Sunday, September 28, 2008

Slow Coach

I've had 2 memorable occasions to witness the dramatic turnaround that can happen when a bad leader is replaced by a really good one. I'm hoping for a third, in our next Presidential election.

When I took an ill-advised turn in sales, one of our discussions during training was that roughly 15% of people would buy no matter what we said to them. They were committed to buy from the time they accepted the appointment. Roughly 15% of people weren't going to buy no matter what we said to them. It was our job to identify these people and stop wasting all our time as soon as possible. The remaining 70% in the middle were neither committed nor uncommitted. These were the people affected by our salesmanship, demeanor, and the ones we were pitching.

Somewhat like a bell curve, I've found this proportion, to some degree, to be in play in a lot of things. Some parents are extremely bad, some are extremely good, but roughly 70-80% are "normal". When they have "normal" kids all goes well. Some kids will turn out well regardless of parenting, some kids will turn out badly regardless of parenting. Kids in the middle will be either fine, great, or bad depending on which parents they get matched up with.

In sports, most teams get a perfectly reasonable coach. Some get exceptional coaches and go on to fame and fortune. Some reasonable coaches get exceptional players with similar results. Sometimes the great players overlap the great coaches and we talk about them for decades. Sometimes perfectly reasonable players get a rather bad coach. This happened to my high school volleyball team.

As a freshman, we shared the training gym with varsity players and watched some of their games. Our team consistently lost and our coach would berate the players publicly. Some cried. At games. They all played hard, but it just wasn't enough. The next year, we thankfully hired a new coach. It was evident from the first day of training that things were different this year. There was more structure - not just physical punishment training but physical training in court coverage patterns. We didn't just pass balls back and forth, we ALWAYS passed them to the setter's position (or rather, we tried; there's a reason I turned back to swimming). And we got shouted at, but with encouragement. If someone needed correction it was done without humiliation. The result? The varsity team, comprised mostly of the same players as the previous year with a couple freshman(!!) added, went to state and did respectably. The same players, the same drive, new coach. The coaches had a different vision and different priorities. The team went from last in league to one of the top.

In seventh grade, I escaped from band and joined the chorus. It was chaos. We gave one of the most embarrassing concerts ever suffered through by parents and singing kids of the generation. It was hard to pin down exactly what went wrong when the answer was everything. No one died or fell off bleachers, but that's the best you can say of it. The next year, we thankfully hired a new choir teacher. There was class discipline from day one. We learned to cut off at the same time. We learned how to form proper vowels and stay on pitch. We sang interesting and challenging music. The teacher formed 2 additional choruses and ran them well. Our school musicals were terrific. Exactly the same group of kids, entirely different outcome. I don't think I was the only kid to be flabbergasted by the difference. The parents were thrilled.

Sometimes people toss around the idea of how one guy, even in the top role, can so profoundly affect a country. Well, some call the effects of a really charismatic leader the "Cult of Personality". I posit that our current president has presided over a culture of fear - I think I'll call him a "fearfulist". Keeping the populace in a constant state of fear, not quite terror, enough to function at a subsistence level, but not relaxed enough to quit the fight/flight reaction and think long term. Keep presiding over crises that must be *attended to NOW!!!* and threaten anyone who doesn't like their proposed solution with being unpatriotic. While they are masterful at doing this particular manipulation, they seem a little slow on the uptake in just about every other aspect. Bullies can be clever and effective as bullies without being smart. I still haven't figured out how that works, but there it is. And without hesitation I would call Bush and Cheney and their administration one of the worst ever. Partly due to malfeasance and partly due to incompetence all of which they've made people too afraid to call them on.

That the populace goes along with this doesn't make them evil or dumb. It means that the leadership sucks. And roughly 15% on either side is unpersuadeable. But the 70% in the middle is critical, and needs, from my perspective, to think of how good things can be if we give up the fear.

What I'm hoping for in the next president is one who looks past the fear and into the future. Exactly the platform Obama proffers. I do honestly think that with the same populace and the same congress with a different leader at the helm we can completely turn the country around. Maybe not as dramatically as in the case of volleyball and choir, but we can start the process: stop being bullies; start being allies; maintain our infrastructure; strengthen our international standing. I've seen how one person can make the difference. Obama may not be Alexander the Macedonian or Peter the Great or even JFK. But he can rouse an American crowd like no one we've seen in decades. He's open to new ideas and he respects people with expertise and believes in science. Better, he believes in the American Dream. He's lived the American Dream. And unlike the current administration, doesn't want to pull up the ladder after him once he gets there, but wants to make sure the American Dream applies to everyone. And a coach who is guided by that notion, is one I want to put in charge.


Anonymous said...

what a refreshing difference it has been to dream about having a president I can truly respect. I thought politics were lost to us forever, never to change for the better. Obama's going to inherit a crap sandwich, at least he'll try to change our lot instead of just fill the pockets of his oil buddies.


CrankyOtter said...

Sing it out sister.