When I first joined the corporate workforce years ago, I was surprised at how hard it was for leaders in many organizations to talk objectively about who were the top performers and who weren’t. I remember asking my dad – my mentor and a corporate veteran of over 40 years who had earned the endearing nickname, “Max the Axe” – about his thoughts. His response?
“OK dad, did you get enough sleep last night?”
“Seriously. Ask any kid on a little league team. Every one of them can and will tell you who is the best player on the team, who is pretty good, and who is the worst player on the team. And they do it without guilt or emotion.”
I thought about this and decided to test the concept at home. My opportunity wasn’t with little league baseball, but my nephew was a club soccer kid. Close enough. After watching one of his games, I asked him for his thoughts about his teammates. He very quickly rank ordered everyone on the team – himself included and not as the best player – in a very matter of fact way.
“Wow. My dad was right. As usual. Why wasn’t he ever wrong about anything?” (A topic for another blog)
So I asked myself why little leaguers and club soccer kids seem to be able to very easily assess talent when we parents clearly cannot? Ever watch a little league or club soccer game from the sidelines? We parents are very scary when confronted with our kid not getting the playing time we think he or she deserves based on his “future professional status caliber” skills. But what about we adults at work? What happened to all of us former little leaguers who were perfectly happy letting Gabriel pinch hit for us in the bottom of the 7th inning because he was a better hitter than us? We really needed to score that run and just wanted to win the game as a team. Or letting Gabriel take the penalty kick because he was much more accurate than us? In the corporate world, unfortunately more times than not many of us aren’t letting Gabriel do that power point presentation even though he may have much better skills and the project might go better. Many of us often think to ourselves, “That’s my presentation and my opportunity to present to the C-suite to bolster my career.
What happened to us?
Something happened on the journey from little league to the big league of the corporate world. Back then, it wasn’t a sign of weakness or incompetence to say that someone was better at something than we were. But in the corporate world, we often fear that it is. I have to confess that I know I have on several occasions in my own career. I remember the advice of one of the leaders to whom I had reported earlier in my career. He always said, “Let people on your team say things like ‘I’m not good at that’ or ‘I don’t know how to do that’ and even model that for them by letting them know what you aren’t good at or don’t know how to do. It may seem counterintuitive, but the open dialogue about true capabilities opens the door for better team outcomes and people picking each other up across competencies.”
Seems as though our little league selves knew that without knowing how to articulate it. All we really wanted to do back then was have a fun pizza party after a glorious team victory.