My three adult sons were all year-round athletes in high school. My wife and I were endlessly sitting in hot, smelly gyms or on cold rainy sidelines for almost twenty years. My kids grew up in a generation where everyone got a trophy. My generation taught the next generation that winning is just showing up. We taught them that results (score) don’t matter…criticism is mean…expectations are insensitive. We robbed an entire generation of the lessons to be learned from failing and the strength of character that is born in the struggle.
The school district where my sons competed did a really good job of having robust junior-varsity teams where everybody got to play. However, on the varsity, only the best players played and sometimes played both ways. If you were on the varsity, you knew you might not get in the game. Eventually, some parents started showing up at school board meetings, complaining that they pay athletic fees but their children (on the varsity) might not get into a game. These parents argued that if they pay, their kids should play and after all, “winning did not matter.” At one school board meeting, a mother was arguing this very point with great intensity. She concluded with, “After all, winning doesn’t matter. It’s how you play the game.”
Then, the star of the football team stood up and asked a question.
“If winning does not matter, then why do we have a score board?” he asked.
The purpose of score (measurement) is to recognize desired behavior (or lack thereof) and determine a winner (declare success). By declaring a winner, the score also identifies the team that lost. It is unavoidable. Most elite athletes want to live in a world with competition and score. Most top performers want to work in an environment where results are measured and people are expected to do what they say they are going to do (perform).
As a seasoned leader of more than thirty years, I am always suspect of someone who equates accountability (measurement) with a lack of trust or who wants to lower the standard they do not meet because the standard is in some way “not fair.” I have learned that if you question the integrity of honest people, they will in some way demand an audit. Conversely, if you audit dishonest people, they will usually try and turn the audit into a question of character. Top performers aren’t afraid of audits (accountability).
Top performers like a scoreboard. They don’t like working in organizations with no accountability or follow-through. If top performers have to constantly deal with late meetings, unmet goals, poor performance, unreturned emails, and endless debates over desired outcomes, they will grow frustrated and many will move on. They won’t put up with the chaos forever and the truth is they don’t have to. The truth is top performers have options. Every team has and needs top performers. Ask the Miami Heat if they would rather play with Lebron James or against him and are they a better team without him.
What do you spend most of your time doing? Discussing anecdotal opinions, debating the validity of reports, questioning the performance of others, or arguing over what is “fair”? Or do you spend your time getting things done, exploring how things can be done better next time, and who produced the desired outcome (and who did not)? If you have not been achieving the goals you have set for yourself, if you want to win, maybe you should ask a top performer how they do it. Be prepared to hear words like “accountability,” “consequences,” “results,” and “risk.”
Top performers want the score kept. Poor performers don’t.