Changing the Culture: Cursing Football Coaches, Attacking the Change Agent
John W. Parks IV, pictured at left, is a Professor of Percussion at Florida State University. He was one of my favorite people during my time as an undergraduate student at Northwestern University. I played drums in the marching band there for four years.
That’s me on the right side of the photo below, see the red arrow. I clearly wasn’t bending my knees enough compared to the other “quad” players (or they were bending their knees too much, ha ha). We didn’t normally do that. But it was somehow part of the band’s performance that week.
John was a graduate student during that time and served as the marching band drumline instructor for two of those years.
He was a coach, a teacher, and a mentor for us. There were times when John yelled at us, but he was never insulting or belittling. He wanted us to do better. He knew we could play better. He pushed us. But it came from a place of respect and caring.
I remember him yelling after we had played something in rehearsal, saying simply:
“Play it again! BETTER!”
That might not sound like the most helpful coaching. But, sometimes, what you need is repetition. You reflect on what you know you messed up or could have done better. He did more than yell, of course. He demonstrated technique and showed us what to do. He was a great coach.
John shared in our success. If I remember him yelling at us, I also remember him getting really excited, jumping up and down on the sidelines when we nailed it during a halftime performance. There was joy in that sense of accomplishment and getting there sometimes required John pushing us.
John recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Tallahassee Democrat paper. Poking the bear and criticizing anything involving Florida State football isn’t the pathway to popularity in that town.
John writes, in part:
My 8-year-old son is obsessed with college football, watching games with me every weekend. On several occasions he was able to lip-read everything coaches screamed at players and officials. It started a conversation.
“Dad, why do coaches yell at the players with the f-word?”
“That’s a good question.”
“Do you yell at your students like that?”
“Absolutely not. I respect them, and they respect me. That respect is not based on fear and intimidation.”
“Fear and what?”
Dr. W. Edwards Deming wrote about driving out fear from the workplace. I think that’s a really important concept for our organizations today. There’s so much dysfunction that results from fear and intimidation. Fear leads to people hiding problems and covering things up… which prevents improvement.
As I’ve blogged about (including here), the culture of fear and intimidation that I experienced at General Motors 20 years ago wasn’t productive. It didn’t lead to improvement. Yelling, screaming, spitting, and cursing didn’t help improve anything.
I’ve written about this before in the context of college football:
In this article, John adds:
“I never speak to my students in any other way than with deference, even when I might be upset. If I were to act like many of these coaches do, I am sure I would be fired. And rightly so.”
Like said, John, at times, yelled at us… but that was almost 25 years ago. We’ve all grown and matured since then. Like I said before, I never thought John was abusive or at all out of line. He acted like we were all part of team, rather than being our superior.
“I think we can do better.”
I think he also raises a good point that yelling and screaming often occurs in high-pressure settings. That’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation. When I was at GM, leaders there would explain their bad behavior as something they were taught (through experience… that sort of bad behavior tends to get passed on or flows downhill, as they say).
Now, I’ve rarely seen people yell and scream in healthcare settings. It probably doesn’t happen as much in modern factories. It’s not a Lean behavior.
Hospitals often make excuses for surgeons or others who behave badly. They look the other way. They rationalize why harmful and disrespectful behavior isn’t that bad. They too often don’t want to lose the surgeon and the revenue they bring in. Thankfully, some hospitals are cracking down on that.
It’s interesting to think about the need for other types of culture change and how organizations react when the issue is raised.
People resist and get defensive when somebody speaks an ugly truth (such as the fact that too many patients are harmed by preventable errors). There’s often a backlash that occurs when somebody pushes, say, the need for a better patient safety culture in healthcare.
In this video, John reads some of the, um, feedback that he received from his piece. He has a good sense of humor about it:
If you read the book Leadership on the Line by Harvard professor Ronald Heifetz, he writes about how organizations will often turn on a change agent. Those invested in the status quo will often attack the messenger, as I think happened with John. They aren’t debating the point (that football coaches shouldn’t scream and curse)… they’re attacking him personally. At least he can laugh at it.
What do you think? I should blog it again… BETTER?