Championships Are Won On The Bus – Grow Great Daily Brief #165 – March 6, 2019

Last Friday NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke with at the MIT Sports Analytics Conference. The topic? The mental health of the players.

Silver reported that social media and headphones are impacting the professional athletes, sometimes making them feel more anxious and isolated. Players fly or board buses with headphones affixed and interactions aren’t what they once were.

Heads down. Music in their ears. Scrolling through their social media.

During the conversation Silver recalls Isaiah Thomas telling him,

“Championships are won on the bus.”

I recently watched a 2014 documentary – The Hornet’s Nest – about a father and son who were embedded with troops in Afganistan. Like most other wartime military documentaries, it’s evident that the soldiers are fighting for each other. Band of brothers is a real thing.

Our lives are enriched by the deep connection we have with comrades, co-workers, family members and the other people in our lives. When those connections begin to slip, so do we.

The NBA Players Association is so serious about the mental health of their members they launched a mental health and wellness initiative last May. In spite of the multi-million dollar contracts, the jet-set lifestyle and the other perks that come with being a professional athlete…these people endure constant scrutiny, criticism and glorification. It’s easy to see how the noise could be overwhelming and foil the best attempts to have peace.

Last week a local radio team on the number 1 station in Dallas traveled one week with the Dallas Stars NHL team. They’ve done it for 14 seasons now. This is a team, like most, with their own team plane, built with every possible amenity to make the players comfortable. These radio hosts get to experience world-class travel just like the athletes, staying at 5-star hotels and dining at the finest restaurants. When they returned they talked about how exhausting it was to be in 4 hotels over 5 days. And they only had to focus on doing a 3-hour radio show each day. Proof once again that all that glitters ain’t necessarily gold.

We’re not operating professional sports franchises. Some of us may want to one day (not me), but we’re operating businesses and organizations that aren’t likely so high flying as the Dallas Stars. Or the Golden State Warriors. Or the Boston Red Sox. What does any of this mean for us?

Just this – isolation is destructive to happiness. And unhappiness is counterproductive to high performance.

Workplace dynamics – or the lack of them – is worth a closer look. That includes how people are set up. The open office concept is increasingly under fire for failing to do the very thing it was designed to do – help people connect and collaborate.

Perhaps people need their own space in order to more deeply connect. Not hard to understand. Look at your home. Inside our families, we all need our space, time for ourselves. Then we yearn to come together. Imagine your entire family having to occupy one big room, together all the time? Food for thought.

But the point is how deeply can we care about each other.

I focus frequently on communication, connection, collaboration, and culture. At the heart of all 4 of these important components is COMPASSION. It’s about our willingness and ability to care about one another.

It’s why I find myself constantly telling folks about Tom Rath’s 2006 book, Vital Friends.

The sub-title is, “The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without.” Truth is, the people who surround us, the people we care about and the people who care about us have a dramatic impact on our lives.

Team chemistry. Living in DFW where we have every major professional sport represented we get to hear lots of coaches and pro athletes talk. Beyond the X’s and O’s of each sport, there is a lot of talk about how well the players gel. General managers and coaches are always trying to find players who have skills to help the team, but also humans who will fit in. It’s harder than it looks, likely complicated by the things NBA Commissioner Silver pointed out.

People working elbow to elbow day after day, with headphones on, checking social media, posting narratives to depict their lives as something different than what they truly are — increasing their sense of being imposters, amplifying their need to find social acceptance on Instagram – and perhaps resulting in a deeper loneliness than they know how to manage.

You’re the leader. What do you do?

I don’t have THE answer. Today I hope to help you give it some headspace. Think about it. Look around your organization. Listen. What do you observe? What’s working in your opinion? What isn’t working?

I can tell you that short-term trendy solutions are crap, sparked largely by coaching or consulting companies selling a solution. Climbing walls, rope courses, and other adventure-based team building exercises may have their place, but I’m not a fan. Artificial setting designed to overcome day-after-day, hour-after-hour routine just seem shallow and empty to me. I wouldn’t be impressed if a leader asked me to spend a morning, an afternoon or an entire day doing such things. You may though. And that’s fine. I’m not opposed to these things. I’m just opposed to leaders or bosses thinking those are going to fix a broken culture. They won’t.

Let me slam my generation for a moment. 😉 Butts in the seat meant work was being done. That’s why too many older leaders whine about younger generation workers. And why an awful lot of them are opposed to virtual workers. If they can’t see people where they’re supposed to be stationed, then they incorrectly assume productivity is being hampered.

Truth is, time spent connecting, sharing and learning about each other may have an incalculable ROI. When employees roam around the visit with each other (sure, moderation in all things), they’re not necessarily wasting time. They’re communicating and connecting. Those must happen before collaboration. And all 3 are vital to forming your culture.

I know this. Leaders who foster the first 3 C’s build the best cultures on the planet. People are happier. They enjoy doing battle with others. Fighting along side others. That’s what time on that bus represents. Our ability to learn to care about people, know people and trust people. If you can’t foster that in your organization…you’ll never be a champion.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!


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