Remember the baseball movie Field of Dreams? In it, Kevin Costner plays an Iowa farmer who hears a voice saying, “If you build it, they will come.” He has a vision of a baseball field amid his cornstalks. He listens to the voices, and against all odds, people flock to play on his baseball field, saving his family from financial ruin.
While I’m not suggesting you head out to your back yard and wait for a disembodied voice, “If you build it, they will come” can be a useful phrase as you try to build a team. Whenever it’s in sports, business or life, the best teams are made up of people who want to be there, people who saw what you were building and were drawn to it.
This is what I call the Law of Energy Attraction. When you create a high energy culture, it’s an incredibly attractive force. Every great performer wants to be part of a winning team; high-energy leaders attract high-energy contributors.
Here’s a legendary example: UCLA college basketball coach John Wooden was so confident that his values, along with those of UCLA itself, were eminently powerful, that he would not set up a meeting with a prospective high school recruit until and unless that player, or an associate, initiated the process by inquiring and showing interest. This recruiting philosophy was so far outside the norm that most coaches either never considered it, or totally rejected it, preferring the traditional approach of scouting, to initiate contact with top talent.
Coach Wooden’s approach was not a function of hubris. It was quite the contrary. He felt that the university’s values were important, and he shared them as his own personal truths. He believed they had an attractive power that gave UCLA basketball a competitive advantage. Further, he believed that unless these truths resonated with a recruit, compelling him to contact UCLA, “then perhaps it was best he attended another school.” Coach Wooden understood the tactic’s risk and had the courage to remain steadfast in what he believed.
It definitely worked for Coach Wooden. In 27 seasons as UCLA’s head basketball coach, his records remain unmatched-316 wins to 68 losses, a .823 winning percentage, four undefeated seasons, nineteen conference championships, and ten NCAA national championships. He is often regarded as the best college basketball coach of all time. Of course, this level of success does not come without talent-personal talent and talented players. The list of talented players is long, but one who stands out is Lewis Alcindor, Jr., later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Alcindor was one of the most highly recruited high school players in history. He could have attended any school in Division I to play basketball; many first-rate programs were close to his home in New York City. True to his philosophy, Coach Wooden did not initiate the conversation with Lewis or his family; they made first contact with Wooden.
Upon reflection, Coach Wooden believes it was Lewis’ parents who were compelled to start the conversation with UCLA because of four factors: clear evidence of equality, scholastic merit, credible and heartfelt testimonials from many influential sources such as Nobel laureate Dr. Ralph Bunche and baseball great Jackie Robinson, and Coach Wooden’s reputed “color blindness.” In Wooden on Leadership, Coach Wooden writes, “Good values are like a magnet, they attract good people.”
Coach Wooden’s personal truths aligned with his organization’s truths. This alignment gave him the courage and the confidence to leverage the truths and drive value into his “business.”
What If You Built It and They Didn’t Come?
Life doesn’t always go this way, however. In fact, one recent business book is entitled So You Built It and They Didn’t Come. Now What? The book addresses what an entrepreneur should do after investing considerable money into a business, only to find that customers don’t arrive in droves as they did at the Field of Dreams.
A parallel emerges here. What if you’re reading this from the perspective of someone whose organization, business, or team is in dire need of an energy transfusion? Your goal is to determine the missing ingredient. Close inspection of your personal truths as well as examination of your personal heroes and legends in your field-in comparison to the very real perceptions of leaders, employees, and team members, should reveal some inconsistencies that you need to address. What missing ingredient could be added to correct your misaligned atmosphere?
Don’t over-think it! Let the truths emerge. As you contemplate the big picture and reflect on the fundamental truths of your organization, they will become clear. It’s like an optical illusion; the harder you focus, the more elusive the image buried within becomes.
My wife has a very effective tool for finding the “holes” in our Christmas tree light pattern, a trick she learned from her dad. She stands about 10-feet away from the tree and squints hard. When she does this, all she can discern is the pattern of lights outlining the tree. It becomes easy to see where there are too many lights or too few. Do the same here. Mentally take a step back from the information you’ve gathered about your organization’s truths and squint. Suddenly, the fundamental truths that shape your own organization will become clear.
Understanding and then implementing these truths is the first step to creating something that inspires and attracts people. Don’t be satisfied with an organization that is merely performing. The difference between adequate and attractive is enormous.