
Nothing is someone’s else’s problem.
When I started coaching, I observed people in leadership roles and thought, “They’re so lucky. They have so much control.” So imagine my surprise when I had my first head coaches job and realized that the higher up you go, the more dependent you become on other people. At the time, I thought I was doing it wrong.
But I was right. I am dependent on my team. From the part time person in the office and college student who can only work on Saturdays to my full time Team Coaches and my Gym Managers. not the other way around. If they fall short, it is my mistake. As a leader, what I can accomplish is not just what I can do myself but what everyone on my team does.
Companies in every country operate in ways that are right for their cultures. But I believe that there are some principles of leadership that are universal — and one of those is that it is better to inspire than to direct. Yes, people will do what their bosses tell them to do (at least they better) in most organizations. But great leaders do not just want to secure compliance. They want to elicit genuine enthusiasm, complete trust, and real dedication. They don’t just win the minds of their teams, they win their hearts. If they believe in your gym’s mission and they believe in you, they will not only do their daily tasks well, but they will do them with true passion.
Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei has said “leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
1. That you are bold and have good fortune. Fortune favors the bold.
2. That you give and get the feedback you need. Feedback is a gift.
3. That you empower everyone. Nothing is somebody else’s problem.