The first person I heard use the expression, “Say what you mean, mean what you say,” was former NFL coach, Don Shula.
This was especially true in coaching. The last thing a head coach needs is “yes” men. He needs assistant coaches who can see things differently than him and who don’t hesitate to express their opinions.
Most games are won or lost in the second half, especially when the two teams are fairly equal in talent. Therefore, half-time adjustments are extremely important. I developed the habit of going off by myself to think about what I had seen in the first half and make decisions on what I thought we should concentrate on for the second half.
While I was doing the above, my assistants would talk among themselves and come to decisions that they felt we should execute in the second half. We would then come together and decide what adjustments we would present to our players for the second half. The most adjustments we would present at half-time were three. We wanted execution, so we kept the instructions simple, congruent with our belief that success in sports comes from two essential ingredients – simplicity and execution. Two things were important at these half-time coaches’ meetings:
- I certainly did not want coaches who were always thinking what I was thinking and as we were debating our approach to the second half, I did not want “yes” men. I wanted guys to give me their thoughts and to defend them passionately.
- The second point was very important for our staff togetherness. Stephen Covey, in his internationally famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, stresses that interacting with people is like putting deposits in a bank account. The more we learn to trust each other, the larger that bank account grows. So, when a disagreement arises, it is handled with little problem because the bank account, the trust, is so strong. If the assistants had a different idea than I had as to how we should approach the second half, I sometimes rejected their suggestion and went with my conclusions. If we then proceeded to play poorly in the second half and lost, I never heard a “told you so” from my assistants. The converse was true as well. If they convinced me to accept their idea and reject mine, and we lost, I never said a critical word to them after the game. We were all on the same page. All of us tried our best to find the best decision for the second half for our team. It was that simple and there were no recriminations, either way, after the game.
I always have believed that the difference between a head coach and an assistant coach is decisions versus suggestions. The same is true for all leaders. The proverbial buck stops with the leader. He or she must make the final decision. Doesn’t common sense dictate that quality leaders want to get all the input they can before they make the final decision? I always liked Coach John Wooden’s philosophy when he would tell his assistants that he was not interested in their individual ideas. Equal to that, he was not interested in his idea. What he wanted was for all of them to get together and find the best idea. The leader can only make the best decision when everyone speaks their mind.
I have served on Boards where some people were constantly telling the leader what he wanted to hear. Constantly. I always felt that this was totally unfair to the leader. If the leader is not getting honest feedback, including ideas contrary to his beliefs, how can he make the best decisions?
In the last analysis, leaders need to surround themselves with people who say what they mean and mean what they say. With this kind of teamwork there is a great chance that the very best decisions will be reached.