PART I: Coaching, Personal Achievement and Executive Management

Part I—A Necessary Leadership Skill: Why do high school football and executive management relate to your personal achievement?  Ken Tucker, who took Nashoba’s high school football team to an undefeated season in 2012, shares his secrets about learning leadership skills, practicing keystone habits and creating a Culture of Success.   Ken’s insights touch upon the pillars of success for personal improvement, for business management or for team coaches.

When asked about leadership skills, Ken Tucker, who has been a coach, teacher and principal, begins immediately, “Being a coach made me a better principal, and being a principal made me a better coach because I learned a necessary leadership skill and, here’s the critical part, how to apply this skill from person to person.”

In this digital age, Ken understands that old school leadership skills are old school because they work. “When I was a principal, I had this rule about email.  If a staff member or a parent had an issue or concern that was raised over email, I always replied in the same way.  Thank you for expressing your concerns. I don’t discuss such issues over email; however, please call me so we can schedule a time to talk in person or at least discuss it over the phone. If they would email me again, I would send them the same reply: Thank you for expressing your concerns…”

Ken instinctively knows that in person meetings are essential for resolving any miscommunication because too much information is lost over email or text.  Studies have shown that about 60% of our communication is nonverbal (i.e. body language).  20% is tonality (i.e. the inflections we give words), and only 10% is our words.   If you are relying only 10% of the information, how can you expect to have an accurate conversation, never mind settle a disagreement?

“Once I asked students, ‘Why are you texting, when you can call your friends?’ Ken continued, “The students replied instantly, ‘Because it’s easier.’  At first I couldn’t see how all that typing with their thumbs is easier, but then I realized that they are right. Many people say things over email in a way that they never would if you were face to face.  Email and texting protects people from dealing with their emotions and also from the emotions of the other person.  So it is easier, but it doesn’t mean it is better.  In fact, you miss so much.”

“So one time at practice, I watched my assistant coach hold up a card with an illustrated play.  It was a typical play illustrated with Xs“ [defense] and “Os”[offense].  I knew that over 50% of the players have no clue what it means. Some kids are waiting to be told what to do, while others are wondering where they should go. Some kids are wondering if they are an “X” or an “O”. You have to communicate differently to each person.  Some kids can understand a visual representation.  Some kids need to hear it explained, while some kids need to be physically walked through the play and feel how they should move. You have to address all the different types of learning styles.”

Ken is sharing how to become a better communicator because each person has a different sensory preference or different learning style.  Your sensory preference reflects how your brain processes, recalls and communicates information.  In addition, we all have our own way to interpret the world or our map of the world.  For example, what do you think of when you read the word – cat?  If you ask this in a group, you will get a range of responses.  So while we may be able to understand each other, we are rarely, if ever, on the exact same page with another person in a conversation.  Almost all of the time, we are unaware of the other person’s preferences and map of the world.  We assume that everyone uses the exact same meaning, interpretations and connotations for the words that we use.  In short, we put others in the place of being mind readers and are upset when they are wrong.

Ken raises a critical point that is often overlooked in the workplace and at home.  What if you are communicating in a certain style, which is different than the person talking to you, how well are you communicating your goals, wants, vision or instructions?   Differences between our sensory preferences go so deep to even affect our personal relationships.  People may love each other, but experience being loved in a different way.  What if you communicate or show love based on your preference and your map of the world, which most likely differs from your significant other?  So whether you are a spouse, coach or project manager, a critical leadership skill is learning how to communicate with people who communicate differently than you do. 

Ken rightly comments that there is only one way to learn this leadership skill: “It’s all about face to face communication.” 

If leadership requires face to face communication to learn different communication styles, what keystone habits supports leadership in general? Read the Part II: Keystone Habits of Success.