I coached my daughters’ club soccer teams when they were young. After a few years I recognized they needed someone better than me to take them to the next level. Relief, disappointment and excitement were my feelings after making that decision. Relief that the pressure of planning and leading practices was gone. Disappointment that I would be ‘just a parent’ going forward. Excitement that they’d get new perspectives and soccer development.
The thing I dreaded most about not being a coach was having to sit with and listen to the other parents. I knew the impact of parents on players and had long enjoyed the physical distance that separated the coach and players side of the field from the parents’ side of the field. The 80 / 20 rule was (and is) alive and well in youth sports. 80% of the parents were fine, but 20% were more detrimental than helpful.
Parents who yell unconstructively, complain incessantly and attempt to coach from the sidelines not only negatively impact (and embarrass) their own child, they create an undesirable environment for all players, coaches, parents and referees. As a coach I could physically see the change in a player on the field as the joy of soccer and general happiness drained out when her parent(s) started yelling. It was heartbreaking to see and still is. (Side note to parents who yell: If you believe that referees can’t or don’t influence the outcome of games because of the negativity coming from parents, you’re a fool who is costing your child’s team calls and games.)
My transition from coach to parent was fairly smooth once one important adjustment was made. After the first couple games of being just a parent I no longer sat with the other parents. I’d pick a spot at the end of the field or a little way off from everyone so I could watch the games in peace without hearing the idiocy of the 20%.
That strategy served me well all the way through club soccer, high school soccer and even still today as I watch my younger daughter play college soccer. The lesson is that every team has those who enable success and those who inhibit success. The key is for leaders of any organization or team to recognize that and have a plan to deal with it. While I didn’t manage inhibitors well as a soccer coach, I do a much better job in my professional endeavors.
In my experience, (strategy) enablers > (strategy) inhibitors. Imagine that the word ‘strategy’ in the previous sentence, both instances of it, is on a multi-sided block that when rotated has a different word on each side. Those words are interchangeable…strategy, leadership, delivery, operations, relationship, sales, success, etc. Enablers and inhibitors of each are everywhere. Sometimes they’re people, sometimes processes, money, tools, technology or the lack thereof.
The leaders I work with have more work than they know what to do with (sound familiar?). They’re constantly sorting, prioritizing and sequencing. They lead, delegate and decide hundreds of times each day. The most successful leaders are able to effectively manage those people or ‘things’ that are enablers and those that are inhibitors. It’s not always possible to identify them by name, but it is possible to enhance the influence and impact of enablers and mitigate the detriment and damage of inhibitors. In the end, changes may be needed to people, processes, money or tools, but first we make the effort to understand, engage and align.
Approaching leadership from an understanding, engagement and alignment perspective enables rapid assessment, insight and decision-making. This is particularly relevant when we look at people as the enablers or inhibitors, setting aside other types for now. My observation in working with leaders across many types of organizations is that they all have team members who either intentionally or unintentionally enable or inhibit. There is no middle ground. People are one or the other for any given topic or area. Complexity arises when an individual enables one thing but inhibits another, thus proving the need to assess the whole.
These are the people leaders want on their teams. Enablers, whether intentionally or unintentionally, create synergy and move teams forward in a way that happens naturally. That doesn’t mean enablers are guarantees of success or that everything is easy or there isn’t constructive conflict. Rather that within the pre-established norms and conventions of the organization, people are working toward the same end result once a decision is made to do so.
Being an enabler can be inherent in a person or learned. Enablers are valued for their contributions. Their teammates want to be part of what enablers are doing, they want to learn from them and at times emulate them. Sometimes being an enabler requires an inordinate amount of effort, other times it requires no effort, just awareness and action. Enablers have optimism, enthusiasm, a strong-work ethic and are fairly easy to work with.
Inhibitors, on the other hand, make things harder and awkward for leaders and teammates. Like enablers, they may be either intentional or unintentional in doing so. Unintentional inhibitors are typically less damaging than intentional inhibitors because they tend to be less malicious. Intentional inhibitors realize what they’re doing and have a purpose. Many times this comes from a bias created from prior experience. That said, the perspective of and learning from an inhibitor may be helpful, even if it manifests in an unproductive manner sometimes seeming like subtle sabotage.
Inhibitors aren’t always wrong. I’ve found though that their methods for expressing opinions or expertise are less than effective. Sometimes, it’s simply the ability of a leader to communicate that overcomes the challenges inhibitors present. Other times, there’s no overcoming the intentions of the inhibitor because they’re jaded by negativity or a sense of failure or doom even to the point of demonstrating a lackadaisical attitude and being hard to work with.
People don’t wear name tags that say “Enabler” or “Inhibitor”. Leaders, for the sake of their organizations and teams, need to find a way to mitigate the negative impacts of inhibitors and productively address the challenges they pose. A favorite quote comes to mind, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. The more the leader understands about team biases and perceptions, the faster more informed decisions can be made. Enablers > Inhibitors.