At some point in every team leader’s life they will be approached by a seemingly ambitious member of the team and asked: What can I do to get _________?
For sports coaches, the blank is usually filled in with “more playing time.” For teachers, it’s usually “a better grade.” And for bosses, it’s usually some variation of “a promotion.”
Being approached with this question can be invigorating for leaders. You ‘re moved by the person’s ambition, so you provide them with encouragement and a list of improvements they need to make.
Player: What can I do to get more playing time?
Coach: You need to work on your shooting. If you can prove yourself to be a more consistent shooter, you’ll definitely earn more playing time.
The person inevitably thanks you when you’re finished and offers an assurance to commit to the suggested improvements.
Unfortunately, that conversation turns out to be the depth of their commitment. A few days or weeks pass, and the person approaches you again with the exact same question: What can I do to get _________?
It becomes a recurring interaction: They ask what they can do to get more. You tell them. But they don’t follow through with your suggestions. What was initially invigorating is now exhausting. You realize the shallowness of their ambition.
They want the perks, without paying the price. Their strategy for getting “more” wasn’t to make a deeper commitment; it was to get your attention and nag you into giving them what they had not earned.
How can a team leader handle this situation without hurting their team?
Consider flipping the script. While nagging is not generally an effective strategy for growth, nagging can be an effective method for countering shallow ambition and creating empathy.
Be extra thorough with your suggestions for how the person can get what they seek. Provide them with detailed, measurable instructions that cannot be misinterpreted and then be relentless in monitoring their efforts.
Every time you see you them, inquire about their progress. Did you work on your shooting today? How many shots did you shoot today? What shooting drills did you do today? How many shots are you going to shoot tomorrow? How much did you improve?
Your relentless monitoring—your investment in them—will lead to them diving deeper into their commitment or relinquishing their previous strategy. Either way, the team will benefit from their change.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.