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  • Jack Fleming

Coaching — Can You Create Uncertainty?

I have read hundreds, maybe thousands articles, books and seen clinics on leaderships and what often comes up is authenticity. The consistency in leadership style should be a reflection of your personality — that if you yell one day at practice you should yell everyday. However with seamless predictability, comes comfort. I do believe we cannot be so rigid, so vanilla in our approach. Consider this quote from Robert Greene in the 48 Laws of Power. Law 17 — Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability:

“Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately unpredictable. Behaviour that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off- balance and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves.”

Steve Kerr appears for the most part, to be the calmest coach in the NBA. Smiling, having fun and not taking things too seriously. Then there is a dark side, see video below.

“He’s got a hidden temper,” King says. “All of us have tempers, but you don’t expect it from a guy like him, a guy who’s articulate, a guy who’s so even-keeled. When you watch him and talk to him, he’s got a great sense of humour, he has a great understanding of society, things that are going on in the world. He’s very intelligent, but beneath all that, man, I tell you, there’s a competitive nature. There’s a rage there, and he can control it, but he wants to win at everything he does.”

Now maybe Steve Kerr might lose control of his emotions occasionally, but if he just sat in his chair every game for the whole season would referees take advantage of his calm nature? Of course they would, and so do players.

Coaches Are Actors

In The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh, he explain that great leaders are not necessarily predictable people. The knowledge that there is a hardness inside you can have a very sobering effect on those who might otherwise be sloppy, those who occasionally need to be reminded of your policies and practices. Robert Greene states in The Laws of Human Nature that “people are always trying to read the motives behind your actions and use your predictability against you.”

Being a younger coach, we seek not to replicate those of the Bob Knight era — constantly ranting, raving and carrying on like a pork chop. No disrespect to Bob Knight of course. You look over at the team who is always on the sideline running, or copping an earful with no direction but merely blatant criticism. It gets old, and the millennials of today do not really care. They will go find another club, coach or sport. However I have definitely fallen before to the standard of too soft, too nice and too predictable. We want to strive to keep our team feeling like a ‘one point underdog’ and keep complacency at bay. Walsh said “you must be able to make and carry out harsh, and at times, ruthless decisions in a manner that is fast, firm and fair.” It doesn’t always come out, but it’s there.

I’m sure you have seen or been the coach who has kicked their team out of practice, called practice off early or left themselves. Maybe your initial reaction is to think how ‘emotional or irrational’, but sometimes do you need to go off script? It can be short lived, but a reminder that there is no growth in the comfort zone.

On Bill Belichick: — The unique ability to be incredibly personal and compassionate with his players, but simultaneously ruthless and in the interest of what’s best for the team.

Walsh tells the story of Ron Singleton, a left tackle who amongst previous contractual negotiation issues was verbally abuse to staff members, a serious breach in Walsh’s standard of performance which demanded respect to all members of the 49er organisation. Walsh packed up all of his gear into a cardboard box and delivered it to his house, he was never to return again. The “cardboard box” incident become a focal point, a reminder throughout the 49er organisation of how seriously the standards of performance were to be taken.

Tools in the Toolbox

Your ability to be unpredictable is necessary, as levers for motivating and influencing the behaviour of your team. As Walsh says “sometimes you snarl, sometimes you you bite, sometimes you smile and give a thumbs up. There’s a little bit of actor in all good leaders.” You must be able to gauge the temperature of your team and use those tools to your advantage.

Consider the following questions:

  1. Does your team need a reminder that maybe they have not arrived, that they aren’t quite as great as they think just yet?

  2. Does your team need a boost ? That their progress has not been reflected in their results just yet but it is right there.

  3. Are you facing an opponent your group has previously pummelled? Keep complacency at bay and strive to be a one point underdog.

  4. Are you being consistently too unpredictable? Are you taking your team on an emotional roller coaster? Understand use your tools infrequently enough that they are effective.

I would love to know your opinions on this, as it is very subjective and I’m sure those with many years more experience than me can share their knowledge on taking a hard edge occasionally. Let me know what you think! Good to be back.

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