An excerpt from my newly released book “Entitled To Nothing.”
The book is available at entitledtonothingbook.com.
What They Need Vs. How You Feel
We were down 19 with about 5:00 to go in the first half when I called that third timeout. The guys came over to the huddle, and I just laughed. I couldn’t help it. I said “Wow, guys, what did you eat before the game today. We look like we’re playing with a football out there. Is everyone okay?“ I was literally laughing in disbelief at how bad we were playing. I wasn’t really sure what to do, but I knew adding more tension to the situation wouldn’t help. I wanted them to laugh at themselves. I thought back to practice and said, “Look, I know who we are, and this isn’t us. We are a lot better than this. I’ve seen it every day. So just promise me you’ll keep competing for each other no matter what the score is, and I’m sure we’ll get back to being ourselves.” I didn’t make any drastic changes or declarations.
just tried to re-center our team and get them to relax. I really trusted who we were every day, and I wanted them to do the same.
It was an essential lesson in leadership for me that day, and it really came out of necessity. I didn’t know what to do, really, but I knew the team had earned my trust with their approach. What they needed in that moment was more important than what I felt, and my leadership needed to reflect that. It’s easy to get that one back‐ wards, with our emotion ruling the message. Watching my team get worked for 15 minutes wasn’t a lot of fun, and I experienced a range of negative emotions. I wasn’t feeling very good. But my team didn’t need to know that. What they needed was something to help them get out of their funk. Something to break the tension, not add to it. They needed a reset, and a reminder that I believed in them.
Think about it when your team is struggling. You have to handle how you feel, and negative emotions in a bad situation are natural. But you have to lead based on what your team needs and put your own feelings aside. Leading with your emotions, while it might feel natural to you, is not productive. What your team needs is so much more important, and generally not tied to your emotions. It’s one of the truly great challenges of leadership. Set aside how you are feeling and figure out what your team needs, and they will respond.
Finally, after that third timeout in the first half everything started getting back to normal. We started to play a lot looser while picking up the intensity a bit, and we chipped our way back into the game. We got back to being ourselves and got more comfortable. We finished the half with a flurry, and when we hit a three at the half‐ time buzzer it cut our deficit to seven.
At halftime our locker room felt like the winning one, even though we were down a touchdown. Our guys were feeling like themselves again. I just said, “Fellas, they made a huge mistake. They never put us away. This game is ours!” I wanted to feed off the positive emotion we had built.
We went out and played great in the second half, and Coast Guard put up a good fight. It was a great college basketball game. We won a close game in the final minute, one of the more satisfying results we had all year. And a win, because of how it happened, that I’ll never forget.
The lesson that day was a great one. You want your players to trust you, but to get there you have to trust them. I trusted my team based on what I had seen us do every day, and 15 minutes of awful play wasn’t going to change that. I knew that practice every day revealed our true character. I had to trust them.
When your team struggles, figure out what they need. Remove your emotion from the situation and focus on their true character. It’s not about how you feel, it’s about what they need. It is an incredibly challenging and essential balance to find as a leader.