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Managing the Albert Haynesworths

Aubrey Daniels
Aubrey Daniels is a leading authority on human behavior in the workplace. He is the author of the management classic, Bringing out the Best in People, and the recent OOPS! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time & Money And What To Do Instead. He also blogs on workplace and management issues.

Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has so far bucked the prevailing trend in managing football prima donnas, in particular with superstar nose tackle Albert Haynesworth. After signing a contract in 2009 worth $100 million, Haynesworth has complained about the new defense, demanded that he be traded, skipped a mandatory minicamp in protest and, most recently, made headlines for his multiple attempts to pass a physical conditioning test.

Most coaches would have caved to the economic pressures of having a $100 million player sit on the bench, but Shanahan has managed Haynesworth's behavior well and did not give in to his tantrums. He set conditions for the player to earn the right to practice as well as join the starting roster. By his actions, Shanahan has increased the fortunes of the Redskins and increased the probability that Haynesworth will play to his All-Star potential, and this lesson should not be lost on business executives and managers.

Overvaluing smart, talented employees is a practice as common on the playing field as it is in the boardroom. Look no further than the Cincinnati Bengals, where there is much speculation as to whether Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco can coexist effectively, let alone how their overwhelming star power will impact the rest of their teammates.

For both coaches and CEOs, this kind of situation presents a daunting challenge which most fail. The test usually involves changing the behavior of the superstar who, figuratively, if not literally, pouts, stamps his feet and refuses to play unless he gets his way.

Most coaches cannot correctly manage these prima donna actions because they fail to heed the closest thing we have to a law of behavior: "Behavior is a function of its consequences." Whatever behavior is occurring will continue if the consequences don't change.

Most coaches preach behavior change but don't change consequences. The players are chewed out, threatened, involved in closed door meetings, and, as a result, the player expresses regret, apologizes, asks for forgiveness and on occasion cries. Promises are made only to be broken again and again, and this is repeated until exasperated managers and coaches trade or release the offending player.

It's no different in corporate America. There is a trend in business these days to "manage talent." What this means is that, if employees have been deemed by whatever criteria to be talented, they are exempt from some of the usual and customary consequences of the organization. This is a huge mistake. Read The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron for a classic example of the disastrous results of such a strategy. Rules are followed when they apply to all. When they only apply to some, few follow the rules and those who do resent management for its failure to enforce them.

When thinking of promoting or bringing in a 'star player," business leaders should also do the following:

• Hire or promote people who are well-liked. Effective leaders create willing followers. Any manager who is not liked cannot create willing followers. You can be well liked and an ineffective manager but you cannot be the most effective manager and not be well-liked.

• Go with leaders who have a history of getting results using positive methods. The best indicator of what people will do in the future is what they have done in the past. Make sure their track record of results has been achieved in the right way.

• Be aggressive in training and promoting people. Intelligence is not the most important factor in expertise or accomplishment. Given the right environment, most people can become "smart and talented." It is a CEO's job to create a culture where managers are rewarded for the number of "smart, talented" employees they produce, not hire.

I applaud Coach Shanahan for his management of the team thus far. By all accounts it is working for him and the team. Haynesworth is working hard, accepting his new role and even helping new players when relegated to the sidelines. All of this behavior is deserving of positive reinforcement.

As James Daniels and I say in our book, Measure of a Leader, the measure of a leader is the behavior of the follower. The management of superstars, in business and in sports, is a measure of leader effectiveness. With the right consequences even prima donnas will become team players.

For more, follow Aubrey Daniels at his blog

By Aubrey Daniels

 |  August 19, 2010; 10:23 AM ET |  Category:  Sports leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Yep, and if you do that, your talent signs with someone else. No one likes working for a petty dictator. That's called managing yourself right out of business.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | August 19, 2010 3:16 PM

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