The Cost of Winning at All Costs

Coaches who berate and chastise their 6th grade baseball players after every pitch are jerks and should be imprisoned. Idiot coaches for the team in the  parish league should be ashamed of themselves. Winning at all costs attitude stunts the kids growth and motivates them through fear. Bad men!

I saw this Facebook post this morning and experienced the usual reaction: pitchforks and torches! Storm the fields! Throw ’em all out!

There’s nothing more annoying to me than the overzealous youth sports coach, and the parents who love them.

There are 10 zillion sports coaches in our country who are dedicated, respected and trusted members of their community. These men and women selflessly put in a lot of hours for almost no pay, they play by the rules and they understand the universal truth; it’s only a game. These good coaches are also surrounded by a group of  great, supportive parents who don’t push too hard or expect more than a kid can manage.

The few bad apples are an embarrassment to us all.

Children know this truth- why don’t more adults?

I recently inherited a couple of children, the kids of my girlfriend. These two are as close to perfect as one could ever imagine, for several reasons. They eat adult food (barely a shred of processed garbage food or soda in sight), they say please and thank you, they understand patience and delayed gratification, and they possess a keen awareness that they were not put on Earth to be catered to by their mom and dad.  These two children were raised right.

What is disheartening is that they are getting older, and they are surrounded by selfish, narcissistic brats who are making it increasingly difficult for the adults to make the case for not eating horrid, unhealthy food, not playing video games 12 hours a day and actually doing what they are told to do without exploding into a combative, whiny rage.

So you’re a kid. You’re being coddled by your permissive parents, and you’re being lambasted by your Little League coach. No wonder they get so angsty. One person is telling them they’re not good enough, the others are not giving them any boundaries.


It’s a wonder how anyone gets hired to be a manager of people. When’s the last time you had a strong, confident manager who respected you, expected your best work, communicated those expectations clearly and celebrated your (and your team’s) wins?

Our managers ignore us much of the time, then show up in a time of crisis and are on us like stink on crap.

Our managers pester us, prod us and  micromanage us into delirium.

Our managers are oblivious to what we are actually doing.

Our managers are “permissive”.

Our managers don’t tell us what they want.

Our managers expect us to be mind readers.

Our managers bring elements of their personal relationships into the office and deal with us the same way they are dealing with their spouse.

What is the price we pay for managers who are willing to win at all costs, people be damned?

Who was the rocket scientist who hired me to manage a team? I was god awful when I started.

None of us possesses the formula for perfect team leadership. It’s not realistic. Someone will always be a little unhappy.

Good managers, the few we have been so lucky to have worked with, understood their frailties. They took the time to listen to their people. They were transparent. They had the confidence to say to the team, ‘I screwed up.”

Managers are humans, flawed and perfectly imperfect.

We are the figurative children in our work relationships. We have permissive bosses who let us do what we “want” for a while, then get up in our business and chide us for doing it. What’s the boundary? What are the rules of engagement?

Sometimes reinvention is not the solution. We are doing our thing and largely enjoying it- it’s the managers who are making it painful. This requires keeping your career, and changing your work address, a totally different dynamic.

In education, we use the word rubric a lot. A rubric is a set of expectations a professor has for her students, and examples of how a student can meet them. It makes it clear: this is how you can get an A, or a D.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our “coaches” could keep it real?

I’d love for you to share a quick sentence below on the good men and women who have managed us. Tell us what they did that made them fun to work with. Tell us how they comported themselves to earn our respect and loyalty.

I’ll start.

Thank you, Michael. You towed the company line, and you had this way of repeating the company line in this monosyllabic official way that I always found amusing. You didn’t try to get me to buy into it. It was they way you said it, sometimes with a wry grin or a  raised eyebrow, that let me know I shouldn’t take those words always so literally. Your way of saying “It is what it is…” made it feel less rotten many times. You had little bursts of honesty that I was able to see while the shit rolled down the hill. Every once in a while I got to see the real you. Your calm demeanor and patience, in the face of  impending, overwhelming disaster, made it all seem less scary. You weren’t perfect, but neither was I.

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