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Effective Leaders: Warm Demanders

Basketball is Psychology XXXVII


As a leader, you have a choice: you can either lead with respect, or you can lead with fear.

Effective leadership is a relationship, respect-based leadership. The opposite of leading with respect is leading with fear. Leading with fear may seem to temporarily motivate, but in the long-run it inhibits performance, learning, and teamwork.

Is the foundation of your leadership fear or respect? Many leaders subconsciously choose fear.

Those who lead with respect empower those around them. Those who lead with fear disempower those around them.

The important question to ask is: how do people feel around me? If people are scared of messing up, looking bad, losing their status, feeling worthless, and damaging their reputation around you-- you’re leading with fear.

If people feel safe around you, you are leading with respect.

Creating The Right Environment

In Google’s quest to find what successful teams have in common, the single factor they found was psychological safety. It’s every leader’s responsibility to create a climate of psychological safety.

There are a lot of misconceptions about psychological safety. Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization put it like this, “Psychological safety is not an ‘anything goes’ environment where people are not expected to adhere to high standards or meet deadlines. It’s not about being ‘comfortable’ at work. Psychological safety sets the stage for a more honest, more challenging, more collaborative, and thus also more effective work environment.”

It’s widely accepted that great leaders have high standards, but without psychological safety, that will only create anxiety. The most effective leaders create an environment with high standards and high psychological safety.

Psychological safety is directly correlated with how engaged we are in our work. When we feel like our ideas are listened to and our work is recognized, we work harder.

The Best Leaders

Boston Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens was asked about what makes a good leader, he replied,

“The best leaders are warm and demanding.

You can approach them to go out to dinner, you can approach them about your situation, you can approach them about life off the court. At the same time, when you get between those lines, there’s a demand of operating at an excellent level; doesn’t mean it’s demeaning, it’s just we have an expectation that you’re going to operate at your highest level.

You have to recenter yourself as quickly as possible because you have to be able to give your players that feeling that:

Yes, there are expectations.

Yes, there are great demands.

But yes, we realize you are a human being and we’re here to help in any way.”

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich embodies a warm and demanding leadership style. His assistant, Chip Engelland said it best, “A lot of coaches can yell or be nice, but what Pop does is different. He delivers two things over and over:

He will tell you the truth

He will love you to death”

This is the winning combination of high standards and high psychological safety. Truth creates the need to change and get better, love gives us the space to do so.

Warm Leaders

In their book Safe People, Psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe a safe person as someone who connects with us, someone who is for us, and they tell us the truth.

Safe people make you feel like you can be yourself around them.

Safe people help you by providing opportunities for you to learn, get better, and develop--on and off the court.

Safe people push you into becoming the best version of yourself.

Safe people leave you better than you were before you met them.

As Brad Stevens put it, you can approach them about anything and they will help, whether or not it’s basketball related.

Great leaders are safe people.

Psychology has proven the quality of our relationships is directly correlated with our engagement. Meaning, if you are a safe person, you are going to inspire those around you to work harder for you.

“You can really coach people, and be even more constructively critical, if you’ve shown that you are invested in them as a person.” -- Brad Stevens

Recentering Yourself

Respect-based leaders not only give respect to others by being committed to relationships, they also earn respect. People want to follow them.

So how do great leaders gain respect?

Brad Stevens alluded to this when he said, “You have to recenter yourself as quickly as possible, to give your players that feeling...” he’s saying you have step back from dramatic situations and find a way to make those around you feel safe.

Think about the leaders you respect the most. It’s likely that in times of trouble, when the game gets tense and everyone else has lost their cool, they’re the person who’s still calm. They make dramatic situations a lot less dramatic by recentering. Drama loses games; great leaders don’t get dramatic. They take a step back from this situation, figure out the least-dramatic solution, and execute it. This makes everyone around you feel calm and secure.

Watch Brad Stevens’ demeanor- he’s the ultimate drama diffuser. It doesn’t matter how dramatic the game is, he’s almost always able to stay calm, his team follows, and as a result, he’s earned a great deal of respect.

Trust and control can’t coexist

Respect based leaders empower others by trusting them without micromanaging. The give away their power.

Fear based leaders seek to control so they never give away their power. They don’t trust their team, and therefore never empower others.

For example, Steve Kerr occasionally hands over the clipboard to his players during timeouts.

Fear vs. Respect