How to pass the impression test.
NOTE: This article is part of my series on the “Chief Reminding Officer,” a concept inspired by Pat Lencioni’s ideas in The Advantage.
Simple Cues + How to Pass the Impression Test
Watch any great coach.
They repeat themselves a lot.
The best coaches boil down a complex sport into simple cues — short, meaning-laden words and phrases that remind the team what they should be thinking about, where they should position themselves, and in general, what they should be doing during the game.
These cues don’t have to be complex to be effective. Looking back, I can still hear my college lacrosse coach screaming “TOP-SIDE” at me from our sideline, a two-syllable cue that relayed several messages all at once:
- To take away one side of the field
- To cross-check my opponent in the chest as he started his dodge
- To follow my opponent’s back hip as he ran down the alley towards the goal, preventing a roll-back
- To actively drive my opponent into a waiting teammate on our crease (who would be waiting to provide a not-so-subtle reminder to avoid venturing that way again)
Here’s the funny thing about my coach’s cue: I already knew what to do. By that point in my career, I had practiced top-side defense for hundreds of hours. But inside the chaos and fatigue of a lacrosse game, with a 200-pound attackman sprinting at me, I appreciated the reminder. It helped me focus. It made the game simpler. It slowed things down.
Good managers, like good coaches, teach their teams to master technique. I bet you’re training your team on something new right now. Maybe it’s a new sales process, a new programming language, or some fancy new formula in Excel. How do you make it stick? How do you help the team, as Obi-Wan told Luke in Star Wars, “Remember your training”?
There’s this passage I reference in a recent article. It’s from Work Rules by Lazslo Bock, and it hits on how this exact kind of mastery is built:
“Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, has studied the acquisition of expert-level skill for decades. The conventional wisdom is that it takes ten thousand hours of effort to become an expert. Ericsson instead found that it’s not about how much time you spend learning, but rather how you spend that time. He finds evidence that people who attain mastery of a field, whether they are violinists, surgeons, athletes, or even spelling bee champions, approach learning in a different way from the rest of us. They shard their activities into tiny actions, like hitting the same golf shot in the rain for hours, and repeat them relentlessly. Each time, they observe what happens, make minor — almost imperceptible — adjustments, and improve. Ericsson refers to this as deliberate practice: intentional repetitions of similar, small tasks with immediate feedback, correction, and experimentation.”
In individual sports, it’s the athlete’s responsibility to monitor their technique and decide what to adjust. As a manager of a team, it’s on you. You own the process of watching where your team falters or where prior patterns tend to take over. Those are the moments where simple cues can keep your team on track and remind them of “what matters” to you, the leader.
As the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery. You’ll know you’re doing this right when you can pass “the impression test”: When your team can do a realistic impression of you delivering your cues.
Until then, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. When you’re sick of saying it, they are only starting to hear you.
Want to steal the template I use to train Chief Reminding Officers? Click here to download the one-pager I use in my work with my leadership teams.