On September 30th I have been invited by the Industrial Association of Lucca to contribute to a seminar lead by the famous basketball coach (active from1962 to 2011 and legendary in Italy for impressive international wins achieved with Bologna and a Milan teams) Dan Peterson. Nowadays he is journalist and a popular inspiring public figure regarding the overall fields of teamwork and leadership. It has been a pleasure to have the opportunity to interact with him together with the journalist Alessandro Petrini, himself an expert in basketball and coach. Peterson (he likes to be called simply ‘Coach’) is famous for his direct dynamic way to communicate, his sense of energy is very contagious and this is already setting me very comfortable and at ease with him.
I have been contributing to define the title of the event: “Bring a sense of concreteness to vision: the role of teamwork”. I meet Coach outside the beautiful Bernardini Palace in downtown Lucca. Both of us are early and he is walking impatiently back and forth. That’s him! No doubt! I introduce myself and he gives me one of his penetrating glances, I sense right away we understand each other and we are on ‘set for the show’. I need to go in other offices and I meet again him and his entourage right before the beginning of the event. The rooms of the palace still have the unique pompous decorations dating back to many decades ago. All is set and ready. The audience is mainly made by Lucca Young Entrepreneurs and the Director Andrea Vanni makes a brief welcoming speech.
Petrini introduces the event and we start to exchange thoughts related to vision and teamwork linked to sports. He has many interesting things to say about basketball. He makes a reference to my latest book and I focus on an example of current dynamics that are not effective in Motorsport for the still unclear vision and the continuously shifting roles: Ferrari recent much brisk and much discussed succession at the helm of both the company manufacturing cars and the Formula 1 team.
The stage is now ‘warm’ and set for the entrance of the Coach as according to plan. He walks in fast greeting the audience with his unique american accent made popular by unforgettable TV commercials dating a few years back. He glances at Petrini and myself, we are eagerly sitting at the table behind the podium (no way he can sit! regretfully I have to respect a minimum of protocol that the place deserves and I have to sit there): ‘come on boys start asking questions I can answer anything, almost anything”.
Here we start the show!
His style is brisk, filled with anecdotes that he also exemplifies by moving around and even making basketball steps and moves to reinforce and exemplify teamwork ideas he points out.
Open mind to gain awareness He points out that for him it all began with the almost fortuitous opportunity to work as a coach for the Chile basketball team for a few months until the demise of Allende. Born and raised within the insular to the globe (as he points out) certainties of midwest America, he stresses hat he has learned from Chile much much more that he has taught there: such a different culture has opened his mind towards the world and new ideas. A first essential step towards self awareness, an aspect that he stresses as crucial to anything we are set to do.
He is clear, concise and simple (not simplistic) in the way he states things.
What coaching is all about 1) Pretending from the players 2) Give them a sense of confidence. In other words, continue to set higher and higher standards and make sure that they feel that can achieve them.
Communication as key: the powerful one Peterson considers communication as a key to any real teamwork achievement. It is essential to look at people in the eyes for clear heart to heart conversation making sure to be sensitive in detecting and promptly addressing in a caring and straightforward way issues that trouble the minds and emotions individual team players. The ‘human touch’ is a foundation for it all and it is evident that Peterson has gained this through his intense multicultural experiences on and off the playing field. In communicating keep everything simple, focus on three concepts at most but make sure that they are understood, fully understood, and become part of the way of thinking and acting of the player. As a coach do not overcommunicate because this simply sends messages of fear to the team, the team has to be protected from fear, it needs to be driven by high standards and an increased sense of confidence.
All is flowing and dynamic today, yet some key principles stick… Coach looks straight in my eyes and asks for one more question, we all sense it is going to be the last definitive one. I state that many things he is stating related to working in a team set on defined models and actions; at the same time nowadays organisations confront themselves with continuos changes in a very dynamic way and this certainly impacts teamwork. Earlier I had pointed out that to me there are two levels of teamwork: the daily one related to tasks performance (for example changing tyres in F1 in 2 seconds) and the strategic operational ones concerning vision and its implementation (the one were Ferrari F1 is failing now). Nevertheless I underline that some key principles he points out represent essential foundations even for nowadays workplaces. He acknowledges my thinking matching it with some examples while briskly walking towards the audience.
The cherokee way He ends the meeting with a special positive uplifting greeting made with a sign language that he translates into words. He says that 1/64 of his blood is cherokee. Cherokee communicate in sign language in a way that is straightforward, direct, self-assured, personable, simple and inspiring at the same time. That is exactly Coach! That 1/64 of cherokee blood is possibly the one taking over and that gives him his unique sense of identity and contagious energy.
Thank you for the lasting lessons Coach!