retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Among all the issues MNB readers care about and follow, there’s probably few less pressing that the National Hockey League playoffs. Sure, there are some rabid fans (me included) and I’m sure I’ll hear from all of them now.

But the sad truth is that despite the excitement of the game, it goes largely unnoticed. That means that only a small minority of you have heard of Adam Oates and a coaching style with lessons for managers everywhere.

First the details: Oates, a former hall-of-fame player, became coach of the Washington Capitals this season. His debut season got off to a late start thanks to a players’ strike and the new coach had to deal with a truncated training schedule. In sports, that’s a huge handicap for a new coach. Not surprisingly, the team got off to a terrible start only to rally toward the end of the season, making the playoffs before their elimination last night.

The real story is the attitude Oates takes toward coaching and how that explains his ability to win and keep the confidence of his players.

It comes down to something that every manager should remember: we’ve all had bosses whose styles we loved and also those whose styles we hated. The question is which style do we employ when we are put in charge. Sadly, I know too many managers who ended up using exactly the tactics they chaffed at when they were underlings.

Since we all know that managers determine employee loyalty, tenure and success, Oates’ approach is so interesting.

Frequently in sports we see endless stories of the truly horrible style of coaching. Beyond the extreme examples - think of the Rutgers basketball coach fired recently for physically and verbally berating his players - we hear of the screamers and yellers. That’s a position Oates could have easily taken when his team won only two of its first 11 games.

Instead, Oates reflected on the styles he preferred as a player or underling. For him, yelling never worked - calm coaching did.

"It really is what I wanted and what I responded to as a player," Oates said in one interview in Washington. "I showed up for work so I didn't need to be yelled at. Whether a coach liked me or not is irrelevant. You didn't have to yell at me to get your point across."

One Caps player said the coach’s balanced style was exactly what he and other players wanted. "Back in the day, yelling was the thing," said the player. "You yell and guys will step up with what they're doing. Nowadays, it's changed. It's just generations. There's more communication and respect from the coaches to players."

That an instructive comment, especially today when managers are struggling to motivate and cope with the different styles of a multi-generational workforce. I’d argue that yelling, micro-managing or overbearing behavior is never the way to go and it certainly doesn’t click with the younger generation.

Oates takes it even further. His comments show an understanding of management that would work anywhere.

"I could easily just point to a guy and go, 'Be there.' But I'd rather show it to him," Oates said. "Maybe he learns and it makes sense to him why he should be there. And that way the learning curve grows, and you don't have to keep going over the same thing. I also don't want to wear them out. I don't want them to get sick of me too soon."

Sounds like reasonable advice for any manager.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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