Employment law is also known as the law of master and servant.  The employer is the master and the employee the servant.  However, this view of the working world is the genesis of hostile language and undermines teamwork and productivity.

In no area is teamwork more highly valued than in team sports. What all successful coaches know is that despite having authority (much like an employer has), the more the authority is used to force compliance with team rules and systems, the sooner the coach will lose the team.   As it is in sports, so it is in your working world.

Mike Keenan coached in the NHL.  He was known as “Iron Mike.”  Iron Mike had some short-term successes, but his coaching resume did not include any long-term success with any one organization.  He could not maintain relationships with players.  He was terminated or ‘resigned’ from just about every NHL job he held.  Mike Keenan relied on ‘hostile language’ to force his players to bend to his will.  His coaching style, however, came at the cost of teamwork.

Duke University’s Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) coached the Duke Blue Devils to five Men’s NCAA titles. He has the most wins of any NCAA coach, all with the Blue Devils. He also coached the USA men’s National team to four Olympic Gold medals.  Coach K’s focus is on team. Coach K, in his book The Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business and Life wrote: “Almost everything in leadership comes back to relationships.”  The SmartBlog on Leadership[1] describes Coach K’s “Ah-ha moment” as his understanding of the importance of connection and relationships:

If you study Coach K’s approach, you’ll see that he clearly articulates what I’ve described as a “Connection Culture” — where shared identity, empathy and understanding move primarily self-centered individuals toward group-centered membership. Great groups always have a strong sense of connection.

Another highly successful coach was Patricia Summit, former head coach for the women’s University Tennessee Lady Vols Basketball team.  In her tenure as head coach of the Vols basketball team, the team won 8 NCAA championship titles.  Her coaching career was unfortunately cut short in 2011 after being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.   In her book, Reach the Summit, she set out the team commandments she dubbed the “Definite Dozen”:

  1. Respect Yourself and Others
  2. Take Full Responsibility
  3. Develop and Demonstrate Loyalty
  4. Learn to Be a Great Communicator
  5. Discipline Yourself So No One Else Has To
  6. Make Hard Work Your Passion
  7. Don’t Just Work Hard, Work Smart
  8. Put the Team Before Yourself
  9. Making Winning an Attitude
  10. Be a Competitor
  11. Change Is a Must
  12. Handle Success Like You Handle Failure

Notably missing from the “Definite Dozen” are commandments like:

  1. The Coach is the Boss Here
  2. Do What I Tell You To Do or You Will Be Let Go From the Team
  3. My Job is To Make The Rules; Your Job is To Follow Them

Coach Summit had high team expectations and demanded a lot from the players. Those team standards and expectations also applied to her and she was as accountable to the team to meet those standards as each individual player was.  Team rules were made on a consultative basis.  Team buy-in was of critical importance.  The Coach and players formed one unit committed to winning.

In the book Social: Why our Brains Are Wired to Connect Harvard Professor Lieberman poses a question: “Does human capital lead to productivity all on its own, or does social capital play a role in catalyzing human output into optimal performance?” (at p. 262)  He defined human capital as “the amount of intelligence, experience and education a person has.”  Social capital was defined as “social connections and social networks.”  The research demonstrated that social capital was critically important for achieving productivity gains in the workplace (at p. 262-263):

The assumption that productivity is about smart people working hard on their own has been masking the fact that individual intelligence may only be optimized when it is enhanced through social connections.  Social connections are essentially the original Internet, connecting different pockets of intelligence to make each pocket more than it would otherwise be itself.  These social connections turn out to be even more important for small companies and start-ups that specialize in innovation.

Even a social factor as innocuous as fairness in the workplace can significantly affect job performance, absenteeism turnover…..The extent to which employees perceive decisions to be fair….can account for 20 percent of the differences in their productivity.

 Step 1, think team and connection culture. That perspective will go a long way to reducing reliance on hostile language, the language of master and servant, in your working world!

by Ron Pizzo

Ron practices in the areas of Employment Law and Mediation. Reach him at [email protected].

[1] http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2014/03/07/coach-ks-ah-ha-moment-and-his-secret-to-sustainable-success