While I was watching the Seattle Seahawks thump the Denver Broncos, I was struck by how many times the announcers made the comment that many of the players on the very young Seahawk team were recent 6th or 7th round draft picks. They were amazed that these players seemed to be playing way above what their past “credentials” would suggest they would be able to do.
A few days after the super bowl, the team’s talkative but obviously intelligent cornerback Richard Sherman was asked what role the coach Pete Carroll played in getting this team to perform so well. He responded “He (Pete Carroll) finds the positives even when we lose, in addition to the things we can improve on. I’ve never been on a team where the coaching staff was so positive. There isn’t a lot of yelling and cursing at players. There’s no talking down to players. It’s about conversations, not aggression.”
Stepping back, what this reminded me of is an old Sam Walton quote when he was in the midst of creating the powerful retailer: “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
From a psychology perspective, we are simply talking about the highly researched phenomenon of the positive impact of positive reinforcement. Famous psychologist B. F. Skinner was one of the early researchers in this area and there has been much supporting research generated since then.
Pete Carroll, the Seahawks, and the Super Bowl reminded us that leaders should consistently do the following:
1.) Be Positive: Praise the good things, and be sure to identify some you can point out. And equally as important, review the areas where improvement is needed but do so by characterizing them as big opportunities.
2.) Be Timely: Right after things have happened is the ideal time to provide feedback. If you delay, I will guarantee you that you will miss pointing out some things, both good and bad. Delay typically causes the recipient of the feedback to slowly black out from their memory any thoughts of what might not have gone well.
3.) Be Authentic: You need to be forthright and very human in talking over the feedback. Don’t come across as if you are superior.
OK. I will admit it. Seattle is home and I am biased. On the other hand, you have got to admit it; Pete Carroll, i.e., Mr. Positive, did quite a job!