Transcript of What Sport Can Teach Us About Business
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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to by Asana, a work management software tool that we use to run pretty much everything in our business. All of our meetings, all of our product launches, all of our tasks, and I’m going to show you how you can try it for free a little later.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Alan Stein, Jr. He’s a corporate performance coach, speaker, author of a book we’re going to talk about today called Raise Your Game: High Performance Secrets for the Best of the Best. So Al, thanks for joining me.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Oh, my pleasure.
John Jantsch: So in the introduction of the book, you tell a story about your days as a basketball performance coach, where you taught some pretty high profile athletes how to raise their athleticism and mind/body connection. I wonder if we could start there and tell me what that looked like.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Absolutely. For me, basketball was my first identifiable passion. I fell in love with the game at probably five or six years old, and I’m turning 43 in a couple of days, and basketball has been a major pillar of my life since that time, so almost four decades. I had a pretty interesting career where I was able to see some really great players at younger ages before they made it big, kind of the before picture, and I was able to observe some really high level players in the unseen hours after they had made it big, kind of the after picture, and I’ve really tried to curate from both sides of that spectrum and come up with a list of principles, and habits, and routines, and mindsets that anyone in any walk of life, but most certainly business, can apply to their performance.
John Jantsch: So let’s start with a baseline. Are there just a few things or maybe a lot of things that successful people do differently?
Alan Stein, Jr.: You know, I think it’s a small handful. And you could probably expand the list, but they’d probably all connect back to the foundational pillars, and one of the main principles of the book, and I use as a guiding principle in my life and everything I do is to never get bored with the basics. That what it takes to be successful in any endeavor is usually very basic in premise, but it’s never easy to do, and I always make sure to differentiate between the two. Just because something is basic, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. And a lot of people treat those as synonyms, and they’re most certainly not.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I know it’s almost cliché to say, but it’s like, shoot your free throws, right?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Perfect example. In the game of basketball, one of the most basic components is simply footwork. Your movement efficiency on the court. And when a player puts in the hours to master their footwork, it makes all of the other skills in the game go up. They’re shooting, they’re passing, they’re rebounding, they’re defense because all of that stuff starts at their feet. And lots of times when I’m working with leaders and working in business, I make the analogy that listening is the footwork of business, or of leadership, or of sales because the only way you can truly lead others, or the only way you can sell anything or solve a problem is if you’re listening. You need to listen to your clients, or customers, or patients, or members, or whatever your terminology is, but you have to really listen to make sure that you’re able to solve their problem, and listening is a skill that all of us should and continue to practice on a regular basis the same way elite NBA players practice their footwork, every single day.
John Jantsch: Yeah, and that’s probably a little counterintuitive for a lot of leaders, isn’t it? Because they sometimes, and I’m guilty of this, I feel like people are there to have me tell them what to do rather than listen, and I think you’re suggesting that just the opposite is the skill you need to develop.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Well, it’s both. I mean, you are clearly a subject matter expert and you’re a professional speaker, so people pay you to come in and actually teach and to talk, but my guess would be that in order for you to make sure that you’re delivering the right content on time to the right people, there was some listening going along the way. It may be in the form of a pre-event call or some pre-event questionnaire, or when you’re really getting a feel for who you’re going to deliver to in any capacity, you have to make sure you’re doing the listening.
Same thing in sales. When it comes to sales, and I know we share a lot of mutual friends that are really high on the sales professional list, and they all say that telling is not selling, that in order to really find that good fit, you have to ask insightful questions first to really get the intel to make sure that your product or service is the right fit for them. And if it is the right fit and you ask them the right questions, you won’t have to convince them to buy anyway. They’re going to convince themselves because you’re asking the right questions. And same thing with leaders. When you ask people questions and you listen to their answers, unconsciously you’re telling them that you care about them, and that they’re important, and that you value them. And that’s one of the most important traits of a leader is making sure that the people on their team know that the leader cares about them on and off the court or in and out of the board room.
John Jantsch: And I think it also goes to empowerment too because if they know that you’re going to give them the answer any time they ask a question, why should they try to figure it out themselves? And I think that that’s a habit that we can really get into too.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Oh, absolutely. You nailed that perfectly, and that’s so insightful. And I know in my own journey, when I was a younger coach, I didn’t listen very well because I was too busy trying to show everyone how smart I thought I was, and I wanted to puff up my chest and give the answer to everything. And then as I started to get older and hopefully wiser and more mature, I started to realize that I had that backwards, that you should go through life with your eyes and ears as open as possible and keep your mouth closed until it’s time to really share something of value.
John Jantsch: And I think this actually goes to the heart of what we’ve been discussing. You said one of the first steps, and again, I think it’s early on in the book, you say one of the first steps is you have to first learn how to live in the present.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Yes. And that is one of the most important skills for any human being, but it’s vital for performance in sport or in business. And really the short definition of living present is to be where your feet are. And wherever your feet are, that’s where your head and heart should be as well, and I know that may sound obvious, but in today’s day and age where we have so many digital distractions, that’s not always the case.
You can picture you and I going out to a friendly lunch and I’m staring at my phone the entire time we’re at lunch. Clearly, there’s going to be a disconnect between us, and what I’m telling you unconsciously is that whatever’s on my phone is more important than you are, and that unconscious message, if don’t consistently, is going to erode any type of connection that you and I have. And it’s so important for people to realize, we are always communicating a message, even when you don’t think you’re communicating, you are communicating, and in that instance, I would be communicating to you that my phone is more important than you are. And that, from a leadership standpoint, from a friendship standpoint, from a teammate standpoint is going in the wrong direction.
John Jantsch: Yeah, how am I supposed to feel when I discover I’m two rungs below a cat video, right?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Exactly.
John Jantsch: So it’s almost not even that much work to make analogies in business and sports, is it?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Right.
John Jantsch: You take that full circle, no pun intended, if you were looking at the book. You have a graphic that talks about this circle of player/coach/team, employee/manager/organization. So I want to dive into a couple of the ways or the things that you talk about having to develop. Kind of set the stage for that employee/manager/organization, player/coach/team analogy.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Yeah. I found there is just tremendous crossover. And I’ve lived both because even in my 20 years as a basketball performance coach, I was always working in the private sector, I always had my own training business. So I’ve been an entrepreneur since day one. I’ve never had a corporate job or a “real job” as an adult, so I’ve been able to see firsthand the symmetry, and the alignment, and the harmony between what’s required to excel in sport and what’s required to excel in business. And it just goes back to those foundational principles and pillars.
Clearly, the X’s and O’s and the tactical sides are going to be different, but the principles don’t really change. So really, what it would take to have an elite culture, a winning culture for a basketball team is the same as it is for business, and the only major difference is many businesses just have to do it at a higher scale. A basketball team is going to have a head coach, a couple of assistants, 14, 15 players, maybe a couple managers, whereas these principles could still be applied to a business that has a thousand employees, but the principles stay the same.
John Jantsch: And I think it’s become very common today to talk about ‘my team’ and ‘my department’ and to even talk about a manager as a mentor or a coach as part of their responsibility, so I think it’s certainly not a stretch at all.
Alan Stein, Jr.: No, it’s not. Oh, and I was going to say, what I’ve been really encouraging basketball coaches to do is to make sure they’re learning from entrepreneurs and executives and people in the business world. I mean, what you said, and you nailed it perfectly, this has been going on for decades where businesses will bring in athletes or more times coaches or general managers to talk to their teams, and everyone is always trying to pull from sport to business, but the inverse is very much the same. A smart coach would find a local business owner that’s created a championship level culture, is thriving, and has had longterm, sustainable results and pick that person’s brain for what they’re doing because, again, it’s the same stuff.
John Jantsch: As I said in the intro, this is brought to you by Asana. It’s a work management software tool that we’ve been using for a long time, our entire team. It just allows us to be so much more productive, to unify our communication, to keep track of tasks, to assign and delegate, pretty much run everything from meetings all the way up through our client work, and you can get it and try it free for 30 days because you are a listener. So get started at Asana.com/DuctTape. That’s Asana, A-S-A-N-A.com/DuctTape.
So you break the book then from that point on into this employee/manager/business, or maybe it’s organization, and you talk about things that you need to develop, and what’s interesting is, when you talk about the employee, I think the employee has to develop those, but the manager has to maybe see that as their responsibility to help them, to help some of those, and one of the ones … you have each of those broken into four, five, six different chunks, but I want to maybe kind of riff on three of them.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Sure.
John Jantsch: Because the first one, I think it’s the first one, for the employee, I think is actually the hardest for individuals period, and that’s this idea of developing or helping them develop self-awareness. How the heck do you do that?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Yes. That is a tough one, and it’s also important to note that it’s a continual journey. You never arrive. No one should be able to stick their stake in the ground and say, “I’m 100% self-aware.” There’s going to be varying degrees of it. And funny enough-
John Jantsch: And that would actually indicate you were not, right?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Exactly. Yes. Once you think you’ve arrived, you haven’t. But funny enough, and I know this may sound counterintuitive, many times, the way we need to acquire self-awareness or at least heighten and strengthen it is by asking others, and I don’t mean random people off the street. Ask the people that know us the best. Close family, and friends, and colleagues, and coworkers that really know us because all of us, we can’t see our own blind spots. We can have the humility and the foresight to know that we have blind spots, but that’s why they’re called blind spots because we don’t know what they are and we don’t know what we don’t know. So the key is, once you believe that you have some self-awareness and you’re aware of what’s good and what’s bad and what your dreams are as well as what your fears and insecurities are, then you need to ask other people and see if there’s an accuracy there.
Perfect example. I’ll just use listening because I brought it up earlier. If I believe that I’m a great listener, but you ask the five people closest to me and they all say that I’m not, well then I’m probably not. It really doesn’t matter what I think. What’s most important is the result of what’s going on in real life, and that’s where, if you have the humility to ask those, you can decrease that gap between what you believe is true and what others are seeing as true. And it always reminds me of a funny quote I heard from a comedian. He said, “If the audience doesn’t laugh, it’s not funny.” That’s the definition of a joke. If they don’t laugh, it’s not funny. They’re the judge and the jury. And he said, “It doesn’t matter if I think it’s funny, it doesn’t matter if my comedian friends think it’s funny. The people in the audience, if they don’t laugh, then it’s not funny.” And it’s the same thing with self-awareness. No matter how good of a listener you think you are, if those around you don’t think you are, then there’s a major disconnect.
John Jantsch: In the manager category, the one that popped out to me is servant because I’m not sure managers always view their role as servant.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Well, the concept of servant leadership has been around forever, but it’s really the mindset that, everything I do is to add value to others, is to fill other’s buckets. It’s not in degradation of yourself, you still need to fill your own bucket first in order to fill other’s, but everything you’re doing is trying to raise others up, and that should be a true leader’s mentality. It shouldn’t be for any other reason other than the fact that you’re trying to elevate somebody else’s game, and then collectively elevate your entire organization. But the servanthood mindset, at least all of the elite leaders I’ve been around, that’s one they’ve adopted right from the get go.
John Jantsch: And I’ll tell you in my own experience how that role is both a positive and a negative is when it comes to taking credit for stuff. I think some of the best leaders when good things happen give the team credit, and sometimes not so evolved leaders need the credit.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Very well said. Yes, and you are correct. And I think that usually comes from an insecurity. That they’re not confident enough in who they are as a leader that they feel like they need that credit to puff up their chest, if you will.
John Jantsch: So let’s go to the organization. Again, you had five or six characteristics there, and one that I’d love to hear you expand is role clarity being essential.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Yeah. That one is absolutely vital, and as I work with a variety of different organizations, it’s usually one that trips people up. One, they simply make the assumption that everybody on the team knows with tremendous clarity what their specific role is, and many times, that’s not the case. So it’s so important for every person in the organization to know exactly how they fit into the grand scheme of things, and I’ve always felt that a team or an organization is simply a jigsaw puzzle, and every single person is a different piece with different knobs and different holes that are going to fit together different, and it’s vital that everybody knows what their role is so that they can then embrace that role and star in that role whatever it may be.
And of course, organizations, there are going to be varying levels of roles and responsibilities, and you may play a much bigger role in our organization than I do, but mine is still important because even without my little puzzle piece, we can’t finish the picture or the collage, so every piece matters. And lots of times, people don’t even know what their role is, and then if they do know it, they don’t take pride in fulfilling it because they want a different role, and that’s where we start to see dysfunction.
John Jantsch: You know, I love what you said earlier about the idea that you’re always communicating something, and I think that’s one of the challenges with role clarity is a lot of times, we are communicating role dysfunction, if you will, and that’s where it gets really tough. So it’s something that you not only have to define, but redefine, and redefine, and re-support, and I don’t think it ever goes away, does it?
Alan Stein, Jr.: No, it doesn’t. And you brought up a great point there because this happens all the time. When we talk about communicating when you don’t think you’re communicating. Let’s take delegating for example. So you and I are teammates on our organization and I delegate an important task to you. Not menial work, an important task. A big proposal or what have you. Unconsciously, I’m communicating to you that I trust you, John. I know that you’re competent. I believe in you. I know that you’re going to do this as well as I could do it or maybe even better. You’re the right person to do it. And clearly, that’s going to deepen our connection between each other. That’s going to build trust.
Whereas, what a lot of people do would be micromanage. I hand you an important task and I stand over your shoulder the entire time, which again, communicates now a different message, that I don’t trust you, I don’t believe in you. In fact, I think you’re too big of a moron to get this right unless I’m standing right over your shoulder. So now I’m eroding our connection, and I’m creating more friction and more dysfunction. And I know more times than not, that’s done with great intention. Lots of times when we micromanage, it’s because we’re so particular about the way we want things done, and we have such a high standard of excellence, we want it done the right way and we want it done our way, but we forget that we are communicating that different message, and that’s, again, where our roles will start to get some ambiguity and some fog, and we don’t want that.
And one more thing I’ll say on roles. It’s one thing to have the right people on your team, but you also have to make sure they’re in the right seats on the bus, and for it to be a great fit is, I’m going to put things, your role with our organization are going to be things that you enjoy doing and you’re really good at doing, and the more of your role that are those two things, then the higher you’ll perform. If I give you a whole bunch of things that you enjoy doing, but you’re not very good at, well then we’re all going to suffer because the work is going to be poor. And if I give you things that you’re good at, but you really don’t enjoy doing them, then it’s going to be tough to keep you motivated longterm. So this is where we can shift things around. Especially in a diverse organization.
There might be some things that are in your current job description that you don’t really enjoy, but someone else on the team would love to do those things, and that’s where we can shift around. I’m not really a spreadsheet kind of guy. I’m not a high IQ guy, I’m a high EQ guy. So if a good portion of my job description was to do paperwork and fill out Excel spreadsheets, I’m not going to enjoy my work. But you know as well as I do, there’s probably someone else that loves that. They would much rather do that than interface with other human beings. They would love to just hop on a podcast like yours and work on spreadsheets all day. So why don’t we take that off of my plate, put that on their plate, and everybody wins? I’m happier, they’re happier, and the quality of work goes up. So that would be an example of how we can shift job descriptions and roles around to make sure that the team wins.
John Jantsch: I’m visiting with Alan Stein, Jr. author of Raise Your Game. Alan, tell us where people can find out more about you, your work, and Raise Your Game.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Well, if they’re interested in the book, they can go to RaiseYourGameBook.com or if they want to find out more about the stuff I’ve got going on, you can just go to AlanSteinJr.com, and I’m at Alan Stein, Jr on Instagram, LinkedIn, all the social channels, and love engaging with folks on there.
John Jantsch: Awesome. We’ll have links of course in the show notes. Alan, thanks for taking a few moments to visit with us on The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, and hopefully we’ll run into you someday out there on the road.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Sounds great, my pleasure. I appreciate you.