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Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

4 Easy Leadership Tips From Coach Bill Walsh

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I love to read books on leadership.

The latest one I finished (which I borrowed from the awesome San Francisco Library) was The Score Takes Care of Itself by Steve Jamison & Craig Walsh…about the leadership style of football coach Bill Walsh.

Why should you listen to Coach Walsh: well, among other things, he invented a new offense now widely used in football and turned the worst team in the league (the San Francisco 49ers) into Super Bowl champs (in just two years).

There were four leadership techniques that Walsh shared that I found most useful:

Four Leadership Tips From Bill Walsh

1) Making The Best Of What You Have

“What assets do we have right now that we’re not taking advantage of?”

E.g: Walsh took inventory of his Bengals’ struggling offense which was undersized (meaning running the ball was a big challenge) and not capable of passing for long yardage (quarterback Virgil Carter could not throw very far) (though he could throw decently for short yardage).

Walsh then took stock of what he had to work with in terms of field real estate and had an uh-huh realization that  they had 53.5 yards of width on the field (about half the distance of the length of the field) and the availability of 5 potential receivers.

Thus the West Coast Offense was born: the idea of throwing more often, to more receivers, for short yardage.

2) Good Leaders Give a Healthy Mix of Positive Criticism (not just negative/constructive criticism).

“If you’re growing a garden, you need to pull out the weeds, but flowers will die if all you do is pick weeds. They need sunshine and water. People are the same.

They need criticism, but they also require positive substantive language and information and true support to truly blossom.”

3) Good Leaders Look For These Five Qualities In Their Hires

  1. A fundamental knowledge of the area they’ve been hired to manage
  2. A relatively high — but not manic — level of energy and enthusiasm and a personality that is upbeat, motivated and animated.
  3. The ability to discern talent in potential employees.
  4. An ability to communicate in a relaxed yet authoritative — but not authoritarian — manner.
  5. Unconditional loyalty to both you and other staff members.

4) The Four Most Powerful Words In Leadership

“I believe in you” (or equivalent words of your own).

Walsh writes that even Joe Montana (who already had a bunch of confidence) benefited from his coach telling him he believed in him.

As a student of leadership myself, I strongly agree: providing confidence to your team (or friend or spouse) is perhaps the most powerful lever you can pull to help them optimize their performance.

And Walsh adds: And nobody will ever come back to you later and say “thank you” for expecting too little of them.

Note: If you want to read more about developing leadership, check out my other leadership articles.

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Friday, April 30th, 2010

3 Tips To Developing Your Talent (From The World’s Secret Talent Hotbeds)

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I just finished reading an amazing book called The Talent Code (I recommend it to any person wanting to further develop their talent).

The author Daniel Coyle visited the the talent development programs responsible for some of the top talent in the world, such as:

  • Moscow for tennis
  • Soccer in Sao Paolo, Brazil
  • Dallas, Texas for a vocal studio
  • A music academy in New York’s Adirondacks
  • Baseball in the Caribbean

But you don’t have to attend one of these talent pools to improve yourself.

Coyle says that the key to talent development is a neural insulator that we all have inside us called myelin.

He argues that every human skill — whether its leadership, computer programming, sports, music or anything else — is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying signals.

And it is myelin that wraps layers around these fibers…and there are certain things we can do to increase the thickness of this myelin, resulting in faster and more accurate movement and thoughts.

He recommends a few approaches to increasing your myelin (and thus your talent).

The 3 Keys To Talent Development

1) Deep Practice

Focus your practice on repeating core skills, attend to your mistakes, practice those skills again.

“Struggle is not an option: it’s a biological requirement.”

The “Ten-Year, Ten-Thousand Hour Rule” is indeed valid — This finding from 1899 stated that world-class expertise in every domain (whether it’s cello, chess or tennis) requires roughly a decade or 10,000 hours (that would be about 3 hours a day, every day for a decade).

It’s the Ten-year rule that is often used in developing talent in young people (many parents try to time the beginning of a child’s practice of a skill to be about 10 years before that child will peak physically.

That’s why some children are best to start practicing certain skills when they’re 5 to 10 years old).

Did you know that comedian Jerry Seinfeld practiced his first Tonight Show set 200 times beforehand, according to this awesome profile of Seinfeld in the New York Times.

Overall, Coyle identifies three tips for improving practice:

  1. Chunk it Down — Break down the components of the skills into as many parts as you can (and practice those slowly).
  2. Repetition –  Repeat the chunked-down components around three hours a day.
  3. “Feel It” — You should feel in tune with what you’re practicing, especially to identify the mistakes you make (so as to immediately work on correcting them).

2) Ignition

Coyle points out that ignition is key to developing talents — it’s a secret source of energy that we can tap into.

Some examples:

“I Want To Be Like Them”

There are examples of entire countries being “ignited” by the display of talent of one individual.

For example, in South Korea’s case it was on May 18th, 1998 when Se Ri Pak won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship — she was the first to do so from her country.

Pak “ignited” many women in her country as shown by stats over the following 10 years later: by 2007, 45 players from South Korean had one about one-third of the LPGA Tour events.

Anna Kournikova is Coyle’s other example of  “I want to be like them.”

That same summer of 1998, Kournikova reached the Wimbledon semifinals and became an overnight sensation (her good looks certainly helped).

Russia was ignited and within 10 years the World Tennis Association Top 100 was home to five times as many Russian tennis players.

“Primal Cues”

Ignition can come in other forms — one study showed that an extremely high percentage of political leaders (Ghandi, Caesar, Napoleon, Bill Clinton) had one thing in common: they had lost their parents at a very early age.

Coyle reasons that the leader group’s loss of a parent triggered a primal cue that they were no longer safe…and that unlocked a massive energy source for them to tap into.

He points out that of history’s fastest runners, for example, they were on average the fourth child of 4.6 children — in other words, there is a pattern of the younger you are in your family, the faster you can run.

In this case, the primal cue is” You’re behind, better keep up!”

3) Master Coaches

Finally, Coyle says that a “master coach” is key to developing talent.

He says that a master coach possesses the following virtues:

  • Vast knowledge
  • Perceptiveness
  • A habit of providing short and rapid feedback
  • High moral standards (honesty)

I was thrilled that Coyle identified John Wooden, my favorite coach/teacher, as an example of a master coach.

I hope you enjoyed these highlights on developing talents…but I only just scratch the surface of Coyle’s amazing book.

Buy/read it!

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