We’re getting closer to summer – the time of year for watching my favorite sport, WNBA basketball. I’ve never played the game myself. When I became an avid fan back in 1998, someone had to explain what a point guard was. Now I’m hooked.
Over the years I’ve picked up a lot of ideas that carry over from basketball, such as “Take your shots” and “Show up.”
And I’ve seen how players dramatically improve their performance when they get to go where they’re wanted.
Sometimes a coach seeks out a player. Point guard Ivory Latta starred for the North Carolina Tar Heels, but didn’t find a real home in the WNBA. About ten years ago, when Mike Thibault became head coach of the Mystics, he sought out Ivory Latta to be his point guard. Ivory was averaging something like 20 points a game and Washington was no longer at the bottom of the standings.
First round draft picks know they’re wanted. In basketball, new prospects are “drafted” in a rigidly prescribed order. Each team gets one pick in the first round. Then they go back and do a second and maybe a third round. In the WNBA, draft orders are assigned based on a combination of the team’s last season record, with the worst going first, and a lottery. And to make things more interesting, teams trade draft picks.
Teams have to take a gamble when they select players and these choices are critical. One great player can turn a team around or fill a missing hole. Naturally, not all players turn out as well as expected.
First round draft picks don’t always live up to their promises. But statistically, being drafted early confers huge advantage on players. They tend to stay with the team that drafted them longer than average, and they’re less likely to be traded. Regardless of skill level, they enjoy longer careers in their leagues. They get treated well and enjoy the benefits of confirmation bias.
Get Used To Feeling Wanted
In the career world, you often have choices. When you factor in how much you’re wanted, your choice often turns out better than expected
“Drew” appeared to be a chronic misfit as he moved from one company to another. He was “difficult.” One move ended with guards escorting him from his office and a subsequent lawsuit (which he won). But when Drew was recruited for his current job, everything changed.
This company knew how to use Drew effectively. More important, they had already marked Drew for greatness, so they looked around to find a department that would be a good fit. Drew now works in a high-end technical support area, where his “arrogance” comes across as authoritative. Customers love him.
Drew changed too. In his previous jobs he’d been something of a whiner and complainer. (You know the type.) He had made a fuss when his office got moved or he had to cover for weak colleagues. In his new job, Drew became a model of positive attitude. He lived up to his new company’s expectations.
Frankly, I don’t think Drew even noticed what happened. His friends did.
How The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Changes Your Outcomes
If your boss expects you to fail, it’s going to be hard to prove her wrong. If your boss thinks you’re a star, you’ll probably shine brighter than either of you anticipated. And neither of you may ever figure out what happened.
Sounds simplistic, but it works. When I was in grad school, I took a course with a psychology professor I really liked. He went on to become famous, but in those days he was a new junior faculty member who had time to talk to students. He really liked my ideas and he believed in me.
When I got an “A” in his course I was surprised, so I went back and read the papers I’d written, with the perspective of time. They were much better than what I’d written for most of my other courses, and one of them became a paper I presented at a conference.
Got A Choice? Pick The Opportunity Where You Are The Number 1 Pick.
I’m not aware of studies showing that employees who are “wanted” do better than those who get hired because “we had to fill that slot by December.” However, some companies have lists (sometimes secret) of people identified as “High Potential.” Those people seem to do well, either as a tribute to management’s ability to recognize hidden treasure or as a tribute to the self-fulfilling prophecy effect.
It’s also yet another reason I’m skeptical of tests and assessments, especially when results are made known to anyone who can affect the tested person’s career.
Even more important: it’s a good idea to hang around with people who believe in you, whether you hire them as consultants or socialize with them at parties. Their influence can be deadly. And it’s important to present yourself strongly in professional settings, so people will want to believe in you and you can let the self-fulfilling prophecy do its work.
By the way, if you’d like to chat about what’s going on in your own career, join me for a strategy session. We usually get more done in these sessions than most people accomplish in a whole month of coaching.