Coaching in Awkward Situations

Prologue

Coaching moments are not always obvious. What might start out as a humorous, questionable, or awkward situation may evolve into a perfect opportunity to step back and provide some impactful advice and counsel.

Our team’s global teleconference calls frequently provided just that chance. We regularly had ~300 people from more than 10 countries and 50 locations on our quarterly updates. Our operations reviews had slightly fewer participants.

You know the drill – regular, virtual meetings to update everyone on the progress and activities of the organization.

Typically, you learn to recognize voices quickly. Regardless, many insist on continuing to re-introduce themselves to the audience that already knows them well. “Yes, Emily, please continue.”

You also learn speakers’ habits … especially of those who participate frequently. Some speakers may have speech patterns or verbal ticks that can become annoying to some audiences. Some may even become chat-room fodder for the distracted teleconference meeting participants.

Let’s start here.

 

Saying Um

When Opportunity Strikes

Conference calls can be tough. Staying on track and being both effective and efficient with time is a challenge. Echoes due to poor phone connections, background noises, the unintentional use of the mute button, and questions such as “Can you go back one slide?” make achieving all of the call’s goals difficult.

One of our peer directors that had a key role in cross-organizational communications was required to speak often; he regularly led the conference calls. He had one of those vocal habits that grated on people, like fingernails on a chalkboard: he constantly used filler expressions. Filler expressions are useless words or phrases that create a pause in the conversation such as, “I mean” or “you know.” If used infrequently, they are less obvious as audiences usually focus on digesting key messages rather than analyzing every single word streaming from the speaker’s mouth.

Most of us are prone to use a filler word or two. Like, I mean, you know, those words that do, er, absolutely nothing for the content of the conversation other than creating an, um, you know, annoying or distracting pause. Right?

Derek’s vocalized pause of choice was “Um” and he said it quite often. Actually, he said “um” so often that nearly everyone on our calls became absorbed with keeping and posting the “count” on a subgroup instant message thread during our 100+ person calls.

“10! 25! 50!” And, so it went. Needless to say, this little “joke” got old fast and meetings devolved to the point where we all thought, “I hope Derek is not speaking today.” Unfortunately, he always did speak and everyone continued to keep score, whether consciously or subconsciously.

During one such two-hour meeting the count neared 100. Something had to be done. Instead of Derek’s intended message coming through to the audience, the “ums” seemed to completely obscure his important business communications.

What should be done about this?

 

Stop Saying Um Star Trek

Time to Coach

I thought about this for a bit after one call and felt terrible that one of my peers was unknowingly being mocked due to something that many speakers suffer from, so I called his office.

“Hey, Derek. What did you think of that call?” We chatted for a few minutes. “Derek, I have a question for you. Has anyone ever given you feedback about your speaking style?” “No, Michael, no one has. Why?”

I knew Derek well and I was confident that he wouldn’t mind my ribbing him so I decided to use his filler word of choice in my explanation.

“Derek, um, I want to share something about, um, the way you, um, speak during our calls. Um, you have a tendency to, um, say ‘um’ often. In fact, way too often.”

No one had ever bothered to share this issue with Derek. I was nervous at first, but he took it well. His involvement in our organization and business meetings was too important for his communications problem to be treated as flippantly as it had been.

Derek asked, “What should I do about it?” I inquired if he had ever considered Toastmasters. He hadn’t. I suggested that he seriously consider joining them and added that the company would probably pay for it.

He thanked me with deep sincerity and an also-noticeable degree of embarrassment. I told him that he’d do just fine!

Derek enrolled in Toastmasters shortly after the conversation. I told our boss what I had spoken to Derek about to ensure that the idea would gain traction.

 

Bad Habits Die Hard

And In the End

I shared the conversation with several of the scorekeepers over the next few weeks so that the background games would stop. Improving the habit of using filler words takes time.

At first, Derek’s pauses were more awkward than natural as he focused intently on reducing the “ums” that had infiltrated prior conversations. Sometimes improvement comes after a step or two back. By the time six months had elapsed, he was well on the way to being completely de-ummed.

At one point later that year we were together and discussed what he had been doing. Joining Toastmasters was a seminal moment for him. It had dramatically improved his speaking pattern in several ways and he was grateful that someone had been brave enough to make him aware of this habit. The conference call tracking games were now ancient history.

 

Making It Work … For You

What made this coaching experience successful? First, it started with a clear example of an issue to be resolved. Second, it was addressed during a private conversation because coaching is best done one-on-one as it keeps the recipient from becoming defensive or embarrassed. Third, the approach was rooted in trust, authentic concern and support. Derek had no reason to question my motives for speaking with him despite the levity of the approach I had elected to use.

As a professional, colleague, or leader, one has to remain conscious of what transpires in a given setting. Coaching moments rarely advertise themselves with bright, flashing neon lights. Most of the time, they are more subtle such as in the story above where they may present themselves in a more embarrassing or awkward manner.

True coaches and mentors do not shy away from these opportunities. Rather, they address the situation as a coach or advisor should, directly and candidly with the coachee. More often than not these opportunities develop into a successful endeavor.

It is very important to remain aware of the environment in which you and your colleagues are in. The subtle undertones of office humor may actually be a sign of the need for coaching intervention. The next time you encounter a situation that may require coaching, identify the issue, devise a plan, and, as a team, come up with a solution.

 

Michael Massetti is an Executive Partner with Gartner who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. All opinions are my own.

Additional articles about coaching and leadership from Michael …

From Excellence to Legendary

The 3 plays in 372 days that made Derek Jeter a baseball legend …

 

Prologue

It’s not always easy to identify that moment in a professional athlete’s career when he or she has passed through the threshold of greatness to legend. By the time Michael Jordan finished his 3rd NBA championship, his legend was secure. For Wayne Gretzky in hockey, he transcended from prolific scorer to Stanley Cup Champion in 1984 and his legend was born. Others are defined by extended periods of greatness yet we struggle to find that moment in their career when they took that indisputable step forward.

As he waited to step into the batter’s box before the start of game four of the 2000 World Series against the New York Mets, Derek Jeter’s excellence was already established. By the time he finished his storied career, his iconic plays had been given monikers that all baseball fans knew – “The Flip”, “Mr. November”, “The Dive”, and so on. Like music fans remembering their favorite songs by the titles, Derek’s “Greatest Hits” all had names of their own.

His retirement after the 2014 season started the clock to the inevitable first ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2019. The only question is whether he’ll be voted in unanimously or not (no-one has yet achieved that in baseball).

As he readied himself, his stance, his bat, and his eyes on the pitcher that night no-one had a clue that his indelible mark on MLB’s storied history was about to be stamped on us with surgical precision.

With what was about to transpire over the next 372 days through three epic and game-determining plays, Derek Jeter would go from being an excellent shortstop on the winning-yet-again New York Yankees to a legendary shortstop on yet another dynasty in this amazing franchise’s history.

Why? Let’s explore it some more.

 

Game 4: 2000 World Series

The Yankees were clinging to a two games to one lead over the Mets as game four started at Shea Stadium in the 2000 World Series. The Mets held serve in game three to close the 2-0 gap to within one game of a tied series. Their late rally in game two put a scare in the Yankees – all three games were close. Would the pesky younger NY baseball siblings tie the series and make it that much more pressure-packed?

The Yankees had already won consecutive World Series titles and they were on the verge of winning the third. This game was a pivotal point for them to achieve that goal.

It happens rarely. No one ever expects it. When it happens, since it’s such a rare event, it’s always very emotional and powerful. To do it in the key game in the World Series against your crosstown rival, that’s taking it to an entirely different level.

Derek Jeter hit the very first pitch from Bobby Jones in game four of the 2000 World Series for a home run. Of course, the score was now 1-0 Yankees.

Yankees fans erupted with joy and you could feel the collective sense of Mets fans all being punched in the stomach with that hit. In one play, he turned the game and series into a Yankees 4-1 dominant performance to win their 3rd in a row and 4th in 5 years. Epic in any stretch of baseball that does not already include other Yankees’ dynasties.

 

“The Flip”

The 2001 MLB post-season was played under a dark cloud. Delayed by the terrible events of 9/11, baseball was hoping to generate excitement to help bring the country back together. The Yankees were again pursuing a championship. If successful, this would make 4 in a row.

The Yankees found themselves on the verge of defeat after losing two games at home against the Oakland Athletics. The A’s won two games against formidable Yankees pitching – Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were beat in close games. Losing two games at home and heading to the West Coast is not the script that manager Joe Torre or the team wanted.

Game 4 was another close won. Scoreless through four innings, Jorge Posada hit a home run in the top of the 5th to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. The score remained 1-0 by the time the A’s got up in the bottom of the 7th.

Oakland was threatening the 1-0 ballgame with Mike Mussina pitching a gem. With a runner on first base, Oakland’s Terrence Long hit a ball into the right-field corner with two outs. With Jeremy Giambi rumbling around the bases towards home, the ball thrown by right-fielder Shane Spencer sailed over the heads of two cut-off men … heading towards nowhere land and a potential game-tying run.

Out of nowhere, Derek Jeter appears at a spot on the field near home plate that is nowhere near routine for a shortstop to be at that moment. Albeit, he was! He made an all-time back-handed flip to Jorge Posada to get Giambi out to end the inning and the threat. The Yankees held on to win 1-0 and eventually win the series. Disaster averted.

Jeter’s play not only saved the game, it was an instant classic for ESPN and others to play over and over again that night and to this day. It became known forever as “The Flip.”

Two down, one to go.

 

Mr. November

With the Yankees about to pursue their fifth World Series championship in six years and four in a row in 2001, the story had transformed from one about an all-time Major League Baseball team to a family rivalry.

The only other teams to ever have had this type of streak were the earlier historic versions of the New York Yankees. This group was attempting to stamp a dynasty rating on themselves that only their older siblings could rival. Yankees dynasties of the late 1930’s and early 1950’s had won four and five consecutive World Series, respectively. The team that had won four in the past five years had a chance to elevate themselves into the “greatest ever” debates.

Jeter was in the middle of it all and was poised to put his own mark on his role in this stretch of Yankees dominance as Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig and Ruth had before him. He had already proven himself with four rings, four All Star games, the never-equaled, same-season, All Star Game and World Series MVP awards, and played a leading role each season while hitting .331 over the 4-year stretch that ended in 2001.

3000 hits was years away. He had not yet emerged from “The Dive” with his face bloody. They were both years away at this moment in Derek’s career.

Then, with the unfamiliar position of being behind in the series and barely pulling out the prior win to take the series to 1-2 upon them, Jeter once again is there on center stage.

Joe Buck announced to the television audience what was shown on the big scoreboard – we were now officially playing on November 1. Everyone knew this was unchartered baseball territory.

Who made the moment his and only in the way a player could? Derek Jeter hits the home run that was heard around the world. The first home run ever hit in November in MLB’s history. It was the culmination of the lows and highs of what NYC and the USA had just gone through. Derek resurrected New York City’s spirit out of the horrible feeling that took down The Towers. And the Yankees were tied two games each with the Diamondbacks. Once again, Derek was at center-stage and delivered.

While that series ended with the Yankees losing, Derek’s legend was secure.

 

Cooperstown Bound

First, it was the lead-off home run against the Mets in game four of the 2000 World Series, then, it was “The Flip” in Oakland in the divisional series to save the Yankees from losing the series and then, finally, the walk off home run on November 1, 2001 against the Diamondbacks in game four at Yankee Stadium.

These three plays over the course of 372 days cemented the legend of Derek Jeter.

It was that night, that point in time on November 1, 2001 that one now realized Derek Jeter not only is but has also been an elite, legendary player who has been coming up with epic plays when it was critical for the Yankees his entire career. It’s at this instant, the culmination of 372 days and three larger-than-life moments in Derek’s history as the Yankees shortstop, that Derek Jeter became a baseball legend.

History tells us that Derek continued his greatness for thirteen more seasons – taking the Yankees to two more World Series, winning the final one in 2009. In 2011, Derek put gold plating on his already cemented legend with a home run for his 3000th hit (and went 5-5 that day, knocking in the winning run, too). On his last game ever in Yankee Stadium, he hit the game-winning, walk off hit to put that final exclamation point on his resume.

He finished his career with 3,465 hits – the most ever by a shortstop or by a NY Yankee – and number six all-time. His five World Series rings are second only to Phil Rizzuto, another NY Yankee, for shortstops. Of course, Derek’s #2 was retired by the Yankees.

 

Michael Massetti is a life-long NY Yankees fan and a lover of baseball. In his professional time, he is an Executive Partner with Gartner who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. All opinions are my own.

Never Quit! You never know when you are about to do the best you’ve ever done!! #neverquit

You never know when a lesson in life is going to present itself to you. Keep your ears and eyes open … there are a lot of lessons out there waiting for the right time to present themselves to you!

I tend to be a bit competitive. OK, for those of you who are already guffawing, quite competitive, especially with myself. I track every meter on my rowing machine (21 million and counting) and every mile on my bike (5000 and counting). The Strava mobile app gives me even more data – specific segments that are timed with all-time best and age group data. As a data “geek” … I thrive on this stuff and love it! Ask anyone who knows me well.

When I cycle my 20+ miles on the bike trails through Redmond, Woodinville, and Bothell in Washington I usually ride with a simple credo: “Pass. Do not get passed.” If I were to count, I’m sure I’m at 99.9%+ on this – passing overwhelimingly more than ever getting passed

Today, I caught site of a rider with about 5 miles left in my 23 mile ride. I was a bit tired having pushed hard for 2 timed segments already and fought into the “wind” for 12 miles. Nonetheless, I set my sights on him. This type of competition keeps me going, no matter how tired I might be. “You’re all mine, dude, here I come!!!

I closed the gap by about 50%, never catching him. I don’t think he shifted gears once, he stayed in his gear and pedaled steadily for the duration that I had scoped him out. How did he do that so well?

cycling

I failed. I failed miserably.

I tried hard, but could not get closer than about 50 yards (meters) from him. I was very disappointed and glided in the last 1/4 of a mile. “What the hell? Why couldn’t I catch him?”

But, after further review, all was not lost. I got to my car and cooled down, I looked at my ride statistics on Strava. Actually, not bad at all. 19.3 mph average for 23 miles, the first half at 18.9 mph and the last 11.5 miles at 19.7. I was pumping for that second half.

Then I checked my segment times. I set two personal all-time bests. The first segment (0.9 miles) I was ready for and focused. I beat my best time by 10 seconds. (See my earlier post.) I still need 5 seconds better to break into the top 5! Believe me, I’m painfully aware.

The second segment, only 1/2 mile, I beat my best by 5 seconds and wound up with the 4th best time in the 55+ age bracket.

So, in my defeat (alleged defeat, that is), I wound up setting an unplanned and unexpected personal best. Not too shabby, when all is said and done.

success-failure

It Ain’t What You Thought!

My entire body chemistry changed once I realized what I had done. I went from “How did I not catch him? He must be way younger than me.” to “Holy cow, I blew my best time away!” in a matter of seconds. Any hint of defeat was annihilated by the exhilaration of realizing that, without even trying, I set a personal best. HOLY COW (with emphasis for Phil Rizzuto – the long-time Yankees broadcaster)!!! I had no idea …

Remember, when you do your best at what you can do, you NEVER are a loser. You never lose. You did the absolute best you’ve ever done! That is AWESOME!

It doesn’t get much better than that. Revel in the moment. Enjoy what you have done. You ROCKED!

ciao…mam

Michael Massetti is a global high-tech supply chain executive who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. He is also a life-long athlete who continuously pushes himself to be competitive.

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