Square Peg Round Hole
Many moons ago, I was on a pseudo high school all start football team that travelled to Ireland to compete against a similar group of students from the east coast. Our coach was a legend in Minnesota high school football (who shall remain nameless…) and he had a decidedly old school, caustic approach to coaching. Now I was a rarity – I was a “finesse” offensive lineman, I preferred to pass block. Heck, it was just plain easier, all I had to do was get in your way for a few seconds. Of course, the coaching legend we were playing for favored the wishbone…which, if you know anything about football is basically the antithesis of a passing offense. I was very much a square peg being pummeled into a round hole.
Around our second or third day on the Emerald Isle, we installed a pass play into our offense. I was overjoyed until I realized that my job was to hook the defensive end because the quarterback was rolling out to my side. Of course on the same day we added this new play, the defense added a new stunt. The defensive end (already in an outside shade) was taking an outside rush. In other words, it was the perfect call for our new play. Basically, I was being asked to try and take a guy that was trying to rush outside and get him turned inside – not the easiest of plays by high school rules (it’s not like I could clip the guy…)
Most coaches would just say, well, they called the right defense, shoot. Not the legend – he just kept calling the play (of course the defense kept running their stunt and stopping it) and he kept chewing me out all practice. He didn’t mind that the block was nearly impossible. He didn’t care that I was put in a position to fail – repeatedly. He was going to make a point. Of course I’m not sure just what that point was…and it would have been smarter to find a way to make it easier for me to succeed. I could have just pushed the end out towards the sideline but “that wasn’t the play” so I was in a bind. Needless to say, my opinion of this particular coach is not terribly good.
So why do I bring this up today? Good old Kathy Sierra! I’m pretty sure Kathy is one of the sagest people around – and she really hits the nail on the head when she talks about square pegs and round holes (don’t miss her take on performance reviews either). If you’ve ever thought you went above and beyond only to get a big old “meets plan” at review time…well, at least you’ve never been kicked in the head by a donkey (have you?). At my last job, I had a pretty good manager and he took care of me, but despite my best efforts, I suffered from the “we can’t have too many exceeds plans” deal. My former CEO was big into the meritocracy theory which is great if you do something that can be easily measured and the company is actually serious about rewarding *everyone* that deserve it (instead of some preconceived bell curve notion of how many raises and bonuses can be given out). So I know exactly what she means…except I’ve never been kicked in the head.
So what would happen if we actually tried to put people into positions to succeed? What kind of company would it take to put square pegs into square holes? We often hear sports commentators discuss the importance of the role player – that guy that comes of the bench and catches that third down pass or gives you those tough minutes at the end of the half. They may not be flashy but how many championships did Michael Jordan win before his supporting cast arrived? Phil Jackson didn’t try to get Dennis Rodman to be an outside shooting threat (think Phil said – “Dennis, you’re great, pink hair and all, but you really need to spend some time on your shooting touch”?). No, he recognized what his players strengths were and he exploited them to win 6 championships.
The message? Embrace your strengths! Sure, we can all improve, but we each have things that we are destined to excel at – this isn’t a character flaw. Would you rather have a team of eight that are all pretty average at pretty much everything or could you take a group with distinct talents and meld them into a winning organization? My advice – the next time you encounter a square peg and you have the urge to get out your hammer, think about finding a way to square off the hole before you force someone towards mediocrity.