The Bench or the Basket

I am a sports fanatic so my Leadership style is rooted in metaphor to any number athletic competitions. With the NBA season on the brink of collapse let’s talk some basketball. I am a firm believer that there are two ways to motivate basketball players:

1. By the Bench

2. By the Basket

There is a distinct carry over from the basketball court to the office. You can micromanage people to a task list (the bench) or you can trust them to transcend their goals (the basket). To stretch the metaphor a step further, if you are threatened to be benched for under-performing, you will do just enough to stay in the game. If you have practiced, learned the applicable skills, and are trusted to apply them ~ you will score points.

I am consistently perplexed as to why this simple formula for success is met with digression. It is astonishing that certain managers devalue their leadership ability to such an extent that they treat their mature workforce like a 5th grade basketball team. In essence, if you dangle someone’s right to work as the end point of their every action – they will do just enough to keep their job. A leader is responsible for a company’s culture. If you have created an environment that uses reactive threats as a point of motivation, you are a referee not a coach. This is the difference between those who manage and those who lead.

Trust is the most important trait of any leader: trust in your employees and trust in your ability to help them achieve what has been framed to them as impossible. Your employees get enough pressure from your competitors and the general marketplace; they don’t their boss to be the one emphasizing what is not possible. To be the voice of reason is essential. To be another hurdle to progress is unacceptable.

People succeed because they believe in the products they sell, they identify with the company values they represent and they love their boss. As Leaders, it is important for us to understand that the aforementioned virtues are an act of faith not a force fed routine.

Here is a newsflash: Your best employee makes up roughly 25% of your revenue goal. Their success is a result of loyalty. Your best employee also has several options. If you treat them like a child playing basketball, they will find another team to play for.

Lead, Follow or get out of the way!

Dave Kovacovich