Great coaching creates great organizations. Be careful not to judge your players too soon.
I was an aspiring advertising agency exec on a pretty fast track but I’d just been fired off our biggest account, BP, at the client’s request.
It was 1983, I was 31 years old, and I was inconsolable. I “knew” I was a goner. Agencies usually cannot afford to keep someone that is not assigned to an account. I had two little kids and one on the way and couldn’t afford to lose my job. What was I going to do?
So by the time our CEO, Jim Johnson, called me into his office a few days later I was no longer a “deer in the headlights”, I looked like the deer after it was hit.
Jim said, “We’ve decided to keep and reassign you. Go out and get new business for us.”
I remember being silent for a while until Jim finally said to me, “You got anything to say?”
I said, “Well, clearly I like your decision, in fact I’m very grateful but...... um......why?”
He laughed and told me that he’d talked it over with our chairman in New York and they came up with the plan together. I had worked on a few projects with Mike (the chair) and so I asked, “What did Mike say?”
“He said, ‘God’s not done with Tim yet.’ ”
That one sentence sticks with me in so many ways. And I’ve applied it to mine and others’ lives for 28 years now.
Obviously what Mike and Jim meant was that I was a “work in progress.”
To this day, I try to remember that the person who just made a mistake might be a young Tim. Most everyone deserves the kind of chance that Jim and Mike gave to me.
Many years later, I asked Johnson how he and Mike decided that God wasn’t done with me. He responded that it was based on the answer to two questions:
- Were my errors born of stupidity, lack of awareness or youth?
- Were they mistakes I’d made before?
Their answer to number one was “youth” and their answer to two was “no.” He said they also saw a lot of ambition in me so they kept me.
When looking at people who work for and with us, we often judge too harshly or too quickly. If Jim and Mike had been harsh judges, rather than good coaches, my career may have taken a different course.
The lesson I took from my experience is to judge people not by their mistakes but instead by their motivation and coachability. I can work with mistake-prone people, but it’s impossible to help someone who is lazy or doesn’t listen well.
Pat White, CEO of our old company said, “Give me the horse I’ve got to yell ‘whoa’ to because if I’m yelling ‘giddy up’, it’s not going to work out.”
Said more succinctly, we should measure every person we work with and for by asking ourselves:
- Are they motivated, and
- Are they coachable?
Smarts and talent are obviously important but those attributes alone will not build great organizations.
Accepting well-motivated people’s inevitable mistakes and coaching them out of bad patterns are far more important to building great organizations.
Jim knew that. Mike knew that.
And I must have been hugely motivated because Jim saved me one other time, too.
We had a very highly paid creative director who was very difficult to work with. And of course I was not always an easy guy to get along with either. One day, we had engaged in an argument and the creative director stormed into Jim’s office and demanded, “Either Tim has to go or I will!”
I was told later by a witness that Jim smiled and said, “I’m sure gonna miss you, Pat.”
Stunned, Pat said, “But he’s an account guy. I create the agency’s advertising!”
Jim responded, “Yes, and I’d prefer having both of you stay but if I have to choose one of you, I’ll take the guy with the fire in his belly.”
So if you have a problem child in your organization, like I was, try to remember to ask yourself:
“Is she/he really that stupid......or young......or whatever?
Or is God just not done with her/him yet?”
I’ll try to do the same.