Logistics as Leadership

In the past, I served on the board of directors for the Canadian Ski Coach Federation (CSCF). It was the governing body responsible for certifying and educating ski coaches for the sport of ski racing in Canada. For most sports this function was managed directly within the sport’s NSO or National Sports Organization. Alpine ski racing in Canada was one of the only sports which had two organizations, Alpine Canada and CSCF. This separation posed problems over the years as we didn’t always see eye to eye with each other. The CSCF built education programs which we thought were cutting edge and would help us train athletes to become technically and tactically proficient in the sport. We created a skill development system built around key success factors. Moreover, a progression that would cover the life span of athletes participating in the sport was created to help move the youngest from beginner to elite over ten plus years of participation in the sport. A purpose of CSCF was to professionalize the role of ski coach. We created a code of conduct, ethical responsibilities, and an obligation to undertake continuing education annually. We were convinced our efforts were creating opportunities for coaches to improve themselves, their athletes, and the sport’s contribution to Canada’s sporting legacy.

Pursuing the levels of certification we created became increasingly time consuming and costly for participants commensurate with the expanded nature of the courses we developed. For coaches to become excited about committing to our education system they needed some assurance that their investment of energy and expense would be met with improved employability at the end. Our goal was to have coaches that worked with national team athletes at Alpine Canada to adopt our training system. We also then wanted Alpine Canada to hire those that came through our education system. We struggled on both fronts to gain traction with Alpine Canada. They simply didn’t share our enthusiasm for our education system. The more they resisted, the more we lobbied. Domestically trained coaches we certified as graduating our high performance programs were consistently ignored by Alpine Canada. Our frustrations grew over the years. We couldn’t figure out what the problem was. We criticized each hire they made as they selected one international candidate after another. An Austrian here, A German there, a few Italians, a Slovenian, a Swiss, and on and on it went. Even an American or two were hired along the way with no Canadian certified coach around. Getting buy in for our programs seemed elusive. We felt disrespected and we felt like our expertise was being discredited by a lack of support from our National Sport Organization.

Not only did we not see Alpine Canada’s perspective, but we weren’t even looking for it. They were trying to deliver high performance on the international stage in order to attract both government funds as well as corporate sponsorships. Athletic performance was their major metric. Moreover, the emphasis was on performance right now, today. Most of the sport takes place in Europe. The skill set that Alpine Canada deemed important was less experience and expertise from technical and tactical perspectives and more local knowledge. Street smarts superseded sophisticated and scientific programming. Where the CSCF saw Alpine Canada’s focus as majoring in minors, they realized that at the root of competing in Europe was understanding how to get the little details right. Figuring out where to stay at resorts where competitions were being held was a priority. Understanding how to move people and equipment from place to place seamlessly was a secret skill. Being able to communicate across languages and cultures to obtain training space was of greater value than being able to detect and correct errors in skiing technique. Coaches that had come from countries in the regions where competitions were held and understood the lay of the local land were more valuable than Canadians.

Most of the competitions are held in small resort towns which explode with an influx of people and media as events approach. Securing accommodations that allow easy access to the competition venue on race days while avoiding crowds and potential delays is of primary importance. Additionally, accessing accommodations that allow for either a gym or some area where athletes can exercise in private is of value. Ensuring dietary needs may be met is, too, important. It is hard enough being in foreign countries with unknown language and culture. Taking on local cuisine can be an additional shock to the system. High performance athletes have regimented routines which must be taken into account when choosing where to stay. The summation of all of these little, unseen details can make or break an athlete’s opportunities long before they even make it to the start of their competition. Each of these tasks must be managed flawlessly not just once a year but week after week over the course of a six month season.

Logistics was the leading capability being sought. How to get people and stuff efficiently from a to b to c was the competence being chased. Speed and economy of transportation was desired. Those that knew where to stay, how to get rooms, how to get about, and how to connect with the local scene were immediately useful to helping athletes compete. It was these seemingly small or counter-intuitive traits that were in demand. It wasn’t the skills of professionalism that we at the CSCF had spent so much time and energy developing. When confronted with this reality, we didn’t appreciate Alpine Canada’s perspective. Instead, we became increasingly irritated with our own irrelevance. Unfortunately, this bred intransigence, not humility. This further fed Alpine Canada’s view that we just didn’t get it. The simple reality was that the characteristics of competence that were obvious to us were not those that mattered in the real world. Where we thought we had things figured out, our partner of us had serious doubts. We figured we had hit it out of the park whereas they thought we had missed the mark.

Our own arrogance shielded us from seeing the truth. We were blindly orchestrating our own defeat by focusing on the wrong meat of the matter. Our attention was allocated to technique and tactics. We were consumed by the nuts and bolts of the performance. We discounted logistics and considered shipping as secondary. Surely, there’s some low-level junior staffer that can take care of lugging equipment and worrying about shipping it across continents and countries. That’s not the purview of highly trained and skilled, professional coaches. Coaches have more important things to do we figured. We wanted to believe that our insight and expertise related to technical training was the difference maker not moving things from a to b. However, training for high performers is led as much by the high performers than by coaches. They will seek out the edges to explore. They will push. They don’t need to be poked or prodded. Helping high performers is done by clearing their path. It’s about getting out of their way and making their training seamless. Clearing the path is not micro-managing and offering constant feedback. It’s about setting up training opportunities and moving their gear from a to b. It’s less glamor and more grind. As Canadians, we were foreigners to the sport and didn’t have the experience to understand the environment.

D & C stands for detection and correction. We considered this the primary purpose of coaching. It was to detect performance issues and offer corrections for athletes to implement. We thought expertise in coaches was having a keen eye for identifying the gap between actual and ideal performance. However, high performers are keen to D & C themselves. They may want outside input, they’re perfectly comfortable receiving feedback. Yet, they are more than willing to identify errors and seek performance improvements themselves. What they need, therefore, is less feedback and more information. Coaches add value in this context where they can provide quality information in large quantities as timely as possible. For example, video of training sessions from varying angles which is of good quality is of interest to high performance athletes. They want to be able to access this as quickly as possible after a run. Coaches that can produce this video in a way that is digestible by the athlete shortly after a run are adding value. Athletes (with the help and support of coaches) may be able to review their most recent performance while riding up a chairlift in preparation for the next training lap. This improves the feedback cycle and subsequent athlete performance. If objective timing information can be added to the video, this, too, helps high performers digest performance, make adjustments, and seek improvements. The central role of coaches becomes not observing but providing. It’s about not being the star of the show and imparting great wisdom but providing objective and actionable information to those hungry to make adjustments themselves. In this context, coaching becomes a supporting role. It is more about embracing mule-like monotony and serving like a Sherpa. It’s less goading athletes and more carrying the load. Ferrying materials and equipment not just from location to location between events but from place to place within a given training session becomes the focus.

We were paying attention to the wrong things. Our desire to be validated coupled with our well intended interest in contributing clouded our vision. We weren’t asking important questions like, how is success measured? Who is setting the standard? Little about what we were doing was from a position of humility. We weren’t looking externally enough. We were one dimensional in our assessment. We weren’t truly considering who it was we were trying to serve. We incorrectly conflated advocating for coaches as making athletes better. We were caught up in our own agenda. In so doing we didn’t just discount but overlooked all together where the ability to make things better lied.

Omar Bradley was a commander for U.S. troops involved in World War II’s D-day invasion. During this time, he observed, “Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics.” Battles are won by those that get fuel in their tanks and bullets in the guns of their soldiers. It’s more about equipping those at the front with the right materials than about trying to organize them into particular formations. Bradley’s approach became known as the Bradley Axiom in military circles, that’s how deep the love of logistics was seen. We were definitely amateurs talking about strategy and ignoring the importance of logistics. US Congressman and former Navy Seal, Dan Crenshaw echoed the Bradley Axiom writing in Fortitude, “Ninety-five percent of warfare is logistics. Someone is in charge of making sure each LTATV is fueled, maintained, and equipped for a three-day journey. Someone is in charge of scheduling the airlift and making sure we have an appropriate landing zone. Someone else is in charge of making sure we have primary, secondary, and tertiary communications customized for the LTATVs.” Getting our ducks in a row is a requirement to being able to perform. The most skilled musicians are not much of an orchestra without their musical instruments. Moreover, where they are stuck in traffic and can’t be delivered to the symphony hall, their skills don’t matter much either. It’s not the devil that’s in the details, but that nothing exists until the basic details are attended to. You can’t be a star if you’re stuck in your car.

All of the above is true for various roles within our organizations. For example, the best at sales are highly motivated. They don’t need inspiration. They are perfectly happy to bring their own perspiration to the party. They’re willing to work. They, like high performance athletes, are as motivated or likely more than their managers. What they want are objective tools to help them know where they stand. Management serves them by providing information or data to be digested. Detailed direction is secondary to actionable information. Leadership involves support not direction. It’s what coaching and leadership share. It’s not spoon feeding detailed direction. It’s clearing the path for those motivated to move to be able to make progress. Leading with logistics represents a reflection of the Care component of leadership we’ve discussed in a prior article. It’s about being an Anteambulo and clearing the path.

As we noted in this article, leaders should focus on developing answers to questions along the following:

  • Do staff have the proper tools and resources available to do their jobs?
  • Have you provided your brokers with a sufficient number of markets for them to offer insurance to insureds?
  • Have you defined the types of insureds that your brokerage intends to do business with? Do they have clarity as to customers to target?
  • Have you provided your staff with suitable BMS and CRM tools to input customer information and streamline customer contact?
  • Do you have a defined sales process for new business, renewals, and other regular activities? Have staff been trained on these?
  • Do staff have access to management to get help or clarification?
  • Is staff input sought by management as to where staff are stumbling?
  • Is feedback sought from staff as to what types of customer concerns or objections arise? Is something done with this feedback with the intent of improving customer experiences?
  • Can management anticipate sales struggles and seek to proactively manage these?

Leadership becomes more about removing obstacles than inspiring speeches. At the heart of logistics as leadership is the idea of “giving to get.” In order to get results, we must give the right tools and training. Leadership is about supporting other’s efforts in order to benefit the business.