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By Wendy Lambourne, director, Legitimate Leadership

In the critical leadership activity of “watching the game”, the following standards (discussed below) apply: Do It With The Right Intent; Listen, Observe And Ask Questions; Watch The Game, Don’t Play It; Give Attention To The Person Playing The Game, Not The Outcome; Inform The Person That His/Her Game Is Being Watched; Spend Sufficient Time To Reach Some Conclusions About What Is Being Watched; and Give Feedback As Soon As Possible After Observation

  1.  Do It With The Right Intent.

The reason for “watching the game” should be to gain a better understanding of what to GIVE the person to enable their contribution and growth. If the intent of the person watching the game is wrong, all the skills of observation, listening and feedback will not work. If their intent is right, the person whose game is being watched is likely to want to know “when are you going to come and watch my game again?”

  1. Listen, Observe And Ask Questions.

“Watching the game” is not a passive activity like “being a fly on the wall”. It requires engagement and the asking of questions, both of the person whose game is being watched and possibly other people as well.

“Watching the game” should be diagnostic, not evaluative. For this reason, the most important attribute of the person “watching the game” is curiosity. That person needs to approach the activity with a spirit of enquiry, with a genuine desire to learn something, rather than to assess or pass judgement on the person(s) whose game they are watching.

  1. Watch The Game, Don’t Play It.

It is clearly not possible to simultaneously watch a game and play it. The person “watching the game” needs to resist the temptation to jump in and take over the other person’s game. This is not useful because the person “watching the game” is now not in a position to give feedback but can seriously disempower the person whose game is being watched.

“Watching the game”, rather than playing it, is not easy for managers who pride themselves on getting stuck in and fixing the result. But, actually, while they may feel that they are not being useful, the opposite is true. A coach can only enable the player(s) by standing back from the game and seeing what the player(s) need, which will enable them to play a better game.

  1. Give Attention To The Person Playing The Game, Not The Outcome.

The sports coach is obviously intensely interested in the score but does not come to the game to “watch the game” and then stared fixedly at the scoreboard. Rather, the coach’s eyes are on the players, on how well they are playing the game and the impact of this on the scoreboard. In doing so, the coach is determining how the player(s) need to change their game and what they need from their coach to enable them to do so.

Similarly, the leader’s attention needs to be on the person and how they are performing “real time” in whatever aspect of their role the leader is watching. If, for example, it is a sales interaction that is being watched, the focus should be on how well the person is selling, not whether the sale has been achieved.

  1. Inform The Person That His/Her Game Is Being Watched.

“Watching the game” is not a clandestine activity, done secretly without the person knowing that their game is being watched. Neither the concern that “then they won’t behave normally” or “then they will perform well” is valid. From experience, people do actually behave normally after a few minutes of being self-conscious. If it is genuinely felt that by watching, the other person will be seriously put off their game, then the option always exists to ask them how it went in a debrief afterwards.

If people perform well when observed, this is good news because it confirms they have the ability to meet the standard.

  1. Spend Sufficient Time To Reach Some Conclusions About What Is Being Watched.

It is better to “watch the game” frequently for short periods than infrequently for long periods. Again, from experience, it is amazing what the person “watching the game” can see and/or hear in a relatively short period when their attention is fully focused. In “watching the game” what is being looked for is not a singular incident or minutiae but rather themes, trends or patterns in what is happening. As a rule of thumb, once the themes start repeating themselves (the same thing is being seen or heard a few times), sufficient time has been spent.

  1. Give Feedback As Soon As Possible After Observation.

There is clearly no point in “watching the game” and not sharing one’s observations with the intention of helping those who have been watched to grow. Feedback comes after, not during, observation and listening. It should be given sooner rather than later, while what was seen or heard is still fresh and top-of-mind. Importantly, the immediacy of the feedback given can be acted on because it is specific, behavioural and based on first-hand observation.

Like any leadership activity, those who deliberately “watch the game” get better with practice. The more they practice, the better they get.