What do AFL and small business have in common? Old-style leaders are on the out

mission statement

The CEO Institute director Steve Stanley. Source: Supplied.

As Saturday draws near, it is interesting to reflect on the nature of the coaches who have taken teams to the grand final over the last five years. The days of the authoritarian coach are gone.

When you look at the coaching style of Adam Simpson, Alastair Clarkson, Damien Hardwick, Luke Beveridge and John Longmire, you see coaches who are anything but authoritarian and dictatorial. Add Nathan Buckley to that group, as he made a significant change and swung from the older style to one embracing the players, and the results have been significant.

Why is this so?

Society has changed. Younger generations require different methods of motivation and learning.  The ‘old-style’ coaches have been replaced with ones who understand that getting the best out of today’s 20-year-olds does not involve making the point by poking players in the chest and confronting them. One by one, the AFL clubs have dismissed authoritative coaches and replaced them with those embracing inclusive leadership.

The same applies to the AFL captains. The giant alpha personalities no longer rule, instead leaders such as Shannon Hurn, Trent Cotchin, Easton Wood, and Luke Hodge, lead in a way that doesn’t involve ‘my way, or the highway’.

Is this the same in business, or are we still dominated by the, almost larger-than-life personalities, whose words we hang off?

In my opinion, the business world is seeing the same shift. We are seeing more inclusive leaders and less authoritarian leaders in our successful companies.

Why is this?

We are no longer prepared to it back and be dictated to by power merchants. Everywhere, people are standing up against the use and abuse of power. There are still plenty of them, but those who choose not to change, or do not have the capacity to change, will find themselves the minority.

It’s like smoking, those few who now indulge, need to leave the building and find ‘dark corners’ to smoke. Power-hungry individuals will find themselves in the same predicament.

So, what does this inclusive leadership look like? 

It is characterised by traits that see these leaders committed to diversity and inclusion.  These leaders have the courage to speak up and challenge the status quo. They are those who distribute praise for successes to their team, but, accept failure and mistakes as their own.  These leaders are fair and strive to understand others. They harness the thinking of those in their organisation and acknowledge that everyone has a contribution to make and the sum of the whole is better than the thinking of the privileged. 

Power is gained by distributing it, not by holding it to be used to boost position. In essence, inclusive leaders are able to develop trust, unite their team, distribute power to, and develop others.

A lot of reasons have been given as to why Bill Shorten lost the last election. In my opinion, it can best be summed up with this quote I found on social media: “Attention seeker with no substance. It is only about Bill.” Hardly what could be described as fitting the profile of an inclusive leader.

During the campaign, a voter had a beer with Scott Morrison in a hotel, and afterwards said: “He seemed like not a bad bloke.” The contrast, although from only two voters, seems to sum-up the difference and a major reason why the election went the way it did.  Voters felt a strong unease with Bill Shorten and there was no trust. The longer the campaign went, the more voters felt aligned to Scott Morrison, because he seemed like a good bloke.

This correlates with hundreds of studies that show one of the key reasons people leave their place of employment, is not culture, nor money, nor promotional opportunities, but it is because they cannot get on with their immediate line manager.

If we do not feel that there is a level of trust, that we are part of the team, empowered to perform, encouraged and taught to do better, then we leave, no matter how good the conditions may be.

Inclusive leaders understand this. Authoritative and narcissistic individuals in positions of power, will never ‘get it’. 

Times have changed and we value leaders who are prepared to lead in an effective and inclusive way.

Coaches are realising that addressing a group of players requires real skill, as one-third may respond to a direct call to action, one-third to praise followed by an exhortation for more, and one-third to analysing the data.

The great half-time rant is gone, as it doesn’t work. The same applies to our businesses.

Being an inclusive leader means understanding what motivates each member of the crew. One size does not fit all. It never has and never will.

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