Lightning in a Bottle


July 7, 2010

I didn’t plan to post today but I saw something really inspiring last night.

Yesterday, my post was about employee engagement and practical examples of what you can do to help improve it in your organization.  Last night, I went to my nephew’s baseball game and saw an example of engagement so strong and so simple, I was wishing I could capture it.  My nephew is nine and plays on a team with third and fourth grade boys.  I’m used to watching my six year old son’s team play, so watching boys a couple years older is really a difference.  A BIG difference.  They know their positions, they make some really good plays, and wow, can some of them hit the ball!

Well, the team was leading by six runs as we headed into the final inning.  Then, things just started falling apart.  Maybe they were overconfident at that point or maybe they were tired or becoming distracted.  Either way, mistakes started to happen.  What I saw was this:

The coach went up to a boy who had just made a big blunder.  The coach leaned down close so they could be eye-to-eye.  He looked right at the boy and quietly, in a hushed voice we could barely hear, gave the boy encouragement and explained how he could avoid that mistake in the future.  The little boy listened intently.  I mean INTENTLY.  You could tell from his body language that he was disappointed in himself and was taking this seriously.  Coach put one hand gently on the boy’s shoulder as he finished the chat.  They boy nodded, smiled, then went out to have great performance the rest of the game.

Never once did the coach make light of the situation.  Never once did the coach make the child feel defensive or like a personal failure.  It was purely a technical observation of how the boy could improve his performance.  It was amazing.  It worked because:

  • It was in the moment
  • It was not personal, but technical
  • It was serious
  • It addressed how the change in performance would benefit the team
  • It was focused even though there was a lot going on around them

I wish I could have captured that lightning in a bottle.  THAT was engagement that could transform the workplace.  Seen any coaching lately that you’d like to capture in a bottle?  Share your story in the comments.


  • Unfortunately, this ability to engage is more natural than learnt (in my humble opinion).

    I had one of the meanest bosses EVER and her way of engaging was to put on a fresh coat of BRIGHT RED lipstick and go into battle!!! She thrived on intimidation and confrontation!!!!! There was no gentle engagement- she was Queen and you were her minion. Maybe her methods made you want to NEVER disappoint her. I fell into that trap for a long time, but finally left when it was too much to bear. I also denied her the opportunity to level her rage upon me in the way I left her company. In the end, she had to bribe her two suck-ups into staying at her company…

    On the other hand, I had a boss so engaging that he could talk you into doing the things least advantageous for your forward progress and convince you that questioning his motives was dead wrong. He was a very, very charming man. I lasted for five years at that job. I left when I figured out how backward I was going in my career. It took the others who drank his Kool Aid years longer to figure out that he was a con man!!!

    I guess what I am saying is that I feel in many ways that the engagement you speak of is sometimes a natural-born trait. I do hold out hope that it can be taught; it is whether or not the person is receptive to such teachings.

  • Cute story…rooted in the most basic level of engagement. Now, how do we transfer that level of engagement to the workplace? Easier said than done, huh?!!

    • @Doug- You have some of the best, and worst, workplace stories ever. I love it!

      @Allie- Thanks for commenting. You pegged it…not easy to transfer that level of engagement to the workplace. Any ideas?

  • Great story. Wish I had one to share. In fact as companies move to a decentralized workforce model with employees in different cities, states and even countries, that type of coaching becomes more difficult. I would love to know about management training at companies that specifically address how to successfully manage remote employees.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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