Thoughts from the Bench


By Phil Harwood

There’s a different perspective from the bench; one that needs to be understood by a coach, manager, and owner. I’ve been on the bench before more than once. I’ve also been “benched” – demoted from a starting position to “riding the pine,” as they say, and am able to speak from experience. If you are in a leadership role, this blog post is for you.

Let’s start with clarifying, “What does it mean to be on the bench?” Since this is a sports analogy, think of any sports team. The best players start the game and are the primary players. The rest of the team is on the bench, hoping to get into the game.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was on the football team. Starting in August, I endured “double sessions” – two practices a day with the rest of the team. I was short and light; probably 130 pounds. The only game-time playing time I ever saw was in the final minutes of the game when it was already over. I was on the bench, with no hope of ever seeing any significant action in a real game.

Have you been on the bench before? If you were not among the first several picks in a schoolyard lineup, you were on the bench. If you weren’t a starter in sports, you were on the bench. If you played second part in band, you were on the bench. If you were in a subordinate position at work, you were on the bench. Looking back on my career, I have been on the bench many times. In fact, I’ve probably been on the bench more than I’ve been off the bench.

When you’re on the bench, there’s an interesting divergence of feelings. On one hand, it’s frustrating to be on the bench, having it rubbed in your face that you’re not good enough or not ready. This may be motivating or demoralizing, depending on your mood.

On the other hand, it may be a relief to not have any expectations placed on you. All of the pressure is on the starters. This may be a comfortable place to be; to be able to be part of the team but without the responsibility of leading the team. The problem is that this attitude may lead to complacency. If you are called upon to step up, will you be ready or will you be surprised and scrambling?

Some people don’t want to get off the bench. Being a role player is just fine. Think of the NFL players who have contracts to play on the practice team. How many of them say to themselves, “Playing on the practice squad is good money. Why do I need the pressure of a huge contract and the scrutiny of the fans?” The same thing happens in our companies. Some people don’t want the pressure of being a crew leader or manager. You can prod them all you want but they aren’t interested.

The fact of the matter is that we need role players. Let them be.

But there are other players on the bench that are chomping at the bit to get into the game. Their eyes are locked on the coaches’ eyes as he or she paces through the dugout, hoping to be called on. They are honing their skills, getting ready for the big leagues, and looking for an opportunity to step up. These players need to be seen. They need support. They need investment. They’re willing to do the work, but they need leadership to open the door for them.

Look at your team. Do you have one, two, or a handful of “up-and-coming” stars that are worthy of investing in? Most teams do. I would be surprised if you had zero.

What are you doing to develop these future leaders? Have you considered utilizing GrowTheBench as a platform for their development? We created GTB specifically for you and your future leaders so that they will be prepared when you need them to step up. If you haven’t done so yet, we invite you to check out GTB with a free one-month trial subscription. Simply click here to register.

Now go forth.

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