When my son Ted was in high school, he was a pretty good basketball player. Good enough that there were a number of colleges that wanted him to play for their programs. There were a number of other colleges that were interested enough in his basketball abilities to bring him on campus and show him what they had to offer. But before they bought him on campus, they typically called on the phone to talk to him. They called to show him that they were interested in him. And that is where it became problematic.
Ted has always been a very nice, very caring but somewhat shy kid. This is the child that we had to remind how to properly shake hands with someone. We had to teach Ted how to both look people in the eye when you are shaking hands and talking with them face to face. After overhearing Ted talk on the phone to the coaches that were calling, I knew we also had to help him learn how to talk on the phone. Here is a slightly exaggerated example of what we heard on our end… Ted: “good”…”thanks”…”good”…”yep”…”ah huh”…”OK”… “ah huh”…”bye”. Not the most engaging conversationalist!
Now Ted is a 5th year senior, playing basketball at Northern Iowa. When he told us that he had an interview with the local radio station in Waterloo right before Christmas, I had flashbacks to his high school days. From what I can remember, Ted has not been interviewed much during his basketball career, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. As I started listening to the podcast, I was very nervous for Ted, worried that he would give one word answers to questions, worried that he would sound like that kid I overheard on the phone talking to college basketball coaches.
Ted answered the first question pretty well, and I actually started breathing somewhat normally again. The interview progressed and I was actually enjoying what Ted was saying. He gave thoughtful answers to the questions and occasionally told an interesting story. The “ums” and “ahs” were minimal. This was NOT the same kid I remembered overhearing talking to college coaches.
As small business owners and manager I think we can learn a couple of things from Ted’s growth in talking with people. First thing is that we can learn to talk with the press and the public. This wasn’t a natural skill for Ted and I know he spent time working on it. It has been said that public speaking is the number one fear that people have, followed by the fear of death. Some people would rather die than speak in public! It does take practice and training but it is something that we need to be able to do. We have to communicate our company message to more than one person at a time.
The second lesson that I learned from Ted’s interview is that people can change and grow. As small business owners and managers it is not only our responsibility to help our people change and grow, it is good business. Yes it takes time and effort and costs some money, but it will pay off in the end. Your people will appreciate the fact that you took the time and effort to invest in them, and they in turn will better represent your company. That in turn will turn will lead to larger profits.
I am proud of Ted and what he has done with his basketball career, but I am more proud of the man he has become. I almost wish some of those other college coaches would call back and have a conversation with him. But more than that, I am anxious to see where he goes and what he accomplishes after graduation in May.