In Challenges, Communication, Employee Development, Leadership, Wednesday Wisdom

Taking the time to learn someone’s story likely feels inefficient, especially to someone who is results-driven. But the long-term gains are worth it.

The question was innocent enough and one that I’ve come to expect from prospective clients. I was asked last week, “How do you measure success?” I’m data-driven by nature, so I was able to share a recent example of how I worked with a client to collect data from colleagues and use that information as both a starting point and method of measuring of impact.

I’m proud of this work and this data, and I would give the same answer again. But I would clarify that each client’s definition of success is very individualized. For a data-driven person who values consistency, I wish there was an easier, more global definition. But how I define success and what motivates me is likely very different than how you define success and find motivation. And great leaders not only know that, but they take the time to learn your story to use that information to help you.

A recent conversation around sports coaching highlighted the value of taking each player’s story into consideration in coaching the entire team.

The coach used himself as example when I asked about what’s changed in the last decade or two in youth sports: the need to understand everyone’s story. It was intriguing! He explained that in his collegiate athlete experience, everyone was treated the same and ‘success’ meant surviving the grind and winning your match at the highest level. In other words, success and the method of motivation was likely predetermined. Your ‘story’ (how you defined success and what motivated you) didn’t necessarily impact that process – or, at the very least, it wasn’t something factored into the coaching process.

He said that good coaches, nowadays, may still put everyone through the same grind, in other words, treat them all the same from a drill/expectation perspective. But GREAT coaches take the time to understand everyone’s story and how each player’s unique definition of success requires a distinctive method of motivation to achieve it.

The best analogy I can think of for adults is in terms of fitness journeys. It’s not everyone’s goal to become a professional athlete. For some, especially those just beginning on the fitness journey, success may be a walk around the block without being winded or the ability to complete a single lap in the swimming pool. In the same way, coaching for leadership can mean anything from simply earning a new level of trust with a colleague to adjusting the culture of an entire organization.

I’ve seen great leaders excel at this approach. By taking the time to get to know their team members and colleagues, they were able to develop meaningful relationships that resulted in great dialogue around success. They understand that some team members define success by title and others define success by revenue. Great leaders realize that some team members are motivated by public praise and recognition while others are motivated by development opportunities or an increased level of responsibility. The key is applying that unique knowledge to the organization’s vision in a way that will motivate the individual.


What is your definition of success?

What motivates you?





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