Just as a great football team is constantly revising and upgrading their playbook after reviewing game footage, we all can benefit from this strategy. Greatness or mastery in any arena or game is achieved by consistent practice and applying what we learn. Sounds simple, right? Yet how many of us get tripped by the same issues and respond in the same way, even though that “play” hasn’t worked for the last 20 games.

The biggest frustrations I hear about from executive clients are not very different from those reported by other professionals. Most of them are related to frustrated attempts at making changes that lead to different results.

For example, an individual decides to lose 20 pounds but waits until mealtime to choose food, then chooses based on pleasurable taste rather than high nutrition and sustaining fuel. He runs that play every day and wonders why losing weight is such a challenge. He has been complaining about this for decades.

Another individual keeps having the same issues with each new team. They are jazzed at the beginning, but run out of interest and enthusiasm by the end of a project. He keeps expecting the outcome to be different, but falls back on the playbook he has always used, so keeps having these results.

“What flows through your mind sculpts your brain. Thus you can use your mind to change your brain for the better—which will benefit your whole being, and every other person whose life you touch.” – from Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom

Change is challenging because we don’t like getting out of our comfort zone, yet if we want to improve and respond to our rapidly changing world, we must get adept at trying new approaches. We must be willing to be vulnerable enough to be new at something. We must embrace a beginner’s mindset, over and over.

A colleague of mine was telling me that he had to change his playbook recently to keep from squelching his own high spirits. As a young man, whenever he got playful and boisterous, his father would assign some odious chore, assuming that the son had too much free time. As an adult, my colleague discovered that every time he got excited and playful in his work, he felt like he must dial it back to keep from being punished. He had fired these neurons together when he was way too young to have any real perspective on the situation, and it became a part of his invisible playbook until he noticed it, challenged it, and decided to remove that play.

The latest brain research is showing that those early patterns we establish happen at a time of great learning and create strong neural connections which get stronger and more automatic every time we respond in that way. Just as it gets easier to learn how to tie our shoes at that age, it gets easier to feel any negative emotions we have felt before, like shame, embarrassment or rejection.

Part of my playbook is using strengths to support my goals. I get easily distracted by new opportunities. A new play for my book is to pair focus, number 24 for me, with strategic, which is my number 1. The result is that my day is broken into segments, and at the beginning of each one, I look through the lens of those two strengths and ask, “What is the primary outcome I want to see in this 45 minutes?” It sounds simplistic, but the best solutions usually are deceptively simple.

What are the plays you’ve continued to use way past their usefulness? Look at the places you’ve been getting less than optimum results yet haven’t changed your approach. Ask questions like:

  • How could I see this differently? What is another way to interpret what’s happening?
  • Which of my strengths is at play and what is the trigger point? Is there another strength that could support me here?
  • How relieved would I feel to delegate this?
  • What is an experimental play I would be willing to try?
  • Who might I brainstorm with about other options?
  • How are my communications being received by my team? How will I know I am effectively sharing ideas? What do the current results tell me?

We are all required to change and adapt faster than any previous generation. Especially when we are charged with leading and inspiring others, we must continue to stretch and be flexible about trying different approaches. Having the confident vulnerability to admit we don’t have all the answers is a big step in creating greater trust and connection with your reports. Learning to continually update your playbook will lead you to greater mastery in any area.

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