Sunday Reads #181: What I learnt from 6 hours with a World Cup winning coach.
Paddy Upton helped India win the World Cup after a 28 year drought. What does he know about leadership?
Hope you’re having a great weekend.
In case you missed last week's newsletter (my learnings from James Dyson’s memoir), you can find it here: What James Dyson learnt from making 5127 prototypes.
This week, let's talk about leadership, from the vantage point of sport.
1. What I learnt from 6 hours with a World Cup winning coach.
In 2008, the Indian cricket team appointed a new coaching team. Gary Kirsten as Head Coach, and Paddy Upton as Mental Conditioning Coach.
Neither of them had any major coaching experience to speak of, as they assumed the mantle at one of the world's biggest sports teams.
Over the next 3 years, the Indian team reached the pinnacle of the sport.
Became the #1 Test team in the world
Won the World Cup in 2011, the first time in 28 years
And this wasn’t a flash in the pan for Paddy Upton. He repeated this with the South African cricket team. During his stint, the team become the first to simultaneously hold the World #1 ranking in all three formats of international cricket.
And he did it again in the Indian domestic T20 league! In his very first year, he took bottom-of-the-table laggards Rajasthan Royals to the semi-finals. And to the finals of the Champions League!
Hmm, seems like he knows what he's doing...
So when I heard that he was doing a leadership masterclass in Singapore, I signed up immediately.
And he didn't disappoint. I took away 5 key lessons:
#1. Treat your team as "fully formed adults".
One of the first things Paddy said in the workshop was, "As adults, let's manage our own experience."
"If you have a question, ask. If you don't like something, say it. If you want to step out for a bit, do so. Don't wait for me to prompt you."
There’s a timeless lesson here in empowering your teams.
Treat them as "fully formed adults". Give them the responsibility and power to manage their own experience.
Ask your team what works and what doesn't work for them.
For example, Paddy would ask each cricketer under his care two questions:
When they're under pressure, what outward signs would they exhibit?
When they're under pressure, what would they want him to say / do, to calm them down?
And then, whenever he saw that they were under the pump, he'd know exactly what to say!
Empower your team to manage their own experience.
Give them the permission to come to you with feedback, even when you don't ask explicitly. Especially when you don't ask explicitly.
This reminds me of something I'd shared almost a year ago: The right question is a force multiplier.
I love Patti McCord's question!
Next time someone complains to you about something (or you complain), ask: "What happened when you tried to solve this problem?".
Make action the default.
#2. Harness your team's "collective intelligence".
Another point Paddy made, that seems obvious in retrospect:
Your team holds a vast amount of intelligence about your business. You can multiply the leverage you get as a manager, by learning how to tap into this vast store of knowledge.
As he says: View your team as a "brain trust" and harness their knowledge and intelligence.
How do you do that?
Ask more questions.
You don't need to always know the answer. You just need to ask the right questions.
The right question is FAR more powerful than the right answer. It can empower your team to solve problems, vs. waiting for you to guide them on what to do.
Ask a question and hold the silence. Allow the answers to emerge and give space for collective intelligence to flourish. Don't rush to give your point of view.
Ask one more question.
I wrote about this in 2020, in my article on Effective team management:
Rule 5: “Ask one more question”.
You know the feeling. The call with your teammate is about to end, and it’s gone well. You feel like you’ve gotten through, and he has everything he needs to complete the task. There’s one tiny doubt that’s nibbling at the edge of your mind, but you let that pass.
No. Notice your confusion, and ask that one more question to clarify that.
You often learn that a simple question, which you almost didn’t ask, is the difference between flawless, on-time completion, and a week wasted on a wild goose chase.
This is particularly relevant when you’re working remote, and cannot catch non-verbal cues. As a friend told me, “The body language feedback of physical meetings is totally gone. And an over imaginative mind goes to town in its absence, dreaming up issues that might not exist.“
So ask that last question. It may be banal, but ask it anyway.
If you aren’t sure that the next steps are clear, ask, “Can you just play back the next steps, so I can remember them?” Or, “which of these pieces will you need my help on?”.
If you feel motivation is flagging, ask “how are you feeling?”. Or, “what’s the hardest part of this situation for you?”.
Be more aware of the energy in the room, and don't be afraid to ask if something doesn't make sense.
(a) allows you to tap into your team's collective intelligence;
(b) empowers your team; and
(c) is a superpower.
What's not to like!
#3. Get more out of your Average Performers.
This is an interesting point that I'm still mulling over.
As Paddy says, once your organization gets beyond a certain size, it will invariably have a lot of "average" performers. (And I don't mean this just from a mathematical standpoint).
Getting more out of these average performers can afford you immense leverage.
"Can you get a 50 percenter to 60% effectiveness?"
And honestly, this is not hard (but it's not easy either). Just follow the five key principles of effective team management:
Don’t make 100 decisions when one will do.
Train your team, and give better feedback. Even when you don’t have the time. Especially when you don’t have the time.
Fix things early. Run to fires before they start. And then prevent the next fire.
Do better meetings (this one’s harder than it sounds).
#4. Make your Review and Planning process work for you.
Theoretically, this is how an organization gets better over time:
In reality though, Review and Planning are divorced from Training and Execution. In most companies, at least.
Leaders often concentrate solely on execution.
Even where Review and Planning (the "thinking") happens, it's done by different people. The Thinkers are different from the Doers. And that doesn't help.
"You’re just a consultant. What do you know about running a business?"
"When the shit hits the fan, none of what you're saying will work."
Paddy shared what is, in his view, the "Minimum Effective Dose" of a good review process:
Focus on only two things (and only one question on each):
A. Success (80% of focus):
In Paddy's view, 80% of the focus in planning should be on things that we did successfully.
The question to ask is: "What did we do well?"
Why does this work?
It works because most of our jobs are not rocket science. Yes, skill or aptitude do matter. But attitude matters far, far more.
And celebrating successes, however small, boosts self-esteem and motivation.
Now, what if there's nothing to celebrate? What if we lost the deal? What if this month's P&L was a loss?
Well, then, celebrate the process - the tiny things you did well. Celebrate the inputs, if the outputs didn't go your way.
For example, in cricket team meetings, Paddy would appreciate players for comforting their teammates after a drop-catch. Or for backing up to prevent overthrows even on inconsequential runs.
Celebrate the process of preparing for the goal, rather than the goal itself.
Now, this doesn't mean we have to turn our team meetings upside down. We don't have to be all fluff and cotton candy. No.
One simple change - "How can we celebrate success 5% more than we already are?".
More on this in a bit.
B. Failure (20% of focus):
Addressing failures is tricky. You risk becoming defensive.
"What did you do wrong?" is not a question that you can answer with honesty. The very phrasing makes you resist.
As Paddy said, using a past orientation ("What went wrong?") makes you maximally ineffective. Because it wakes up your ego. It makes you and your teams defensive and resistant to learning.
How do you learn from the mistake instead? By asking a different question:
"If you had this situation again, what would you do differently next time?"
This is a powerful re-frame. Mistakes are no longer things to get flushed and embarrassed about, and to shove under the carpet. Instead, they become stepping stones to future success.
#5. Focus on strengths over weaknesses.
Paddy gave an example of his work with a marathoner.
Let's call this runner A.
A always used to come second to another runner B, because B had the ability to get a "second wind" in the last lap of the race. Runner A would lead for most of the race, but then in the last mile, out of nowhere, B would sprint and come first.
So A's coach trained him for a full season, on getting that kick at the end. Result - he did manage to get the last-minute surge. But because he didn't focus on the first 25 miles in training, he came far behind anyway.
When Paddy started working with runner A, he doubled down on his strength. He focused on making what he was already good at - the first 25 miles of the race - 10% better.
A was able to put so much distance between him and B in the first 25 miles, that B couldn't catch up even with a second wind at the end.
Focus on maximizing your team's strengths, vs. filling the weaknesses.
I've written about this before, in my Effective Team Management blog post:
Rule 3: Focus on the right (few) areas in giving feedback.
Focus on a few major areas, where superior performance can lead to outstanding results.
A good heuristic for this is: focus on strength development, not on removing weaknesses. Whereas our instinct is to focus on weaknesses instead.
It’s clear that the greatest scope for improvement is when you strengthen what someone is already doing well, so they can do it better.
Instead of asking, “What is she bad at?”, ask “what does she do well but can do better? What does she need to learn to excel at this?”.
This works because, first, it improves performance exponentially. Any productivity gains compound. A 1% improvement in something you do once every week is a 70% improvement in your effectiveness over a year.
But almost as important, it increases your team's engagement and motivation. Because everyone likes playing to their strengths.
[Let me know what you think of Paddy Upton’s lessons. And for further reading, check out my How to manage your team LIKE A BOSS (even while working remote). The minimum effective dose of team management is just five key principles. The essay talks about each of these.]
Before we continue, a quick note:
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2. Golden Nugget of the Week: The Treadmill of Progress.
I read this comment from Steven Pinker the other day:
It’s in the nature of progress that it erases its tracks, and its champions fixate on the remaining injustices and forget how far we have come.
It reminded me of a chart I'd seen from Our World in Data a few years ago, on Infant Mortality:
And it's true! There is a lot still to be done! In most areas of our life!
But to remain optimistic in our quest, it helps to sometimes pause and see how far we've already come.
PS. The story of the war against cancer is also the same. So much done, and yet so much more to be done. Godspeed to us.
3. This lawyer did WHAT!
In the funniest ChatGPT story I've heard yet:
A lawyer used ChatGPT to prepare a brief for their case, citing several similar cases as precedents for their argument. There was only one problem...
None of those cases were real!
They were all fabricated - no, hallucinated - by ChatGPT.
Here's what happened:
The plaintiff in a case submitted a brief to the court, citing several cases as precedents. All from ChatGPT.
The opposite side's (defendant's) lawyers couldn't find these cases (understandable, as they didn't exist!). So the judge asked the plaintiff to submit copies of those cases.
The plaintiff promptly asked ChatGPT to help. Which was happy to oblige, with full intricate details of completely fictitious cases.
Of course, the defendant's lawyers couldn't find these cases again! As they told the judge in lawyer-speak: "Defendant respectfully submits that the authenticity of many of these cases is questionable".
So naturally the plaintiff's lawyers asked ChatGPT, "Hey, those cases you gave me details of... they're not fake, right?". And ChatGPT said "Yes they do indeed exist". And the lawyer - naturally - submitted this to the court as evidence.
The judge is livid! 😡😡
Not making this up! 🤣.
4. Looking up at the night sky 😳.
In not big news at all, astronomers discovered a million new galaxies in a little over 12 days.
In under 300 hours, the world-renowned CSIRO telescope in Australia surveyed the whole southern sky in amazing detail and record time, discovering 3 million previously unseen galaxies.
According to the researchers, as many as 1 million of these distant galaxies may be previously unknown to astronomy, and this is likely just the beginning. Because of the success of this first study, CSIRO scientists are already planning additional in-depth observations in the future years.
Reminds me of this comic from xkcd.
Keep calm and marvel at the enormity of the universe.
That’s it for this week. Hope you enjoyed it.
As always, stay safe, healthy and sane, wherever you are.
I’ll see you next week.
[A quick request - if you liked today’s newsletter, I’d appreciate it very much if you could forward it to one other person who might find it useful 🙏].