Posted by nyssa on July 20, 2012 in ,

The mighty Parramatta Eels have recently made the significant step and sacked their coach, Stephen Kearney, seven games before the end of the season. What could possess a club to do this? They are currently (sadly) sitting at the bottom of the table and looked as though they were playing without confidence in nearly every game they have played. They have recruited heavily in the off season but the results just aren’t there. As a die-hard Parramatta

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supporter, it has been hard to watch. So what went wrong?

Kearney was well liked by the majority of the playing roster. He was passionately disliked by a couple of players who have been moved out of the club. This happens in nearly every organization – not every leader is liked. People who know him universally regard him as a “top bloke”. He was a champion footballer in his own right and has been very successful as the coach of the New Zealand rugby league side. Nathan Hindmarsh, the champion Parramatta captain, publicly praised him for putting in place systems that will make the club a better place. So why didn’t it work?

I think that former three-time Parramatta premiership winning captain Steve Edge hit it on the head when he said that Kearney seemed to have “lost the dressing room”. It is not that his message was not correct. It is not that he was not a great bloke. It is not that he does not know what he was talking about and that his plans were poor. He just “lost the dressing room”.

What does “losing the dressing room” mean? I take it to mean that people stop actively listening and more importantly stop believing in the message. The coach is talking; the players are nodding their heads in cerebral agreement; however the message does not seem to translate through to meaningful action. It must be so frustrating for Kearney and his players. It has certainly been very frustrating for Parramatta fans.

However, Stephen Kearney is not alone in “losing his dressing room”. This has happened and continues to happen across all sports and in many work situations as well. Sometimes highly skilled and experienced leaders simply cannot get the message across in a manner that inspires their team to action. They lose their ability to actively engage with their team.

So, how can leaders prevent this happening? I am certainly not an expert on leadership or coaching however I do think that there are some steps that even novices like myself can take from time to time. These include:

  • Proactively listen to your team – particularly key team members who play a critical role. Don’t just pay them lip service. Engage with them and work out what is important to them and ideally align this with your own goals
  • Agree on goals as to the direction of the business – where possible be as clear as you can be and allow contribution from the team
  • Act decisively – don’t make ponderous decisions that give your team the impression of uncertainty
  • Ensure that your team know your expectations – there is nothing wrong with “pinging” bad behaviours and there is nothing wrong with praising good behaviours.
  • Be authentic – people tend to respect real people
  • Never make fake excuses – when you do this, it creates a culture for your team to follow your example

As I said, I certainly don’t profess to be an expert on leadership and my team members in Perth and Brisbane are probably rolling their eyes reading this at the moment, however I do see the importance of engaging with your team. If you don’t engage with them, you run the risk of “losing your dressing room.” The results won’t be pretty – just ask Stephen Kearney.

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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