I love former basketball player Jalen Rose’s view of the world. There’s one particular view about players and teams that applies to any of us looking to get better or accomplish big goals, especially with a coach. What is it? “Skill” players and “Will” players.
Defining Skill and Will
Skill players are the ones who focus on precision and technique as their path to success.
Will players are the ones who focus on perseverance and mental attitude as their path.
I’m pretty sure that split applies far beyond basketball, to almost any profession or calling. Picture your industry, for instance. Or even your team or colleagues. There are the folks that develop new processes and methods, the ones who practice and refine endlessly (Skill). There are also those who accomplish amazing things simply because they’ve said they can or will, the ones whose energy and stick-to-it-iveness often allow them to carry others with them as they blaze forward (Will). Both are paths to success.
And yet, whenever you present a black-and-white split like that (a juicy Problem Pair if ever there was one!), most people come back and say, “But, I’m Skill AND Will!” They want to make sure you know they’re actually grey.
Well, yes, of course. Both skill and will are not only requirements for success, both sound like attributes any successful person would want to be seen as having. So it’s natural to want to claim both.
But that’s not the point.
The point of a split like that is to highlight what, when push comes to shove, you rely on most. And all of us have a preference.
Labeling to learn
Think about how most of us like to claim that we’re introverts or extroverts (black-and-white framing), even though the vast majority of people are “ambiverts” (grey!). The black-and-white labels ring true, though, because we recognize more of ourselves in one or the other. Not to mention that it helps us understand why some people’s styles feel so very different from ours.
That said, most of us have learned to flip the other switch when we need to. I like to say I’m a “situational extrovert” — I can be social and outgoing when I need to be, but at heart, I’m definitely closer to the introvert end of the spectrum. The introvert part comes naturally. The extrovert part takes effort. And a lot of it.
Maybe you’re the same. Or the opposite.
No matter which black-and-white label feels right to you, I’m going to bet you’ve learned from the folks at the opposite end of the spectrum. In fact, the more you’ve learned to adopt the aspect and attitude of your opposite, I suspect the more successful you’ve become. (Dan Pink talks about this very topic — how “ambivert” salespeople are actually the most successful — in his great book, To Sell Is Human.)
Success comes from learning. To be a better colleague, consultant, and even speaker, I’ve learned from the folks who have what I don’t and do what I don’t.
Finding the balance that brings success
And this brings me back to Skill and Will. From what I see, the best “players,” no matter the profession, constantly seek to find the right balance of Skill and Will. They know not only on what end of the spectrum they start, but they learn over time what to adopt or adapt to improve their chance of success.
In some cases, they want and need reinforcement of what they already are — say, a Skill player who wants to work on their skills. In others, they want and need what’s different so they can stretch and grow — like a Skill player who wants to feel motivated to take a risk or try something new. The better the match the better the result.
So what’s the best match for you? Well, first figure out which end of the Skill/Will spectrum you lean towards.
- Do you focus on the details of how to do things? On techniques, methods, and processes? On making sure you’ve mastered something before you show it off? You’re likely a “Skill” player.
- Do you focus on the feeling you want? On what you can say to yourself or others to get the job done? On “faking it ’til you make it”? You’re likely a “Will” player.
(Again, I know you’re both. But imagine you’re under stress or a deadline. What’s the first thing you would do? If you’d give yourself a pep talk: Will. If you’d create a plan: Skill.)
Then figure out what you’re looking to improve on:
- Are you trying to add some kind of intellectual rigor to what you’re doing? Give yourself a process or structure for working on something new? You’re looking for more Skill.
- Are you trying to add some kind of feeling (like motivation or inspiration) to what you’re doing? Are you trying to get a push to get started (or finished) You’re looking for more Will.
Naming what you need
If you put that all together, you come up with four possible matchups, that create four types of coaches:
- Add SKILL to SKILL. You’re a skill player who wants to increase skill. In that case you’re looking for a STRATEGIST.
- Add WILL to SKILL. You’re a skill player who wants to increase will. In that case you’re looking for a MOTIVATOR.
- Add WILL to WILL. You’re a will player who wants to increase will. In that case you’re looking for a SUPPORTER.
- Add SKILL to WILL. You’re a will player who wants to increase skill. In that case you’re looking for a MENTOR
If you’re a visual person, it looks like this — my thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s great Four Tendencies model for the format inspiration:
Please note: All types of coaches bring value when the matchup is right. The only thing to watch for is a mismatch between what you need and who you work with.
For instance, I’m super clear that I’m a “Skill for Skill” kind of person — a Strategist. I most often work with academics, researchers, and recognized experts — those folks, by and large, fall into the Skill category of people. My Skill-based approach (the Red Thread® method) fits into their worldview and preferences. They get the additional Skill they’re looking for, with an approach that’s comfortable and familiar in its process-orientation, even if it’s new.
That said, there are absolutely times when I play the Motivator role with those folks. That happens especially when they’re working with me to do something new for themselves or their businesses, like trying to get a TEDx talk or trying to get the attention of a new market or audience. If they’re experiencing a crisis of confidence, I usually will give them a new way to think about what they’re working on (a Skill-friendly reframing), or a new process to follow, or even redirect their current skills in a new way.
I also work often in the Mentor role, helping people who are already recognized thought leaders or professional speakers differentiate their message or bring more intellectual rigor to their work. Often those folks are in the Will category, especially if, as a speaker, they tend towards more motivational or inspirational speaking.
The one role I’m crap at? Supporter. Yeah, don’t hire me for that. My version of a “kick in the pants” is usually a new model or framework… and that’s typically totally unsatisfying to Will people looking for a boost! Exhibit A? The article you’re reading now!
No matter where on the Skill/Will spectrum you lie, you have the power to become even more successful than you are, simply by adapting your natural preferences in new ways, or adopting new behaviors and ways of being. Sometimes that means reinforcing what makes you strong, sometimes that means reaching for what makes you stretch and grow. Often, the best way to do either is to collaborate with the right coach.
All it takes is the will to start, and the skill to keep going… or the skill to start, and the will to keep going.
You know, whatever works for you. 😉All types of coaches bring value when the matchup is right. Click To Tweet
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