The Power of the Second Serve
Recently Roger Federer won his 17th Grand Slam tennis title at Wimbledon, the most prestigious tournament in the sport. Although I am not an avid tennis fan, I did want to watch this final as Federer is considered the greatest player of our generation. What struck me as I watched was the low percentage of successful first serves that Federer was able to execute. In fact, the greatest player in our generation was successful on only 56% of his first serves during the championship match. Nearly half of his first serves were either hit out or in the net. Understand that Federer goes all out on his first serve, in fact his first serve is often blazing at over 115 mph. He is able to take risk an unsuccessful first serve because his second serve is so consistent and effective. Overall, Federer won nearly 70% of his service points. As the match continued I reflected upon my leadership style and wondered if I empowered others to take the risk and go all out with the energy of a first serve by creating a culture of clarity and safety.
Along with defining roles and responsibilities, it is vital that leaders also clarify the level of risk that they empower their teams to take. We all understand that quality improvement and innovation are the result of behaviors that are outside of the norm. Successful teams are often pushing the envelope, yet I consistently encounter teams that are confused regarding their level of empowerment and some that have no definition at all.
The power of clarity is one of the most effective tools for any leader. One of a leader’s most important tasks is ensuring that each team member has well defined job expectations, appropriate levels of empowerment, and a clear process of communication that promotes accountability. It is an interesting paradigm, but limiting degrees of freedom can produce the clarity that increases the level of empowerment.
Teams that are empowered display high degrees of motivation, innovation, and consistently produce results. In short, they are like a Federer first serve, powerful and effective.