Amin Elhassan: It’s Not Enough to Be Right, How You Communicate Matters More


I've learned this lesson the hard way at times in my career: Having the right answer isn't enough if you can't lead people in a way that gets them to go along and work with you.

I've learned that instead of trying to gain “buy in” after developing a solution, it's better to engage others in developing the solution with you.

Telling people that they're wrong or making them look bad isn't a good strategy if you want to effect change. As we learn in the practice of “Motivational Interviewing,” the “righting reflex” is very strong in us. But, M.I. teaches us by asking, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to help others change?”

One podcast I listen to very regularly is the Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. I've mentioned them before in this post that featured the thoughts of a regular guest, Domonique Foxworth.

What the World's Best Organizations (in Business or Sports) Do…

Now, to today's topic…

I was listening to the show the other day and I heard a great story / essay by another frequent guest, Amin Elhassan, a former NBA executive who recently left ESPN (as Le Batard did) to join their show and company, Meadowlark Media.

Here is a direct link to the audio, it's about a three-minute story that Amin tells and I think it really relates to people in just about any workplace:

Postgame Show: For Meadowlark Media, I'm Amin Elhassan

It resonated with me so much, I had a transcript made:

Click the image to listen

Amin Elhassan: The reality is the biggest pitfall for any NBA front office or coaching professional, regardless of whether or not they have an analytics background, is communication.

The NBA, as with many work environments, there's a delicate dance when it comes to information and how it is used. Its value is not just rooted in its accuracy. How it is received is often just as important.

I remember early on in my career as a video coordinator, when I was with the Suns, having a convo about this with my then boss David Griffin, who's currently the executive VP of basketball ops with the New Orleans Pelicans.

We had a very open work environment in Phoenix, where discussion and sharing of pertinent information and opinions was encouraged, regardless of the station of the speaker.

I remember I had been embroiled in a heated debate about some player or something. Through the use of supporting evidence, I'd invalidated the point of whoever was talking. Afterward, Griff pulled me aside and let me know:

Sometimes it's not enough to be right. You have to attract people to your side.

In essence, I put the guy on blast in front of a room full of people. Even though my point was right, it embarrassed him. That might trigger further resentment down the line, which would become an obstacle for things I was trying to do later, had I not been alerted to that by Griff.

Remind me of a conversation with a very popular well-likd player claiming analytics were not respected in the locker room and could never account for or supplant feel. It's an almost non sequitur.

Someone then asked the player about how critical the corner three-point shot had become in the NBA. Without skipping a beat, the player began to wax at length at the importance of the corner three, how their offense was designed to generate a large volume of them, how they are drummed in their heads about the ills of giving up the corner three on the defensive end.

The guy never put two and two together that the strategy that he was talking about was borne out of the very thing he derided. When I heard that, I knew whoever preached that gospel to him did it extremely well.

The reality is it didn't matter how he'd got to the conclusion that corner threes are important. All that matters is we have buy-in. They can't resist it if they don't know it came from their unhappy place.

In the end, all this is versions of Pat Riley's “Disease of Me” applied to a front office setting — feelings of under-appreciation, paranoia over being cheated out of one's rightful share, resentment of the competency of another. Part of being successful at being part of a functional operation is managing these forces, regardless of your role within the front office.

I'm Amin Elhassan from Meadowlark Media.

I really appreciate Amin sharing that story.

He was also wiling to share a “My Favorite Mistake” story that I used in a bonus episode of “My Favorite Mistake”:

I also recently had a chance to solicit and share another “My Favorite Mistake” from a weekly show guest, Ron Magill, from Zoo Miami:

When successful people are willing to share mistakes, it reinforces to others that we're all human — we all make mistakes. Not everybody is willing to admit them. And that means not everybody can (or will) reflect and learn from mistakes in a way that helps us not just prevent repeating mistakes… it helps us grow as people and as professionals.

And what are Pat Riley's seven signs that somebody has the “disease of me”? As this blog post summarizes:

  1. Inexperience in dealing with sudden success
  2. Chronic feelings of under-appreciation
  3. Paranoia over being cheated out of one's rightful share
  4. Resentment against the competence of partners
  5. Personal effort mustered solely to outshine a teammate
  6. A leadership vacuum resulting from the formation of cliques and rivalries.
  7. Feelings of frustration even when the team performs successfully

And again, these things don't just happen in sports organizations, right?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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