IV. Better Every Day

At Top Gun, the Naval fighter pilot school, for every 30 minutes in the air, they spend 3 hours on the ground, analyzing every aspect of the flight. 

Andy Grove, when he was CEO of Intel, personally ran the new hire training. You’d think he had better things do to - he didn’t. If the CEO can find time to train the team, so can we.

How many hours do you personally spend coaching your team? Are you giving frequent feedback, praise or demonstrating what excellence looks like? If you’re like me, it’s not enough.

Bill Walsh when he was head coach for the San Francisco 49ers is said to have known the details of how each job in the organization should be done. From answering the phones, to running the offensive line, he had an expected way of doing things. He called it the ‘Standard of Performance’. No detail was too small and in his words, when everyone performed their best, at every level, ‘The Score Takes Care of Itself’.

Precision in execution of everything at all levels. No sloppiness. Game-level focus was the price of admission.
— Bill Walsh

Does this mean we should emulate Top Gun and spend 1-2 days a week training our people? Likely not, but honestly assess yourself and your leadership efforts. Are you doing enough? Does everyone on the team understand your personal standard of performance? Can they deliver consistently at that level? Is the work getting better? 

The good news is that training doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Sure, it can be a full day seminar, but it doesn’t have to be. Use the small moments that are often wasted. How many times have we been on a call that ended 5-10 minutes early and the room scatters, often to a few more minutes of email. Take that time to debrief. How did the meeting go? Were we prepared? What could be improved? What did we learn?

We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.
— Archilochus

The biggest impediment to developing ourselves and our team is human - for everyone involved, sharing feedback is uncomfortable. How do we deal with discomfort? We acclimate to it. The best way to do that is to start small, in a low risk environment. 

Get used to being in feedback mode by giving tiny praise. If someone shares a unique insight during an analysis, let them know. If they strike the perfect tone in a customer meeting, let them know.  Share signposts they are on the path.

Likewise, critical feedback should start small as well, especially if you haven’t been giving any. Be courageous and direct. Maybe you haven’t been doing this and you’ve had subpar performance on a few critical projects.  If so, you’re winning tactically and losing strategically. No time like the present to focus on training and feedback, but remember, it’s not them, it’s you. 

No bad teams, only bad leaders.
— Jocko Willink

You may be wondering, what if I don’t have the experience to clarify the standard of performance? What if I don’t have the skills to train my team? The good news is you’re being honest with yourself. Good. Now you have something to work on - training isn’t just for other people.

It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.
— Leif Babin

We make time for the things that matter - training is one of those things. Continuously work the fundamentals with your team and refresh them often. Skills take time to develop and are perishable. It’s not easy, but it’s what we signed up for. Push aside your discomfort, set the example, and make the time to train your people - this is what it means to lead and serve.

articles in the series