Is Your Team Tired Of You?
August 23, 2011
Most days, The Sports Animal of WDAE in Tampa rolls all the way down the Florida coast to Naples. I should confess minimal infatuation with typical local sports radio shows, as they never seem to transcend the insider boys' club "can-you-top-this" conversation. But Steve Duemig is an exception. His show has substance mainly because he goes beyond "who signed for how much," or the latest bombastic locker room gossip. Duemig actually investigates the behavior behind the conduct on and off the field.
Once, Duemig was talking with listeners about the locally disappointing Tampa Bay Bucs season and coach John Gruden. At that moment in NFL history, Duemig was making comparisons with New York Giants' coach Tom Coughlin. I was intrigued by Duemig's postulate: "Have you ever noticed how in sports, teammates suddenly get tired of their coach at about the same time?" He went on to point out that some player-coach relationships follow an inexorable cycle: early success followed by a plateau leading to an almost inevitable collapse, ending in a contagious affliction of the "disease of me" among players and coaches. Duemig's point was simply that Coughlin and Gruden exemplified leaders who can churn results in early stages of their tenure, but in the end-game watch the flame of unity and dedication extinguished; ultimately playing-out in a complete team meltdown.
You see this leader-team performance cycle everywhere outside of sportsm, too. It's an intriguing study -- especially if it's happening in your building. Why does it happen to some managers but not others? Why do some executives like Herb Kelleher (former Southwest Airlines CEO) have unlimited staying power, while others are good for a three to four-year cycle before the big top folds and performance nose dives? We see it in sports because it's a scoreboard business, relentlessly chasing the "now." People tiring of their "coaches" in business manifests as a somewhat less readable process because time runs slower and a deluge of numbers often cloud short-cycle results.
Without mentioning names, we've seen executives who personify Duemig's coaching examples. They show up, impose their system, performance rises (sometimes for years upon years), success seems constant ... only to veer south, while employees become increasingly disenfranchised and less confident. The serpentine process continues until either the executive or some of the "players" are repurposed.
Are your players growing tired of you? It's a fair, important, though admittedly hardball question to ask. Nonetheless, we must assume the best among us search regularly for the answer, so as to avoid the inevitable divorce that comes to some teams and coaches, or Fortune 500 companies and their emperors.
Do you truly believe in your people, or do you subtly serve the message "you are team," and ultimately, people are expendable?
Do you love technology and rigid systems, but only tolerate people?
Are you clinging to an unimaginative operating template because it's "your way," or are you willing to change-up old routine for new and creative participation?
Do you miss chances to memorialize group or individual accomplishment?
Even coaches can change: Tom Coughlin stepped back and retooled his coaching style for success. John Gruden does TV.