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Creating "A" Players... in a Tired-Cranky-Covid-Environment

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

During my last 4 coaching calls with executive clients, each leader told me stories about how their people were getting tired and their leaders were spending increasing amounts of time navigating people and conflict issues!

COVID-19 uncertainty is wearing people down and without get-away-holidays to refresh the soul some people are showing interesting symptoms. How do we help them rebound? How do we help our team get back up? What's the remedy?

Listening more?... yes. Putting out people fires?... yes, but we are already doing these things. What new, next process could help refresh our people and get them through this extended COVID craziness?

After playing many seasons in this world (on and off the ice), many of them revolving around high performance teams, organizations and businesses, I have noticed the following tendency when coaches and leaders become tired:

When coaching players (people) over the long run, many of us tend to increasingly focus on finding faults and noticing things that disappoint. Suddenly, through tired eyes, the grass looks greener over there, and we wish that we could have those other players from that other team. From a distance, they look better; they look more energized; they seem more mature; they seem to be handling Covid better than my people.

Here’s a fresh idea to try to minimize that tendency. In their fine book, The Art of Possibility, Rosamund and Benjamin Zander suggest that most people compare their lot in life to that of other people. They point out that even the system for grading in school says little about the mastery of the material. Its main purpose is rather to compare one student against another. The Zanders then ask an important and controversial question: “What if we started people with an 'A'.?What if we gave everyone an 'A'?”

Michelangelo suggested a new way to approach old work. He recommended that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within.

The Zanders first applied this visionary concept to education, suggesting it would be pointless to compare one child to another (or one player to the other). Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of each child’s developing skills, mastery, and self-expression.

The Zanders call this practice giving an “A.”

As always, during our blog/e-newsletters we focus less on blaming other people (hoping they will change) and more on exploring how we can adjust or change. Enhancing the energy of our team happens less from hoping that our people will wake-up differently one day, and more from freshening up how we see our people and how we can re-energize our environment.

"High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation."

Jack and Garry Kinder

Looking back on the tactics of some of my best coaches, they all seem to have had one thing in common. Each of these coaches that I wanted to go through the wall for believed more in me than I believed in myself (even through my grumpy days). Leaders, holding our people accountable is critical, but accountability always works best within an atmosphere of positive people-expectations. Within our leadership development training we believe that leaders See things differently. Leaders deciding to See their people differently might enjoy Seeing how giving an 'A' framing could adjust our current sight lines.

According to the Zanders, "The practice of giving an 'A' can transport your relationships from the world of measurement into the world of possibility." During this tired season of COVID, this starting with an 'A' concept might end up refreshing both you and your people.

"When you give an 'A' you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards [grumpy employees], but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone." [Leaders choose to See things differently].

"When we give an 'A' we can be open to a perspective different than our own. For, after all, it is only to a person to whom you have granted an 'A' that you will really listen, and it is in that rare instance when you have ears for another person that you can truly appreciate a fresh point of view.

In the measured context of our every day lives, the grades we hand out often rise and fall with our moods and opinions. We may disagree with someone on one issue, lower their grade, and never quite hear what they have to say again. Each time the grade is altered, the new assessment, like a box, defines the limits of what is possible between us.

The practice of giving an 'A' both invents and recognizes a universal desire in people to contribute to others, no matter how many barriers there are to its expression. We can choose to validate the apathy of a boss, a player, or a high school student and become resigned ourselves, or we can choose to honor in them an unfulfilled yearning to make a difference.

In the absence of vision, we are each driven by our own agenda, finding people whose interests match ours, and inattentive to those with whom we appear to have little in common. We automatically judge our players, workers and loved ones against our standards, inadvertently pulling the wind out of their sails. But with our new practice of giving an ongoing 'A' in our relationships, we can align ourselves with others, because that 'A' declares and sustains a life enhancing partnership."

Three closing thoughts:

  • During your next Zoom or Phone connection with your team, try it... as you click or dial, in your mind say to yourself, for this conversation I will start by giving this person (these people) an "A".

  • Giving an 'A' increases your vital Positive to Negative ratio.

  • During this long, tiring bout of COVID, the first 'A' that we may want to give could be... to ourselves.

Would you like me to coach you or your team today? Contact me!

Here is what a recent manager said after our training last week...

Hi Ryan, I wanted to send you a personal message to thank you for the training session with our management team, it has left an indelible impact on me. I have booked meetings with my staff team over the next month and will be weaving in the concepts gleaned in the trainings.

My leadership style has always been one of coaching and mentoring. The idea of "if you can name it you can fix it" and importance of language is such an important reminder for leaders.

It is easy to get caught in the business of work and not take time to pause and be deliberate. To build sound self awareness through the active practice of positive brain muscle memory. I hope that these concepts can spread through the agency like yeast in a rising bread.

Want this for your team? Contact me!

Now your action step.

Send me a note to with two quick pieces of info.

1- Who will you give an “A” to this week? SEE their best, coach their best.

2- How can this concept change the way that you think about your TEAMS energy?

Have an awesome week. I give you an “A”!

The Art of Possibility Rosamund and Benjamin Zander Harvard Business School Press Boston Mass. 2000, pieces of pages 25 through 36.

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