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Transcript: The Key To Unlocking Potential (EP27)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.


Brendan Rogers: Hello, everybody. I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. This is Episode 27.

Today, I'm talking with Mark Bragg. Braggy is a Performance and Leadership Coach who has been coaching in one form or another for 40 years. In his early career, Mark played and coached basketball professionally in Australia's National Basketball League.

Over the past two decades, he has worked as an Executive Coach in multiple business disciplines and industries in 23 countries.

In recent years, he's been working in San Francisco, Hong Kong, Dublin and Sydney with Emerging Australian entrepreneurs.

Mark works with Martin West as co-founders of X-Gap, which focuses on helping create healthy and successful Leaders and Teams. They work together extensively and also co-authored Hard Road: A Leader's Journey Begins, which we spoke about way back on Episode 4.

Mark has a specific emphasis on providing personalised coaching for Leaders and their Teams with a focus on personal growth and improved work performance. His programs are specifically designed for each client, based on 3 fundamental principles: It's about You, Live Coaching, and Connected to Results.

The focus of our conversation today is coaching and how we use coaching to unlock potential.

Braggy, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.

Mark Bragg: Thanks, mate. I heard you rattling off those countries. There hasn't been too much travel lately. (Laughing) To be honest. I’ve been grounded and bound to the Webex and Skype and every other form of video comms.

Brendan Rogers: That's it, mate. I'm sure your wife, Karen, is hopefully happy to have you home a little bit more than she's used to.

Mark Bragg: Well, she is, but she, you know, in the last couple of years, she's been traveling a lot with me so she kind of misses that a bit too, but it is nice to be in one place for an extended period of time. That's for sure.

Brendan Rogers: I want you to give a bit of an overview. I've given a bit of a spiel there in the introduction and just an overview of your career journey, but what I want to tell you, and this is the weird thing, and we were talking a little bit off air that with your basketball career, and you may not like this, ‘cause it's probably going to give your age away a little bit. But when I was a young chap, probably around 8 to 10 years of age, I would have watched you on the basketball court, in the NBL when you play for the Brisbane Bullets.

Mark Bragg: Well, we were talking about that, and it clearly wasn't that memorable because I think you had to do some research to find that out. But anyway, yeah, that was a, that would have been in the 80s I guess. I had some time playing with the Bullets, but the coaching thing which we're talking about today started for me when I was quite young actually. I was maybe 19 or 20, I think when I first started coaching basketball and, you know, I coached for I think in my mid-40s, so over 20 years. And it was a, you know, wonderful foundation for what I've done the last 20 plus years, you know, being exposed to that level of competition and learning as I was going as a young coach and then being able to take that and use what I've learned and the foundation of what I've learned into the business realm and, you know, executive coaching and then the experiences that I've just been so fortunate to have been part of over the last 20 years working, you know, I think you gave a description of the various organisations and different cultures and countries and things like that. It's just been a terrific journey, you know, and you just feel blessed that you've had that opportunity.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, let's frame this up a little bit for everybody. How about you just tell us in your own words, what is coaching? Define coaching for us.

Mark Bragg: Well, I think it's, you know, when you can create an environment for someone or a group of people in which they can improve in some way or another, whether that's a small improvement or a large improvement, but if you can somehow generate an environment, you know, psychologically, I guess, or in a way that's going to challenge them is going to cause them to think carefully about their potential and then act on that and ultimately improve, that's essentially coaching.

Now, the scope, you know, we can talk a little bit more as we get into this call, but the scope is very broad. I mean, obviously, we've just talked about coaching in sport is one thing. Coaching a senior executive is another. Coaching frontline leaders is another, and it might not just be on performance, you know. It could be on anything from career to dealing with personal challenges, to dealing with their own strengths and weaknesses. You know, it's a fairly broad thing, but you know, as we can discuss, there are some, I think there's some fundamentals that it doesn't really matter what you're coaching on. If you're helping someone to get better, that's essentially the buzz I get out. I feel quite selfish actually. I love doing this so much when I see that I've been able to help someone improve in some way, it's a thrill, you know.

Brendan Rogers: Tell us about that buzz and maybe even give us a bit of a framing of what is it that gives you the buzz. Like what does that success look like when you're coaching someone to give you that thrill?

Mark Bragg: I started getting this and probably didn't recognise it as much when I was coaching basketball. You know, you would get a group of people together and work hard to get them to improve collectively as a team and in terms of team cohesion and how they related to each other. And then, obviously, there was the skill development. Then there was the development strategy, and watching a team develop individually and collectively. And I can remember, you know, one of the better teams I have, I thought in ‘97 and it had taken us, this didn't happen overnight. This had taken us 3 or 4 years to build. You almost didn't need to coach them anymore because you just had to be there. And, you know, some guidance here and there because they were so tuned in themselves to what they were doing and so committed to trying to improve.

That, it wasn't like your job was completely done, but they were doing a lot of it for you. And that was, there's nothing more enjoyable than to see something like that. And I'll see it now often, you know, with the leaders, you know, sometimes we can go in and do workshops for them that help them get the team aligned or help their team become more cohesive. But when you actually see the leader do that for themselves, that's just great. You know, it's almost like doing yourself out of a job is the deal. That makes you feel better.

Brendan Rogers: Given your extensive coaching background in professional sport, basketball specifically, and in the corporate space, if there are differences, can you just share what some of those differences are in those two different arenas?

Mark Bragg: Sure. And I think, you know, I mentioned before that the foundation I got with professional sport was I couldn't have asked for any better start for what I'm doing now. And I think part of the reason is it is so crystal clear. You either win or you lose. And if you're coaching that team, it doesn't matter how you cut it. You're responsible. And that's in your face every day because it's in the newspapers and it's on the TV. And then you have, of course, everyone having their own opinion on, “How you should have coached the team” or how they should have played and why we should sack the Coach and all this sort of stuff. And then, there's the video tape, of course, which shows every single play and every single decision that you make as a Coach. So the scrutiny of your performance as a leader is really high. Learning to live with that and learning to deal with that, learning to deal with failure and success, and being able to try and bring a group of people, you know, a team, for example through that provided me I, thought, with the fundamentals to start talking to business.

Now, I should point out that when I first started working in business, I think it probably took me 5, maybe even 10 years before I really felt comfortable that I understood the business environment because whilst the principles are the same, whether it's sport or business, the environment is very different. I mean, for a start, in sport, you're going to have an off season where you go and relax and you know, you're going to have time out, where your go and get massaged and get yourself fixed up,” and, you know, and then you got to perform on the weekend or, you know, maybe twice or three times a week in pro sport these days.

In business, it's not like that. It's a marathon. You know, your time out is very limited. And the other thing is you're performing the whole time, there's not too much, there's only occasionally people will take time out to train and practice and get better at things. But mostly, you're in the game the whole time. That relentless work that has to go into building a business over many, many years and trying to keep businesses ahead of the game the whole time is, you know, it's relentless. And I'm not saying that there's any difference in the intensity or what people bring in terms of energy and effort in either one of those things. It's just a different environment. And so, as I say, I think the principles are relatively the same, but I think the environments are very different. And one other thing I'll say is I think sometimes that level of scrutiny that applies to sport, I mean, if you could apply that and I have tried to as much as possible, apply that scrutiny to business performance, you really get a lot of positives out of that. If you can really dig into how's the team performing individually, collectively, what do we need to do to get better, business could get better at that stuff.

Brendan Rogers: What stuck out to me in what you've just said was the videoing, the analysis, the scrutinisation on sport versus organisation. Probably, in the immediate sense, it's right there in your face. And there's an obvious win-lose scenario. Has that transferred into that word, vulnerability? Have you seen a greater level of vulnerability in the sports profession versus maybe in the business profession as a result of that scrutiny?

Mark Bragg: Well, you know, it's funny, you know, Westy and I came together. I think I met Westy maybe 2001, 2002. And I can remember one of our first conversations was about this very point. He would talk about the nameless rankless de-brief that as a fighter pilot, he and his team would get together and do after a mission. They would come into a room and watch a video of the mission and everything was pulled apart. And I thought man, that's exactly what I'd been doing for the last 20 years. You know, we'd bring the team in and we watched the video and we pull it apart and this is good and this is not so good. And so, that idea of scrutinising performance with a fine-toothed comb and then, but really doing it in a way that, “It's okay if we messed up, that's all right. You know, we’re gonna do it better next time. As long as we're focused on trying to get better, it's going to be okay.”

And so, that debriefing, that stopping, and, you know, “Are we on the right strategy? Is this strategy actually working?” You know, “What do we need to do differently? We just executed an initiative. Is it working?” I don't think that level of scrutiny exists in all businesses. And certainly, we've helped businesses with this quite a bit over the years. But I think that's an area where business could really, probably do a little bit better job taking time out to step back and look at how things are traveling and then consistently looking for ways to do things better. I'm not saying they don't do it. I think there's just an opportunity to do it a little bit better than perhaps most do.

Brendan Rogers: So mate, given the recent times of COVID the last six months, that must've given you a fantastic opportunity with the clients you work with given Zooms and webinars and all that sort of stuff. How have you utilised that for your coaching?

Mark Bragg: It's been better than I would have thought. I mean, I was very hesitant at the start because I'm so used to sitting with people when I'm coaching them and, you know, having the whole feedback experience of body language and gestures and, or walking with someone in a park. Sometimes, I coach people just by walking with them, I find that quite effective, bit more relaxing and feel like you're walking with the person and helping them. So I was very hesitant at the start and I still don't feel a 100% comfortable with it, mainly because when you're coaching someone, your level of awareness is critical. You really have to think carefully and listen, understand and watch and learn from that person because the more you know, and understand about that person, hopefully, the better decisions you can make in terms of trying to help them improve. So as soon as you go to video conferencing and a lot of that is taken away, you know, your seeing head and shoulders, and sometimes, the voice is a bit distorted. And in the situation we're in, it's been brilliant. Maybe I'm old school, but I’m hoping that at some point, we can get back to sitting down with someone over a coffee and talking things through rather than doing it as we're doing it at the moment.

Brendan Rogers: Yeah. I think it's a fair point, mate. I hear a lot where Zoom’s been great, but nothing really beats face-to-face.

Mark Bragg: You can’t shake someone's hand over Zoom, you can't pat them on the back.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, before we go into the coaching model and what good coaching looks like, which I know you can talk extensively on, why is it important to coach?

Mark Bragg: Yeah, this is kind of interesting because whenever we raise this with the executives, it's not that it's surprising to them because I think they know they have to do it. It's just that I don't think they give it the level of importance that it deserves. Let me come at it from a slightly different way.

If you're evaluating a leader over time, I think there's probably a couple of evaluation points. The first one is, are they able to execute, and get stuff done that they're supposed to get done? I mean, that's pretty much standard stuff. The second one is, how much improvement have they driven or been able to create with that team, both collectively as a team in terms of how they perform as a team and then individually, how much improvement has occurred with the individuals in the team? And then, there's probably a third question, which is when they actually leave that position, what do they leave behind? What's their legacy been?

The core point here is that one of the primary responsibilities I think of a leader is to make things better, to improve people collectively and individually. And I cannot think of a way to do that unless you're coaching. I just can't see a way to do it. Now, a lot of people misinterpret this to think, “Oh, well. We've got to have quite a formal piece of paper, and we've got to sit down with someone once a month, and we've got to look at their performance and their behaviour and all this stuff.” I actually don't subscribe to that at all. I think that, “Sure, that's good. I don't see any problem with that.” As long as it's done in a meaningful way, in some ways, in a relaxed way, even though you might have a hard point to make, but a two-minute interaction, conversation with someone can be just as powerful in a coaching sense as a one-hour sit down.

I just think, if you come back to it, your question was what’s the importance of it? I just think it's fundamental. Unfortunately, there's so much pressure to deliver results, to do this, to take care of the tactical day-to-day things, the operational things. If you're like, that this sometimes is put on the back burner and even put aside and sometimes not done at all. I just think it's central and core. For every leader, there should be a discipline around it.

You know, I've seen some of the best coaching take place almost in motion. In other words, I can remember distinctly being on an oil rig where one of the safety guys took a side, a young guy that was on the rig for the first time, I think, who was just painting the deck or something and then sat down and explained to him, “You know why you're doing this?” And the guy said, “No. I was just told to do it.” And he said, “No, no. You’re doing this because it's an environmental thing. You know, we can't afford to have anything drip through these cracks. We've got to paint this thing properly then. And, you know, environment, that's where the future's going to be. You know, what are you thinking? Is that what you'd like to do?” And all of a sudden, he was in this coaching conversation with this kid that was just painting the deck. And I thought, “Wow. That's exactly what I'm talking.” You know what I mean? It doesn't have to be this formal thing that we need an hour for every single person, you know, once a week or something like that. I think it's more the intention and the responsibility of trying to help people get better. And I'll tell you another thing that I often hear a lot and I'm not, I hope I'm not coming across as being critical of people that are in leadership or management positions, because I understand I've spent a lot of time to understand the pressures that they're under.

I can admit to being guilty of what I'm about to say, but I often hear people say, “You know, that person's not doing a very good job. You know, they're on my team. They're really not very good,” or “I wish they’d do this,” or “I wish they’d do that.” The responsibility is the leaders. If that person's not doing the thing that you want them to do, then you've got to try and help them get to the point where they can, or you probably hired them in the first place so you've got some responsibility in this thing here, you know. As I said, I think it's not something that's probably given enough credence. Yet, I think it's one of the most powerful things that a leader can do. And one of the most rewarding. It'd be nothing better than someone coming up to you and thanking you for making them better as a person or making the team better or something like that. That's the deal as far as I’m concerned.

Brendan Rogers: For you, there's nothing better than that but you've got a certain mindset around leadership and coaching. What sort of mindset is that, to be a good coach?

Mark Bragg: Well, I can just give you three things that I think might help for anyone listening. I think the first thing and probably the most important thing, and everything else kind of stems from this, is you have to really care. I mean, you have to really care about that person or care about the team or care about the job they're doing. If you're only kind of half care or don't care at all, it doesn't matter. So, you know, if you really care about your people, then you know, you're going to try and set aside time to try and help them and support them as much as you can. Having said that, it doesn't mean you're going to be soft. I mean, I think the second thing is you have to challenge them. I mean, if you think back to the people that I know, if I think back to the people that influenced me and helped me get better, it was the people that really challenged me, but challenged me to do things that I either I didn't think of or didn't think I could do, or didn't think I had the potential to do. So people that challenged me to try and improve or do better or do things differently.

So I think, you know, caring and challenging people are probably two things I would say. And then, maybe a third, which is really a bit more about technique is you kind of gotta be really crystal clear. You can't leave any room. If you're talking to someone and trying to help them, you've gotta be clear about, “Look, this is where we're at right now.” And be clear about what the current level of performance is. Then you've got to be clear about what the future performance might look like, look we want to get you to hear, and make that clear. And then, you gotta be clear on the how - the steps that we're going to take together to try and move from where you are now to where we'd like to get you to.

So I would say caring, being able to challenge, but being really, really crystal clear about, “Look, this is where you are. This is where we want to get you to. And here's what we're going to need to do to get there.” If those things are in place, it may not be everything, but it's a good start.

Brendan Rogers: Going on from that then, what sort of model have you used or how do you apply this mindset that you've just shared with us into a real life practical application? You know to help leaders out there that maybe know that they've got to do coaching and maybe they've got to be better at coaching. What advice would you give them and how do you make this actually happen in the real world?

Mark Bragg: Look, I think the very first thing is you've got to get a pretty good understanding. I mean, you know, you mentioned our book that we've written before and fundamentally, that book arrives at five challenges that we've seen most leaders face. And the first one is high level of awareness. That's not just self-awareness. That's awareness of the team. What motivates and demotivates people individually and collectively, and then situational awareness, getting a really good grip on the current situation that surrounds your team and what it's trying to do. And then, there's relationships. And, you know, we talked about getting the team aligned and disciplined and coaching on top of that.

But I think that fundamental one, if you're starting to coach of awareness and building a good, strong relationship, because I think sometimes, if you're starting out with someone, just sitting down with them and just, in a relaxed way, and finding out, you know, “What motivates you? What demotivates you? What do you like to do? What don't you like? How do you like to be managed? How do you like to learn? Tell me about the time you last did something really good and really got better at something.” ‘Cause that kind of gives you an insight into coaching in itself. Because they'll tell you. Whilst you're having that conversation and learning about the person at the same time, you're starting to develop hopefully some level of relationship and trust because obviously, people are not really going to respond to your coaching if the level of trust is low. So getting that basic foundation under you before you start to go too far is pretty important. I think whenever I work with an executive, I reckon it probably takes me two or three sessions before I really feel like I've got that foundation of trust with the person concerned. There is a proviso though here, and I don't know whether you're going to lead into this or not. And that's a, there are often some people who just don't want to be coached or you're just not the right fit for them. And you've got to accept that. There's no way around that. I've had a lot of executives that said all the right things and liked me coaching them, but they really didn't want to be coached. They didn't take any action based on our work.

Brendan Rogers: Given your forty years of experience, mate, there must be some signs, some red flags that come up for you maybe early on, or maybe, they take a little bit of a while to come up. But what does the red flag or red flags look like in someone that says they want to be coached but at the end of the day, it doesn't really happen?

Mark Bragg: One big red flag. (Laughing) When someone says, “I got this,” I know how to do it. As soon as you hear any leader say, “Oh, you know, I really got this. I know what I'm doing,” you know. And I can remember distinctly a story, Westy and I were working for a pharmaceutical company in Asia. And they had all the managers in, from the Senior CEOs from all the Asian countries. And we were working through alignment and trying to bring in a very specific execution discipline for all the teams, all the sales teams in those regions. And I think it was the Head of the Indian team, was a bit like I just described, “Oh, we've got this. We know how to do this, you know. Yeah, we did this already,” or something like that. And then, you know, in a similar conversation we’d spoken with the Head of South Korea who had said, “Oh, we're really bad at this, you know. We really need to get better. I'm so glad we've got you guys here.” It's things like, “If we do this right, and we did this well, you know, it's going to be OK.”

Later, we were talking to the guy that oversaw all of them, the Head of the Asia Pacific Region. And he said, “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.” He said the Indian team is the worst performing one in the entire operation, and the South Korean team’s the best. I mean, that kind of underpins what I'm saying. I mean, leaders that truly want to get better and truly are aware of perhaps their own strengths and weaknesses are always going to be pushing the envelope and looking for things and ways to get better. You'll normally find if anyone says, “No I got this,” or “It's no big deal,” or “I'm really good at it.” You normally find it's a bit of a smoke screen for potential issues.

Brendan Rogers: It sounds like those words, ringing in my year again, the humility factor, vulnerability, those sorts of things. So if you're not seeing those things over a period of time even early on, then that's quite concerning for you, and it questions the coachability of the person.

Mark Bragg: Yeah, it does. But I don't, again, I don't want to write people off when you see these things because sometimes, you can help them work through them. And look, being quite vulnerable and authentic and honest. I know when I was younger and coaching, I would have been terrible at this. You know, I would have been one of the first people saying, “I got this,” because I'd had a lot of success early in my career. And I was pretty confident. My ego was a bit bigger than my ability, you know, and it was only after a few hard knocks that I sort of come back to earth and realised, “Maybe I don’t have this. Maybe, I've got a few things to learn, you know”. So it's a journey. And as I said, “I don't like to count people out just because they show a certain, that I would, might perceive as a weakness or a red flag because I think you can always, people can always improve. And if we can help them, we should try.

But I'm with you a 100%, the vulnerability thing, which has really become a big topic over the last ten years is a pretty good indicator sometimes, as if you're looking for red flags. It's a pretty good indicator of the leader's capability and how they're likely to interact and how effective they're likely to be with their teams.

Brendan Rogers: You mentioned earlier about that two minute sort of coaching session on the deck as the young fellows painting. You emphasised the fact that coaching can come in many shapes or forms. Is there also a formal part to when coaching should happen or underpin that leader's role?

Mark Bragg: There’s two types of coaching that Westy and I talk to quite a bit now, and we've only come to this over, after doing this for a while and trying to make it easier for leaders to kind of get their heads around this. So you can coach someone on, you know, there can be career coaching you can coach them on behaviour. You can coach them on performance, whatever. It's quite broad. Or you can just have a one-on-one where you're trying to get to know the person. I mean, there's a whole myriad of ways to approach this, but let's just look at these two things. The first one I think is what we would call tactical coaching. And this is where you’re really working with someone on what the basic skills of their job or their experience that they're going through right now. It's more just an operational coaching session, trying to help them improve their on-the-ground performance in the day-to-day. You know, in sports, you'd call it the blocking and tackling of the job.

So that to me is quite tactical - trying to improve someone's skill level or their experience level so they can actually execute their role, not only effectively, but obviously improve in the role that they're doing. That's tactical. The second one I would call is more strategic. And you know, some people might refer to this as career planning, but I don't particularly like to call it that way because strategic planning is more about looking a little bit more long term. And the key question with strategic coaching is this, “How can I help this person I'm coaching become more valuable, more valuable in their own right, more valuable to the organisation they're working for now, more valuable in the marketplace? So is there some particular skill or some experience I can give them or something I can delegate?” A responsibility I can give them that they haven't had before that it's actually going to improve them and make them more valuable in their own right?

And that's a different conversation that probably needs, and you wouldn't mix the two for a start. And you definitely don't do that. It's either the tactical or the strategic. And the strategic one is probably, it's all different for different people, depending on how many direct reports you got. But let's say, you had between 6 and 10, I would be doing the tactical one probably once every week or every two weeks, and I'd be doing the strategic one at least once every two months. And only giving people one, you know, one of my rules is you only give people one thing to work on at a time, because if you give them too many things, they're just not going to get good at any one of them. So just focus on one thing at a time, get that to a point where you're happy with it, and then move to the next one.

But to me, the strategic coaching is missed a little bit, unless there's a kind of an annual review that might be in some cases that's talked about there. And I don't like using the word career coaching because people start to think about that as, “I'm in the team now. I want to be team leader, then I wanna be Manager now, then I wanna be Director and then I wanna be CEO.” They see it in one dimension of title and position rather than improving their skill set and trying to improve their value to the organisation. But the other thing’s to take care of themselves.

Brendan Rogers: When you’re coaching in those terms, tactical coaching versus strategic coaching and not mixing the two, having that clear intent. How does your approach differ depending on what type of coaching you're doing?

Mark Bragg: I don't think your approach differs. I can't see how it would differ. I think the main thing that I've found with, and I advocate this a lot with the leaders I'm working with, if they're doing it and I've tried to do it as best I can myself is at the heart of coaching is really good questions. You can almost run an entire coaching session with questions. The topic is irrelevant, you know, it's like, “Okay, so where are we now? Or where would we like to get to? What would that look like? How would we get there? You know, what would be the risk in doing that? What would be the impact if we were able to do that, or what's the impact if we don't do it?” And trying to, you know, really work with the person that even if you have ideas of your own, trying to resist the urge to say, ‘Well, we should do this, you know,” Rather than saying that, try to encourage the person to think for themselves, because if they're thinking for themselves, they'll, and you've been able to generate that through questions, they're more likely to lean in and more likely to own it. They're more likely to feel responsibility to get it done. Chances of them taking action are much higher. And, you know, even if you have an idea of your own that you know, that you need to do, you can still phrase it as a question, you know? “So what about if we did this,” it's still a question even if you're putting forward an idea that, you know, “They really need to probably implement”. So, I don't think your approach changes. I don't think mine does. I think it wouldn't matter what the topic was or whatever. I think my approach would be exactly the same. Get really clear on where we're at and get clear on where we want to get to. Let's get clear on the steps and use questions to make sure the person is really buying into the whole thing.

Brendan Rogers: Braggy, we focused a lot on the one-on-one type coaching which is probably what most people probably relate coaching to that one-on-one relationship. But you also do, and with Westy, a lot of work with teams, how does that coaching side of things look different, if at all, when you're working with a team?

Mark Bragg: You gotta be pretty tuned into the different personalities in the room. Again, it’s questions, if, you know, a lot of the folks we've worked with will tell you this, that most of our workshops are not us talking. It's us posing questions, and either breaking an executive team into small groups to work on certain problems or answer certain questions. Invariably, the entire workshop is answering questions.

Now, obviously, you want to land on the right questions that are going to come out with the answers that are going to have the most impact. You know, stay focused on the topics that are going to have the most impact. But again, you know, you're trying to get the team to engage and lean in and buy in and think for themselves rather than being told. When you're coaching a team, I think the big thing with them is, again, trying to get them to feel comfortable with the idea of analysing their own performance and accepting that it may not be up to scratch and/or accepting basically that they can get better. That would be a starting point, but I don't think again, as the process changes too much, other than it's a little bit more complicated because you've got a lot more people involved.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, let's move on to, you do a lot of writing, you know. You've got a lot of articles on your website and you do things under X-Gap and obviously, Hard Road, some fantastic stuff there. But one of the things I know you're big on, particularly around this coaching is legacy, leadership legacy, their leadership code, what do I stand for. Can you talk to that a bit, explain what that is about and why it's useful?

Mark Bragg: One of the evaluations I think of how a leader has done is, what did they leave behind? What was the team like as a result of their leadership? Did they leave a lasting impression? And, you know, when I talk to leaders about this, I say, “Okay, what sort of legacy do you want to leave?” Invariably, they will talk about people. Very few of them will say, “Oh, I want to produce the best product that was ever on the market,” or, “You know, I want to hit my sales number ten years in a row.” They will talk about the impression that they’ve left with their team, that they've left a good team, that it's a cohesive team, that they've got better, that perhaps even developed other leaders as a result of their leadership. They won't, it's a really interesting thing. Unfortunately, you know, a lot of leaders don't think of it that way.

And the way I like to kind of express it is, you're only a caretaker of that position, that leadership position that you hold. At some point, you're going to pass it on to somebody else. Or somebody else is gonna have that position. So the question is, whilst you have that position, what's your legacy going to be? What are you going to leave behind? You know, one of the things about coaching, mate, is you might coach someone and hopefully, it helps them improve in a particular area. And this particularly goes if you're coaching a leader. But what's the ultimate legacy that, like how many other people has that leader influenced and influenced someone else? I mean, the ripple effect, you just never know. Again, it's one of the great things about coaching is you don't really know the full impact of what you’ve done, good or bad, but you don't really know because there's so much stuff that continues as a result of hopefully some good interactions and some good coaching outcomes. That's legacy.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, I want to pick out a couple of things from your own leadership code which you kindly shared with me some time ago, specifically related to the topic we're talking. One of your points is coach to a person's strength or coach to a person's strengths. And there's also one there around, there will be people you can not coach, that's fine. Can you just talk to those a little bit?

Mark Bragg: I'm a big fan of, you know, really working with people's strengths and trying to lock in and understand what their strengths are and trying to help them improve and really take something that's a 7 and make it a 9 or an 8 and make it a 9 or 9 1/2. I don't, there's no tens. But if someone is a 2 or 3 at something you could work forever on it. And the best they might ever get is a 4, you know. So it's kind of a wasted energy. That doesn't mean you shouldn't address weaknesses and you shouldn't try and correct them and minimise them and all that. That's fine. That's a whole other thing.

But when you're trying to help someone, you know, really perform to the best of their ability, you've really got to help them really maximise their strengths. I mean, even with personality, I've always felt that we're going to do our best work when we're at the extremes of our personality. And so, I'm always looking for where's the person really pronounced, you know, are they really directive, “Okay,” they're going to, “I might have to dial it back a bit, but we're going to go with that because that's going to be real strength”. Or, they might be, you know, maybe they're a little bit of an introverted leader. That's fine because you're gonna be thinking. You're gonna be watching. You're not going to jump into situations. You're really going to be thoughtful. Let's work with that. You got to go with the strength. You've got to coach around strengths. And what was the second one?

Brendan Rogers: There will be people you can not coach, that's fine.

Mark Bragg: Again, when I first started, I felt like I should be able to help everybody. Anyone that came on my path that I was responsible for coaching. I thought that I had a responsibility to, you know, to help get better. But you’re just gonna find out that, “Well, there's either two things that apply, either ‘They don't want to get better’,” and it doesn’t matter what you do, a bit like that old Chinese saying ‘When the student's ready, the teacher will arrive’. So you've kind of, you know, you gotta have people that are willing to lean into the coaching side of things. And then, the other thing is sometimes, it just doesn't work. You know, like your personality just doesn't suit that person or they don't trust you or they don't like you, or they don't like your method or they don't think you’re good enough to help them. That's fine, you know. You can't, I know early on I would have taken great offence to that. And thought there was something in my makeup that probably wasn't quite right, but there are people you're not gonna be able to coach and that's okay. Maybe, there's someone else that can help them a bit more than you can.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, what's been your biggest lesson over this 40 years of doing what you do?

Mark Bragg: I know there was a specific point which I think changed everything for me, and probably, started me getting better as a leader. And, I think I mentioned, I started coaching quite early. And early in my career, I was, I had a lot of success early on, the first 6 or 7 years. And it'd be fair to say that I thought I was way better than I was. At the time, I thought I was great. I wasn't just, I wasn't that good to be honest. And I can remember we had a season that, you know, was the season from hell really. We just didn't play well. My job was probably on the line. And at the end of the season, I was really, you know, at a point where I was being critical of the players and I was being critical of the bloody board and the bloody facility. And I can remember I jumped on the phone to another guy, who's a mentor of mine and an Australian coach in another sport. And saying, “This is, these guys are this, this and that the bloody boards terrible.” And he just basically stopped me in my tracks and said, “Braggy, it's about you, mate.” And then, just about hung up the phone straight after that.” And I was like, “What?” I didn't know what to think and I thought about it for 24, 48 hours. And I realised, “You know, he's right. It is about me, you know.” And so, I spent a bit of time getting some feedback from some of the players and staff and stuff.

And that was the first time I kind of was prepared to admit my own weakness really. It really opened my eyes a lot. And from that point on, I said, “Okay. I'm going to make sure from now I'm getting feedback from as many different people as I can. And I'm going to try and commit to get better, because if it is about me, then, that's going to be reflected in the team. And if I can get better, hopefully, it will be passed on.” So, that was a big lesson.

So the interesting thing about leadership is, in one sense, it's not about you, it's about the team. And the other sense, it bloody well is about you because if you're not getting better, they're not getting better.

Brendan Rogers: Yeah, it's a great point. Is there anything else that you want to touch on or share with people just around the advice you'd give for coaching?

Mark Bragg: Yeah. I just think, again, if you've just set aside that to me, it's been my life and I've got so much out of it, way more than I've given. But, I just think, if you care, if you really care about people and you're placed in a situation where you may be able to help them in some way, that's a bloody honour, mate, you know. Just do the best you can. Learn as much as you can, but just try and help them. Just care. That’s it.

Brendan Rogers: How can people get hold of you, buddy?

Mark Bragg: If anyone Googles, Hard Road Leadership, you'll come to a website that I'll be on. And my business partner, Martin West, who will be there as well. All our contact details are there. So, it's just, if you just Google, Hard Road Leadership and you'll see the book as well if you're interested.

Brendan Rogers: And I can second that, mate. It's a fantastic book, lots of good information on the website and some of your articles are there as well. And certainly, the course is fantastic. Mate, I just want to say absolute pleasure having you on The Culture of Things podcast.

But I know I haven't known you as long as I've known Westy, but the opportunity to have you guys who are in my network and to have the support for you guys ‘cause you know, I love learning. I love what you guys do. Just having you guys around to chew the fat help support is just something I just hold so dear. So, and I know how much you do care. You live that stuff absolutely every day because you've done it with me as well. So, mate, I want to thank you so much for being a mate, being part of my community and for being a guest on The Culture of Things podcast.

Mark Bragg: Hey, no problem, mate. Absolute pleasure and an honour to be on the show. Terrific stuff. Thank you so much.

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Brendan Rogers: It's easy to hear Braggy’s relaxed and calming style through the conversation. I believe this is a perfect style for coaching. His focus on caring for people with the foundation of feeling honoured to help people improve has helped make him a much-sought-after performance and leadership coach. His record speaks for itself. Not only did he reach the highest level of coaching in professional basketball in Australia, he also sits in the highest executive boardrooms in Australia and across the world.

These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Braggy.

My first key takeaway. Coaching is about helping people improve. Improving people is one of the key responsibilities of being a leader. If that's the case, all leaders must get good at coaching. Otherwise, you aren't doing your job. Coaching doesn't have to be formal. It can be any interaction with a person where you help them get better. If you think of it this way, maybe coaching will feel less of a burden and you will spend more time helping people improve.

My second key takeaway. To be a good coach, you need to care, be able to challenge, and be crystal clear. You have to care about the person. If you do, you will set aside time to help and support them. You have to challenge them. Focus on getting them to do things that they didn't think they could do or to get better at something they are doing. You have to be crystal clear. Be clear on the current level of performance. Be clear on what the future performance level looks like. And finally, be clear on the steps to achieve the future performance. Do these three things and you will be a good coach.

My third key takeaway. At the heart of good coaching is really good questions. Questions encourage the person to think for themselves. When you do this, the person will lean in and own the solutions. Some example questions Braggy mentioned were, ”What would that look like? How do we get there? What would be the risk? What's the risk if we don't do it?” Don't provide solutions. Ask good questions to guide to a solution.

So, in summary, my three key takeaways were, coaching is about helping people improve; to be a good coach, you need to care, be able to challenge, and be crystal clear; at the heart of good coaching is really good questions.

If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a message at brendan@brendanrogers.com.au.

Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time. 


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.