The Practice of a Leadership Pre-Season
The Practice of a Leadership Pre-Season
Although sports analogies can be a bit over-used when it comes to establishing sound business practices, I believe there are principles in the world of sports that can help strengthen what we do in business. The structure of seasons is one of those principles which can serve as a powerful, personal development plan for today’s leaders.
In a previous blog, I presented the idea of a leadership off-season. The approach is to intentionally schedule time for rest and recalibration. Rest provides the necessary break from the fast-paced challenges of the day and allows you to clear your mind. Jesus Himself knew rest would be important to us when He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” He not only spoke about it, but He practiced it in His own life. Recalibrating ourselves is the practice of assessing your current path to determine if you are on track. Examining ourselves and considering key areas we need to strengthen or adjust are important steps in developing as a leader. An engineered off-season is one way to help you grow.
If you follow sports you know that most off-seasons are followed by a pre-season. This is a time where teams, and individuals can test and balance new methods for performing in their respective profession. It is also a time where coaching staffs can evaluate players to determine who is ready for the upcoming season. The same approach can be applied to our leadership development as we look for opportunities to practice new skills and techniques. When you engineer your own pre-season, you have a chance to practice and promote the skills you are developing in a way that can make the change more permanent in your life.
Practice is important for shaping your impact as a leader. Whether you are trying to improve your ability to cast vision, offer coaching, or focus your team on results, practicing the skills you see as important are critical. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul encourages people that “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (Colossians 3:23-24 NASB). Working heartily means “out of the soul”, or with extreme excellence. How can you be excellent at something if you don’t practice? Many of the best athletes in the world are known for their inspiring performances, however, when you read about their back story, you often find someone dedicated to practice. Whether it is hours in the gym, or the batting cage, or the track, those pursing excellence are committed to practice.
When we first went public at Mattress Firm, many of our executives were still learning the language of Wall Street. One of my peers was eager to strengthen his ability to not only speak the language, but more effectively lead his team in light of the changing landscape of the company. Over the course of several months, I noticed him becoming more vocal and engaged as we developed our plans around the public offering and our growth strategy. He was obviously studying the markets outside of normal business hours and he was practicing how to apply what he learned in our meetings. It started with small groups, but eventually carried over into larger meetings with outside investors in attendance. His growth and understanding of this new dynamic in our business was helpful to his team as his direct reports began to think differently about running our business. His team appreciated the education and it made him a better leader for our company. A pre-season mindset places practice as a priority and enables leaders to sharpen their skills.
Another key component of an effective pre-season is the art of promoting your intention with developing new skills. It’s the idea of engaging someone, or multiple someones to help with your skill development. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul addresses a variety of spiritual gifts in Romans 12:8. Specifically, he challenges those gifted with leadership to “lead with diligence” (NASB). In this context, diligence is eagerness and a sense of urgency. When we engage trusted people around us to help with developing our leadership skills we are able to maintain attention and accountability to our growth.
When I served as Chief Merchandising Officer, I was responsible for negotiating ongoing supplier agreements for our organization. Our agreements where normally longer-term arrangements with substantial economic impact for both our company, and our suppliers. I knew to be an effective negotiator I was going to need to improve my assertiveness. Coming from a sales background I have always been more interested in pleasing people. I was concerned this natural tendency would limit my negotiating impact. As I studied how to develop the skill, I enlisted one of my team members to debrief negotiating sessions and grade my performance. When I made it clear to my team I was looking to develop this skill and I asked for help, my progress became evident to everyone. Identifying this skill and using the pre-season mindset to apply it made a big difference in my results.
Engineering a pre-season for the sake of developing your leadership skills can be a productive practice. How committed are you to leading with excellence and diligence where you are today? Are you willing to invest time now in your growth for the sake of the benefit it can have to your time later? The very best know the value of putting in the work and I pray you see it as well.