June 19, 2024

The Secret to Running a Successful Team

carrot-and-stick-2Over the past 25 years or so, it has been my experience that “managing” people, in the traditional sense, is folly. We manage data. We train people, and even that’s a difficult result to achieve. The secret to running a successful team is to delicately balance managing, leading, and mentoring…but not the way you might think.  

The Right Place for Management

“Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

—Paul Dickson 

“Managing,” the way I learned it in my earlier days, basically involves carrots and sticks. It’s conditioning employees the way we conditioned the rats in my psychology classes. Punishing them for turning left and rewarding them for turning right until they do, on command, routinely turn right—like robots.

A lot of old-school management occurs out of pure fear. In today’s economy, when unemployment is relatively high, direct reports are unlikely to ask questions or to risk being out of line due to fear of losing a job or a position. Some institutions manage from a vertical punishment model. If something goes off track, then someone has to be held accountable and heads roll. We all know what flows downhill.

Clearly there are applications for this style of managing. In an environment where the human spirit is secondary to measured output and the only conceivable improvement is speed (I picture certain manufacturing environments and agricultural harvesting scenarios), training people to perform a precise task over and over again probably works for “managers” and their direct reports.

But in most cases, management is not the best way to run a team. And here’s why:

You manage data, not people!

To effectively use management, use it to manage data so that your workforce can better use it, manipulate it, refer to it, and improve your processes. As the leader of a team, you can spin data so that it’s easier to conclude one point as opposed to another. You can hide portions of it for the same purpose. Or you can be transparent and let your employees make their own conclusions. (But, in the strict sense of the word, I suppose, that’s not “management.”)

Incorporating Leadership

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

                                                                                  Dwight D. Eisenhower

Now there’s a lofty goal, you say.

Hearken back to a time when you were an employee, or maybe you are one right now. Remember how it felt when you were simply ordered to do something? Did it not sound like your mother ordering you to put away your toys…and the reason was simply “because I said so!” Not very motivating, was it?

Getting people to do something you want because they need to do it (in order to keep a job, feed a family, make BMW payments, etc.) doesn’t give the manager or the direct report team much room to grow. It’s a master/slave relationship.

That’s where leadership comes in. Leadership, as opposed to management, engages the direct report in a manner that involves him or her in decisions, processes, and outcomes. And we know now that engagement is critical to organizational success.

The Gallup organization regularly uses employee engagement as a measure of a team’s health. The higher the engagement, the lower the turnover, theft, embezzlement, absenteeism, sick leave, and lots of other parameters that negatively affect the bottom line.

So how can we be effective leaders and get people to want to do what we want them to do?

Here Comes Mentoring

Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”


I describe mentoring as affecting attitude and aptitude by teaching. When “managers” mentor, they pass on skills and knowledge and build strong relationships so that employees can be successful and feel like part of a team. The employees then want to contribute because they are vested in the success of the organization.

Mentoring is part of every manager’s job, whether that person knows it or not. But in some environments, people can be uncomfortable with the idea of teaching those under them how to be successful.

Turnover in the fast-food industry can be 150% and higher annually. According to BK Worldwide, in order to replace a single counter person at a Burger King, that store needs to sell literally thousands of Whoppers. Where’s the problem? The people in charge do not have engaged employees. “Management” isn’t mentoring. In fact, in many cases, those in charge are emotionally incapable of teaching, sometimes for fear that their students may take their jobs!

Yet there are trendsetters in high-turnover industries that break this mold and do very good business. The QuikTrip is one example. In the convenience store business (traditionally high turnover), it ranks #66 on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2013 list…with a miniscule 9% turnover rate.

The old way of telling people what to do and expecting them to do it (or else!) isn’t working for most of us. While changing how a team is run, especially in a large organization, isn’t going to happen overnight, it is possible providing those at the top are committed.

Whether your team is a company, department, volunteer organization, board of directors, or family, you can run it more effectively by balancing management, leadership, and mentoring. You’ll get everyone engaged and pulling in the same direction, creating a more effective team and achieving better results for the benefit of everyone.

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