- - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Developing young people is an art and I think Nick Saban, head football coach at the University of Alabama, is one of the best in the country at doing it. His team is undefeated again and again he has a cast of characters that all play a role in his “process.”

Jalen Hurts, a freshman quarterback is leading the way and a lot is riding on that position, including the success and/or failure of the team. So what do you do to mentor an 18-year-old kid who holds your professional fate in his hands?

Well, you pray. And then you go to work trying to elevate their grasp of the game from “having” to “knowing” to “understanding.”

Let me explain.

When you are coaching or mentoring a quarterback, you first try to move them from a state of simply “having” or possessing something (in this case, their God-given talent and the playbook), to “knowing” something, meaning possessing sufficient familiarity with their abilities, shortcomings, and the playbook to execute plays. The next step is elevating them from “knowing” the playbook to “understanding” the playbook, a state where they are capable of synthesizing the concepts of the offense you are trying to run and (through education and experience) begin to produce novel new outcomes as a result of the architecture you put in place.

So a talented freshman quarterback shows up on campus, and you hand him the playbook. That’s “having” both from a talent and materials standpoint. There’s really not much more to it. The kid gets to work and soon has a basic sense or awareness of the playbook or blueprint, and begins to run it with the second stringers in practices. In his sophomore year, though, you bring him out to practice, and you really start installing the offense, providing him a fundamental knowledge of the plays and objectives. This takes him from simply “having” to “knowing.” You accomplish this progress by asking him questions like ‘when you run this play, what are you looking for? What do you do?’ to test his knowledge. His answers, when right, signal that he is learning – that he has indeed progressed from “having” to “knowing.” He can say ‘I know to do this and this and look for this,’ and he knows because you are asking him and engaging him.

The final step, then, is “understanding.” This is the process of turning him to the game and letting him read the defense and make decisions in real time based on the mentoring he has received.

Believe me, when your quarterback is walking to the line of scrimmage, correctly reading the defense, adjusting play calls based on what he sees and “understands,” and making touchdowns happen with the clock ticking down at the end of the game, you have effectively done your job as a coach and a mentor. And everybody (on your team) wins.

You should be employing the same approach in your efforts to develop your millennial workforce. Because not unlike with a quarterback on the field, their outcomes will impact your company’s performance and your job security, determining if you win or lose at the game of business.

Added to that fact, this generation demands to be coached and mentored. In fact, they expect it, and they will leave you if you don’t provide it.

Here’s the evidence. Among the key findings in a 2016 report by international data analytics and polling company Gallup, “millennials don’t want bosses — they want coaches.”

“The role of an old-style boss is command and control,” the report stated. “Millennials care about having managers who can coach them, who value them as both people and employees, and who help them understand and build their strengths.”

A study by Intelligence Group, a division of the Creative Artist Agency, offered this keen insight:72% of Millennials “would like to be their own boss, but if they have to work for a boss, 79% would want that boss to serve more as a coach or a mentor.”

CIO magazine, a publication targeting chief information officers with timely news and advice, reported in 2015 that millennials generally aren’t satisfied with corporate training programs, including mentor opportunities. “Companies need to be more creative when structuring formal programs and also encourage their millennials to seek both internal and external mentorships,” it reported.

Nigel Dessau, CMO of Stratus Technologies, creator of The 3 Minute Mentor and author of Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack, told CIO in that same article that mentoring “will be the difference between [millennials] that succeed and fail,” in the corporate world.

Yes, it took you decades for you to learn some of these lessons! And yes it can feel almost unfair to give your understanding away! But for the health of your business, and your own ability to remain as coach, it’s all about giving away the knowledge that leads to understanding. That’s what true mentorship is about.

Here’s the bottom line: An old Greek professor (no really his name was Dimitri) first taught me that it is better to know than to have, but it is better to understand than to know. Again, mentoring is not about having what the mentor has, it is about knowing and understanding what the mentor knows.

Just like grooming a college quarterback.

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