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Do You Define Success in the Same Way as Your Team?

When watching a performance from the sideline, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. You see an athlete win a race or stir the crowd with a rousing speech, and you beam with pride and excitement. But then, as the performer walks your way, you glimpse a different reaction. They are frustrated, disappointed, or dejected. For any coach, it’s one of the most perplexing encounters you have. You’ve witnessed an objectively fantastic performance, yet the performer is reacting as if it was a disaster.

While not frequent, this situation is one that all coaches (as well as managers, teachers, and parents) encounter. Why the disconnect between the onlooker’s reaction and the performers? 
In many events, how we define success seems simple: did I win or lose? Winning means happiness, and losing equals sadness, and perhaps even questioning our preparation. But that’s too simplistic. Dig a little deeper and success can be defined in a myriad of ways; did I set a personal best or improve my place from the last race? Did I execute my plan to perfection, or was it a struggle to fight through the entire performance? There is any number of ways we can judge a performance, and each one shapes the post-performance reaction. If you don’t have the same definition of success as those you lead, you’re setting yourself up for confusion and trouble.
When working with performances, it’s important to first understand how each person defines success. It doesn’t matter if I think they did well or not if we have different definitions of “well” in the first place. As a coach, I need to be clear in understanding my athletes’ expectations, then acknowledging and shaping them in ways that ensure a healthy view of competition, success, and failure.

Whether you are leading a sports team, classroom, or business unit, walk yourself through these four questions to make sure that everyone’s definition of success is a productive one:

  1. How do your team members define success?
  2. How do you define success for them?
  3. How much do they overlap?
  4. How can you align the team and yourself on a productive definition of success?


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