Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Be Tough... but, Show Your People You Care

Source:  NBC New York
Yesterday, Tom Coughlin stepped down as head coach of the New York Giants.   Coughlin has enjoyed tremendous success as a football coach.  He won two Super Bowls as head coach of the Giants, as well as another one as an assistant back in 1990.  He built the Jacksonville franchise from the ground up, when it was an expansion team.  In addition, he turned around the Boston College team as head coach of that college program many years ago. It pains me that he defeated my beloved Patriots twice in the Super Bowl, but I have a great deal of respect for his work as a coach.  

Ian O'Connor published a terrific article for ESPN yesterday that described the evolution of Coughlin's leadership style (thanks to my colleague,  Peter Nigro, for sharing the article with me).  The lesson from Coughlin's experience has important implications for all leaders, as well as for teachers and professors everywhere.  Coughlin began his head coaching career with the approach of a drill sergeant.   He ran a very tight ship, demanding that his players show up early for meetings, requiring them to wear their socks in a particular manner, and putting them through incredibly tough conditioning drills.   The approach nearly cost him his job, though, at the end of the 2006 season.  Players chafed at his methods and requirements.  The team under-performed on the field.  O'Connor describes what happened next:  

Everything changed, of course, after Coughlin was nearly fired following the 2006 season. John Mara (owner of the Giants) told him he needed to take something off his fastball, that he had to ease up with the players and the news media, and Coughlin agreed. The coach told Mara he wanted to establish a leadership council of veterans to bridge the divide between his office and the locker room. "If I could do cartwheels," Mara said, "I would've done one that day."  There were assists along the way. Coughlin's wife, Judy, and children implored him to show his private self in public settings. Charles Way, a former Giants fullback serving as director of player development, told Coughlin that many players didn't have father figures and that they needed to see him in that context."Right now, they feel it's us against them," Way told him, "that you don't care about me, that I'm just a piece of meat to you, just a number to you. And if you want them to play for you, given the way you are, you have to show them that you care about them, which I know you do. But you have to show them that." 

What's the lesson here?  Leaders, professors, and teachers should set high expectations and demand a great deal from those with whom they work.   Discipline, hard work, and a high bar should be part of their approach.  However, they only will get the maximum effort from others if they also show that they care.  If others believe you care about them, they will run through walls for you.   In talking about teaching, my colleague Jane McKay-Nesbitt puts it best, when she says, "If you want them to care about what you know, first let them know that you care."  

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