Have you ever wondered why some coaches can yell and scream and be loved for it while others are hated? Or have you noticed that there are some people in your life you are much more eager to accept advice and criticism from than others?
While much attention and research is devoted to how criticism is delivered and received, I think that oftentimes it comes down to a simple ratio. In my own experience, I have had numerous coaches, teachers, mentors, and bosses in my life (hereafter we will refer to all of these roles as “teacher” for simplicity, though the principles to be discussed are often true for parents and friends as well). Together they represent a breadth of personality types and leadership styles. Some I loved; some I felt indifferent toward; and some I would prefer not to have to study under again.
My favorite and least favorite teachers shared at least one significant trait: they were all hard on me. Especially in athletics, they liked to yell, and none of them seemed to care if the entire world knew the blunder I had just committed. So why do I revere some and generally avoid thinking about others? Simple. I felt that some of them genuinely cared about me and others did not.
I firmly believe that there is a direct correlation between how accountable you can hold a person and how much that person thinks you care about them. And an important distinction should be made here. The level of accountability does not correlate with how much a teacher cares about a student. It correlates with how much the student thinks the teacher cares.
Looking back now at teachers I have had, I can understand in a way I could not before how much they cared for me, and I would be much more receptive now to feedback that I used to receive with frustration and confusion. Nothing new has happened in these relationships. I have just grown older and have a new perspective.
As adults, many of us function in roles both of teacher and student in different areas of our lives. We can wear the hat of either teacher or student (sometimes both) in our families, workplaces, churches, and community groups. Having this dual responsibility, there is certainly value in looking at both sides of the relationship.
In the role of teacher we must communicate both love and accountability. It is easy to see where an imbalance heavy with accountability can go awry, but establishing only care, without giving correction, can also cause problems. For a student, knowing a teacher cares but never receiving useful correction can be horribly frustrating. If it goes on too long, it can lead the student to question the teacher’s authenticity. After all, if you really care about me, wouldn’t you correct me and teach me to be better? This can easily end in resentment and lack of trust.
As a teacher it is important to start communicating love. Some refer to this as earning the right to be heard. Words are good. Actions speak louder. Consistency is crucial. Then we have a responsibility to demand the best from others. There is a very successful basketball coach in Texas whose advice to young coaches is to be hard and demanding on their players but always follow it up by wrapping an arm around them and saying you love them.
As a student it is important to examine the assumptions we make about our teachers. Remember that good students want to be taught, good players want to be coached, and good workers want to be mentored. Is it possible my teacher is hard on me only because he/she loves me? Mike Singletary, Hall of Fame linebacker of the ’85 Bears, credits a revelation that Buddy Ryan, defensive coordinator of the ’85 Bears, was so hard on him because Buddy loved him with his rise to a leadership role on arguably the greatest football team ever. We need to remember that accountability is hard and correction can be painful but this is the tried and true way to improvement.
So take a risk this week, month, or year. Demand the best of someone, and then show them you love them. Question the assumptions you have made about the people who are hardest on you. See if you don’t get a little better through the process.