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Effective leaders build morale, but too many destroy it

By | August 3, 2018

What makes effective leaders? Google it. There’s about 171 million results, so it’s safe to say it’s a hot topic. Altitude Advisory Marketing Manager John Durrant examines how ego and a disciplinarian approach can ruin a successful team.

Effective leaders

It’s something I think about a lot in my work life… and even outside work (I’m thinking about my role as an under-sevens soccer coach) and it genuinely fascinates me.

I even started thinking about it last night as I lay on the couch and watched the first episode of the new season of Last Chance U on Netflix.

Effective leaders make good teams great

For those who haven’t seen it, Last Chance U centres on a coach’s struggle to develop a community college football team full of troubled kids – all of whom are gifted footballers but have been kicked out of many other institutions for various misdemeanors. They have the talent to play at the highest level, but behavioural and academic failings threaten to ruin that. This is – quite literally – their last chance.

I know next to nothing about American football but this raw show is addictive. Like all great art, it’s not the story itself, but the characters that make it such a compelling watch.

The new head coach – Jason Brown – is a complex character. He doesn’t hold back. He curses and swears and tells players that they’re useless. He makes everything about him. He has a massive ego. He drinks too much. He smokes too many cigars. He holds grudges. But you know what? He gets results. Is he one of football’s ‘effective leaders’? Nope.

In the second episode of the latest season, his Kansas Independence College take down the defending champs and seemingly unbeatable Garden State before going on an impressive winning streak.

Brown doesn’t hold back on attributing the success to himself, almost as if his players are mere tools… a necessity that he’d do without if he could.

“Coaching isn’t all that… you just get the guys to trust you enough that they’ll run through walls for you and you’re done,” he tells the camera after the unlikely win over Garden State.

So is Brown an effective leader? Looking purely at results on the field, you’d have to say yes. But there’s more to the story than just results. Morale in his squad appears to be terrible, his assistant coaches are obviously intimidated by him to the point that they barely speak and players routinely skip training and feign injury.

Ruling with an iron fist

In my professional life I’ve had the experience of working for a Jason Brown-esque boss who tried to rule with an iron fist.

Was he an effective leader? Well, yes. The company was performing extremely well. But profits – much like results on a football field – only told half the story. Morale within the company was awful, good people constantly left because of his management style and many colleagues felt too intimidated to raise new ideas or suggestions as these were usually shot down in flames.

The “good old days” of the boss being akin to God and the employees the faithful followers are all but gone outside of sporting institutions. Thankfully.

Respect is a two-way street. Employees must perform. Leaders must ensure that they create an environment where that is possible.

Leaders, ask yourself this question: Is my company a success because of my leadership, or despite my leadership?

If you can honestly say yes to the former, I salute you. If you answer yes to the latter, spend some time watching Last Chance U and decide if you aspire to be a Jason Brown. Hopefully not.

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