A real leader knows when to sacrifice a limb to save a life

On Saturday afternoon I watched by youngest son play Under 11s soccer.

He plays for his local club in the top grade for his year group. The team is coached by a jovial and committed dad who knows his soccer and drills the team in how he wants them to play – as a quick passing team. The boys are responding well and progress is steady. At this age level matches are on half sized pitches with nine players a side and a maximum of four substitutes.

Two brothers (let’s call them Steve and Sam) play in the team and they have been missing for six matches as their parents took them on an extended European holiday. This put some pressure on the coach (and team) and for a few matches extra substitutes were required from other club teams. This is the first season the brothers have played with this team, nine of the team played together last season.

At half time Steve was taken off and as he stood with his team mates and coach watching the play get under way for the second half his mother loudly remarked “Are you off again, Steve?”

About half way through the second half Sam was in possession of the ball in our team’s forward half and, without looking around, he kicked the ball in the air downfield, nowhere near any of his team mates, and out of play for a goal kick.

The coach yells out “Come on, Sam, we don’t play like that. No hoofing the ball downfield, pass to a team mate”.

A few seconds later Steve and Sam’s mother yells out “Well done, Sam. Good effort”.

I’m sorry, but in my view that mother can just take her two boys and go and play somewhere else. I don’t want her around. We have a coach who is volunteering his time to help the boys develop their soccer skills and there’s a mother undermining that effort with a churlish public display of selfishness.

Of course, as parents, we want our son(s) to be on the pitch as often as possible because what parent wants their kid to watch from the sidelines when they could be on the pitch playing?

But when you play a team sport the coach is in charge. The coach makes the decisions for the betterment of the whole team. This is what you, as a parent or as a player, sign up for. You sign up to play the team game. If you want to play a different game then go and play somewhere else.

Did that mother consider the impact on the team, and her sons’ integration into the team, when she took them away for six weeks? Of course any parent has the right to make those decisions but equally she needs to appreciate that the team has been progressing without her sons for six games and it may not work for the team if the coach brings them straight back for ‘normal’ amounts of game time play straight away.

In my eyes our coach doesn’t have to justify anything to this mother because he’s the one putting in the time and making the decisions – she isn’t.  He has the right to make any team-related decision throughout the season. If any parent wants to discuss or dispute a decision then they should discuss it with him privately, not make public utterances that potentially undermine his authority in front of the other parents and the players. It’s classic passive-aggressive behavior that’s unhelpful in any context, let alone children’s sport.

So what’s this got to do with recruitment I hear you ask?

It’s got everything to do with it.

Recently a very well-known, fast growing and much-awarded local recruitment agency parted ways with one of its directors. This director, although not a founder, had been with the agency for over a decade. He had started as an entry level recruiter and had, through his hard work and skill, developed into a very high billing consultant, one of the very best in a company that’s home to many top performers.

This director lost his job because he was caught playing his own game, rather than the team game he had committed to uphold. In some agencies his behavior may have been ignored, or minimised; but not inside this agency. This agency prides itself on its values and as such the Managing Director made the very hard call to cut this top performer loose.

I fully support the decision. You can’t pick and choose after you join a team. When you sign up, you sign up for the team game. Don’t say one thing and do another – that’s the road to a bankrupt culture.

It’s not uncommon for agency owners to compromise their company’s values in order to keep a high billing consultant whose behavior has been at odds, sometimes dramatically, with the collaborative nature of their team or company. Its expedient decisions like these that often mark the beginning of a terminal decline in the fortunes of a once-excellent company. I worked at one such company. It was a devastating experience to watch how quickly things unravelled.

Ongoing collaboration is what makes a team work. It’s what makes a team special. It’s what delivers outstanding results.

Wikipedia defines collaboration as follows:

“Collaboration is a purposeful relationship in which all parties strategically choose to cooperate in order to accomplish a shared outcome.” (my bold)

When one or more parties choose not to cooperate in a way that undermines or endangers, potentially or actually, the purpose and strength of the team, then it’s time to make the tough call.

As Commissioner Reagan (played by Tom Selleck) intoned in a recent Blue Bloods episode, when providing justification for his difficult decision to fire a rookie NYPD police officer, “By general law, life and limb must be protected, yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life, but a life is never wisely given to save a limb.  Abraham Lincoln”

Whether it’s a kid’s soccer team, a recruitment agency or a police force, a real leader knows when to sacrifice a limb to save a life.

6 Comments

  1. Mary appleby on 15/08/2018 at 8:47 am

    Great reading Ross – how brave of the MD. It takes courage, consistency and energy to build collaboration in teams. The results are not always immediate but do eventually speak for themselves.

    • Ross Clennett on 21/08/2018 at 3:10 pm

      In fact I would say that the results are almost never immediate, Mary, as it the ripple effect ensures that it may be months, years even until the true impact of the decision can be evaluated.

  2. Michael Facciolo on 15/08/2018 at 9:14 am

    Fantastic blog Ross. Having been involved in sporting teams throughout all of my life, you’ve raised some extremely valuable and important points.

  3. Mark Parrent on 21/08/2018 at 8:29 am

    Do you think the Mum actually knows much about the game or do you think she goes along each week with a positive attitude no matter what the outcome is? I get your point though Ross.

    • Ross Clennett on 21/08/2018 at 3:12 pm

      The mother in question he has actually refereed a game or two, Mark, so undoubtedly she understands the game, children’s sport and the role of the coach.

  4. Upul on 23/08/2018 at 2:21 pm

    It is sad that normally best players/performers are involved in these scenarios. I think it is happening every where, including our parliament. Great article Ross.

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