What Sports Fans Already Know about Management

Managers, it’s time to face facts: we will never manage a whole crew of Michael Jordans. Not everyone we hire will be the Tom Brady of our industry. It’s unlikely that you will ever discover (much less successfully recruit) the Wayne Gretzky of powder coating.

And that’s ok.

The impulse to wish for more star power is an understandable one. I’ve fallen into the trap myself, and it often sounds something like this: “If I could just clone so-and-so…” or “If we had a dozen more like him…” or “If she could just be in more places at once…” 

The workplace is not your fantasy football team. It is, however, very much like an actual football team, in which a group of people with diverse skill sets come together in the common pursuit of a shared goal, under the direction of a coach who (ideally) truly values each player’s individual abilities.

In other words: what if, instead of dreaming of a bench stacked with LeBrons, we found ways to maximize the talent with which we’re already working? 

Maybe the employee with questionable attention to detail is also the employee whose enthusiasm energizes the team. You’re the coach – find ways to use him. Maybe the employee who’s notoriously grumpy with customers is wildly productive when left alone. You’re the coach – find ways to use her. Occasionally, if you’re lucky, you’ll hire the person who can do it all; when you do, find a way to celebrate that employee’s talents without wishing those same talents upon everyone else. 

Remember that you need your sixth man just as much as you need your starters.

I am by no means suggesting that you lower your standards. Far from it, in fact – rather than expecting less from your players, start expecting the right things from your players, and then push them hard in that direction. Get to know your talent, and find ways to deploy it effectively. 

To paraphrase Urban Meyer: it’s a poor coach who blames the players. Sports fans understand this – managers, it’s time we did, too.

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