We all need to make critical decisions. Some of us more often than others, and especially if you are in a leadership or sports coaching role. Your decisions will impact not only your own go forward path, but those of individuals as well as the entire group you are responsible for. Making decisions which impact others requires a different level of experience, and I can assure you that you will be better served when you have people you can trust to provide you with insights and guidance you may require.
Let’s first establish a definition of a sounding board, as it might be a different from what you might be considering. The way I would define a sounding board is being able to have people that you can under almost any circumstance, be there for you (e.g., via the phone, text, video, or in-person) to discuss critical and often highly sensitive information with them. Often with little to no preparation notice, or what might be defined as an “on-call” scenario and analogous to an emergency room setting.
Finding people to be on your sounding board isn’t an overnight activity. It will also take time to both vette them, and to develop a level of trust and interaction with these people which will serve to provide you with a track record of exceptional listening, practical and actionable advice. This isn’t exactly an easy combination to assemble quickly, but when you have them in place, they will serve to guide and support you like few others will be able to do so.
Is there a list of qualifications someone should have to be on your sounding board? Yes, there are, but realistically they might be different for each person depending on what level of experience they have themselves, or where you need support based on areas, you are not strong in yet. For instance, areas where someone could need help from a sounding board person or group would be if you are not strong analytically, or you might be a new or inexperienced leader or sports coach, or perhaps challenged with verbally expressing yourselves clearly. Another area a sounding board member could be invaluable to you, is if you have not yet attained the EQ (e.g., emotional intelligence) level you need to be at, and which will be required in many circumstances.
Another method to help someone determine who should be on their sounding board, is to factor in whether you struggle with thinking through all the variable outcomes from a decision you will be making. If you do, I strongly advise you to seek out a person who is exceptionally good at this. Numerous mistakes can be avoided when you receive guidance from someone with this skillset, and they typically have attained this via a combination of experience and being strategically oriented.
There are some leaders and sports coaches who don’t think they need to have a sounding board. You will quickly be able to figure out which “school of thought” they are in by asking them questions which will reveal this. The type of questions you would ask will relate to having them share with you how they go about thinking through scenarios and what methods they leverage to make a decision.
If they are the type of leader or sports coach who doesn’t have a sounding board, there are often two immediate reasons why this is the case. The first is that they are overconfident and underqualified in their knowledge relating to the situation, or they neglect to factor in the bigger picture thinking which will be required to appreciate how others will be impacted by their solo style decision making.
If you are a newer leader or sports coach, or perhaps someone who could gain benefit from considering the pros of developing and having a sounding board, here are some suggestions to support this thinking.
- Having an open and growth mindset will serve you well and conferring with a sounding board will support this leadership style well.
- No one person will always have all the answers to determining the best go forward path in every situation, but a combination of minds will get you much closer to an ideal solution or multiple options to be considered.
- Others experience is a gift they can share with you, and it doesn’t have to cost much or anything to seek out this invaluable knowledge.
- Consider broadening who should be on your sounding board, and perhaps include people you wouldn’t imagine doing so. Why? Because a homogenous sounding board isn’t going to offer you the diversity you will benefit from more.
- Dismiss the notion in your mind that asking for help from others is a sign of weakness. It’s not, and in fact when you ask for help or guidance, you will be signaling that you are confident in being a strong, realistic, and thoughtful leader because you are thinking beyond what is only best for you.
- Your sounding board will likely evolve over time, and it should. However, there will be foundational people on your sounding board who should remain there to provide you with longer term perspectives from where you have evolved from.
Having a sounding board will serve you well, and it will also help to fast track your professional and personal growth in ways you will pleasantly and intellectually discover along the way.
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