Being a Team Player

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jason Dillon
  • 36th Wing Inspector General
There are many books written on leadership. Being that it is September, I feel it is only appropriate to write an article on leadership and motivation with a NCAA football perspective. Recently I discovered a book called "The Leadership Game," by Tom Mullins. It presents a type of leadership that is powerful and can be reproduced and applied in almost any organization. It is the leadership style of successful college coaches. National Champion coaches including greats like Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden, Tom Osborne and Phil Fulmer were asked about the keys to their success and leadership styles. All of these football greats agreed there are certain patterns of leadership that are essential in any organization, on the field or off. I would like to focus on the importance the coaches put on motivation.

Motivation is the key to individual performance and group productivity. It has been studied extensively and many theories have been developed. When you think about it, nobody knows the power of motivation better than college football coaches. Their players are not paid to win so a coach's motivational abilities are that much more essential. Bill McCartney, coach of the 1990 national champion Colorado Buffaloes said it well, "Morale is to the physical as four is to one. Your attitude is four times as important as your actual abilities," In short, the most motivated team (organization) possesses a higher potential for success. The coaches commonly referred to six keys to successfully motivate your team.

Be Self-Motivated

Coach Bobby Bowden stresses the importance of being the example. A leader has to be self-motivated. Crush the old philosophy of, "Do as I say, not as I do," Coach Bowden states, "I go with the philosophy that I am not going to ask the kids to do something that I would not do. I will not ask them not to do it if I am going to. So I recommend you keep your credibility." Good leaders do not bark orders. That is a dictatorship. Great motivators lead by example and inspire trust.

Invite them to a bigger story

Most people would agree that most of us strive to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. An individual's yearning to reach beyond their limitations is described by Coach Phil Fulmer as, "A seed of greatness waiting for a stream of motivation," Fulmer continues by describing how he did this with his 1998 National Champion Tennessee Volunteers. "A friend of mine sent me a walking stick. My wife and I hike quite a bit. It showed up at school about the time I was walking out to practice. I took it to practice to show some of the players and they said, 'Coach, you look like Moses.'' I am thinking Moses is a grey haired, bent over, old guy. I gave the stick to a team manager and had him take it to my office. Later that night, it hit me; Moses led his people to the Promised Land. The next day, I put the team in a circle. I said, yesterday you guys said I look like Moses. I reminded them that Moses led his people to the Promised Land and that this stick would be our focal point, our synergy stick for our journey to our promised land." This stick was kept secret from families, the press, anyone outdoors. That year, the Vols made it to their Promised Land, the National Championship. Whether it is a successful deployment or receiving an "Outstanding" rating in the May Combined Unit Inspection, our organizations have the opportunity to be a part of that bigger story.

Let the team help determine the plot

Hand in hand with the bigger story is the plot. If the story is your vision, then the plot is the goals required to make the vision reality. Coach Tom Osborne explains, "So often a coach comes in and says, 'Our goal is to do this and that...,' and that's all well and good, but that is the coach's goals and not the player's." Coach Osborne would have his players list their top five goals and incorporate them with the coach's goals. Then he would say, "Okay, these are your goals. Now we are going to get there." Coach Osborne showed trust to his players, transferred equal ownership to them and led them to meet their goals. Other top coaches agree that transferring ownership motivates team members to follow through and, "Be willing to pay the higher price for the prize."

Award your team members individually

Every team member wants to know how they stack up. How valuable are they to the team. Coach Steve Spurrier explains his philosophy at Florida. "One part of coaching I really believe in is making every player feel important. Not just your star players, but even your practice players should feel important." Great motivators know the importance of recognizing their teammates. Public praise reminds them of their value and the important role they play in the organization. In the Air Force, we have a lot of recognition programs for our star players. It takes more than one player to make a team.

Let team members hold each other accountable

Coaches can motivate their players in the locker room and from the sidelines. But, it is impossible for them to be with them every step of the way. Great leaders know how to keep teammates "high on each other." It is important to teach your team to hold each other up through all times, good and bad. Enthusiasm is contagious, but enabling your team to do this, your capacity to motivate will be vastly expanded.

Deserve to win

Last, nothing beats good old-fashioned hard work. Coach Spurrier said, "My basic way of motivating was more of a persistent level of trying to be our best. We tried to practice well each day, we tried to approach every day very similarly. We worked hard to get better every day."

Ultimately, motivation is a critical aspect of leadership. From the highest ranking officer to the lowest ranking airman, you are an important part of your team. Whether your team is a small flight or a large squadron, motivation makes your teammates believe in your organizations goals. It sparks creativity and enthusiasm. Motivation builds a team's self-confidence and a team brimming with confidence will roll over the competition.