The Tiger Within A pregnant tiger stumbles through the woods, desperately seeking its next meal. With her unborn cub weighing her down, the tiger mama is nearing the end of her rope. If she doesn’t find something to eat soon, she’ll most certainly die. Crawling out to edge of a…
I’ve heard it said that relationships give us a mirror to see ourselves, and boy was that true for me last week at my regular Sunday drop-in volleyball group in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Here’s what happened.
Some years back while teaching English in Japan, I found myself speeding along on a bullet train down to Nagasaki to visit a friend whom, I’ll admit, I had a bit of a crush on. While there, my friend introduced me to one of her buddies: a successful, local architect who shared with me an intriguing tenet of his design philosophy: “Always include something inconvenient.” It didn’t take long for me to understand what he was talking about.
I played a lot of sports in my school days – football, basketball and tennis, mostly — and at least once a season, like clockwork, one of my coaches could be relied upon to get up on his soapbox and declare, “There is no ‘I’ in team!” Know-it-alls that we were, my buddies and I would just roll our eyes, thinking, “We get it, already. We’re not dummies! There’s no room for a prima donna in team sports.”
I first met today’s guest writer, New York jazzman Tim Armacost, in college almost 30 years ago, at a time when both of us were grappling not only with what kind of careers we wanted to pursue, but also with what kind of adults we wanted to become. While I eventually chose team development, training and coaching, Tim has been traveling the globe these last 25 years, pursuing a career as a professional tenor saxophonist — living in such exotic locations as Amsterdam, Delhi, and Tokyo. His CDs, including Live at Smalls, The Wishing Well, and Brightly Dark, have received high praise from the Washington Post and the Jazz Times. Fluent in Japanese, Tim is also a longtime student of Zen Buddhism; his meditation practice infuses his music and contributes strongly to his relaxed yet passionate performance style.
Today I asked Tim to share a few of his thoughts on team leadership from a jazz improv perspective. Here are his insightful comments:
“You’re either a mistake maker or a life learner.”
Given that over 120 million viewers were watching the end of Super Bowl XLIX this past Sunday, the chances are fairly good that at least some (if not most) of you witnessed the puzzling play calling from Seattle Seahawks’ coach, Pete Carroll. Here was the situation. Down by four points with less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks have possession of the ball with one yard separating them from the end zone and, most likely, their second consecutive Super Bowl victory. The common-sense call is to run the ball with Marshawn Lynch, a bowling ball of a human being with the nickname “Beast Mode”. Lynch who, on the previous play, pounded ahead for four yards, has already run for over 100 yards in the game, demonstrating time and again that the Patriots can’t mount much resistance when a short gain is required of him. Everyone in the stadium (including this writer) is expecting a safe, off-tackle plunge from Lynch. But then something remarkable happens; the Seahawks’ brilliant young quarterback, Russell Wilson, unexpectedly drops back for a pass and slings the ball over the middle in the direction of wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, knifing towards the goal line. Against all odds, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler steps in front of Lockette and intercepts the ball, essentially ending the game and handing New
England their 4th Super Bowl victory.
What could Pete Carroll have been thinking?
As many of you probably know from reading my articles and blogs over the years, I’m a long-time volleyball player. Not that I’m an “A+” player, mind you… At 5’9”, I’m not exactly spiking the ball over people. But whatever the outcome, I do love getting out there and running around with my Sunday group of drop-in volleyballers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Over my 20 years of v-ball Sundays, I’ve been repeatedly astonished by how uncannily the game parallels life and, most particularly, the psycho-social dynamics in the workplace.
Yoda: Luke! You must complete the training.
Luke Skywalker: I can’t keep the vision out of my head. They’re my friends. I’ve gotta help them.
Yoda: You must not go!
Luke: And sacrifice Han and Leia?
Yoda: If you honor what they fight for, yes!
Obi-Wan: If you choose to face Vader, you will do it alone. I cannot interfere.
Luke: I understand. R2, fire up the converters.
Obi-Wan: Luke. Don’t give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.
Yoda: Strong is Vader. Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.
Luke: I will and I’ll return. I promise. [flies off with X-Wing]
Do you remember this scene from the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back? (1980) The young Luke Skywalker finds himself at a crossroads, faced with the hero’s eternal dilemma: stay and complete his training, or rush off (before his education is complete) to try and save his friends. As you can see above, Luke chooses to leave Master Yoda’s tutelage well before fully mastering his Jedi skills, hurrying off to battle with Darth Vader before he’s actually up to the challenge. As a result, let’s just say that Luke has his lunch (and his hand) handed to him on a platter.
Although we have no Death Stars to destroy back here on planet Earth, no black-clad, heavy-breathing villains to vanquish, we nevertheless find ourselves continually in predicaments similar to that of Luke’s.
My girlfriend and I are running through the park yesterday on a warm, sunny, California afternoon when my partner — observing my relatively-slow jogging rate — suggests, “Ready to step up the pace?”
Nonplussed, I respond: “Give me a break! Can’t you see I’m struggling to keep up?”
Silence ensues, followed by a hurt: “I was just trying to help!”
What in the world has just happened here? One second we’re jogging along together in nature, the next we’re at each others’ throats.
“I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam: I looked into the soul of another boy.” –Woody Allen
It’s funny how the things we learn in elementary school stick in our heads and take on an element of “truth” as we get older. As far back as I can remember, for example, my teachers told me that I should *never* talk to other students while taking a test, for that would be *cheating*.