Practice Principle #3: Correct with a Solution

The great teachers and coaches are skilled in correcting their students or athletes and then providing them with an immediate opportunity to practice the activity again to improve on it. In using the case-study method of teaching business, the instructor enters into dialogues with students. These dialogues are peppered with questions and suggestions to move the student’s thinking forward to identify the core problem in the case, devise a minimum of three to five alternatives to solve it and select one alternative as their recommendation. A sample dialogue might go something like this:

Professor: Why isn’t the company profitable?

Student: They need to expand internationally.

Professor: That’s a potential alternative. What is the reason why the company is not profitable?

Student: Oh, there’s new competition.

Professor: And how is the new competitor positioned in the market?

Student: They’re the low-cost leader.

Professor: So, how has that affected the company?

Student: They’ve lowered their prices to match this new competitor. Because they’ve lowered their prices, they no longer command high margins. And that’s why they’re not profitable.

While it would have been easier and faster for the professor to interject much earlier in the conversation, it wouldn’t have provided the student with the practice necessary to get to the proper conclusion. The use of correction (“That’s a potential alternative. What is the reason . . .”) and the series of developing questions enabled the following formula to take place:

Correction differs from criticism. Criticism takes place when you tell someone they did something wrong, often using a negative. In the case of a basketball player, a criticism might be, “Stop lunging on defense!” A correction in this case could be the following, “Angle your shoulders to the side and shuffle your feet.” The correction provides specific, concrete direction on how to improve and then gives the person a chance to enact the feedback immediately.

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, who led the UCLA men’s basketball team to 10 national championships, was studied in the 1970s to better understand his highly successful practice habits. The researchers recorded and coded more than 2,000 discrete acts of teaching during his practices. Of these, only 6.9 percent were compliments and 6.6 percent were expressions of displeasure. The vast majority, 75 percent, were pure information: simple directions on how to play basketball.51 Coach Wooden didn’t waste time with long, monologue critiques of his players. He told them what he wanted them to do and had them immediately do it. One of his former players described the process: “It was the information I received, during the correction, that I needed most. Having received it, I could then make the adjustments and changes needed. It was the information that promoted change.”52 Coach Wooden didn’t waste time with evaluations (“No, that’s not right. What are you thinking!”). He provided clear, concise, and informative solutions. How much time each day do you spend on trite praise or long-winded criticism? When you observe your managers’ behaviors, are you offering informative solutions to improve?

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