An Un-boss In Motion

Posted by jlubans on February 29, 2024

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Caption: Latvia's basketball team's head coach Luca Banchi greets supporters in Riga, Latvia, Sept. 11, 2023. The team finished 5th (out of 32 national teams) at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. (Photo by Edijs Palens)

The first version of this essay appeared early December 2023 as In Motion.
Since then I've spent time writing about the un-boss (Adidas) and the Un-DMV.
Both blogs feature people who undertake leadership in less egocentric ways than most bosses, some of whom are into controlling and commanding; it's why they are the boss!
C&C has never been my way but I understand some prefer telling others what to do even when those others are fully capable.
There is a risk. If workers know their jobs and do them well it may - in some organizations - jeopardize the boss's existance. I was once asked this question in a public budget meeting:
Why do we need you? Hmm.
The self-motivated individual worker needs the freedom to excel and contribute.
Want to kill initiative and innovation?
Take away the worker's freedom to make decisions and mistakes. Demand allegiance to the hierarchy and never deviate from "your lane" in the organizational chart.
Back to basketball's un-boss coach, Mr. Banchi.
What is his "secret sauce" for coaching Latvia's basketball team to unprecedented heights?
One source told me that "Banchi gave his players the freedom to make decisions on the court, which helped them to develop their confidence and their ability to play under pressure.
That confidence led to "kustībā" which is Latvian (and the Italian Mr. Banchi's favorite Latvian word) for "in motion".
When I reviewed several of the highlight reels of Latvia's victories, I perceived a great deal of kustībā - the ball got passed at a head snapping velocity and accuracy multiple times. Often, the final recipient managed a score. I saw much sharing and little egotism.
For example, star player Artūrs Zagars' 17 assists in a single game set a World Cup record. He had, overall, an impressive tournament total of 59 assists.
What's an assist? An assist is recorded "(W)hen an offensive player in possession of the basketball passes it to a teammate who then scores points." In other words, the player with the ball gives up his claim to the ball and shares it with another player who may be in a better spot to score.
It's an act of unselfishness, a quintessential aspect of successful teamwork.
Do we have assists in the workplace? Of course, and we need more of them.
Banchi said his goal as a coach was "to make the players autonomous ...."
After a win over Brazil, he said "I believe this group doesn't need a coach any more ...They (the players) are solid, conscious, accurate, bringing more and more confidence into the tournament. We can adapt, they know what I'm asking when we go into some choices, they know what's the style that works."
Once upon a time, I asked all of my direct reports (team leaders) to invite me to their next team meeting so I could observe their team dynamics.
That alone caused some consternation but it was nothing to my disappointment that after five years of promoting and training for teams, most of our teams were so in name only.
The hierarchy was their model and these teams were no further along than their initial formation.
My self-invited team visits were mostly a bust. My big take-away was learning the obvious: Teamwork does not happen with a change of name.
If former department heads continue as team leaders, nothing really changes. We talk team but act hierarchical.
I did not find a single team capable of self-management.
The goal of effective teams, we are told, is that the team will become independent and less in need of a leader - the leader becomes more of an advisor and consultant than someone directing day to day routine.
When Banchi tells us his team no longer needs a coach, that is precisely what I was hoping for at my work.
The reality was that the team leaders nee department heads did not want to step away and had no intention of doing so.
Why was I disappointed? Because the full potential of high performing teams went unrealized. The old hierarchies did satisfactory work, but did not go above and beyond.
Perhaps there was nothing to rise to? Could be.
My business has no World Cup to aspire to, but we should.
Innovations, daily improvement, and gold class customer service are our World Cup.
All in all, my visits were a sobering experience, but I remain convinced that effective teams - self actualized teams - provide the best results.
Banchi said he was influenced by a book: "Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life" by James Kerr (2013).
Legacy reveals how New Zealand's rugby team
consistently wins far more often - a 75% win rate over 100 years - than loses and the book elaborates on the winning leadership philosophy.
Early on the All Blacks moved away from a top-down leadership and " transfer(red) the leadership from senior management to the players...they play the game and they have to do the leading on the field. The traditional 'you and them' became 'us'."
For the All Blacks, "(s)hared responsibility means shared ownership. A sense of inclusion means individuals are more willing to give themselves to a common cause."
Which, coincidentally, pretty much sums up my Letting Go
, a leadership principle I practiced my entire career. I guess that makes me more of an un-boss than a top down tyrant.
I am not put off by the notion of a manager allowing workers to make decisions, allowing workers to strive for best practices; in other words expecting workers to think and act for themselves and the organization.
Since mistakes are part of the creative process, I understand mistakes will be made. "Make more mistakes", was my mantra.
Alas, I worked in several hierarchies and while my opposite philosophy was tolerated by a few of my bosses it was threatening to many top-down managers.
Goodness gracious, they were never going to declare that their unit, department or team, "doesn't need a coach any more"!
While the hands-on, top-down style can keep any company going, it fails to unlock a much greater potential and higher productivity.
Finally, I could have done my brand of "letting go" better. By that, I mean enlightening, empowering and equipping staff to be let go.
I should have done more, like the All Blacks , in developing a culture of honesty, authenticity and safe conflict.

Upcoming blog: "Where are the fads of yesteryear?" with apologies to Francois Villon.
Has DEI replaced TQM?
Does ESG beat MBO?

ONLY a click away, more organizational insights for anyone in the workplace :

And, for a variety of insights about un-bossism

null Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright John Lubans all text 2024

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