“If you are afraid of confrontation, you are not going to do very well.”
—Bill Parcells, Hall of Fame football coach
Think of any mentor you’ve had in your entire life. Whether it was a parent, teacher, coach, or manager, they probably had a special way of getting under your skin. They coached hard, not mean-spirited, but demanding in a way that convinced you to raise your personal standards. Tough coaching gets a bad rap today, but Ian Mathews and Frank Cava make a case for a style that got the most out of us:
Also, in this episode:
- “You can’t be tough on Millennials” and other nonsense myths
- You have to earn the right to be tough
- The problem with emulating famous coaches
- There is a time to be tough and a time to back off
- Managers who mask their insecurities with “toughness”
- What it means to be “pleased, but not satisfied”
- You can be tough and still be likable
- Criticize in private, protect in public
- You can be tough on any generation
- Passive-aggressive is not the same as tough; it’s the opposite
- How to praise a star in public
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Is Tough Coaching Still Effective?
Frankie, what’s up?
You son of a bitch.
I’m excited to talk about tough coaching.
For those of you that don’t know, Ian and me, we often greet each other with that. Talking about tough coaching, toughen up. This is how we do it.
The question we are going to attempt to answer is, is tough caching still effective? There are different mindsets on it. This is changing all the time, and the world of Bobby Knight is no longer with us. When people think of tough coaches, they think of that. They think of Lombardi or someone who’s screaming all the time, Bobby Knight style. We can define what tough coaching is and what tough coaching isn’t. We’re not talking about, is bullying still effective? We’re talking about, do you want to have a tough coach or one that lets you slide and get away with everything?
One of the things that is relevant too and I hear this all the time, “I can’t employ Millennials. You can’t push a Millennial.” Bullshit, you’re a bad manager.Ian: 'As a leader, you have to earn the right to be tough.' Click To Tweet
The age of someone has nothing to do with the way you coach them. A Baby Boomer could get as sensitive with tough coaching as a Millennial. That’s insulting to a 22-year-old, a 28-year-old that they wouldn’t be able to take some tough coaching. I’ve met plenty that are amazingly respond to tough coaching, but you’ve got to do it right. You can’t just holler at anyone. It doesn’t matter what their age is. People are people.
As with everything else, there’s a process. You can’t get away with it.
Frank, talk about one of your earliest experiences with a tough coach.
Youth sports are a big part of both of our lives. Your son is older than my son. You spent a ton of your time on youth sports. I grew up in South Florida where youth sport was like church. It wasn’t missed. To that end, I had a bunch of jerks who were coaches in the little leagues and city leagues. My high school football coach was a god. This is relevant. I went to freshman year at a school that was established. My sophomore year, they moved incoming freshmen, sophomores and juniors to a new high school. We had no senior class, but we field with the varsity sports teams. We were playing varsity sports as 10th graders, which usually you don’t do that until 11th grade. He had an uphill climb. He had a bunch of very average athletes that were a year younger than anybody else. He had a ragtag group that he had to fuel the team with.
What he ended up doing was he wasn’t a prick. He had high standards that we could not live up to. No way we could live up to these standards with 14, 15 years old, maybe 16 playing against 18-year-old men who’d be starting for Florida state the next year. We got our asses kicked. The only way that we didn’t die is because he held us to this high standard. That is a throwback. He wasn’t a Bobby Knight. He wasn’t one of those guys, but he was not a touchy-feely guy either. He let it be known that you had to do more than you thought you were capable of.
What happened?Frank: 'People say you can't be tough on Millennials. Bullshit, you're a bad manager.' Click To Tweet
We were terrible for that first year. We went 0-10. We got our asses kicked. We played against a team called Ely. If you know anything about Broward County Football, it produces the top ten of Division 1 college football players every year. We played against this team at Ely who had eleven kids that were Division 1 athletes. Several of them started the next year. We lost 56-0 against them. They canceled the game in the beginning of the third quarter. They would have probably scored 100. As a 15-year-old, I felt demoralized. I remember being physically hurt. I got hit so hard I thought I had a concussion because someone kicked me in the head.
In that moment, it was awful. We lost and we got killed. We come back the next day and he did not let us off. He said, “You should have done better.” The next year, we played Ely and we won. That same team that beat us by 56 points in three quarters, we beat them. My senior year, we beat their asses again. These guys had no business losing to us. They were so freaking good, but our coach didn’t let us off. The kid that holds the record at Notre Dame for most rushing yards, we played against him. Our coach was so pissed we lost that game. We’re on the back of the bus. I’m like, “Are you fucking nuts? There’s no way we’re as good as that guy.” He held us to a high standard, and what ended up happening over time was a couple of things.
A year or two years later, we were way better than we should have been. Ten years later, I remember those lessons. I remember being in business and being over-matched and knowing I got to do the work, show up to the weight room, which means get there early, stay late, do all the little stuff that lets me be. I’m not going to win now, but I can win in 6 months, 5 years. Twenty years later, 30 years later, I know that those little building blocks, those little fundamentals, and those little things that I did as a kid when I was 14, 15, 16, and those ass kickings, it translates in the business. I got there. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I wasn’t very good, but I knew that if I persevered and I kept putting in the work, it would get better. Two decades later, you look at those dots and you can connect them. That’s why both of us are where we’re at. We both have had very successful corporate careers. I’ve got a great business. You got to get your ass kicked first, but you got to have somebody who believes in you who can push you past what you see.
I think about it all the time. I read this incredible series in The Athletic, they had the Top 100 Baseball Players of All Time. I’ve sent you a bunch of them. I read all 100 of them. I’m fascinated by great writing, Posnanski was awesome. What struck me is at least half of these top 100, the dad plays a prominent role in the makeup of these baseball players, that insatiable drive and work ethic. There’s the craziest which is Mutt Mantle making his son swing from both sides of the plate and throw with both arms.
He’s bringing out his uncle so the uncle could throw left-handed to him and he’d throw right-handed. He never said good job to Mickey his entire life. He died never saying good job to Mickey. That’s over the top. Mickey became an alcoholic. He had lots of problems, but most of the dads that were on that spectrum were never satisfied dads. The kids were always trying to live up to that intense coaching. There’s a balance of it. For me, when I think of a tough coach, the first thing that comes in my head is my dad because he coached me in everything when I was a young kid.
I think about this with my son all the time, the coach’s son has this extra level of pressure that you feel that you don’t want to let down the coach and your dad. There’s this expectation that you should be the best player on the team, or at least one of the best players on the team because your dad is a coach. How could you not know how to play this sport? Now as a coach for my son, I understand that pressure that dad coaches feel. When you’re out there coaching, you feel this pressure of, how can I ask all these kids to do things if my kid won’t do it? How can I bark at the team to hustle when my kid is walking off the field? How can I bark at the kids that they should do extra reps if my kid’s not out in the backyard, hitting off a tee all day? It’s this extra pressure of, I can’t ask what my own son won’t do more of, that you always feel as a coach. Now as a coach and as a dad, I feel that I’m hard on my son on everything.
There’s nothing that I ask any kid on my team that I don’t ask IJ 2X or 3X on everything, whether it’s fielding, running, hustling, extra work, swinging. He feels that pressure from me all the time. As a dad, I understand why my dad was as tough on me. There were times where he drove me nuts. There were times where we didn’t talk the whole way home from a tournament in Canada. He was frustrated with me because of my effort or my toughness or something. I would be mad at him for days. It’s the biggest gift he ever gave me. It’s why I am who I am. Whenever anything’s tough, I inherently know to go put in more work. That has always worked for me. Whether my grades weren’t good enough in engineering, or I wasn’t selling enough at GE, or I wasn’t getting results as a manager, it doesn’t matter what it is. It’s always in the back of my head of him telling me, “You’re not working enough. You’re not putting in the time.” It’s always comes back to a tough coach telling you about everything.
One of my favorite things is a shirt the Ravens wore, “Nobody cares, work harder.” Tough coaching teaches you that. There are two things that are cool. You and I are both sports geeks. We love sports. We use lots of things from sports. We were young when this came about, the Miracle on Ice, 1980 and they built a movie on it, which whenever it comes on TV, you got to watch it. It’s freaking good. The coach was such a prick. He was such the tough coach. There was a scene where the assistant asked the team psychologist, “Why?” The team’s psychologist says, “Maybe because if they hate him so much, they’ll all love each other.” We’d started this thing off talking about my tough coach. My tough coach in high school many years ago.
There are 50, 60 people on a football team, twenty of them I still talk to on a regular basis. Ten of my best friends on earth were on that team. If you are a tough coach, you were going to cement with people something. It’s harder to do it in business. It’s harder to do it as people get older. If you can build a culture of accountability, you can build these little things in your business. What ends up happening is you get legions of people, who will stick with you. Let’s transition this to business. You and I are not easy to work for. We’re good communicators, but we have very high standards and we push people. If your metrics suck, you are going to get fired. Not only that, you know it because we set that expectation upfront. That’s tough coaching, but it’s good coaching. Think about that, how many people keep in touch with you from jobs you’ve left? For me, it’s tons.
Every tough coach I ever had, I stayed in touch with. I enjoy talking to them. I appreciate the fact that they made me better. They’re a big reason why I was able to earn more money, to have more opportunities to grow in companies because they didn’t let me settle for any status quo. We’re going to talk about this a little bit, the things that you got to have. The Miracle on Ice is worth talking about. There’s a phenomenal documentary that looks at the Russian side. We look at it as like the greatest miracle ever that these kids went and did it. What the difference was is the Americans were kids. They were kids with no expectation. They were happy to be playing in the Olympics.
The Russians were professionals. They were seasoned. They had multiple gold medals. They were heroes. Their coach treated them the exact same as the US coach. They collapsed. They rebelled. They weren’t down with half of the way he treated them. What should have been an absolute ass kicking to the US. That team fell apart under itself with the same exact coach, the same unreasonable, everything is objective, everything is results. It’s worth talking about now that the team matters and who you’re coaching. You as a fifteen-year-old, I bet your coach probably cut you a little more slack as a senior on certain things than he did when you were a fifteen-year-old sophomore coaching you once you had won a few games. He was still tough all the time, but you would earn a little bit more slack that you felt you deserved than the kid that had no chance of being on the field and shouldn’t have been there. He pushed you a lot harder when you were a younger kid.
That’s a great thing to segue way into. As a young kid, showing up day one of practice, he knew I didn’t know shit and he pushed me. Three years later, when I was a senior and I was pretty damn good, he expected me to hold his standards with others. That’s what I did. His tough coaching was to a point where I knew that I could hold somebody else accountable because he would expect it. He’d be pissed at me if I didn’t. That’s good coaching. That’s like, “You don’t deserve this now because you’re worm shit.” When you get a little bit better and you put in your time, that’s what good management is. It gives you the latitude to take what you’ve learned and impart it, to help and to build something.You got to have somebody who believes in you who can push you past what you see. Click To Tweet
With sports teams, you hear the word program a lot. That’s what it is. It becomes a cultural thing. You and I have taken that into businesses. My business is that way. We’ve got core values. We’ve got all kinds of stuff that keeps the lanes defined. There is nothing better than coaching and coaching someone hard and watching somebody else hold someone else accountable. One of my best employees brought his brother’s resume to me. He goes, “Interview him like he’s a stranger. He will report directly to me.” It’s the same story you had about IJ. I will hold him more accountable than anybody. You know you built something systemic when that’s the way it’s working. That’s how you build great cultures.
There’s an important component of tough coaching. There’s tough and there’s unreasonable. You have to start by being reasonable. One thing that I see that most new managers get wrong when they try to be tough is, they don’t earn the right to do it. My dad didn’t need to earn anything. He’s your dad. There are components of looking at your parents if they were tough on you that you can emulate. Your high school coach didn’t need to earn anything. What were you going to do, transfer schools? Are you going to end at a transfer portal? Are you going to get your parents to change addresses so you could deal with another probably unreasonable tough coach? You weren’t going to do that. He knew he had a captive audience, but in business, you don’t have a captive audience.
Everyone who works for you is a free agent. They could find another job like that. What I see most people screw up as a new manager is, they don’t earn the right to be tough. It’s one thing to be tough, but if you come right out of the gate and you are Mr. Accountability hard-ass, and you don’t get to know your people at all, there’s no give or take. There’s no personal relationship. You don’t share anything about yourself. You’re just business. You’re Mr. Button-down blue shirt, “I’m on your ass every day,” when you come in. People rebel and they stop. They don’t care. You can’t be Mr. Softy either or Mrs. Softy. You can’t be all buddy, but you got to strike a balance early if you’re going to be tough. You’ve got to earn it a little bit and show them that you offer value. You’re a coach that they would want to be involved with. They want you to do tough coaching. Tough coaching with someone who doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about is a waste of time. That’s a waste of stress. You have to show value in being coached.
Those people are called dick heads. There’s a dick head manager. They don’t deserve the spot. They’re scared to be there. Looking back on it, there’s no reason they’re in that job because they don’t have the chops, and what they are is they’re jerks. There are a couple of ways that I can go with this. The analogy I’m going to use is this, being a jerk or a tough coach is like a fastball. You could have the most amazing fast ball in the world. You’re going to get in the Major Leagues with an incredible fastball. Eventually, you’re going to get older. Your arms are not going to be the same as it was. You are not going to be the same pitcher if all you have is a fastball.
With the exception of Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens taking a shitload of drugs, every power pitcher developed something else. Greg Maddux pitched for 21 seasons and he had five pitches. As a manager, you’ve got to think about, “Am I going to be a jerk and hold people accountable or am I going to develop a second and a third and a fourth pitch?” The way I came at it was I was too nice to start because I didn’t feel like I earned the right to hold people accountable or be a jerk. What happened in the beginning as me being a manager, I did it myself like, “I’m not going to ask so-and-so to do this. I’ll go do it.” That’s the wrong answer too.
Having earned the right, building that, and then knowing that, “It’s this person’s responsibility feeling comfortable making sure that it happens,” then holding them accountable. That’s the special sauce. How do you deliver the message? Is this the moment to be a hard ass? Is this the moment to be neutral? Is this the moment to be compassionate and say, “I understand what you’re dealing with?” You got to understand those things if you’re going to build a team. A sports team, Herb Brooks coached in the ‘80 Olympics. My high school football coach, they didn’t need that. They could be hard asses. In this society in 2020, you got to have a multitude of pitches or you’re going to burn people out. You’re never going to build what you want to build.
A lot of people want to try to emulate an actual coach. They want to emulate Bill Belichick. Bill Belichick is a terrible person to emulate. If you were going to try to take his style and put it right into business, people will leave. Bill Belichick’s employees make millions of dollars and they want to win championships. They know that’s a place that it’s worth sucking it up and dealing with that personality all the time like Nick Saban and Lombardi. It’s getting a little easier to leave Alabama. Once you’re there, you’re stuck. You got to deal with someone being on you all the time. What they don’t see is behind the scenes, there are a lot of pats on the back. There’s a lot of encouragement. There’s a lot of positivity.
All they see is the scowl during game day. If you’re a perma-scowl all the time as a tough coach, it grates on people and wears you out. To your point on a pitcher with a fast ball, even if you throw 105, if everyone knows it’s coming, people will hit that. You need second and third pitches because you become predictable. You become stale. You become uninteresting. When you think about a tough coach, the tough coaches I had always knew when I was being harder on myself than I needed to be. They also always knew when I was feeling a little too good about myself, which for me, it was almost always the latter.
I have a big ego. I’m always feeling good about myself. Good coaches with me were always pricking me with a pin when the ego was starting to blow a little too much. It was always, “Yes, but this doesn’t look that good. Yes, you did that good, but what about this?” There was always an expectation of, “I want more from you,” and they were never satisfied. On days where I was feeling good about myself or the better things were going in my business, the tougher my coaches were on me. The CEO of the last company, if we were having a great quarter and I was excited to go in and talk about my numbers, he would pull the three things out of 30 that weren’t working in my business and that’s all he wanted to talk about for two hours. He didn’t want me to get comfortable. He didn’t want me to feel good.
If I was going in there and we were talking about 30 things and 27 were broken. He was calm. He was asking how he could help. He knew I felt terrible about myself. He knew I was down. He knew I was busted and broken. He was there to build me up a little bit. In all the other times where things were going well, he was relentless to the point where I would be pissed when I left like, “Damn it, 90% of things are going great and he’s still not happy.” What would I do? I’d go fix the 10% that he talked to me about. We’d do it all over again. When things are broke, he took a different approach and he was more supportive. He didn’t kick you when you were down. He didn’t beat the shit out of you when you were down. He knew how to be like, “Let me pull you up a little bit more.”
What is the goal of coaching or managing anyways? When I was 14, 15-year-old playing varsity football, a coach wasn’t thinking about that season. He was thinking about the next season or the season after that. He knew we were going to suck our first season. When Paul’s breaking your balls, when you’re 90%, he’s thinking about how can he squeeze a little bit more out? What the good manager knows, “I’ve hired the right person. I’ve got a guy who cares. I’ve seen that.” Not only that, berating him right now is not going to do anything. I got to go find somebody to do it. I’ve got a competent person who cares in this role. I’ve seen success before. I hired this person because it was a success resume. Now, what I got to do is as a business owner or the person who’s coaching, I got to look at what’s important.
What’s important is we’re floundering. The market sucks. It’s a new segment of business or something, and it’s not working, but I’ve got the right people and we suck. That’s an easy thing to manage. It’s big things that you can fix. The goal of management, it’s a couple of things. The difference between good and great is measured in millimeters and not miles. That’s harder to manage. That is the 90% getting to 92% or 94%. That’s harder stuff. Back to the pitch analogy, you are never going to get the big stuff fixed and only have an ability to work on the small stuff if you don’t start with that mentality upfront. We’ve both seen that. I’ve had a boss. They weren’t tough. They were obtuse more than tough. What it did is it alienated everybody. This person was scared of me. I got further up the chain than they did. I was their boss at some point.The difference between good and great is measured in millimeters and not miles. Click To Tweet
That’s how they manage. They manage scared and they manage in a way that they did not engender a sense like a Belichick, or my high school football coach, or like you and I with teams. Instead, they manage with this iron fist, and continuity sucked, results sucked. All of those things were there because nobody wanted to do anything for that person. If you had the other manager who was good to you, held you accountable that said, “I need two more sales this month to hit my number,” not me personally, the manager. They could call you up. That person that had your back, you will go get it for that person because you built that credibility where that’s huge.
The last manager I had at GE used toughness as a veil for his insecurity that he didn’t know anything about our business. If you laid out fifteen of our products and had him go match up the name of the product with what the actual piece of equipment was in front of him, he would fail. He could go 0-15. He knew nothing about what we sold. His way of masking that was talking about number. You committed to $15 million this month. You’re at $14 million. You’re failing. My job is to hold you accountable. “Why aren’t you getting better?” More and more meetings and talk about numbers. If you brought up anything outside of the numbers, he would cut you off and not want to talk about it. He would say, “You’re making excuses. Hit your number,” but he didn’t want to listen.
To me, a tough manager could not know the business and say, “Explain this a little bit more, explain this technical problem you’re talking about,” and still be tough. Still say, “I hear that, but why isn’t this guy having the same problem, your peer?” They could find ways to hold you accountable in different ways or try to listen. That entire team left GE. They all left. All those people that reported to him have gone, left. I know a bunch of them are running companies now. They’re presidents. They’re CEOs. They’re starting incredible companies. The company lost a lot of talent because that guy was too insecure to admit what he didn’t know. He hid under the veil of tough guy, “That’s who I’m going to be. I’m going to be Johnny Hard-ass.” I saw a lot of GE managers do that because what was written about Jack Welch was how tough he was. Neutron Jack, he wasn’t afraid to shut a business down if it wasn’t 1 or 2. He can look in the eye and tell you weren’t performing.
When you look at his career afterward, how many executives came out and told some story about how Jack got in a car, drove out to their office, and spend a day with them trying to comfort them when they were having a real tough time, or a handwritten note that Jack had sent when they had missed a couple of numbers. There are thousands of those stories that came out, that Jack behind the scenes, he connected with all those people. He got to know him personally and celebrated when they did good things.
He was up your butt all the time. A statement that always stuck with me that I took from GE was pleased but not satisfied. I love that statement of a great, tough coach. That even when you’re performing well, they can say, “I’m pleased with that. I’m not satisfied.” Even if you crushed something, you always have that feeling with a good, tough coach that they always believe in you enough that they think you could have done a little more. If presented right and if done right, that’s how you feel. You feel this person believes in me. They think I could do better. When you were going up against that kid from Florida State, even if you stalemated him and he’s chewing on you, you’re like, “He believes I should be on the field with this guy because I don’t. This guy’s killing me out here. I don’t believe I belong in the field.” He’s not saying, “That’s all right.” He’s saying, “Why did you let him beat you?” He believes in me. He believes that I do belong out here with an All-American defensive tackle when I don’t. It gets you to perform to that level of his expectation.
There are 100 ways I can go with this. I’m going to do it this way. Gary Vee’s first book was Crushing It! I can’t remember what chapter it was, 11, 13. It was a prime number. The name of the chapter was Care. You know what was written after the title? Nothing. That was the entire chapter, Care. That is the thing that allows you to be a tough coach. If someone knows you give a shit, they don’t care about you. Nobody cares about you. Everybody cares about themselves. If someone thinks you give a shit about them, you’re going to get the most out of them. People who beat you over the head with numbers are people who don’t deserve to be the jerk, or people who don’t deserve to be in that seat. Showing humility gets you there. Being honest gets you there.
There’s no way you’re going to be a world-class leader 5 days, 5 months after you were promoted. There’s no fucking way. Do you know how you can earn respect? Tell people and you don’t do this publicly. You take your best three people that you’re now managing and you say, “You know me. I work with you. I’ve been promoted. I need you. I don’t know what I’m doing as a manager. I know the job, but I know you know the job. I need you to help me. What do you need for me to succeed?” You ask them and you give them what they need. That is how you can do it. You can hold those people accountable, but they got to buy-in. There’s a difference in that. How many free agents go to New England to play for Belichick? You’re going to want a fucking Super Bowl.
When your Wikipedia page comes up, it’s going to say Super Bowl, not that he beat your ass. Those are the little things. If you listen to anybody talk about Belichick, he’s an unbelievable coach. He’s a teacher. He gets into the nitty gritty with you because he knows it. If you know the nitty-gritty, get into it, help. Be that way. If you don’t know the nitty gritty, be honest and realize, “I don’t know the nitty gritty as well as I need to. I need to rely on my best managers.” You and I can both tell tons of stories of that, about being young managers and leaning on that and being seasoned managers and leaning in our own experience. That’s developing the pitch. That’s more than just a fastball. That’s having the different skills.
Especially in business, as a leader, you can be very demanding and very tough when it comes to objective measures in a business, and still get along with someone in the same conversation personally. We can talk about your kid’s little league game, and the fact that you missed two months in a row of your quota in the same conversation. A mistake a lot of people make as they take the tough part of the objective business piece and they make it a little too personal. That’s just the objective. I’m looking at some results here. They’re not going the way they should, “Let’s talk about it. I expect more of you.” You can finish it that way.
One of my favorite managers ever used to drive me crazy because he was tough. He was always raising the bar, but he had a way even in a conversation, I never did it the way he did. He could yell at you. He can bark. He could chew you out on a phone. Somehow every time you got off the phone, he’d have you giggling. As soon as the conversation of business and what he was mad about was done, it was, “What are you doing this weekend? What’s going on? What else is new? What are you and Jenny doing? Did you guys have been in any good restaurants?”
We’d have a laugh. He’d make fun of me about something. I’d get off with a grin on my face, I’m irritated with him. I’d go focus on the other thing but he always found a way to remind me that, “We’re both people and we get along. I expect so much of you and I’m never going to stop at that.” A tough coach sees more in you than you are seeing in yourself, and constantly remind you, “I’m never going to stop expecting more of you than you expect of yourself.” That’s what tough coaches are. They don’t need to make it personal and they need to be mean. They expect a lot out of you and they never stop expecting more. They’re never satisfied.
You and I talked about this in prep. We haven’t talked about it yet. I find this frustrating. Whenever this comes up, it’s like a litmus test. You’re a jackass because you can’t manage a Millennial, “I can’t be tough on a Millennial.” Bullshit. You got the wrong Millennial. You can get the wrong Millennial. You can get the wrong Gen X-er. You can get the wrong greatest American generation, Baby Boomers, whatever. At some point, we’re talking about hiring and building culture. You need to get the right people on the bus. If you inherit a team, we talked about this and firing the asshole. You got to get the right people on the team. You got to be able to push them. You can’t push them all the time. These are human beings.If someone thinks you care about them, you're going to get the most out of them. Click To Tweet
They need empathy. They need everything. They don’t just need to be pushed. If you have the right on-ramping program and the right screening process, if you work for a big company, you’re going to inherit this stuff. If you build your own business, you need to define what your culture is. You need to build a parameter, an on-ramping, and a hiring program. In our sales department, we use a test called Predictive Index. There are 21 types of people who fit into the PI. If you’re going in for sales, we’ll take five. If you’re not one of those five, we will not hire you. That’s it.
Part of the job application is a six-minute test. If you’re not one of these five, you get the autoresponder. We’re not going to bring you in. Get the right people on the bus because you’ve got to have the right skills to do the job, but then it’s the other piece. It’s having empathy, giving them what they need, coaching them, and training them. It does not matter what generation you’re from. If you find the people with the right skills, the right care, if they believe that their future is in good hands working with you, you’re going to maintain a great relationship with that person. You’re going to get a great work. That’s it.
We’re trying not to use names. You and I both know the people who we’re referring to. Everybody that we look up to give a shit about us. A lot of them were different generations than us. We were the frustrating generation for them. How do you manage these kids? They figured it out. They gave a shit. They thought we were smart. We knew they thought we were smart. They trusted us. They gave us latitudes. When we fucked up, they protected us. They did those things behind closed doors. They did it publicly, “Don’t come down on Frank. He’s working his ass off.” They pull you into their office. They go, “Don’t ever fucking do that again.” That’s good coaching. That’s tough coaching. I don’t want to let that guy down. He didn’t embarrass me in front of my peers. He stood up for me. Afterwards, like our dads, he gave us the business. Not a lot fall off after that, it was “Get the hell out of my office.” You knew that that guy had your back. If you did it enough times, he might not. You wanted to make sure of that.
I’ve seen zero evidence that young people don’t take to tough coaching. It’s insulting to Millennials. It’s insulting to Gen Y. When I came in right out of college, I’m Gen X. My generation was soft as hell. It’s ridiculous. Younger folks are easier to be tough on than someone over 40 that’s been doing it. There’s not an entitlement. As long as they know that you have value to add. The people that are saying that are shitty managers that can’t help people grow. If you take a 23-year-old out of college and they look at you as someone they can take something away from, they’re sponges. They’re all trying to learn and get as valuable as they can so they can make a lot of money and do something impactful.
If they believe you’re that, you can be as tough as you want on them. As long as they know, “Damn, I’m learning every time.” It’s the same thing. If you expect a lot out of someone who’s young, that surprises them like, “He expects me to be doing this well this early.” It’s like, “Yes, I do. You should be performing as well as my tenured veterans. Why aren’t you?” If you hire the right people, they love that. For the last several years, all I did was hire folks out of college or two years out of college. I found that they were incredibly coachable. You could be as tough as you wanted on them as long as you are always investing in them and helping them. You show them that you give a shit. You show them you care.
All of us are humans. We’re all fragile in certain ways. I have not told you about this story. We’re several months after the pandemic hit. Where are we in the cycle? Nobody knows for sure. We ended up firing 30% of our staff because we’re panicking that we we’re going to go out of business. We do that. You and I talked about this. You don’t necessarily write everybody’s name down on seniority and pick the people who are senior and cut the people who were at the bottom. You don’t do it in the opposite. You’re very smart about who you keep and who you don’t keep.
I’m looking around at my construction and my vice-president of construction is doing fucking everything. He’s got a good team. The woman who’s the coordinator is very good. The two of them are doing great. I have a conversation. I said, “I’m going to start being a prick to the construction department. They are not living up to the expectations. They are not doing enough to help the two of you. They’re letting you two down.” I walked into the meeting and I said, “I’ve said this before, rule number one in management is you don’t give critical feedback in front of other people. Guess what? I’m doing it right now. Let me tell you where this conversation’s going to go. I want to start with this. You’re not doing enough. I’m disappointed in you and you. Before I get into that, do you remember what happened on March 20th? What happened?”
They both said we fired 30% of our staff. I said, “Were you fired?” The answer is clearly no, they’re in the conference room. They’re like, “No.” “Do you know why you were not fired? I picked you specifically. I want you on this team. Not only do I want you,” I point to the manager. I said, “He wants you on his team. He advocated for you. You’re here for a reason, but let’s talk about what you’re not doing.” We go into the specifics. “You’re not doing this. Let’s go back to where we started. Why did we pick you to stay? Because you’re great at this. Why do we pick you? Because you’re good here. He needs you to do more.” That’s tough fucking coaching. That’s getting all the cards on the table. I earned it. I chose them to be here. I advocated for the manager who picked to have them and this is what happened.
Within an hour, I saw results. People who weren’t communicating were communicating. People were stepping up. Two guys were working together like they were Siamese twins that were broken apart. They were doing the little things. That’s the arc of the story of good management. I earned the right. We chose it. We communicated it. I said what they were great at, what they weren’t doing well, and how we need to work as a team because we need to solve some problems as a group. We weren’t doing that. We could have addressed it individually. In this instance, it worked and it worked incredibly well. The production goes like this in an hour, but that stuff gets earned.
All that is you’re being direct. You’re being honest with someone. Some people think that they’re being a tough coach and they’re passive-aggressive. They find ways to get that message across by taking things away from people, by things they don’t say, by talking about people when they’re not around and letting that message get back to them. I respond well to someone that will tell me directly, “Here’s what I’m not getting done or what I need to get after that.” You can do that because you have a personal relationship with these people. If you didn’t, they say, “That guy’s a jerk. I’m going to get out of here. It’s not worth it to me.” No one wants to be led by a passive-aggressive person. They’d rather you tell it to them straight. Even in that moment, if they think you’re being unreasonable or irritating, the key to that message is, “I expect more of you.” How can anyone be mad at a leader for expecting more of you? That means they believe in you. That means they believe in you more than you even thought that they did.
It comes back to our high school football coach when I was 14 and 15. He knew that I was capable of more than I knew I was capable of. One of the blessings in my life is he was my football coach.
A few points that we touched on as we wrap up, what a lot of managers get wrong. You have to earn the right to be tough. You have to earn the right to be a tough coach. You’ve got to balance accountability with affiliation. You can’t be all on one side. You can’t be all buddy and you can’t be all jerk. You’ve got to find a way to strike a personal relationship with someone and hold them accountable at the same time or you’re not going to earn respect. It’s not an either/or management. You said that there’s been times where you’ve been too likable, and there’s probably been times where you’ve been too tough.
When you fall in the middle, it’s when you’re most effective. I’ve found that with every manager I’ve had, that the most effective ones have both. They didn’t lean on one or the other all the time with me. We talked about timing matters when someone’s already being tough on themselves. When they’re already down on themselves, that’s not the time to kick. That’s the time to help bring them up. When they’re feeling a little too good about themselves or not realizing that they’re not getting something, that’s the time to be tough when you can expect a little bit more.
To summarize with that exact point, as the manager, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish. If it’s a shit show, being overly micromanaging isn’t great. If it’s good times and you’re getting that little extra bit out of them, you got to know how to manage the situation like what we talked about.
We talked about treating employees differently and that’s something that most new managers don’t get right. They think everyone should be treated the same because their parents told them that they loved them as much as their siblings. That’s what we get used to growing up is hearing those things from teachers that everyone gets treated the same. The Emmett Smith gets treated different than the third string offensive tackle, I love that. It’s the same as the coaching from the US and the coaching from the Russians was the same, but they had two terribly different teams. It worked well on one and it completely collapsed the other. The Russians did not recognize that they had a team that did not need to be coached the same way as a bunch of college kids.Showing humility gets you there. Being honest gets you there. Click To Tweet
Something you mentioned that I love that I want to repeat at the end of this is if you hire the wrong people from the start, you can’t do this. You have to hire people that have a high expectation of themselves and that have some resilience so that you can use tough coaching. You have to seek out people that want a tough coach that will push them to do more. If you hire people without ambition, they’re not going to like a tough coach because they don’t want to grow. They don’t care. They want a job. They want to get paid. You have to actively seek out people that want to get better. They’ll connect with you more as a tough coach.
At some point, we’ll get into an interview and we’ll talk about that. A question you must ask if you want to be a tough coach is talk to me about a tough coach and ask questions about it. Don’t miss that opportunity in the interview. Talk about it, be personable, get it out of them. If they’re bon-bon eaters and they’ve never been tough coached, I can’t hire them because I’m going to piss them off. They’re not going to work. If you’re not sure how to properly talk about that, just fucking do it. Come out and say, “I can be a jerk. I’m going to push you. Are you comfortable in that environment?” Deal with it now.
I love to ask an interview like, “Tell me about the best coach you’ve ever had.” I then shut up and I listen. If they describe me, awesome. If they don’t describe me, I’ll say, “Tell me about another one,” and I’ll try to hear if there’s someone close to me. If it doesn’t sound like me at all, it’s a problem. I need to come and think through, are they going to like my approach or my style? It sounds like they like a totally different approach.
One of the things we didn’t come out and say that I think makes sense in the wrap up is if you’re going to be a good manager, you got to be self-aware. You are self-aware of who you are and that’s who you’re looking for in that example. There’s only so much we can do to be chameleons and change. We’ve gotten here. This is our methodology. We’ve got a multitude of things we can do and skills we can rely on, but we’re who we are in a way. You’ve got to be very mindful of that when you start this process.
The last one I had, which I talked about the coach’s kid concept. That applies in business in that, if you’re going to be a tough coach, you have to be toughest on your captains, on your best people. It so happens that IJ is one of our best players, but he has to be because he’s my son. That’s a little different than in business. In business, you can’t play favorites with your best performer where they get off. It’s Bill Belichick destroying Tom Brady and every single offensive meeting in front of the rest of the team to make the point that even my favorite son is going to get it as much as everyone else. You’re not above it. Those two are tangents. The way I look at how my dad coached me, how I coach my son, the best player, I’m toughest on him than most in practice. No one thinks that there’s any preferential treatment or anything else. That’s a critical piece of tough coaching.
With a small business, you got to be a little bit careful with that. You don’t have as big of a bench. What we do is we hold our top-level people accountable. When they do a good job, we use that as an example with the rest of the staff like, “So and so is doing a great job. Cindy’s got 0% vacancy. She’s doing a great fucking job. If you’re not living up to her expectations, you need to.” It’s not badgering her because she’s doing damn well. It’s perpetuating of, “This is what I expect that my managers are doing it. You need to raise your game.” It’s the same thing. It’s just delivered slightly differently.
It’s the affiliation piece of it. You can’t always be tough. If you’re going to hold people to account, you have to give them recognition when something goes well and show them up as an example. Usually what you’re showing of your best performer is effort. If you’re talking to a sports team, you don’t get in front of the balls and say, “Why can’t you all jump like Jordan?” That’s not what you’re talking about. You’re saying, “Does anyone notice that Jordan practices more than all of you? Does anyone notice that he gets here an hour before all of you have practice? Does anyone notice that in the fourth quarter, he doesn’t want to come out? He’s still playing defense.” You talk about effort things with Jordan. If you talk about talent, with the rest of the team and Jordan, they all roll their eyes and think, “We can’t do those things.”
What you can all do are the things that everyone can do that Jordan does, the effort things. That to me is what you put up in front of a team with your star. It is the little things that they do. Not the things that they do or a computer programmer who’s so smart. He’s a wizard and can run code around everyone. You don’t talk about, “Why can’t you all knock out as much code as him?” That’s not it. You’re probably talking about some of the intangibles that guy’s doing. If all you talk about is this skill, people shut down. They go, “We can’t do that. That’s a level that we’re not at.”
Businesses and segments of business become magic when this happens. In both of these stories, we’re the boss. We both work hard. We both show up. We put in a shitload effort and people see that, but I know more fundamentally about real estate than anybody else. I started this business based upon things I’m good at like, “Why pick a business that you suck at?” I have an inherent advantage because I pick the segment. When people look around, when my top five employees look around, they know I’m working hard and I’m working smart, and they do the same thing.
They put in the same level of effort. They may know something better than me. They may know something a little bit less, but the point of the matter is they look and there’s credibility there. As a manager, if you’re doing the little things that you’re holding people accountable to, you’re going to get the credibility so much faster, even as a new manager. If you’re outworking the problem a little bit, and you’re pushing, they’re going to see that. They’re going to see the care and the effort. It gives you a lot of latitude that you might not have gotten otherwise.
The answer to the subject of this episode is we have two votes to definitively yes, tough coaching still works. If you’re not trying it, if you haven’t attempted it yet, start to mix it in. Don’t go all in. You still have to affiliate with your staff. You still have to connect with people. I personally believe that you can’t have an exceptional organization or an exceptional team without some tough love.