In my quest to buy every volleyball ever just in case, I recently bought the book “From The Ashes: The Rise of the University of Washington Volleyball Program”. It is actually a very interesting book that I will write more about later, but there was one topic that I couldn’t wait for. The author writes about the process of building a program from a poor base into a national power. In it he quotes the author Jim Collins, who despite talking about the ‘getting the right people on the bus’ theory, which I loathe, makes a very good point. The particular point that he makes is that the job of the leader is NOT to motivate people. The job of the leader is to identify/find the ‘right’ people and not to demotivate them. The idea is that typically, leaders will spend little time with the ‘right’ people and focus their energy on motivating the next level to raise their performance. Collins, via the author of this book, points out that focussing attention on the lower level actually serves as a demotivator to the ‘right’ people. The ‘right’ people are the ones who provide the greatest performance and they will ultimately drag others with them.
I was thinking of this in the context of my team, and of Phil Jackson** who retired this week. This is exactly what Jackson so successfully did with all his teams. By cultivating relationships with the most important players first (Jordan, O’Neal, then Bryant) he ensured their maximum participation in the project. Once they are fully involved others more or less automatically follow. Interestingly, he specifically chose O’Neal at the expense of Bryant during his first tenure in LA, intuitively understanding that for a time at least (3 years it seems) Bryant would follow, however grudgingly. On his return he created that relationship with Bryant despite the great conflict Jackson’s ‘siding’ with O’Neal had previously created between them. I know of coaches who have followed a similar idea by ensuring the best players are happy but have made the mistake of confusing happy with satisfied and productive. They therefore got neither the best performances from the best players nor managed to create a successful team culture. I also see many coaches who focus their attention (and frustration) on the youngest, least experienced members of the team. It seems obvious to me that constantly berating those who can’t defend themselves, and not incidently have the least impact on overall performance, is at best a waste of the coach’s resources and is certainly a demotivator for others.
Once again, the lesson is coaching is about people.
**Phil Jackson wrote what is the greatest coaching book of all time, Sacred Hoops. Every serious coach must have at least read this book. Just my opinion.