In August of 2020, women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings was let go from her job at Texas Tech because of the way she used fear and intimidation in coaching her players. Stollings had been successful by the scoreboard and standings and had turned around teams with a history of losing, but at what cost? Twelve players had transferred away from Texas Tech, which is a massive rate of turnover. As a consequence, Stollings lost her job and possibly her entire career in basketball.
Stollings had a mission statement, stated when she first took the Texas Tech role: “We are committed to winning championships and doing it the right way, through hard work, accountability, and fierce determination.” This seems like a solid statement. But what does “hard work” mean? Complaints against Stollings allege that her players had to wear monitors recording their heart rates and were not permitted to allow their heart rate to drop below 90 percent of their maximum capacity for more than two minutes during a game. This might require a young person to have a heart rate as high as 180 for an entire game, which is a dangerously high level.
In her previous role at the University of Minnesota, Stollings had taken the captain’s title away in front of all her teammates just before the final regular season game. Then, the assistant coach threatened to leave the player behind – in a different city – and not let her ride home on the bus with the rest of the team.
You see people leaving their positions every day because of the fear and intimidation imposed by their bosses. Leaders need to look at roles and processes with empathy and a sense of values, instead of seeing people as cogs in a machine that are only supposed to produce output. That’s not sustainable. If you burn people out, they will crash.
Instead of constantly driving for specific output as the goal, set up processes to help your team learn, grow and develop in a steady trajectory. Then when things get difficult, you will have the foundation you need to be able to handle that crisis. The team will already be connected and will already trust you as a leader.
Ask yourself these questions to determine how well you lead your employees:
- Do you threaten individuals in front of others because of poor performance?
- Have you set up goals and objectives that people have told you are too demanding or unrealistic?
- Have you described the mission in vague terms that leaves room for excessive pressure?
- Do you have high turnover — especially from people who either won’t give exit interviews or who cite a hostile work environment?
Even if you don’t engage in these practices yourself, you must also assess if there are people in leadership positions in your organization who do. If so, how can you coach them and help them recognize the impact they’re having, not only on the team, but on other teams and perhaps the whole organization?
How can you hold them and yourself accountable for living up to the mission and vision?
It’s essential to understand that, while anyone can have a bad day and take out stress on others, it’s important to own up to it, apologize, and invite conversations about how to do better.
Otherwise, high attrition in your organization will result.
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