A Kick in the Pants or a Pat on the Back?

Apr 30, 2024

Did you ever have to take a personality profile test as part of your job?  Hopefully it went better than this one: 

Whoever becomes Andy’s supervisor would certainly have their work cut out for them.  But let’s be honest, every employee’s personality requires its own style of motivation.

Coach Steve

Shortly after I graduated from college, a friend talked me into joining him at a small private high school as both a teacher and coach. I had some student loans to pay off and figured this would be a good place to accomplish that, while also allowing me to think about some long-term career direction. 

In addition to my teaching duties, I coached football, basketball, and tennis. Now, before you become unduly impressed with my athletic ability and acumen, I should probably admit that all of my tennis players could easily have beaten me. I was not some high school athletic phenom.  But this was some early training ground for me in learning how to lead different kinds of people.

I’m done, Coach…

During my first year coaching football I had two players that were very talented. As is often the case at smaller schools, these two guys—let’s call them Jeff and Mark— carried the team. As they went, so went the team.

Near the end of my first season we were in a dogfight of a game, and not surprisingly, we needed Jeff and Mark’s best efforts to win. As the game wore on and their minutes began to pile up, both began to noticeably fatigue.

About midway through the fourth quarter, we called a timeout. As the players headed to the sideline, I could tell Jeff was struggling. He was exhausted and looked like he wanted to call it a day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option, so I decided to pull out my best Vince Lombardi. (To be fair, I probably came across more like Will Ferrell in Kicking and Screaming than the legendary Green Bay Packers coach.)

I met Jeff before he even made it to the sideline. I grabbed his facemask and climbed into his ear. Spit was flying and I was screaming with everything I had. “You’re better than this…you can’t quit on me now…you’ve worked too hard…your team needs you.” As my tirade wound to a close, I locked eyes with him and he caught fire. He was back, and he ran out on the field like he was shot out of a cannon.

A few minutes later our opponent called a timeout, and as we huddled I noticed that Mark was now struggling. Hands on hips, bent over, and exhausted, he limped over to the sideline. We needed Mark just as badly as we needed Jeff, but I knew Mark and I knew he wasn’t wired like Jeff. If Jeff needed Lombardi, Mark needed Kid President.  

I called a new play from my personal leadership playbook. I put my arm around him and walked a step away from the huddle. “Mark, I know you are spent. I know you need a rest. I wish the game was over, but it isn’t. I tell you what,” I said as I gestured to the sideline, “you tell me who can come in and do your job as well as you can. You tell me who, and I’ll send him in.”

“Ain’t nobody, Coach.”

“You sure?” Again, “Ain’t nobody, Coach.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Can you give me just a little more?”

He took a deep breath, slipped on his helmet, and charged back out.

Don’t be a one-play boss…

I haven’t kept in touch with Jeff or Mark, but I would bet that Mark has never responded well to a boss who screams and pounds the table. I am also sure that Jeff still needs an occasional kick in the pants more than a pat on the back.

Good bosses, coaches, and leaders of all kinds have more than one play in their motivational playbook. They understand one of the fundamental truths behind Jung’s personality theories—different people are motivated differently.  

Learn the art of customized communication and motivation. Take the time to know the people you are leading. Learn what makes them tick, what excites them, and what drives them. The better you know those you are leading, the more likely you are to place them in situations with a high probability of success, which in turn increases the likelihood of your success. As David Brooks writes, “People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation.”

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