My grandfather was son of Polish immigrants. Growing up in Newark, NJ, he did a variety of jobs around the area. At one point, he was working as a laborer outside of town with a group of friends. After about a week of working, the foreman on the job wanted to fire one of his friends because he was by far the laziest of the workers. My grandfather explained to him that he couldn’t fire his friend. When asked why not, he explained that his friend was the only one that owned a car. The lazy worker was the only way that the rest of them could get to work so far from home. The foreman did not heed his warning and lost four good workers with the dismissal of one.
Group dynamics in teams are often complicated. People are influential for all kinds of reasons. While coaches may want their best players to also be good teammates and hard workers, it’s not always the case. Captains should also be self-less and think of the good of the team before their personal gain. Again it doesn’t always work that way. The overlapping of personal relationships and power positions within a team can make for a convoluted mess. It is up to the coach or manager to pull the strings that get the best out of the group. This may include knowing who the Poles with the driver’s licenses are. Who are the players who can sway a large portion or the entire group?
Recognizing who these people are can avoid the loss of a locker room. These players do not particularly need to be made captain or be given some form of public power. The coach just needs to be able to read the room well enough to manage the situation. Getting commitment from the players of influence is important. With the modern athlete, this often takes more discussions than in the past. “My way or the highway” is not as effective as it used to be. The narrative inside the heads of the players needs to be similar to the one that the coach is preaching. Players need to know why they should follow the coach. Conversely the coach should not believe that his position obligates his players to follow.
The power of influence is not given out equally or fairly. As we see on social media every day, the world is filled with followers. This means that we need leaders who are willing to step in front. Not just to blindly go forward with the expectation that they will be followed but the humility to empathize. The Poles with driver’s licenses exist in every group. Be wise enough to lead beyond them rather than allowing their power to subvert your mission.
Get to work!