My commute home is about 45 minutes, I use the time to read, think and decompress from the day. It’s time I really value. In the craziness of the day, the monotony of my commute is something I look forward too. Recently, a question came to mind - where does success come from, is it the coach (manager) or the team (employees)? Is it as simple as A or B? Or a hybrid of each? What does it matter? If an organization is meeting goals, driving success, there is a great and healthy organizational culture, maybe it simply does not matter? To help me think through, I put the analogy into a sports context - being a NBA fan, I wondered:
If we placed Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches of all time, as head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats (21-61 last season), could they compete?
The classic conundrum of mistaking cause for correlation comes into play. Let’s say the Bobcats miraculously win the championship - was it because of Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense? Did Kemba Walker suddenly become Jordan, James, Bryant all in one? Or were there other compounding factors that let a mediocre team win (injuries to other teams superstars or maybe David Stern made a few phone calls). Regardless, the question is clear - who makes the team? Is it the players or the coach? What does it matter if the desired outcome is achieved?
More than anything, the question is an intellectual exercise on organizational theory and management. For me, the answer is for sure a hybrid, and yes - the answer does matter. Here’s some of my rationale, please share your comments below:
Success comes from effective leadership and management. Good leaders know how to inspire their employees and max out their productivity. Great leaders know how to do the same, but place it in the context of the overall mission and goals of an agency. We’ve seen it thousands of times, smart, well-educated and driven people not fitting or working out in positions. Leaders need to map individual skills to organizational need. It’s basic, but can be challenging to communicate these needs to employees. Also, the distinction between a leader and manager is important to remember - an effective coach/manager excels at both. You can’t expect someone to magically excel, they need mentorship, guidance and then given an appropriate level of autonomy.
Managing up makes the manager better, more proactive and makes employee the linchpin of success. This can lead to stronger organizational outcomes and improved communications. Here, the employee is responsible for the team success. Maybe the manager is too busy to focus on programs, overworked, or possibly just removed and uninterested in leading - the employee will make the team, not the manager. In these cases, driven, motivated and passionate people excel. We’ve heard stories of people innovating in the most unusual places, leading changing from all levels. It’s just a reality, some people excel when there is a vacuum in leadership, elevating their peers and managers.
The coach or the team distinction philosophy matters. This can define a culture, an environment and an organizations ethos. I’m not convinced one way or another is the “right” way - but for employees and managers, they need to have a sense of the environment they are operating in. If you think you’re this great leader responsible for driving success, and your employee thinks they are the superstar - you’re bound for conflict. Everything we do boils down to building positive relationships.
Again, the common theme revolves around building positive relationships with employees, peers and the team. I still don’t have a great answer if the coach makes the team or the players, best I can say is that it’s contextual and both feed off each other. The silver lining here is that whatever case you find yourself in, you can be the positive change in your organization. We’re all empowered much more than we think to drive our agencies towards achieving missions and reaching organizational goals.
If you’re a manager, be one with confidence and lead your team towards success. If you’re an employee with an apathetic manager, work hard to be the positive change, lead by example and learn to rise above the challenges you face. Maybe I am hopelessly optimistic, but as I quoted John Lennon in a post last week, “there are no problems, only solutions.” Work hard to identify the solutions, create an action plan and positive change will come- from whatever role you play in your agency.
What do you think? Does the players or coach define success? Does it matter?