To Lead, Step Back and . . . Notice

My colleague and friend Jordan Raper sent me a link about leadership this morning.  I’ve read a ton about leadership, so these days, I generally scan for newness.

Jordan is an accomplished soccer coach, so I wasn’t surprised when he sent me something about Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the best soccer coaches ever.  What surprised and delighted me was the section wherein Ferguson credits his success at least in part to one of my favorite tools — the simple act of noticing.

As he matured as a coach, Ferguson delegated to his assistant coaches more of the actual training of his players.  This freed him up to make an important shift in his practice.  Switching “from coaching to observing . . . allowed him to better evaluate the players and their performances.”  Moving out of the scrum of hands-on training, where one’s focus is necessarily tight, helped him to “spot changes in training patterns, energy levels, and work rates.”

Ferguson’s own words are pure gold for people attempting to help individuals or teams excel (or even to improve their own performance):

[What] you can pick up by watching is incredibly valuable. Once I stepped out of the bubble, I became more aware of a range of details, and my performance level jumped. Seeing a change in a player’s habits or a sudden dip in his enthusiasm allowed me to go further with him: Is it family problems? Is he struggling financially? Is he tired? What kind of mood is he in? Sometimes I could even tell that a player was injured when he thought he was fine.

I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing. I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key—or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.

That last twist — on the unexpected — is worth savoring.  Here’s the article in full.


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