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Just Say Stuff

There are some monikers that are arguable in this society. Greatest QB of all time? Some say Tom Brady, some say Joe Montana, some have the guts to say Aaron Rodgers. Greatest deep dish pizza in Chicago? Some say Lou Malnati’s, some say Giordano’s, others Pequod’s. Personally, I’m an Art of Pizza fan. Maybe they’re reading this blog and will give me a free pizza. Maybe that won’t happen. And if you’re not sure what any of those random names are, get yourself to Chicago, stat. But when it comes to greatest college basketball coach of all time, it’s pretty tough to argue with Mike Krzyzewski, better known as “Coach K”. The man has won 5 titles with his program at Duke University, spanning over 4 decades. He’s the winningest college basketball coach in NCAA history, and if that weren’t enough, he’s also coached USA Men’s Basketball Olympic teams to gold medals as well. He’s built quite the dynasty in the world of college basketball. And that is INFINITELY harder to do in college athletics, for one fairly obvious reason: You never have a player for longer than 4 years! And in the case of programs like Duke, many of your star players actually only spend 1 or 2 years there, as they’re snatched up by the NBA in short order.

Also, not only does your team change constantly, but so do the other teams! So game-planning is something that must start fresh and anew every single season. So to have the track record of Coach K, you need to have a couple of things in spades. Consistency? For sure. Definiteness of purpose? Obvs. But you have to be monstrously good at DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE TEAMS.

Developing Effective Teams & Developing Teams Effectively: What's The Difference?

Developing effective teams? “I developed a successful study group team in High School, I got you, Mark.” Well, perhaps so. But also DEVELOPING TEAMS EFFECTIVELY. “Wait, what’s the difference?”

I’m so glad you asked, because that question is everything, as a young Mark Nathan found out for himself.

Developing effective teams is about teams that function properly to achieve the goal set before them. Not letting them stray from their major purpose.

Developing teams EFFECTIVELY is having a track record of doing this, with new teams constantly, as will always be the case in NCAA athletics.

I’ve seen in a close practice at Duke where Coach K has them run the floor in a zig-zag pattern, hitting all the corners of the court, as well as center court, and the purpose of the exercise is not dribbling skill work. Nor is it clock management. IT’S COMMUNICATION. Literally talking while you’re moving across the court. Get your players talking to each other, and watch cohesion commence. It sounds simple, almost deliberately so. But when game time comes along, it’s just a part of your body. Teams that don’t communicate break down in crucial moments. If you’ve watched any great baseball bloopers, or if you’re simply a fan of the White Sox, you’ve seen countless times where a ball is high in the air, and several players are positioned to make the catch. And almost inexplicably, there is a collision, and no one catches the ball. And as a player or two fall to the ground, the lifeless ball just sits there, wondering why it wasn’t caught by an elite player making millions of dollars. It’s simply communication. No one effectively called for the ball, waiving the other player off.

Also, I’m sorry for the White Sox jab. My Cubbies didn’t repeat this year, I’m sore. Deal with it.

Teams that don't communicate are doomed before they even begin.

Teams that don’t communicate are doomed before they even begin. That’s why whether it’s athletic competition, or building a startup, or collaborating on music or film, or raising a team of young up-and-coming leaders, there MUST be communication at the core.

Why? Well, for starters, leadership is all about relationship. The best way to lead someone is to have influence in their lives, and that’s through relationship. Established trust. The difference between being a slave-driver, an obnoxious boss that is the stereotype of people’s hate, and being an EFFECTIVE leader, is helping people achieve their dreams and goals, their mission. Bringing out the best in people. Servitude. And for that to take place, there must be relationship.

It’s important to realize the broader point at play; ANY relationship needs communication to be healthy. Friendship not as good as it once was? Feel yourself slipping with the relationship with your folks or your siblings? Significant other feels as though her love tank is a bit on empty? Check your communication!

“Mark, I get it, communication is important. Even though you’re a Cubs fan, I take your point. But how do I communicate EFFECTIVELY in a relationship, or as part of a team? How do I Coach K-ify my life?”

Well, the secret is somewhat simple as well. JUST SAY STUFF. And don’t wait until you have something grandiose to share. Don’t wait until your epiphany hits you like an inspired dream.

Just communicate often and about everything.

One of the things I learned early on in my marriage to my fantastic wife was this very concept. Many guys, me included, are naturally great about being chill and content with life, rarely delving into the complex world of FEELINGS. But my wife Meredith has ALL of the feels. Which is an incredible gift to our relationship. But I’m sure you’ve seen many a meme that has a guy and a girl sitting on a couch, facing away from each other, while the woman’s thoughts are a long monologue of “I wonder what’s wrong with him? Is it me? Is it my haircut? Does he feel like I’ve put on some weight? Is he disappointed in life? Does he need a career change? Is he thinking about me?” Meanwhile, the man’s thought is “Is it called SAND because it’s in between the sea and the land?”

Now, that’s worthy of a chuckle, you must admit. Maybe even a chortle or a guffaw. But that’s actually a fairly accurate representation of couples who don’t communicate. So I learned, early on, to JUST SAY STUFF. Anything. Share. I’m reading a book? I’ll speak up, read a sentence or a quote that I found inspiring or surprisingly applicable to our situation. And I watch my wife’s face light up with excitement with the possibility of communicating with me!

Just say stuff.

Communication is the doorway to real relationship.

This happens in leadership as well. When I coach developing leaders, often times communication from them can be stilted, based on their belief that “I’ll communicate when there’s something important to communicate.” Or “When something GOOD is happening, then I’ll communicate. I don’t want to waste my mentor’s time.” Pure silliness. Communication is the doorway to real relationship. Just say stuff, early and often. I can then guide them!

Including guiding them on what’s not necessary to communicate, and what is! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just assumed that someone was on their last legs of belief, only to discover there had been tons of activity and action brewing without any knowledge of it! COMMUNICATION for the win. Always.

Which is why it seems a little silly, but after a shortstop makes a routine throw to first base for the 2nd out, he signals to the rest of the team with his fingers that there are 2 outs. Of course there are two outs. You only have to count to 2. At three outs, everyone leaves the field. There are LED screens throughout the stadium letting EVERYONE know how many outs there are. But if the HABIT is communication, that’s a beautiful thing. Because very often, especially in the sporting world, there isn’t time to think about whether it makes sense to communicate something in the midst of a moment of crisis or quick thinking. Just say stuff. Communicate, always and often.

The same thing hold true, naturally, in your workplace. Many a time you’ll be sitting in what seems to be an endlessly boring meeting, and your first thought is that this is another exercise in futility. What it really is: an opportunity. (By the way, your life can dramatically improve when you stop seeing things as boring and unproductive, and start seeing everything as an opportunity!) Do your research, know what the meeting is about, and then also what it’s REALLY about. There will almost always come a time when the person leading the meeting is asking for any clarifications or questions from the room, and that’s a great opportunity to show some initiative, and SPEAK. “I was reading yesterday morning about…Would it be helpful if I...” You have co-workers, and often times personnel just above and below you. Communicate. Human beings are aching for connection, regardless. And you’re smack dab in the middle of a situation that needs more intelligent people offering communication. So just say stuff.

I should clarify at this point that it shouldn’t be “stuff” that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. But to over-think what the right “stuff” is, is the deadliest play. Also, give a listen to the New Kids on the Block for more on what the “right stuff” is.

Which brings us back to Coach K. One thing that his players understand is how to communicate, through the good and the bad. And as he build successful teams year after year, the players know that they’re a part of something special. There’s a respect that’s been built up by DECADES of winning with different teams. But they also remember that there have been THOUSANDS of players come and go at Duke University under his tenure. But there’s only one Coach K.

So they trust his ideas on communication. One of the biggest reasons being that they’re all in it together, as a TEAM. You can always accomplish more as a team than you can on your own. Having open communication helps you work as a unit. And then the possibilities start to look like National Championships. Not too shabby.

Remember this idea of communication with the people of importance in your life. You may not need to call your mother every single day for the rest of your life, but I guarantee you she wants to hear your voice. Your long-lost siblings, often times spread across the country, if not the globe, guess what? They want to hear from you. And I guarantee you that they’re not terribly picky about the content. The game plan? Straight from Coach K: JUST SAY STUFF. ALWAYS AND OFTEN!

So as you go about your week and ruminate on these thoughts, I want to empower you to take some ground this week, using these simple steps!

1) What’s the best way to communicate? Well, communication is about them RECEIVING as much as what YOU’RE putting out there. What’s the best way for THEM to communicate? If it’s a boss, likely email. But if it’s your spouse, they’d probably prefer in person, rather than an email. (tip: HIGHLY LIKELY PREFER.)

2) What do I say? I’ll give you a hint, it’s 3 words. JUST SAY STUFF. I’m not trying to make light of the simplicity here, but you will undoubtedly get better at what to say the more that you do it! But you must start. Say things that are important to you, what you think may be important to them. Most cases you’ll get a (gasp!) RESPONSE back that will help you zone in on a productive exchange!

3) Create a daily habit. Ah, this is huge. As I mentioned before with Coach K’s warm-up drills, you’ve got to practice communicating to truly make it a DAILY habit. DAILY communication is a fantastic starting point. Think about all of the things you do daily. Showering, brushing your teeth, getting out of bed, eating meals, checking Instagram….many daily habits are now just that, habits. Communicating as a daily habit could actually change the trajectory of your life. Add it to the mix.

“But Mark, why did you spend an entire blog talking about the importance of communication? Is it THAT important?”

You’ve got such good questions today, reader! Keep it up!

SPOILER ALERT – Life happens. And keeps happening. Communication keeps relationships alive and healthy. These relationships are in your life and important for a reason. There will be important (and often times tough) conversations to be had at some point in your life. Count on it. If you haven’t been communicating always and often, these inevitable moments will be infinitely more difficult. Life’s a funny thing. You never have it fully figured out, and just when you think you do, there’s another level that you graduate to. Communication is a skill set that will come in handy for the rest of your life, in ways you haven’t even begun to anticipate yet. So start now, and get ahead of the curve forever in this area! So when life comes along, you know what you can say? JUST SAY STUFF! (Surprised you there…)

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