March Madness

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- WARNING! I’m about to talk about sports … maybe the March Madness title gave that away, but maybe you are so into your “League of Legends” game you didn’t notice, or perhaps you’ve been out ‘LARPing’ all day and your helmet hat blocked your view of the top of the page.

Whatever the case, you’ve been warned.

The 2016 NCAA College Basketball National Championship Tournament (aka March Madness) is in full swing. First weekend’s down, and just 16 teams remain from the field of 68 (On Wisconsin!). This is one of my favorite times of year. There are literally countless leadership lessons we can learn from past and present coaches, players and teams, and I enjoy watching the leadership as much as I enjoy watching the competition. These coaches take a bunch of 20-something individuals with four-year commitments to their teams (usually), and make them winners … sound familiar? There’s so much to learn here. I love, love, love it!

I won’t get into a debate over the greatest-of-all-time in college basketball coaches, but a man named John Wooden won 10 national championships in 11 years, including seven in a row. His teams once won 88 games without a loss over two-and-a-half years. Maybe there have been better, but certainly he was great.

Wooden was so great that in the 1970s a couple of researchers (Ronald Gallimore and Roland Tharp) decided to analyze his methods. Their study is fascinating and was recently revised. If you’re interested in leadership and/or basketball, it’s time well spent.

I recently stumbled on their work in a book, “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. There’s lots of stuff we can talk about from the study and the book, but today I’d like to make just one quick observation.

According to the study, which charted more than 2,300 “discrete acts of teaching,” less than 7 percent of the things Wooden said to his players were compliments. Similarly, less than 7 percent of the things he said to his players were “expressions of displeasure.” In the parlance of professional military education, I think we’d call those carrots and sticks. By contrast, 75 percent of his “acts of teaching” were simply that … teaching … pure information.

Since I learned this, I can’t stop thinking about it. One of the greatest coaches of all time spent three quarters of his time simply passing on his knowledge to his players. Not discipline, not motivation, not “carrots” or “sticks,” just information.

We spend a lot of time talking to our Air Force leaders about motivating and disciplining, about “carrots and sticks.” We preach to you about what it takes to get people to want to be great or what to do when they fail to be great, but maybe … just maybe … we spend too much time on that. Maybe the greatest lesson we can learn from one of the greatest coaches of all time is that information and teaching are really the key to success.

Maybe we should spend every minute of every day trying to empty what’s in our brain bucket into the brain buckets of our Airmen. Maybe if we spent more time teaching, and less time trying to teach ourselves the secrets of motivation, the motivation would take care of itself. Maybe if we bend our every will on ensuring our Airmen have the training (and resources) they need to learn their craft and be awesome at it, we’d find our job mostly done.

Maybe our Airmen need to be taught more than they need to be led?

Maybe, just maybe, when teaching and leadership are done right, they are mostly one-and-the-same!