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THE “BOSSMAN" STYLE
Does it work?
A lot of evidence says no. You can get team members to obey you by using a strictly dictatorial style, but to elicit real involvement, real motivation, and really top performance over a long period of time, you need something a little more sophisticated than "bossing."
In a revealing study done a few years ago, Hans Lenk, a German sports sociologist, showed what that something might be. In his book Team Dynamics, he investigated the relative effectiveness of the authoritarian and democratic coaching styles in European rowing teams. What he found overturns the common coaching wisdom that you've got to kick ass to get anything done on a sports team. Lank admitted that authoritarian coaches tended to be more "task- and achievement-oriented" than democratic ones, but he failed to find that this orientation made an appreciable difference in the performance of the teams involved. In fact, just the opposite was the case. Teams controlled by a strong, boss-type leader and those that were run by collective leadership performed about the same at the beginning, but as time went on the "softer" style gradually began to get better results. In Lenk's description, this is how things developed over time:
The members were dissatisfied with the authoritarian leading; they
reacted either aggressively against the leader and toward each other
or with apathetic submission. In the case of strong control the
performance was a little higher than with the "democratic" leading
style. Then soon a decrease followed. The members who reacted
apathetically did not show any motivation for performance and soon
the decrease of motivation began.
That jibes pretty well with what I've observed on the playing field, and in dozens of businesses. The fact is that there's an upper limit to the effectiveness of any "hard" leadership style, a kind of "plateau effect" that sets in once players or workers have been consistently abused, and that invariably cuts down on motivation.
One reason that this plateau effect sets in is that even a so-called superhuman coach is still, when you come right down to it, only human. Even Vince Lombardi would have admitted that. And because the smartest and most authoritarian of leaders is only human, he can't ever be in two places at once, he can't always be on top of everything, he can't be constantly in control. Since he can't be constantly watching everything, at least some of the training and motivation on any team has to be left up to the group members themselves. And if they haven't been trained and reinforced for doing that, they're not going to do it well. Lank describes this natural process:
Crews under authoritarian guidance . . . were often observed to start
reserving their forces whenever the coach did not look. They did
not really exhaust themselves if the coach was absent; they were
not able to conduct a really full-scale training by themselves,
without immediate guidance and control.
As a result, of course, whenever Big Daddy is "absent" performance is going to suffer, and bad habits will be formed.
There's an analogy here to the way you might raise a family. If you watch your kids at all times, do everything for them, and demand that they do everything your way, what are you going to get? A bunch of obedient clones, who will not be able to make any of their own decisions because you've never prepared them to do so. If you want to raise adults, you've got to give your kids practice in being adults: you've got to let them take risks, experiment and fail, participate in decisions that affect them even when you know their input isn't as "good" as yours.
This is pretty obvious to a parent. It’s not so obvious to many coaches. And it's absolute heresy to a lot of company managers, who are comfortable behaving like Big Daddies and who don't really want their "kids" to grow up.
If you want some evidence of how "well" the Big Daddy approach to management works, take a look at our automobile industry. You can see the same gradual development there that Lenk talks about in terms of rowing. He was talking about it, presumably, as something that happened over a fairly short period of time—a single season, probably. It's taken a lot longer for the process to happen in Detroit, because you're dealing here with large social forces, a huge work force, and much more complicated inter-group relationships than those on a rowing team. But it's still happened. We've seen the relationship between Big Daddy management and the "brainless," "child-like" workers go from one of simple obedience to one of apathy and rebellion—and for exactly the same reasons that this happened in Lenk's rowing teams.
The rebellion—in the form of angry bargaining sessions and protracted strikes—gets most of the press coverage, but the apathy can be just as damaging, and, in fact, is just the other side of the same coin. When critics of the "overpaid worker" talk about featherbedding, laziness, and the lack of pride in one's work that is supposed to characterize our big businesses today, they often forget that these problems arise directly from a management philosophy that says workers don't really want to work—that you have to force them to be involved, because they'll never pull the oar on their own.
The sports equivalent to laziness and featherbedding is what we call "sandbagging." The sandbagger is the guy who misses the block not because he lacks the necessary practice and training, but because his motivation is down—the guy who just doesn't care enough to give the play 100 percent. It happens. It happens on the best of teams. But it doesn't happen on teams where everybody is expected to perform to the best of his ability all the time, where everybody understands that it's in his own best interest to do so, and where there are clear-cut Consequences built in for letting your team members do your job. (I never heard about sandbagging, for example, on any team Dick Butkus played on. Butkus was tough, disciplined, and absolutely involved. He got everybody else involved, too. Not by believing they couldn't do better, but by believing they could—and demanding it, if they wanted to play with him.)
The lesson is simple. Unless you actively involve team members in the running of the team they belong to, it's ridiculous to expect them to be "loyal" to you when times get tough—or, for that matter, when times are good. A lot of people think Detroit's current problems can be traced to Japanese competition and a cycle of economic downturns. That's bull. Detroit had the same problems in the 1950s and 1960s, when times were great. The difference was that, when the economy was booming, it was much easier to cover up the problems by offering huge pay packages and benefit programs to disgruntled employees—as if pay were the only issue that mattered. The covers came off in the downturn because that pure monetary reinforcement started to fall away, and suddenly workers who had always hated their jobs didn't even have the consolation of a thirty-dollar-an-hour slot any more. With that gone, all the old resentments flared up. And guess who they were directed against? Big Daddy in the front office, who had been telling his "children" for years that he knew all the answers, and that they should just take their bonuses and be quiet.
I saw a laid-off General Motors worker on a television talk show years ago, complaining about the raw deal he'd gotten. You know what he talked about? Not the huge managerial bonuses, or the fact that, after eighteen years of service, he had been let go on two days' notice. What really galled him, he said, was that, in all those years on the line (he was a frame assembly foreman) he had never once been asked for his opinion on productivity, efficiency, quality control, or anything else. "I'd forgotten more about that job than those front-office turkeys ever knew," he said. "I could have given them twenty tips on making my line run better. It never occurred to them to ask me."
And it doesn't happen only at the shop-floor level. I spoke recently to an executive at a multibillion-dollar company whose own salary was probably close to half a million a year, not counting perks. The guy had exactly the same complaint as the frame assembly foreman. "I just don't know what the hell anybody thinks of my work," he said. "The CEO just leaves me alone. I never get asked my opinion, I never get any feedback.
It's scary." What both these people were saying relates directly not just to Detroit's ongoing woes, but to what I said earlier about monetary reinforcement never being the principal ingredient in whether or not somebody's going to be motivated to improve. After eighteen years on the job, the foreman was making a bundle – and, of course, so was the executive. But it wasn't enough for them. They wanted to be involved.
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