A good manager must have the ability to be tough. Telling hard truths, and forcing those who they are tasked to lead to face distasteful realities in order to create positive change, is one of the hardest parts of the job. It's also seductive, and often misleading in its effectiveness, in that it doesn’t always work. Managers need to learn not only how to be tough, but when not to be. We have all worked for someone who is unnecessarily hard on their team all the time, and justifies their behaviour with weak platitudes such as, "I only treat you like this because I can see your potential." This of course is based on the short-sighted myth that the only way to get the best out of people is to boss them around.
So how should a manager decide when to be tough, and when to take a more empathetic stance?
We have seen this scenario played out many times in rugby league. When the half-time whistle sounds, the coach must decide how to address the players. Cameras in the locker room sometime show an animated coach, yelling and screaming, berating specific players and sometimes even throwing things around to make a point. A week later, we see the same coach calm and subdued, separating the team into smaller groups during the half-time break, and putting his arm around some, almost like a parental figure.
Why the change? Often fans get confused when they see a coach berating players who are winning, or acting calmly when the team is behind on the scoreboard. The reason this seems incongruent, is that whether the team is winning or losing has nothing to do with the coach’s attitude towards the players. The coach has been planning their half time interaction through analysing the game and asking a simple question:
How can I get the most out of these players?
If the team is ahead, but in the last ten minutes before the break laziness has set in and basic errors have been the result, then perhaps the team would benefit from a shock to the system. Using harsh truths, such as telling them that they are professional footballers and to maintain their high standards, because that is what is expected of them, might be just what they need to kick back into high gear.