“It was a tough assignment, that’s why you got it. John, I’ve got another one for you.”
The quote is from the film Saving Private Ryan (1998). Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, has finished briefing Dennis Farina’s Lieutenant Colonel Anderson on an operation which cost his team the lives of thirty-five men. Anderson has a keen appreciation of Miller’s abilities and doesn’t think twice about handing him the almost impossible task that eventually kills him. This sad example from a powerful film shows the importance of well-trained and productive managers who are able to take care of things for their superiors.
The Perils of “Sink or Swim”
Taking the “I’ll throw them in, and see if they sink or swim” approach to developing your team may work on occasion. More often than not you’ll wind up bailing them out, raising your cortisol levels and breaking out into rashes as you find that you have no time to do anything properly. There’s nothing more comforting for a CEO than having an executive team who are able to “take care of things” and carry out what they are asked. Having a team of competent and proactive managers reporting to you means that you can focus on what’s really important.
Train Them Properly
If your people are always looking for guidance and you are doing their work for them, it means that you haven’t trained them properly. In a remarkable interview with the Sunday Times in 2021, Jim Gavin, the former Dublin Gaelic football coach gave an insight into his approach which can be summarised by the following quote:
“In the last minute, or seven minutes into overtime, you’re a man down, a point down, and the five-in-a-row is on the line, they will default to the level you’ve trained them… If I’m roaring and shouting at a player to get into position on the field, that’s a reflection of how poorly they’ve been trained.”
In 2019 Gavin’s team actually were a man and a point down, seven minutes into overtime when they scored a point in the last minute and forced the All-Ireland final to a replay. They won the match the following week and cemented their legacy as the first team to win five All-Ireland Football Championships in a row. In his seven years at the helm Gavin was an inscrutable presence on the side line. Not once did he lose his cool. His players were so well prepared that they always “took care of business” for him. Incidentally, were he born in another time and place he could very well have been performing a similar role to Lieutenant Colonel Anderson in the aftermath of the Normandy landings, as he spent the first twenty years of his career in the military.
Though your battles will be fought in more serene environments – away from the horrors of war and the pressure cooker environment of high performance sport – the stakes for you and your team are obviously not without significance. Develop your people. Give them the tools that they need so that they can respond to what’s going on in front of them, and execute while you sit back on the side lines and admire.