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Professional sport can be brutal.

Two weekends ago in the AFL the Melbourne Demons travelled west to play the Geelong Cats in Geelong. The Demons were just outside the Top 8 and the Cats were second from the top.

The Demons were not expected to win but nobody could have predicted the humiliation that was to be inflicted by the Cats that afternoon. The final winning margin of 186 points was only 4 points behind the AFL/VFL record margin of 190 points. The Demons’ club Board and the fans were shattered, someone had to be held accountable for such an inept performance.

Clearly elite footballers don’t lose their skills in the course of a week. A losing margin of such magnitude can only be explained by a lack of motivation in the 22 Melbourne players that took the field that day.

But who paid the ultimate price? Was it the players, the CEO, the conditioning staff or the Board? Predictably enough the senior coach, Dean Bailey was the one who took the bullet and within two days of the match he was officially told his services were no longer required.

Was that fair?

Of course there is no definitive answer but the coach is the ultimate leader of the players and it’s an easy and obvious place to start in terms of accountability.

What about in recruitment? If the team delivers an inept result (ie $0 billings in one month) and motivation is clearly lacking, should the leader get the axe?

Here’s what Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman has to say on the matter;

‘In the modern organisation this … remains foremost among the many jobs of leadership: driving the collective emotions in a positive direction and clearing the smog created by toxic emotions.

Quite simply, in any human group the leader has maximal power to sway everyone’s emotions.’ (The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman, Time Warner, 2002, page 6)

This point was clearly rammed home to me one day, many years ago, in a leadership workshop I participated in.

The facilitator asked the group a simple question; ‘which staff members’ emotions have the most impact on your team?’

As we were each contemplating the answer he continued ‘although all of you may have Manager or Leader somewhere in your job title that actually counts for nothing in reality. If, for example, the mood of your receptionist sets the tone for your office each day, then the reality is they are the leader, not you.’

This example caused a light bulb to go on in my head. At that time one of my team was distracted, underperforming and negative. I hadn’t admitted to myself that her influence on the team was stronger than mine. Although it was her energy that was swaying everyone else’s emotions I then knew it was clearly my responsibility to do something about that situation.

I had to re-establish leadership of my team and that meant ensuring my positive energy was the major impact on my team, not her negative energy.

As Geoff Morgan and Andrew Banks say very eloquently in their book Flourish & Prosper (Penguin, 2004);

‘Being a leader is like show business, and when the curtain goes up every day and you arrive at work, you have to be upbeat, consistent and focused’ (page 127)

Are you upbeat, consistent and focused?

The next time you are dealing with a team who, in your view, is lacking in motivation I would first invite you to ask yourself some questions about the environment you have created, questions such as these;

  1. Does each team member know the expectations I have of them?
  2. Does each team member know how to accomplish these expectations?
  3. Does each team member know where they are on the road to fulfilling on these expectations?
  4. Is each team member provided with the necessary training and coaching?
  5. Is there a healthy and positive level of internal competition?
  6. Am I ‘walking my talk’?
  7. Am I acting swiftly to rectify under-performance?
  8. Am I acting swiftly to rectify inappropriate behavior?
  9. Are achievements consistent with high performance recognised and celebrated?

As the leader, it is not your job to motivate each person in your team every day, but it is your job to create an environment in which people find it easy to motivate themselves.

How easy is it for your team members to motivate themselves?

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